Is There a Problem Here?

So last week I was with a friend of mine who does a lot of IT freelance consulting in the city of Nairobi. He wanted my opinion on how to solve a particular problem that he had come across. The problem is this:

There is a client who runs a certain business that generates a lot of text files (about 10,000 a week). These are small and simple text files but they are important hence they need to be backed up and also uploaded to a website online. How do you reliably automate this?

Apparently the solution he was looking for was a program that he could buy that does this. Nothing wrong with that, right? Yes. But this is not the first time I have come across such a relatively simple problem that computing can solve. All of them follow the same basic pattern: a company needs a way to automate one of their internal processes, usually to reduce some costs and they give their usual “IT person” the task to find a solution for them. Said IT person then finds some software to do the job or one that comes close. Almost always, the end result is a compromise because little software out there really ever does exactly what your company’s peculiar processes need.

The thing that nags me about all this is that most of these problems can be solved by a good programmer in little time. And the best part… the resulting solution will not be a compromise, the programmer can build a solution that exactly matches the needs. We’re not talking about huge programs like Ms Word or even Notepad or Ms Paint, most of these solutions can be done by a tiny little ‘script’.

So this begs the questions: are there no programmers who can come up with these little scripts? Why is the default solution always to look for some software “out there”?

Where do all the programmers go after they graduate from the seemingly millions of computer colleges in town?

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  1. All you need is a simple sync software. There are many excellent free sync softwares for windows.
    Or just get the free Google Drive for cloud storing. Very easy to use, very efficient.

  2. Jaffar Mohamed says:

    You should have placed “IT freelance consulting” in quotes. A real IT guy should be able to build such a script specifically with PHP or Python. Obviously there is a big problem with our “IT Industry” which has also been made worse by the unnecessary media hype about how Kenya is an IT destination. True, there are very very good programmers in Kenya ( with or without CS degrees ), but the average IT consultant in town is the guy who knows how to install pirated software, set up a poorly done Joomla website, “unlock” your modem and reboot your computer at a fee. When it comes to real solutions, you need to look beyond your “IT consultant.”

  3. David Meyer says:

    This could be solved with various types of code, as long as there is a set fashion to the documents and not too much dynamic changes overall there shouldn’t be too much of a problem. at least this scenario does not require a program/script to read the actual contents of the file. at the end of the day, its personal initiative and skill…qualifications as always don’t prove everything. so, a consultant may, or may not be good based on their personal initiative to make an impression, not only on themselves but in the IT industry too.

  4. Hi. I have a diploma in IT as well as a CPA. I need to mention i am an accountant by profession. As a former IT student i found that most of what we were taught was theoretical. I had huge book filled with notes but when it came to understanding the computer as a tool for automating the business processes, i was empty. I however do not fault the IT education system in Kenya, i fault students who pick up a course they are not zealous about. You see when you love computers, you are able to ask the ‘hows’, and ‘why’ and ‘can I?’ (s) and in so doing you are able to master the machine. The IT institutions are only supposed to give you a tip of the iceberg, to pique your interest.

    As i mentioned i was an IT student . My programming skills are far lower than average, i need to refer to a programming book or website to write a simple VB program that adds two numbers. I however, through my IT training, understand what programming can do. I work in the financial industry now and you wouldnt believe the amount of opportunities I see that a good programmer can exploit to make money.

    • Jaffar Mohamed says:

      @tony, it’s true what you are saying about the quality of IT education in Kenya, the student should be zealous enough. However, our IT institutions must structure their course content and delivery to make it relevant and capable of stimulating inquiry. You can’t solely blame the student. When you walk into a college and you are told you will learn programming (VB 20hours and Java 30hrs), the end product is an IT consultant in quotes. Our colleges and universities should start doing better. The most important element in our higher education should not always be the cashier’s office.

  5. Tranx, why am I not surprised to see this blog topic? Thanks for choosing to steer debate in this particular direction.

    Just to recap, I am aware that you feel programming is not well taught in our colleges. I also know you hold the position that there is great demand for skilled programmers in Kenya.

