Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Teenager plans 'hacker school' to help Africa build next Google

Martha Chumo, aged 19, is on a mission to create a school for developers in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Martha Chumo, aged 19, is on a mission to create a school for developers in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.
HIDE CAPTION
Nairobi school for developers
iHub: Meeting point for techies
Nairobi school for developers
Hacker School
<<
<
1
2
3
4
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Teenager plans to open a school for programmers in Nairobi, Kenya
  • Idea came after she was denied visa to travel to U.S. Hacker School
  • Martha Chumo says she wants to help African programmers improve their coding skills
  • She is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the school

(CNN) -- Martha Chumo, a 19-year-old self-taught programmer, was supposed to be in New York right now, honing her coding skills and mastering cutting-edge technologies in the company of fellow software enthusiasts.

Instead, she's thousands of miles away, in her hometown of Nairobi, Kenya.

A few months ago, Chumo was accepted into the summer intake of Hacker School, a U.S.-based "retreat for hackers," where budding programmers come together for three months to write code, learn new languages and share industry insights.

Whereas the programming boot camp was free to attend, Chumo still needed to find a way to cover her trip costs and buy a new laptop. Excited and determined, the young developer turned to online crowdsourcing platform Indiegogo for funds. She set a target of $4,200 and managed to raise nearly $5,800. All she needed then was a visa to travel to the United States.

Read this: 10 African startups you need to know

Alas, this was not to be. As an unmarried adult who was not enrolled at university, Chumo was not eligible for a U.S. tourist visa because she couldn't show sufficient "social ties" to Kenya to prove that she was planning to return home after attending Hacker School.

But the U.S. consulate's refusal only served to slightly alter the plans of this passionate coder.

I thought if I can't go to the hacker school, let me try to bring the school to me.
Martha Chumo

"I thought if I can't go to the hacker school, let me try to bring the school to me," says Chumo. "(Let me see) what can I do to start a school here."

Read this: Tech hub working on 'next big idea'

Within minutes of her second visa request denial, on June 4, Chumo was calling her friends to announce that, "I'm starting a hacker school in Kenya!'

A few days later, she launched another Indiegogo campaign asking people to help her set up her own school for developers in Nairobi.

"I was so frustrated because I had applied to go to Hacker School; I got into it, I raised funds to go there, I had all these plans to read and learn for three months and then I'm not allowed to go -- that's how the idea for the school was born."

Autodidact

It's all a big change for this bright youngster who didn't even own a computer until a year ago, let alone know how to write Python web frameworks and Ruby gems.

A top pupil at her school, Chumo was planning to study medicine at the University of Nairobi. But she "bumped" into the tech world last summer during an internship that enabled her to access a computer on a daily basis.

Ghanaian start up heads to Silicon Valley
Technology and innovation in West Africa
Microsoft: Africa needs affordable tech

This triggered a deep desire in her to learn everything about this exciting new world; Chumo quit her internship, took her savings and bought a laptop. Soon after she was rubbing shoulders several hours a day with fellow techies at the iHub -- a co-working space that's become the meeting point for Kenya's coders and aspiring tech entrepreneurs -- using online tools such as Github and Treehouse to become versed in web design and development.

Read this: African startup takes on Silicon Valley

Not interested in becoming a doctor anymore, Chumo started working with other programmers on open source software and got a job as a developer. Her passion to become better then led her to apply to Hacker School.

"In programming you're constantly reading and learning and doing something new," says Chumo. "There's always room for improvement in what you're doing," she adds. "You get to do something new and not use the same old technology forever -- that's the fun part, and also being able to build anything that you can think of."

Tech potential

Kenya has experienced a major boom in information and communications technology in recent years, spurred by major investments to use the sector as a driver for economic growth and the roll out of submarine cables bringing high-speed broadband.

Although still young, the country's burgeoning tech scene has also been boosted by a surge in the number of innovation centers, such as the iHub, which enable talented coders and young entrepreneurs to collaborate and develop their free-flowing ideas.

Read this: Why tech innovators are Africa's future

Chumo says that, similar to Hacker School, Nairobi's dev school will run for three months and be free of charge for participants. Its goal is to equip young programmers from across East Africa with valuable skills and help them build exciting new technology for the continent.

