Changing lives one line of code at a time with Stephen Wanyingo from UDEX

Other | Thursday 1st March 2018 | Gassy

Here at Guestlist, we bring you the pleasure of getting to know the man behind the great initiative called UDEX, which is teaching software engineering to change the lives of youngsters in Kenya.

How did UDEX come to life?

I was raised in one of the low-income communities in Kenya and the sad thing that happened was that almost half of my colleagues whom we graduated with in high school were not able to transition to college due to their economic limitations. These were young people with dreams, talents and ideas that can change their communities and the world at large. So having gone through college, I thought it would be an incredible thing to turn that into something positive and to try to empower these young people in some way, no matter how big or how small. Initially, we could not afford a space in town, so I launched the program in my living room with about 4 students and it just began to grow from there.

What are the barriers to Africa becoming a technical hub?

Africa is already on the map as one of the fastest growing regions in the world and I believe what makes Africa unique is the many challenges that we face, and right now what is happening is that, young people from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and other Countries in Africa are turning these challenges into solutions through tech entrepreneurship. However, I believe there is still more to be done, especially in establishing more links with leaders in the tech sector globally.

What problems are you solving?

Our program is designed to empower young people from low-income backgrounds with lifelong skills and to help reduce the high rate of unemployment and poverty in these communities.

Is there anything people in the UK can do to help?

Our mission is to find talent where nobody else is looking for it because we believe that each and every one of us from every part of the world has the ability and the responsibility to change the world for the better for all of us. And I call on the people in the UK and across the world, to join us in empowering young people and in creating a world where all of us have access to quality and affordable education by supporting our campaigns – every bit of support counts.

What is a typical day like at UDEX?

At UDEX, we strive to create one of the most open-minded ecosystems where anybody, no matter who they are or where they come from, can succeed. For starters, we drink a lot of coffee, way more than we should! – and we code. We have three coding sessions a day, where the first and the second session is all about coding and in the last session, we apply the knowledge learnt during the day to clone one of the popular apps (usually the core features only). The coding classes run from Monday to Wednesday. Thursday is all about soft skills training on leadership and entrepreneurship and on Fridays we either have an industry expert as a guest trainer on a specific topic or we organise our monthly hackathons dubbed Code & Coffee... of course!

What would you like to achieve in your lifetime?

Well, we want to help create a world where everybody can have access to quality and affordable education and opportunities, especially in Africa. Of course, I know too well that we can’t achieve it alone, and that’s why I call on peoples goodwill to help us in every step of the way and to ensure that we achieve our ultimate goal.

What are the hopes and dreams of most of the people who come to UDEX?

Most of our students come from poor families and the majority of them are school drop-outs who view the program as a second chance in life. They have expectations, one of which is to learn lifelong skills that will enable them either to get a job or to start their own business.

How far can you take them?

With our intensive and project-based curriculum - within four months - our students are able to develop many types of mobile app, even sophisticated ones.  They are then ready to join the workforce or start a business of their own. We have nurtured great talent, some of whom are now working with leading tech companies in the region like Safaricom. We strongly believe these young people are going to change our country for the better. They will ensure that we base our growth on the most valuable thing that we have - our young talent.

What do you wish you could do right now?

Right now due to our limited resources, we are only able to enrol about 40 young people in our program in each cohort. So my biggest wish is to triple this number in each cohort to about 150, and that’s why we are reaching out to individuals and organisations to help us achieve this target.

You give lessons for free, how do you survive?

I love what I do and over the years we have had partners who have supported our programs. Apart from the free training, UDEX also has a consulting department where we offer paid consulting services to other companies and organisations.

Is it sustainable?

Yes, it’s sustainable. This is our third year of operation, we started back in early 2016 and our program’s growth rate is quite impressive.

What are you proudest of?

Well, when students join our program, most of them are always completely unaware of their potential and they come thinking that it’s going to be very hard learning how to code, but they soon realise how easy and fun it is to code and they develop such a powerful skill set, then they start building their first mobile apps, their games and it’s so encouraging and empowering - when they go out and are able to get work, the most important thing is they realise that everything is possible if you work hard enough for it. I am also so proud that they are not only changing their lives, but also changing their communities.

What are the chances of employment for students leaving you or do you encourage them to be entrepreneurs?

We have partnered with various companies and startups in Kenya who hire some of the best talents from our program, and about 60 percent of our graduates are now employed. Though we also encourage our graduates to be entrepreneurs and create jobs by developing solutions to various challenges in their own communities.

How do you keep up with the latest programming languages?

 We have been so lucky to have a lot of friends both from tech companies and universities - in Africa and the United States - who have been helping us review our curriculum to align it with market demands and emerging trends in the tech industry.

You can’t teach them everything; can they learn everything else they need from the internet?

That’s for sure, four months is not enough to learn everything. That’s why we created UDEX Labs, a resource and incubation hub with high-speed internet, where our students can learn more from the available online resources and also be able to prototype their ideas.

What are your own personal dreams and aspirations?

My deepest aspiration is to help create a world where quality and affordable education is accessible for all.

Visit Udex here to see how you can get support this worthy project.