Mozilla Firefox App’s Challenge For African Students

By Paul Ndiho

Are you a student who loves to code or has a great idea for a great mobile application?  University students across Africa are participating in an apps competition.  Well, a group of talented app developers at Makerere University, in Kampala, Uganda are taking part in this challenge

A Mozilla Firefox mobile app contest open to students in Africa is generating a lot buzz on college campuses in Uganda. The goal is to build great apps that can operate on either android or IOS.  The competition is geared towards giving young i.t. talents the opportunity to showcase their innovations on the global stage.  Kwesiga Sam is a software development engineer and the national chair of software developer in Uganda. Mozila Firefox Apps

“We’re a group of software developers in Uganda. We meet here, we share ideas, and we combine our knowledge depending on one’s capabilities not necessarily on being a programmer.”

Sam is also developing his own crowd sourcing app that helps drivers in Kampala avoid traffic jams or public demonstrations in real time.

“This is representing a specific incident — assuming on I’m here on this round about and I have realized that there is an incident taking place — so I’m trying to notify other people not to use this road. What you do is you click on your location on the map it will populate information into this.”

This group of undergraduate developers is competing in the challenge competition. These students have created some interesting applications that could change the way we interact with our smartphones and tablets.  John Baptist Ochieng is currently working on a first-aid application.

“Generally what it does is that it gives tips on first aid and it has a map and when you click it, it zooms to where you are and i map into locations of where you are and when you click on the marker of the map, it will give the contacts of that hospital and ambulance services so that you can call for help. The functionality that it has is the email capabilities — if it’s not an emergency you can email the doctors and it provides ranging from minor to major incidents.”

Echodu Moses, an information technology student, is not worried about making money from the apps just yet.   He says students are being encouraged to come up with applications that can be entered into the marketplace for free.  He’s also confident that their hard word work will pay off in the near future.

“They are developers who are wondering how they are going to earn from it — but people also forget the fact that the guy of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook was open source because many people could just log in and start doing things for free of charge and now he’s is a billionaire because he gave it out to everyone but then companies came in to support him. So most of the applications are free, most developers are actually earning from it.

I.T. student LeBron Brian Ssekalegga has won several contests for developing cutting edge applications.  He developed an app that makes all of the student’s class schedules available on hand held devices.

“I have several apps and one that won the contest— this app was all about making education easier for students. What I did was basically to make timetables for students on hand held devices. you don’t need to go online but you can down load a package for the entire semester and you move with it on your phone. You just click on the year that you are in i.e. if you are doing information technology, there is you part, if you are doing computer science, there is your part.”

Analysts say that these apps will have a major impact on how we use smartphones in the future. For instance, if you need emergency care, this GEO location app created by Kabali Shafique at Makerere University can help you the nearest hospital.

“The GEO location feature of the application is basically, what you are seeing every dot that you’re seeing here right now is a medical facility and this mapped customary. It’s basically customized to medical facilities and right from your location. Clicking on any dot, assuming this a touch phone that you using, it shows you the hospital name and right from there you can actually initiate a call or better yet, you can also zoom in to the nearest hospital.”

Joyce Nalwadda, a Mozilla Firefox student ambassador for Africa and the only female on the team, says that the innovation challenge is not only about building apps, but mentoring young developers.  She says being part of the team is helping her to meet some of most talented young people on the continent.

“Well I happen to be in Brussels where I met a number of young and old people who know about technology. They do code, graphics and a number of things and one thing that inspired me there was code. I saw young people who can create platforms we use this side to create code and create some other things.”

Most of these app developers are struggling to market their creations on a national level, because the technology isn’t wide-spread enough yet.  Only a few have cashed in on their apps.

The Mozilla team members are hoping that they can be next the Abdul Ssekalala, another Ugandan app developer whose app “word of the day” on Nokia phones is one of the most download apps in the world.”

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