Not Just Apps!

Apps are hot, no doubt. If anyone doubts that, remind them of the recent billions of dollars that have gone the way of businesses built around various web and mobile apps. The great thing about apps being hot is that desire for similar success prompts additional investment in coding time that will – hopefully – allow the birth of new products or services that add value. Of course, some products will just blow hot air and join a long list of attempts, but attempts – and even failure – are part of the learning curve. Africa is no stranger to the app circus too; by the time you finish reading this sentence, another app would have been launched and a start-up born. This is great, and should continue, but…

There’s always a temptation to follow the current trend at the risk of ignoring other needs and even future opportunities. We need application developers, but we also need skilled tech people in other areas. I won’t mention the non-tech skills like business development and co; the need speaks for itself and I can only ignore at my own peril. I wonder if the app race (and I did not intend for that to sound like rat race) hasn’t cut off an opportunity around problem mapping – what are the problems that need solutions around us? If we don’t ask this, there’s a chance we’ll fall for the “what app will get every handle tweeting about me” trap. And that will be sad because there will be a vicious cycle that focuses on what’s hot but not opportune problems. In fact, one of the biggest problems of following what’s hot is that any “new” product or service will be a clone of an existing service.

And speaking of opportune problems, what’s happening in the hardware space in Africa? One would imagine that a place like Otigba in the Ikeja area of Lagos should be boasting of certain devices by now. With a chronic power supply problem and a huge number of people who have invested multiple years in solving hardware problems, it’d be great to read about a true Otigba entrepreneur with a solution to that problem. Another problem we have is numbers! A lot of numbers on the African tech space are from insitutions that get their data through on-the-ground consultants, but it’d be great to see the African academia step up to the plate here. I know that sector deserves a blog post of its own but please show us the numbers so we can develop solutions around them.

Let’s even return to the app development space for a second. There’s a gap there too. As with leaders, developers are not born. Who is training the new generation of techies? With much better platforms for developers who are almost good to go, a next logical gap to fill will be the need to raise a new generation of African code spinners. If they belong to the age group that still believes that anything is possible, all the better. Apps are hot, but are we filling other gaps and asking questions about what problems need to be solved? Or are we preparing for the next app contest?

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