Five year old Setriakor Nyomi sat in the comfort of his living room in Cape Coast, Ghana when his father brought home magnets and empty toothpaste boxes to show him and his siblings how to make door bells and makeshift TV sets. Although it seemed like nothing more than good fun at the time, it ignited a spark of creativity in Setriakor, a desire to build everything from nothing and that has been the driving force behind his lifelong romance with technology.
When his dad came home with a computer sometime in 1993, young Setriakor saw a “big TV on top of a box that could play games” and when he requested to play a game, his brother would simply push a bunch of buttons and he was in game heaven. His understanding of technology and its potential became apparent roughly seven years later when his father decided to open an Internet Cafe in his hometown. When Setriakor wasn’t helping people explore the internet after school, he was exploring it himself. A few years down the road he found himself learning how to program, sneaking hours at the Internet Cafe with a C++ programming book he borrowed from a church member.
“One of my greatest inspirations is my father who in spite of the fact that he didn’t have much of a tech background was always interested in tinkering and trying to figure out how stuff worked. For me, it was boundless; what you could do with the little you had and I think that when I gained internet access it opened up doors to exploring that side of me.”
Setriakor took his passion for technology a step further and decided to focus on an aspect of it that he enjoyed most- game development. In 2013 he entered a game he had been developing into the MTN Apps Challenge in Ghana and won! The winning game, Oware, is one version of a traditional west African pit and pebble strategy game that has been in existence for hundreds of years. The game took about two years to build, saw 10,000 downloads in the first five weeks and is currently available on the Android Play Store with over 100,000 downloads.
Oware was a step in the right direction for the young techie whose mantra is “technology for development.”
“I am very passionate about building technology that is going to enable development and make people better off than they were before.”
As a first time game developer, Setriakor faced many challenges along the way. However, these “challenges” had an adverse effect on him. Instead of giving into frustration, Setriakor thrived on the opportunity to overcome obstacles. “The process of going from ‘this doesn’t work’ to ‘this works’ or from ‘I don’t know how to do this’ to ‘I have actually done it’ is what kept me going.”
Fast forward to late 2014 when Setriakor received a call from ALU’s founder and CEO, Fred Swaniker. He had been recommended by an ALU intern who happened to be a student at Ashesi University in Ghana where Setriakor was a faculty intern teaching Java Programming. For the first nine months Setriakor worked remotely from Ghana, only communicating with his new ALU team members in Johannesburg via “the cloud.” Eventually, he and the rest of the Johannesburg team moved to Mauritius, the home of ALU’s inaugural campus, African Leadership College (ALC). He hasn’t regretted his decision ever since.
“After I heard the overall vision and mission of what ALU was trying to do I thought, ‘this is exactly what you want to do with your life.’ If I was going to join a team that was doing something so big in Africa it would be technology for development at scale. The scale at which ALU was thinking was so grand- I had never heard anything like it before and I just had to be part of it.”
Setriakor credits his amazing experience thus far to the people he has met in Mauritius. From his co-workers to local Mauritians, it’s the closest thing to home without being at home for him. As a Tech Lead at ALU, he’s been thrust into the world of “frame breaking,” stepping out of his comfort zone of software engineering to project management, platform deployment, leading teams, network diagnostics and tech support. He is even thinking about his OKRx (an objective he’d like to achieve outside of organisational goals) and hopes to inspire students at ALU to see technology as a tool for development to meet the needs of real opportunities on the African continent.
“We are on a continent where there is so much opportunity. A lot of those opportunities can be taken advantage of. I don’t see them as challenges, I see them as opportunities which tech can play a big role in. I want to get students to a point where they know technology is not about building the next Facebook or Google, but about seeing what the real challenges are on the continent and building and scaling the technology to solve it.”
The people are passionate. The work is challenging and engaging. The opportunities for growth are boundless. Welcome to ALU.