Ben Roberts, Liquid Telecom’s Group CTIO, explains how access to technology can inspire a new generation of African techies.
The future of Africa belongs to Generation Z. As the world’s youngest region, approximately 20% of Africa’s population is currently aged between 15 and 24. But the hope and promise of this generation also presents potential disaster if there aren’t enough new jobs to sustain them.
No industry or business today has been left untouched by digital disruption. The way society interacts online has fundamentally changed – and a lot of jobs that exist today could be gone in the not-so-distant future. The way we work at Liquid Telecom is changing.
Traditionally, the focus of our company has been on infrastructure and we have huge engineering teams across Africa deploying fibre and configuring our networks. We’re good at it: we’ve so far built the region’s largest independent fibre network stretching over 50,000km and connecting 9 countries.
But today our focus has turned towards digital services, and how we can support our customers further along with their digital journey – we’re currently doing this by providing leading cloud-based services, such as Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Azure.
This means not only are we transforming the types of services and products we sell, but we are reimagining the way we work and engage with our customers.
Digital skills will be fundamental to both the future of Liquid Telecom and Africa. And I’m a big believer of empowering youth with technology to teach themselves those skills.
I was 14 when I earned enough money delivering newspapers to buy my first computer: a ZX Spectrum. I taught myself BASIC programming by reading books and magazine articles, as well as copying code. Primarily our objective of writing code at age 14 was to create games and music or hack into commercially purchased games, such as to grant ourselves unlimited lives or special powers in the game.
We had an IT lab at school, but teachers and parents had no particular involvement in my IT education – it was, and still is, my passion. ICT initiatives, such as the Kenyan government’s
Digital Learning Programme (DLP) which has already seen 70,000 tablets distributed to public primary schools throughout the country, will be critical in providing kids with access to online resources – which also means they are no longer reliant on the standard of local teaching. Africa needs to consider that it may be the role of the children to teach ICT skills to their elders, rather than the other way around.
The rising popularity of video gaming across the region could also prove to be a catalyst for inspiring a new generation of techies. Kids love to play games, and with the gaming industry changing beyond recognition over the last 10 years, they now have access to an abundance of online games on their mobiles, tablets, desktops and game consoles.
We saw the pent-up passion and enthusiasm for gaming first-hand at last year’s Nairobi Comic Convention (Naiccon), where we provided high-speed internet for the region’s first ever international multiplayer gaming tournament. With virtual reality on the horizon, kids are only going to be more absorbed by the limitless fun of gaming.
Gaming can also enable kids to learn while they play, and with the right balance, they won’t even realise they’re learning while they’re playing. Kukua, who were the winners of our Liquid Launchpad competition last year, are doing some great work in that regard – by building mobile games that help children in Kenya learn basic writing and reading skills.
We need to start preparing for the arrival of Generation Z in the workplace.
For a start, CIOs need to make sure their networks are in order – Gen Zs see access to social media platforms and video content as a basic human right, and companies could have to find new ways to balance their Wi-Fi to accommodate IT systems and personal use.
We also need to start preparing for the arrival of Generation Z as consumers. And that could prove trickier. We’ve already seen that brand loyalty doesn’t exist in the same way with this new generation. They’re much more influenced by fashion and trends. Facebook, for example, was out – with one study exposing that it is losing its share of the 12 to 17 year old market for the first time – and snapchat was in. And then one tweet later from a Kardashian, snapchat was out too – the company’s value dropped a reported $1.3 billion after a negative comment from Kylie Jenner.
One thing is for sure: the arrival of Generation Z is going to keep things interesting.