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ZeroTurnaround goes to Egypt and explores the Egyptian and North African Software Industry

I recently attended the JDC conference in Cairo, Egypt. It was my first time at this particular conference and infact the first African conference I’d attended, so I was interested to see how it would differ from others I’d been to in the past.

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The event is run over two days at the Cairo International Conference centre and was originally created in 2008. The schedule was fairly typical with sessions on Java, Java performance, JEE, web frameworks, mobile development, Cloud environments and of course some rocking sessions around Classloaders, JRebel and JVM languages from ZeroTurnaround which I gave.

All the speakers were very well looked after by Heba Emad who kept us well fed, watered and in good humour! Oracle, IBM, Microsoft and Nokia all sent speakers to the event and the sessions I attended were of good quality, but perhaps a little introductory.

Session rooms were all on the cold side, but were all of a good size and extremely comfortable, nice rooms to present in. JRebel went down really well with the vast majority of people I spoke and presented to, but sadly there are no pyramids in Ireland so that offer was a hard sell ;o)

Most conferences suffer from poor wireless connectivity, and the JDC was not any different :o) Some of the sessions which relied on an internet connection suffered pretty badly as a result, but so long as the demo gremlins were too busy messing with the internets to bother my demos, I was happy.

It’s the first time as a speaker so many people have wanted to shake my hand and take pictures with me, which was an unfamiliar experience for me. OK, it did feel good because it made me feel more important than I really am :o) Questions in the sessions were reasonable and there was often good interaction between speaker and audience. People were even laughing at my jokes… no, really they were. I even showed of our new music video at the conference which went down very well indeed!

We (speakers) were kindly taken out each night by Ahmed Ali (conference organiser and Egyptian JUG leader), for some great Egyptian and Lebanese food. I managed to catch up with Ahmed between sessions to talk a bit about what he’s been up to and to learn a little more the software industry in and around Egypt and North Africa. Here’s what Ahmed had to say:

Si: Hi Ahmed, Could you tell us a bit about what you do and your involvement with the Egyptian JUG.

Ahmed: Sure, so I’m the JUG leader for the Egyptian JUG and am mainly responsible for the activities such as the monthly technical meetings at Cairo University who kindly offer the rooms for free for us. The last session we gave was around NIO2, which was actually a session taken from JavaOne in SF last year. Our sessions each target different attendees. We target developers and students so our sessions range from introductory style presentations for beginners to more advanced technical sessions. Session topics are decided by the user group. We run surveys to see which topics are of interest to people and try to find speakers that would be a good fit for those topics. We also build a tool called JUniversity which both spreads the word of Java as well as enterprise and mobile technologies. The EGJUG also runs the JDC. The JUG has around 4000 members so is fairly large and we typically get around 90 people turn up to the meetups.

Si: Let’s talk about the JDC. How many years has the JDC been running for and what were the driving factors which inspired the EGJUG to create and run it?

Ahmed: Microsoft are pushing .Net and the .Net communities strongly in Africa, but nobody was really doing the same in the Java space,so back in 2007 we had around 5 sessions in total over 1 day and it was a great success. There have since been conferences in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013.

Si: It’s great to see a conference which attracts both men and women to it, as very often only 5-10% of attendees are women. At the JDC that percentage is more like 30-40%. What is the rest of the world doing wrong? :o)

Ahmed: Yes, the last conference contained 30% women. In Egypt and North Africa it’s very typical for men to move jobs more frequently for some reason, and women tend to stay in a role for a lot longer which leads to companies preferring to hire women – less turn over than men. This is beside of having equal opportunity for work which drives more women into the industry as they are more likely to find work afterwards.

Si: Is the software industry different in Egypt to the rest of North Africa.

Ahmed: It’s actually fairly similar. Egypt is considered to be the development centre for many companies. They’re aware the development costs and quality with both be good. The Egyptian work ethic is very good as well.

Si: What do you consider the main challenges are in software development in Egypt and North Africa?

Ahmed: The challenge we’re facing at the moment is political, unfortunately. We’re seeing multiple companies that are looking to expand either pulling out of Egypt and settling somewhere else, or choosing to keep their Egyptian site, but expand their sites in other countries. Technically, our developers don’t really differ from those in India or Europe. They have the skills and the will.

Si: What kind of age do kids learn computing and programming.

Ahmed: We provide some programming lessons in schools. I actually started in QBasic and Visual Basic, but now, as I mentioned before they’re targeting C# and .Net because of the contracts Microsoft have with the African governments. I don’t think Java is really taught in schools, unfortunately.

Si: Are there areas of the industry which you think Egypt leads or lacks today?

Ahmed: The majority of the skills in Egypt are around Enterprise deployments. We do lack skills around mobile development, like android or iOS. We don’t have too many stills in the low level areas such as embedded, or driver development. You can count the number of companies on one hand!

Si: What are the future plans for the EGJUG and JDC?

Ahmed: We’re hoping to get more sessions on design and architecture for more advanced sessions. We’re currently not touching that so much at the moment so it will be a good addition to the conference. Design methodologies such as Test Driven Development is something we’re lacking. We could also have more interactive sessions and discussions like BoFs, and I think our audience will enjoy this.