Citi urges better software education

2012-11-07 10:42
Jenny McKinnel of Citi wants more focused education on software development. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Jenny McKinnel of Citi wants more focused education on software development. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - Software development should be included in school curriculums and be taught in new ways in order to expand South Africa's capacity, a local expert has said.

"There are a lot of software development jobs that don't require the high level of mathematical, algorithmic kind of expertise that a computer scientist is. People who have a good language ability can also be software developers. The key thing for software development is the ability to solve problems," Jenny McKinnell, executive director of the non-profit Cape IT Initiative (Citi) told News24.

Typically, computer science is taught by the maths faculty at schools and McKinnell argued that problem solving skills required for software development could be taught by alternative methods.

"We need to change those perceptions: Language teachers could be teaching software development. There're programs internationally where you can teach them basic algorithms with a pencil and paper," she said.

Citi is a technology incubator that functions as a community in Cape Town and facilitates the exchange of ideas among developers and start-ups.


Users can rent tables and use the facility's data connection to build their online businesses, and McKinnell said that young people had the capacity to create relevant software and build companies around it.

"Some of our start-ups in the Western Cape sold software at the age of 9 to [clothing company] Rex Trueform. Kids can write software…kids could be programming mobile applications: You don't need the hard core programming, there are a lot of tools you can use to get you further faster."

She warned though, that some developers' determination to build their own software from scratch hampered their ability to get their ideas to market fast and lost them the competitive first-mover advantage.

"What often happens is that guys develop applications in their garage for something and they land up having to rewrite the code later anyway. But we're saying rather than try and completely build the code from scratch which is egotistically what a lot of the - guys - like to do.

"They want to feel like they've built the whole thing themselves, but it's slow, there's more opportunity for error and the other thing is you can't move fast," McKinnell insisted.

The focus at the Citi is open sourced with some propriety software so that it was easier for young companies to build a business model.


BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion recently open an app lab at the facility as the company looks to leverage local intellectual property for its platform.

The RIM apps lab was a demonstration of what the Western Cape had to offer in terms of skills, argued McKinnell.

"They're coming to this region because we have a community; we have a lot of success stories, we've got successful entrepreneur programmes, we've kicked successful businesses out of here."

Technology is essential for local businesses to grow, said McKinnell.

"For our businesses to grow, we really need to be leveraging technology."

McKinnell said that if developers were open to collaboration, they could potentially see results quicker.

"If you could build on something that already existed and added in something else so you could get yourself to a point where you had a prototype that you could show an investor, that you could get a proper team together and actually develop, as a start-up, you're going to get further faster."

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Read more on:    blackberry  |  rim  |  cape town  |  technology
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