    I am also aware that, even though more and more Kenyan ladies are going into IT these days, few of them show a passion for programming. In my view, this has to do with shaky grounding in Maths and numerate sciences back at high school level. In part, it also has to do with an attitude problem: if you believe something is difficult, you end up creating a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    It takes time, interest and lots of practice to produce a good programmer. Have you heard about the 1000-hour skill development rule? I think it applies to progamming.

    As for the 1000 text files, I would probably handle the problem using Windows Backup Scheduler combined with PHP code for file upload to the website.

  6. I’ve seen this problem everywhere, in all levels (primary and secondary ) and disciplines of our education system. I blame the KENYAN EDUCATION SYSTEM. Why ? I have sister who went through 5 years of Electrical Engineering only to become an accountant. Another sister who went through law school to work a social worker. A neighbor who did mechatronic engineering for the parents only to jump ship to I.T. because now its the in thing, and now thinks he’s a hot shot programmer. And classic ol’me , med school and I.T. diploma . IT brings in my cash,and its a lot of fun,lots, and am not even a programmer, i just like Java and php. A friend of mine , a doctor, after going on strike is dumping the practice, because its too much work, unfulfilling and wants more money and a happier life. She will do anything else but practise. Some friends of mine have done computer science, they are so wanting in skills its not a joke. Someone should wake the government up, the education system is seriously wanting, churning out a lot of frustrated scholars who can’t learn necessary work skills and earn money to support themselves and the to be families. I know of junk science, but i wont be far off if i call this junk schooling or junk education. I don’t know am just saying.

    • Breds, earning a living from something other than what you studied in college is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, one could describe it as pragmatic. If there is an opportunity to make a decent living practising a trade Z, and you like it, just go for it. You will be better off, and society will be better off. Of course, there is the whole issue of self-fulfilment. That is why you need to like what you do.

      Is our education system rotten? I do not know. What I know for a fact is that, should you wish to become a real expert at anything, you can always work your way towards that goal. It may take you years, or it may require you to take several courses, or it may require more than 1000 hours of practice, but you can get there if you choose to.

      By the way, have you heard some of the statistics about the American education system? They are not funny. I know a Kenyan lady who taught in an American high school for 2 years, and she could not wait for her contract to come to an end.

      • I agree with the idea that the zest to do something needs to be there. I was a pro at C and C++ programming with only three months of classes in my Actuarial Science course. I even went further and learnt a bit of Java just to see what it was we weren’t being taught. People who drop out of a course are normally laughed at but this shouldnt be the case if they did it to pursure something they are really interested in. At the end of the day, you just need to believe in some line of work and then the passion will come. I have always believed most people lack the innovation to shine in whichever field they choose. I.T provides a scope in so many levels to achieve success in any career. There are people out there who have used blogs to launch their law and medicine career. I’m talking online medical consultation. Just coz you didnt get a job doesn’t mean the end of the line for you.
        And the government is just one of many solutions. Kenyans need to stop relying on the government for everything. It’s definitely not the way developed nations got developed why should we be the exception. For instance, this issue of a shortage in I.T professionals can easily be solved by starting a freelancing site where any small project like that one can be posted and people can apply to do it (like a tender of sorts) Its done abroad with sites like and Elance . Why not here? Or you can start a social network where I.T professionals join and relate on a professional basis while hooking each up with such jobs.

  7. CanDoThis says:

    Can do this with a few lines code.
    The computer that has the files just needs internet connectivity.
    If you need it done, reply and I’ll give you a call.

  8. Francis K says:

    Actually A program cannot do the earlier stated work IF the work is not well organized in a manner that the interval change in portions of interest are not constant OR the changes are too many with no pattern.
    I was referred to this page with the expectation to find detailed ways to earn online as a Kenyan. I am a Statistician as well as an Economist. Now that the topic is hot Where is the work!! Contact me
    Dim X = work available( as integer)
    Do While x>0
    Contact me to do the work
    Don’t contact

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