A new blended learning experience for Cardano developers in Africa
Teaching Haskell and smart contract development to aspiring blockchain developers on the ground in Nairobi
15 December 2023 9 mins read
The IOG Education team was back in the classroom in Kenya throughout the autumn and were delighted to attend the closing ceremony of new Cardano developers earlier this week. Here we share their thoughts and stories after wrapping up a very successful 2-month Cardano developer training course in collaboration with the Africa Blockchain Center (ABC).
In today's fast-paced and ever-evolving tech landscape, the demand for skilled blockchain developers soared in 2022, and the supply is still trying to catch up. However, in Kenya, as in many other parts of the world, there is a wide gap between the supply of such developers and the industry demand. At IOG, we have taken the initiative to bank the unbanked in Africa. To achieve that goal, the African continent needs not only a platform like Cardano, but also skilled blockchain developers to create new solutions on top of it for their own needs.
As part of our mission-based education pillar, IOG collaborated with ABC to deliver a blended learning experience where participants could learn Haskell, Plutus, and Marlowe. I, Robertino Martinez, traveled with my colleagues Dr. Lars Brünjes and Karina Lopez to Nairobi, Kenya, to kickstart this 2-month intensive course.
Arriving in Kenya
But things don't always go exactly as planned. We arrived a couple of days early, so, naturally, we visited the premises where the course was going to be delivered and met our hosts, which went well. The ABC prepared a suitable classroom with good WiFi, a big screen, a whiteboard, and comfortable chairs. On top of that, we had our own TV crew ready to live stream the lessons and food service to feed and caffeinate our students during breaks. Nothing could get in the way of our students and their ambition to gain all the knowledge available. But then, a new reality struck.
Haskell, the foundational language we teach, is not easy to learn. It expands the way you think, and it provides you with a unique set of skills to solve complex problems. You have to dedicate time and effort to think through concepts and practice writing code.
We meticulously designed a curriculum that took our students from zero to productive Haskell, Marlowe, and Plutus developers in 2 months, with the assumption of an 8-hour-a-day commitment. We made that assumption based on previous courses when we always had enough qualified people ready to invest as much time as possible to master the course. However, in this case, we didn't account for Kenya's working culture. In Nairobi, a big part of the population holds multiple jobs. As it turned out, most of our students attended university, had a full-time job, or both. That meant that we had to adapt our curriculum to these new circumstances.
This is when I saw the real dedication of our Kenyan students. We reduced the time commitment to 5 hours per day and extended all the deadlines to accommodate our students' available time. And they rose to the challenge! Every day at 2pm we waited for our students, and every day they showed up after working the whole morning and studied with us until 8pm. Their dedication didn't go unnoticed, and we also did our best to condense knowledge even more and proactively find ways for them to keep pace, even with their limited time and energy.
Our time there was incredible. Here are some of my own highlights:
- I witnessed how students transitioned from having no idea about the subject to having passionate and deep technical discussions in a short period.
- I enjoyed a few of the best "Aha!" moments I had as a teacher (those always fill my heart with joy).
- We worked together on practical exercises until late in the evening. We developed servers, chat applications, and other cool projects.
- On top of all that, I got to see a baby giraffe!
I was pleased to share all this with my colleagues Lars and Karina. Read on to discover Karina’s highlights from the experience.
Highlights of my colleague Karina Lopez
'Empower yourselves with a good education' is one of several phrases that, according to Michelle Obama's perspective, represent a fundamental tool for building a nation worthy of its boundless potential.
Education serves as the primary driver for personal development, and I recently had the privilege of witnessing its impact. As a member of the education team at IOG, I had the incredible opportunity to support Lars with this course.
The course blended in-person and virtual interactions, allowing us to connect with attendees and understand their perspectives on the topics covered during the sessions.
Initially, attendees seemed a bit reserved, but as the sessions progressed, they became more enthusiastic about asking questions and actively participating. Haskell is a robust programming language that comes with its peculiarities. Diving into the world of monads, lenses, optics, types, and other concepts can be challenging at times. Fortunately for the Kenyan attendees, Lars explained each of these simply and clearly, making it easier to understand the increasingly challenging lessons.
What caught my attention during the early sessions was that the first people to approach me with questions were women. It delighted me to see their determination to learn with such enthusiasm—a truly admirable sight. We need to encourage diversity in the tech world, especially in blockchain, Haskell, and functional programming.