"My vision for it is to have a three months program where developers from Africa can come and learn new technologies and become world-class developers," says Chumo, adding that she's already found a space to host the aspiring programmers. "Not just doing small kinds of technology but getting Africa to get the new Google, the big technologies, these will be things to come from Africa."

So far, Chumo has managed to raise about $12,000 at Indiegogo, out of her $50,000 goal. As determined as ever, she says that even if she doesn't manage to hit the target, she'll continue with her plans to provide learning opportunities to East Africa's tech community.

"For the funds, I am looking into company sponsorship as an alternative," she says. "I am planning to start, now that I have some funds. I know there are many companies and individuals that are willing to run with us," adds Chumo. "In some way, it was a good thing that they didn't let me go [to Hacker School]."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Marketplace Africa
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1100 GMT (1900 HKT)
Fish from the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho are served in top Tokyo sushi spots.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 1323 GMT (2123 HKT)
The world-famous waterfall is inspiring a local tourism boom as an increasing number of people is visiting Zimbabwe.
November 11, 2014 -- Updated 1007 GMT (1807 HKT)
Seychelles needed more than pristine beaches and choral reefs to boost its once troubled tourism industry.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
A general view of the Hout Bay harbour covered in mist is seen on May 8, 2010 from the Chapman's peak road on the outskirts of Cape Town. Chapman's peak road is the coastal link between Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope. When following the African coastline from the equator the Cape of Good Hope marks the psychologically important point where one begins to travel more eastward than southward, thus the first rounding of the cape in 1488 by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias was a major milestone in the attempts by the Portuguese to establish direct trade relations with the Far East. He called the cape Cabo Tormentoso. As one of the great capes of the South Atlantic Ocean, the Cape of Good Hope has been of special significance to sailors for many years and is widely referred to by them simply as 'the Cape'. It is a major milestone on the clipper route followed by clipper ships to the Far East and Australia, and still followed by several offshore yacht races. AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Abandoned workshops and empty warehouses are getting a new lease of life in Cape Town.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1037 GMT (1837 HKT)
Inside a glove factory on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, busy laborers turn patches of leather into these fashionable garments.
October 9, 2014 -- Updated 1050 GMT (1850 HKT)
The Somali capital now has its first-ever ATM bank machine -- and it dispenses U.S. dollars.
October 9, 2014 -- Updated 0911 GMT (1711 HKT)
Waves lap at the ships as they pull into the Port of Ngqura, but no swell is stopping the local economy booming.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 1524 GMT (2324 HKT)
In Uganda, a group of landmine victims are using banana fiber to create rope, profit and community.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1337 GMT (2137 HKT)
What does it mean to be Nigerian? That's the question on the lips of many in Nigeria as new national identity cards are being rolled out.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1105 GMT (1905 HKT)
 General view of an oil offshore platform owned by Total Fina Elf in the surroundings waters of the Angolan coast 15 October 2003. The 11 members of the OPEC oil cartel have agreed to slash output by a million barrels a day, the OPEC president said 11 October 2006, in a move aimed at shoring up sliding world crude prices.
Six of the top 10 global oil and gas discoveries last year were made in Africa -- but can these finds transform the continent?
February 20, 2014 -- Updated 1121 GMT (1921 HKT)
A South African app allows buyers to pay for goods using their phone, without having to worry about carrying cash or credit cards.
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 0027 GMT (0827 HKT)
African astronomers want world-class observatories to inspire young scientists and build a tech economy.
February 19, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
A Zambian computer tablet -- known as the ZEduPad -- is trying to open up the country's information highway.
January 9, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
South Africa may be the dominant force in Africa's wine economy, but other countries are making inroads in the industry.
October 10, 2013 -- Updated 0927 GMT (1727 HKT)
Eko Atlantic city design concept
A lack of infrastructure has hindered Africa's development, but a series of megaprojects could change that.
Each week Marketplace Africa covers the continent's macro trends and interviews a major player from the region's business community.
ADVERTISEMENT