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Pioneers (Part 2) – Jamaica: The Space For Young Developers

Pioneers (Part 2) – Jamaica: The Space For Young Developers

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In my previous article “Jamaicans as Technological Pioneers” I explored different development in Jamaica which could stand up to the test in the rest of the world.  This time around, I explore Jamaica’s young developers and the ground they are shaking.

Christopher Gayle (no, not the cricketer) is a young Jamaican tech developer, who has created software and applications for the past 10 years. His developments include JahMah (a Jamaican music app), Get There (the Jamaican version of Uber) and Jamaker (a Jamaican management platform). He recently sat down to speak with Good News Jamaica about how Jamaica is creating a space for young developers.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you got started in software development?

I think I got really lucky. In 2007 I stumbled on a site named “Build Your Own Net Dream (BYOND)” where a bunch of young developers were making their own games based on cartoons. The games were pretty simple and I’d rush home every day to play, but the deeper I got is the more I wanted new features. So it wasn’t long before I got my hands on the source code, so that I could make my own version.

Once I opened those documents, my entire life changed.

All that time I’d been setting aside to play was now dedicated to improving this little world I could build. I partnered with artists who would draw/animate, and I would write the code to make their art move.

Q: How did that early interest develop into your current career?

Two years into my ‘career’, the owners of Dragon Ball Z sent us a Cease & Desist order. We’d been using their ideas and they didn’t want free games that would distract from their own.

I finally felt recognized. To me that was a huge company saying that what we made mattered. I was barely 16 in pre-tech-loving-Jamaica, but now no one could convince me I wasn’t on the right path. We pushed the boundaries of what the platform could do, and it was fun while it lasted.

After a while though, I started to feel that the things I was building in fantasies would be much more useful when applied to my reality. Jamaica has many issues, but not a single one of them can’t be solved.

Chris’s JaMaker app is a helpful business and personal management tool, designed specifically for Jamaicans.

Q: So then you went on to study software development at the tertiary level?

I started university in 2012, but that didn’t last. I was genuinely obsessed with writing code, and I felt I’d already mastered what the curriculum had to offer.

So instead of blowing my parent’s money on tuition, I dropped out after first year. My family definitely had major concerns, but my mother had always been impressed with my commitment and encouraged me.

So that’s what I do now, I treat my nation like a game I can improve, one update at a time. I know I’m lucky because I’m well aware of the fact that I had supportive tutors, internet access, a personal laptop, safety, plenty of food and enough free time.

Q: Do you think there’s a space in Jamaican industries for young developers?

Of course! As a matter of fact, I’d say that Jamaican industries have no hope if they do not embrace the young developers. Our communities and companies desperately need to take a great leap forward in order to provide everyone with a comfortable life.

Developers
Chris training high school students coding and IT skills. He participates in trainings like these to encourage young persons in Jamaica to pursue their interests in ICT.

Q: So what do you think we should be doing as a country to boost ICT development and how can developments in ICT in turn contribute to the Jamaican economy?

ICT can be our great equalizing force.

Jamaicans need:

  1. Tools they can build with.
  2. Platforms that expose innovations to the public.
  3. A culture that embraces new technology.

“Tablets in Schools” was an encouraging project, but the tablets issued are a consumer’s product. What our students really need are the tools to create.

We need programs that make development and production-capable devices accessible to all students and entrepreneurs. If it is too expensive to put them in every home, we must outfit our schools and libraries with high speed internet and keep the lab doors open 24/7.

If ICT were to be embraced, we would see the Jamaican economy’s ascension within five years, washing away plenty of today’s woes.

Q: What advice would you give to young Jamaicans in ICT and computer science about finding career opportunities? Or those who want to learn?

For those who want to learn, I encourage them to start by building something they like, and let the public have it as soon as possible. There is no better way to learn in this space than by getting comfortable scouring search engines for answers, making updates every day, and getting feedback from your users about everything you do.

The more time you spend developing is the greater your skill and thereby your product/s. Our ICT industry is very much in its infancy. You have more to gain by developing a solution for a sector that has been neglected.

It won’t be easy, but I’ve often been described as being stubborn, so just persevere. I promise you will love yourself for it.

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