In essence, every day, we had opportunities to engage with the attendees during breaks and even over dinner, as ABC’s staff treated us to a variety of traditional Kenyan dishes. The attendees' enthusiasm and curiosity were contagious, reflecting a profound interest in harnessing blockchain technology to address real-world problems. Sharing with us thoughts like this:
'With the increasing adoption of blockchain-based technologies, there is a growing need to create robust applications that offer solutions to the problems we face every day.'
Additionally, during our stay, we were invited to participate in some events, one of which was the panel discussion, "State of Web3 in Kenya: Web3 Adoption for Service Delivery in the Decentralization Context," as part of the activities during Innovate Nairobi Tech Week. The Nairobi County Government organized it within the digital economy and startup sector.
Another invitation asked me to speak at the Africa Women of Web3 (AWoW3) Conference. Successful women in the Web3 space shared their insights and diverse experiences, along with the challenges they've faced due to gender dynamics. They also discussed their strategies for overcoming obstacles and achieving professional growth in the technology and blockchain innovation fields.
The panelists highlighted their successes, collaborations, and efforts to promote diversity in the Web3 space.
While in Kenya, we had the opportunity to explore some interesting places. One was the Nairobi National Park, situated on the outskirts of Kenya's bustling capital. This park offered a striking contrast, as it is the home of iconic African wildlife. As we ventured into the park, we were greeted by lions, giraffes, and countless other species. The conjunction of these majestic creatures against the backdrop of the city's skyline was a powerful reminder of the importance of preserving natural habitats.
In the heart of Nairobi, we discovered the vibrant Maasai Market, a colorful hub of Kenyan art and craftsmanship. The market was a vivid tapestry of traditional Maasai clothing, jewelry, and other handmade treasures. Engaging with the local artisans not only gave me a deeper appreciation for their artistry but also allowed me to understand the economic and cultural significance of preserving these traditions.
Despite their many challenges, Kenyans are a remarkably vibrant community. They enjoy getting close to nature and embracing ancient living traditions and rich colors.
In general, I can say that this journey not only expanded my horizons, but also offered unique insights into the world of blockchain, technology, and the rich Kenyan culture. In my opinion, it was beneficial that all the attendees had their first experience with functional programming on-site. This allowed us to work together and encourage students to ask more questions and support each other.
For future editions of the course, we may want to ensure full-time availability from the attendees to really get the most out of the course for themselves.
My experience supporting Lars alongside Robertino in this course has been a journey of discovery, connection, and personal growth. I acknowledge that education is indeed one of the most potent tools for changing the world. The adoption of Web3 in Kenya is just the beginning, and as we continue to explore this ever-evolving landscape, we are reminded of the immense potential that technology holds to transform lives and create a brighter future for all.
It is our responsibility to embrace these tools, adapt to the changes in the digital landscape, and work together to harness technology for the greater good. The journey continues, and the opportunities are boundless. Stay tuned for more programs and courses from IOG Education in 2024.
After our two-week in-person phase, it was hard to leave. Kenya was so full of potential! But it wasn't a goodbye. It was more of a "see you online in 3 days" thing. And that we did! We continued our training for eight more weeks. When we extended the deadlines, we also extended the course itself. And so, we kept going! Week after week. We covered advanced Haskell, created and ran Marlowe contracts, wrote several Plutus smart contracts, and finished the Plutus section with a cool fully functional stablecoin DApp. Still, that wasn't all. We had one more section to go through: a personal project.
One of the curses that comes with the power of being able to build anything is that, as a software engineer, you always have more ideas than time to work on them. But, in this case, it was deeper than that. We wanted our students to kickstart their journey by solving a real problem they or their community had. So, we decided that the best course of action to flex on everything they learned was to allow them to build whatever they wanted. And we provided them with support, guidance, and technical expertise.
From a fully decentralized lottery to simulating entire economic systems, their ideas were ambitious. Regardless of where they’ll go from now, we’re glad to have been part of their beginning.
This felt like a satisfying ending. The story starts with young developers hungry for knowledge and ends with them building their own dream projects., It is just the beginning for these talented developers! If any of you are reading this blog post, thank you for your effort and dedication to improving yourself. We are really looking forward to seeing what you build on Cardano!
See you soon!!