In the early days of 4kreport, travelling to different states in Nigeria’s South-South and South-East region to attend tech events and visit innovation hubs were one of the many ways I was able to grow an audience for the publication. The Forloop Port Harcourt maiden meetup was one of such events.
Lined up as keynote speakers for the Forloop event were celebrity software developers; Prosper ‘Unicodeveloper’ Otemuyiwa, Christian ‘Codebeast’ Nwamba, Faith Dyke, Joshua Josh and Lawrence Agbani to mention a few. These individuals as expected were familiar to everyone and were real crowd pleasers, but an unlikely someone seated amongst the audience stood out.
A Twitter challenge had been going on while the event was happening, the winner of this challenge was announced to an audience I could describe as ‘gung ho.’ Then a guy who seemed to ‘look like the smallest’ in the room, with a MacBook on his right arm and a Samsung Galaxy phone on the left, surrounded with so much energy, walked towards the stage to receive his prize. “That is the Samson Goddy!” an attendee seated beside me exclaimed.
At age nineteenth, Samson is already a force to reckon with in the tech industry but how did he start?
Samson Goddy got into computers really early but not without a few disagreements with his parents about career choices. His parents wanted him to major in petroleum engineering when he gets into the University because in a city like Port Harcourt where he grew up, working in an oil company was one of the really few ways to earn a fat salary that matched the expensive standard of living.
“My parents were pushing me so hard to go into the crude oil industry so I could work in companies like Schlumberger, Shell, Agip or Total.”
He never settled with his parents and he kept at learning more about computers. Along the way, his parents had to give in.
Learning How to Use a Computer
Samson attended Community Secondary School, Rumuomasi in Port Harcourt. For a junior school which was also a public school, you’re likely not to learn how to use a computer. But luckily for Samson, he got in when Schlumberger’s Excellent in Education Development (SEED) partnered with the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative to engage students in underserved communities in science and technology. That was the beginning of the ‘Tech Life’ for Samson Goddy.
At first, it was hard for Samson to understand how to use a computer and the science behind them because the laptops(OLPC XO) given to students by the OLPC initiative were preloaded with SugarOS – a free and open-source Linux based desktop environment designed for interactive learning for children – as opposed to the popular Windows operating system he saw been used in offices and by older peers who had computers.
In less than a week, he had become familiar with SugarOS that he joined a group of students in his school to help others learn how to use a computer.
“I love working with open source communities because I believe I will change the world in my own way,” he told 4kreport. “To accomplish this goal, I need to do more of volunteering work,”
By being restless and always eager to learn, he was chosen to represent his school at a yearly OLPC/SEED workshop. There he met Claudia Urrea who currently works at the Strategic Educational Initiative within the MIT Office of Digital Learning and Reuben Caron from OLPC.
“These people showed me more of life with technology. I was taught how to use Turtle Art, a LOGO inspired programming language for kids and Scratch, a programming language targeted primarily at children.
Again, driven by the passion to share knowledge to help others grow, he went back to his school and shared all he had learnt.
“I went back to my school and shared the knowledge; it was fun because the students were my responsibility and I was able to reach out to a lot students in my school and community,” he said.
Contributing to Sugar OS
Fast forward to 2013 after he was sponsored by SEED to attend a program called Exposure Robotics Academy – an intense 5 weeks summer program by MIT students to introduce kids to the world of programming robotics. What to do next was a hard shell to crack for Samson. He went online and began searching and downloading different programming language documentation. It was during this moment he came across the Sugar Labs Community(creators of SugarOS) and became eager to contribute to open source communities. Since then, he has never looked back.
Samson joined the community after he ported a popular game (magical kicks) using python(PyGTK) to the Sugar OS app store.
“It was my first project as a developer and I was surprised when it received over 36,000 downloads from the Sugar OS app store after it went public.”
He began volunteering with the SugarLabs team. Maintaining the SugarOS, fixing security issues and adding new features to help better the learning experience were his day to day activities. He extended far down into contributing significantly and modifying the SugarOS codebase and because of this, he was nominated by the worldwide SugarLabs contributors community to serve as an oversight board member to drive the community forward and achieve its goals.
Currently, Samson is looking to get SugarOS into the hands of more kids in Africa regardless of ethnic background or language difference.
“I am working on porting local African languages to the SugarOS for more educational use, starting with Nigeria.”
Working with Google
Each year, Google gives university students the opportunity to learn about open source software development and collaboration via its Google Summer of Code Program (GSoC). Students, under the supervision of Google, work with open source organizations like Ubuntu, Fedora and SugarLabs on a 3-month programming project during school breaks.
Sadly, Samson never got into the GSoC program because he did not meet the requirements; which were being an undergrad, a graduate or over eighteen years of age. He did not like the idea of pursuing a computer science degree in a Nigerian University either.
“People graduate from good Nigerian universities, yet they have no jobs. Why? Because Nigerian Universities don’t teach students how to create jobs,” he said.
Samson was eligible to participate in an open source program, Google Code-In competition, from 2013 to 2016 which was available to pre-university students but he never won in any editions he partook in.
” I didn’t win due to issues with internet access and the unavailability of a personal computer, but I always made sure I complete tasks enough to get certificates and T-shirts.” he said
Co-founding the Largest Open Source Community in Africa
In late 2017, Samson got an invite to visit Google Headquarters for a GSoC Mentor Summit after he had mentored a student who participated in the GSoc remotely from Nigeria. Having been part of the open source movement for over 6 years, the summit was where he met individuals who inspired him to build an open source community in Africa.
Samson has travelled to Kenya for a Scratch African Conference and has been invited to be a speaker at an international Scratch Conference in Bordeaux, France. Also, he has spoken in conferences in Paris, and Barcelona and has toured Google’s offices (London and Mountain view), MIT, and Harvard University. This was all because of contributing to open source software development.
After series of meetings with some of his friends mostly in the technology space, Open Source Community Africa (OSCA) was born. Co-founding OSCA with Ada Oyom in February 2018 and with support from the founding members; Peace Ojemeh, Yoma Okobiah and Favour Kelvin, was a way to get developers in Africa acquainted with open source resources and opportunities.
An OSCA meetup has been held in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Owerri, Nairobi and on the 8th of March, will be held in Lokoja, Kogi State.
Giving Back to the Community
Samson currently consults with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in collaboration with United Nations Women and African Union Commission to train African girls in Technology (African Girls can Code Initiative). He recently collaborated with the Rivers State Government to host a collaborative workshop to host 300 students in Rivers State University and consulting with the department of ICT to train over 700 kids in Technology.
His years of hard work might look like an overnight success especially for someone who is only nineteen years old. But it requires lots of patience and overcoming of obstacles, ranging from peer pressure to not having a personal computer, not being able to afford an overly expensive internet and seeing his visa applications continually been rejected over and over again for no tangible reasons. Yet, Samson never gave up.
“Impossible means I’m possible, it is high time you get up from that your comfort zone and start doing something productive.” You don’t need to rely on the government. If you are the opportunity-seeking type, I urge you to start creating that opportunity for yourself, ” he said.
Subscribe to 4kreport Weekly Newsletter, a weekly roundup of Technology updates from around South-South and South-East