Today is Bob Marley Day in Jamaica (his 69th birthday) so it seems appropriate that I write about “jamming”!
Digital Jam 3.0 (Caribbean Edition) isn’t musical (although it could be). But it is certainly creative. When I entered the large meeting room at the World Bank’s Kingston office for a mentorship workshop, I could feel that buzz. It was standing room only, too – not a seat to spare.
What is Digital Jam? Well, Caribbean governments are collaborating with The World Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank, the OECS Secretariat, Microsoft and other partners from the Caribbean private sector and international development community in a series of events under the theme “The Future of Work is Digital.” Caribbean and international investors, young start-up companies, and the wider youth population are all getting involved in apps competitions in several categories; awareness sessions and practical technical assistance. The final big event (March 1-2) will take place in Kingston, with budding tech entrepreneurs from across the Caribbean participating. It will include keynotes from inspirational speakers, the finals of the apps competition, and a heck of a lot of networking. NOTE: The Android App Competition sponsored by e-learning Jamaica Co. Ltd will close in ten days’ time. For more information go to:http://sdrv.ms/K3hFTk. To sign up go to: https://digitaljam.wufoo.com/forms/elearning-app-competition-signup/ And take a look at their Facebook page for updates on everything!
I chatted with one of the mentors, Richard Shaw. He describes himself as a “techno-evangelist,” and his enthusiasm for the program is palpable.
Mr. Shaw is coaching the Absolute Beginners teams. “They are very receptive. Like a sponge,” he says with a happy smile. Mr. Shaw clearly enjoys his work and the opportunity to interact with young people. With considerable experience working with Microsoft, IBM and other corporate giants, he grew up in downtown Kingston and went to Wolmer’s Boys’ School before his family migrated. He attended Northeastern University in the United States at age fifteen. “I assumed I could just coast through life,” Mr. Shaw later told the group of mentees. His grades slipped drastically, but he pulled himself together. After graduating with a degree in Computer & Electrical Engineering, he worked in New York in program development and training with AT&T, among others. He is now happily back in Jamaica, still working closely with Microsoft and running his own consultancy and training agency, EduCentres.
Mr. Shaw’s mentorship includes one-on-one meetings as well as coaching teams of four young people. The Absolute Beginners have good ideas and concepts, he said; he guides, encourages and passes on his knowledge and experience. The apps competition will be “very engaging for all,” said Mr. Shaw, who has in the past mentored Northern Caribbean University’s highly successful Imagine Cup first teams.
Does he think competitions are the best way to encourage tech entrepreneurship, I asked him? Yes, contests can have very positive results, Mr. Shaw said, with “proper mentorship and structure.” The world is changing, he added; practices that worked well at one time must be regularly revised. The younger generation see the world through a “different lens.”
But it is still up to him, and other mentors. Not only to teach the technical stuff, but also “values and core beliefs that are applicable across generations,” said Mr. Shaw. Once these values are absorbed and understood, then the younger generation can “unleash” their talents. And they will.
Mr. Shaw told the group that they must get used to the idea of failure. Over eighty per cent of software projects are failures, he pointed out – that is, if they are not delivered on time, over budget or are just not attractive. “Failure is not an issue,” he added, simply because it will happen. It will. It happened to him. All the more reason to have that “strong foundation” to fall back on, if necessary. He stressed the importance of planning, design, defining objectives. Creating an app, he said, is “not just about making money”; it has social aspects, and one must gain insight into those. It’s the customer, and the way he/she uses that app, that is important. What makes the user tick?
Another mentor, 28-year-old Tyrone Wilson (in fact, it’s his birthday today – happy birthday, Tyrone!) started by talking about vision. Without it, you are nothing. You must truly care about your product; this is more than an intellectual exercise. “You must be able to tell your story,” he urged. (More about Tyrone Wilson in a later blog post. His story is remarkable).
“You’re on a journey,” Richard Shaw reminded the participants. “Don’t lose yourself in that journey.” Driving a Lotus Esprit Turbo in New York was a great feeling. But it’s important to take time, look around you.
“Don’t lose the true beauty of life and living.”