[Kictanet] Nairobi Software Freedom Day Event Report

Dorcas Muthoni dmuthoni at kenet.or.ke
Tue Sep 20 18:40:23 EAT 2005

  The 10th of September 2005 was designated by advocates of free and 
open-source software (FOSS) the Software Freedom Day. Every year on that 
day, campaigns are held across the world to sensitize people about the 
benefits and availability of open-source software. Although the concept 
is an initiative of the nonprofit company Software Freedom 
International, it's actualized by grassroots free software advocates. 
This year celebrations were held in over 50 countries across the globe. 
In Kenya, the day was marked by a career workshop to apprise high school 
girls of the careers and opportunities available in the information 
technology industry. The event was organized by the Kenyan chapter of 
LinuxChix Africa with the hope of encouraging more young women to pursue 
degrees and careers in computing at large, with the ultimate goal of 
narrowing the gender gap in the industry.

Although the objective of Software freedom day is to promote promote 
public awareness and use of free and open source software, it'd would 
have been illogical to single mindedly pursue it when many Kenyans are 
still unfamiliar with Information Technology. In light of the unique 
circumstances in Kenya, LinuxChix Kenya has opted for a two pronged 
strategy that involves enlightening the public about Information 
technology, and informing those already familiar with it about the 
benefits of free and open source software. Due to limited resources the 
group undertook to concentrate on the former by holding a career 
workshop for High school girls, which fits into our objective to 
demystify what a career in technology is all about, and convey some of 
our enthusiasm for computing to young girls so we can attract and 
recruit them to the field. We also aim to provide them with role models, 
and mentors and hands-on experiences so that they can develop a vision 
of what a career in computing will be like. If they can see their 
future, they can realize their future.

The workshop, held at The Catholic University of Eastern Africa, was 
attended by over 200 people, ranging from high school students to 
luminaries in the IT industry. Keynote Speakers included Jackline Bitutu 
of Wananchi Online, Naomi Muta of UUNET, Eva Kimani of Celtel Kenya, 
Edgar Okioga of AfricaDotNet, Nancy Macharia of The Jomo Kenyatta 
University of Agriculture and Technology. The decision to invite more 
women than men as keynote speakers was a deliberate attempt to expose 
the girls to successful female executives, role models and to provide 
them with the opportunity to hear about their experiences climbing the 
corporate ladder.

Speakers shared their backgrounds, experiences and lessons they've 
learned through their careers and education about the importance of 
knowing one's self, setting goals, looking toward the future and 
learning as much as they can to make informed decisions for themselves.

Jackline Bitutu emphasized the insignificance of background to the 
pursuit of a career in computing. She related how in spite of her 
background as a teacher she'd been able to work her way from the bottom 
up through the ranks. She stressed that life long learning and hardwork 
are the precursors to success in the industry.

Naomi Muta discussed her own experience in overcoming career obstacles 
in one of keynote speeches. She spoke of the importance of knowing what 
one prefers and standing by it, of the need to pursue excellence, not to 
please others but to fulfill personal goals. She encouraged the girls to 
believe in themselves and work hard.

Eva Kimani told the girls of the diversity of opportunities in 
computing. She talked about the process of system development and 
highlighted the career opportunities inherent in it. Opportunities for 
System analysis, project management, database development, and 
programming among others. She pointed out the importance of being at 
ease with technology, and advised the girls to actively court technology 
however insignificant. She also advised them to share knowledge and help 
each other in order to better themselves.

Her presentation was followed by that of Edgar Okioga who spoke of his 
academic background in engineering, subsequent start as a civil engineer 
and change to information technology. He impressed it upon the girls 
that information technology was the way of the future, that no matter 
what field one chose computing aptitude would be indispensable. 
“Therefore,” he went on, “no matter what career one chooses, it is 
imperative that one is familiar with information technology.” He 
counseled them to work start not work hard. He spoke of the importance 
of communities, their role in facilitating knowledge sharing, and in 
promoting personal excellence; and gave LinuxChix Africa as an example 
of a women computing community whose focus is free and open source 

Next was a presentation by Nancy Macharia who spoke about Computing 
courses offered at Universities. She informed the girls that the skills 
discussed by previous were within reach; they could be attained by 
pursuing computing degrees offered at various Institutions in the 
Country. She talked about the need for girls to aspire to excellence and 
emphasized its life long nature.

Her presentation was preceded by project demonstration by Patience Mwasi 
a recent graduate from University of Nairobi. The demonstration was 
intended to show students what programming entails and what can be 
achieved through it. Patience exhibited a project that she'd developed, 
using FOSS, to aid biologists analyse the results of a study of the 
similarities and differences between the human brain and that of a 
baboon. Her presentation was done so simply and naturally that it must 
have inspired many a student to believe that they too could undertake it.

That was followed by a presentation on System administration by Dorcas 
Muthoni, LinuxChix Africa co-founder, filling in for Pauline Ndauti of 
Swift Global who although scheduled to speak was unable to make it to 
the event. She talked about workstations, servers and networks, their 
nature, role in facilitating resource sharing, and described system 
administration as the process of ensuring a reliable, efficient, and 
consistently available network that allows for seamless sharing.

After a lunch break of an hour and a half, the workshop proceeded with 
questions from the girls, which were addressed by panelists. To ensure 
that more people benefit from the questions raised, we will post them 
and the relevant responses on the LinuxChix Africa site 

The subject of free and open source software was further discussed by 
Joy, the events master of ceremonies, who spoke passionately about the 
what free and open source software is, the importance of alternatives to 
proprietary software, and how they can benefit young people and society 
as a whole.

At the end of the event Ubuntu LiveCDs, generously donated by Software 
Freedom International, were handed out to the students. Dorcas Muthoni 
did a live demonstration of how the students can use them. She explained 
that LiveCDs run without any need for installation and do not in anyway 
affect existing computer settings; all the computer user needs to do is 
put the CD into the CD drive and reboot the PC. To return to the 
installed settings, the user need only eject the LiveCD and reboot. The 
Girls were enthralled by the games available on Ubuntu, and its ease of 
use. They were enthused by the what they'd learned and were anxious for 
more information. They were provided with LinuxChix Kenya contact 
information for future consultations. The girls were encouraged to make 
copies of the CDS share them and what they'd learned with others who 
couldn't come to the event. They were advised to set up computing clubs, 
which would be supported by LinuxChix Kenya, in order to nurture their 
interest. Many girls said that they'd been edified about computing and 
had been motivated to pursue a related degree by the workshop.

The event was altogether a resounding success, although only time can 
the extent of its actual impact. It was an eye opener in respect of the 
dearth of computing information that is almost endemic in schools. For 
this reason LinuxChix Kenya intends to hold many similar events in order 
to help fill the information gap.


   1. Kenya Information Network Center (KENIC)
   2. Catalysing Access to ICT in Africa (CATIA), Kenya Coordinating Office
   3. AfricaDotNet
   4. Africa Center for Women, Information and Communications Technology
   5. Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA)
   6. Software Freedom International
   7. Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANET)

Kind regards,
Dorcas Muthoni
LinuxChix Africa
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