Jammin’, Digitally: The Mentor


Today is Bob Marley Day in Jamaica (his 69th birthday) so it seems appropriate that I write about “jamming”!

Don't be afraid of failure, Richard Shaw tells the group. And stick to your core values. Good lessons in life!
Don’t be afraid of failure, Richard Shaw tells the group. And stick to your core values. Good lessons in life!

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.

Paying attention… Some of the team members attending the mentorship workshop last week at the World Bank headquarters in Kingston. (My photo)
Paying attention… Some of the team members attending the mentorship workshop last week at the World Bank headquarters in Kingston. (My photo)

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. Richard Shaw of EduCentres is a die-hard "tech evangelist" and a great mentor. (My photo)
Mr. Richard Shaw of EduCentres is a die-hard “tech evangelist” and a great mentor. (My photo)

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.

Young tech entrepreneur Tyrone Wilson of eMedia Interactive Limited told the group to avoid the "BS" and be humble.
Young tech entrepreneur Tyrone Wilson of eMedia Interactive Limited told the group to avoid the “BS” and be humble.

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.” 

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7 thoughts on “Jammin’, Digitally: The Mentor

  1. I often say that information is what we receive not what is put out. I think that I keep up well with a lot of information about current affairs, but that’s not the same as current events. So, I’m surprised that I keep getting surprised by references to events that would interest me but of which I seem to be aware. Some of that may be because I’m newly back in the Jamaican space. But, some must be because the information flows are passing me–a digital issue, in this age.

    Time was when most news came via the radio. I check the papers for notices, but not all events get posted in the press. I try to do as much online as I can to find out–though that is a minefield whose bounds are not known.

    So, thanks for this report. I’ve now found Digital Jam’s Facebook page and noted the March 1-2 event.

    Maybe, I/we need the new age equivalent of Time Out, for Jamaica. Has someone thought of that, and begun to build the app.?

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    1. I know! It is so easy to miss things. I only really knew about it because a friend kindly invited me as he knows I have an interest in this area. It is such a hugely worthwhile effort and I like its regional focus – I love “Caribbean things.” I don’t think I had spotted it online either – and the radio sometimes just seems to repeat itself over and over. They will probably just report on the final event, which is too late! Glad I told you about this. The final event is open to the public etc and I shall be there, with bells on! Yes – we really do need a “Time Out Jamaica” – something comprehensive and covering all kinds of events. There are “what’s on” things here and there but they tend to be selective… This is one for the app competition, I think!

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  2. Really enjoyed this post, Emma, and will forward it to my 19 year old son who is majoring in computer and electrical engineering at BU. He has participated in competitions like you describe (including 48 your “hackathons”) and is developing an app. He will do an internship with Google this summer (Microsoft was another exciting option). It sounds like the mentors did a super job with the Digital Jam – great messages and insights!

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    1. Wow, how exciting for your son! I have a fascination with technology, I must say. Sitting among all those young people made me quite envious of their knowledge and skills! Yes, the mentors had some very strong and thoughtful messages for them. I am writing a quick follow-up on some of the young people I talked to at the mentorship meeting and will be writing a piece about Tyrone Wilson, the young entrepreneur whom I so admire (it takes a lot of guts to do this in Jamaica, as you can imagine!) Thanks, Lisa.

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