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My journey as a self-taught coder in Zimbabwe

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I once read an article here on Techzim that talked about a path to learn how to code. The article was good but the problem I had with it was that it felt like something that is only possible in America or abroad. So here I am, writing this article for you to see that YES even a Zimbabwean can do it too.

Here’s how my journey began in late 2014. I was just finishing my O level exams and as we all know, that’s the time when you have to decide what you’re going to do for A level, or more importantly, what your career choice will be. At this point in my life, I knew that I loved computers but had no clue how to write any code or anything. I just strongly believed that that was what I was destined to do and it was just a matter of figuring out how to do it.

The Startup

A friend and I decided that we wanted to make the next greatest thing like Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. The idea was to create an application that people would use and it’d just start our greater vision of one day running a big software development company. It is this idea that got me to write my very first lines of code as I was the one who was in charge of building the actual thing.

So I went online and googled for, literally,’How to create an Android application’ and it lead me to YouTube where I discovered some good tutors like Derek Banas and Bucky Roberts. Back then we didn’t have an internet connection at home so I would go to an Internet Cafe and do the lessons and save some documents for offline viewing.

This went on for a few months until I finally convinced my father to get us internet at home and it was Africom. Not the fastest but at that time they had an unlimited package for Android devices and that was all I needed. On 12 August 2016, I successfully finished the application (meaning it had all the necessary features that we had outlined it should have).

Now it took me 1 year, 5 months and 12 days to get there. Yes, I noted it down. It’s because along the way I got frustrated with how slowly I was progressing and decided to try something else while I figured out Android development.

Entangled in the web

Web development is what caught my eye during my startup journey and that’s when I actually got serious about establishing myself as a coder because, at this point, I didn’t think the startup would make it. So I consulted my friend Google and asked ‘How to become a web developer‘. I read a lot of articles and they all outlined that I needed a web developer portfolio site, projects to showcase on the site and lots of practice.

It was early 2016 when I discovered FreeCodeCamp, an online resource to learn web development from scratch and the best part was they had projects that I could actually do.

Now I’m not perfect, so it took me almost 3 months for me to get to the projects section of the front end web development course on FreeCodeCamp. That’s slow. And I attribute that to procrastination on my part and not always having a constant internet connection.

The wake-up call

Time. It can be your worst enemy or your best friend. I could tell that I was ‘failing’ in life according to societal standards because most of my peers were about to finish A level and there I was, without anything to show. Besides that, I had to live up to my father’s expectation and I clearly wasn’t. Fortunately, I have a father who is understanding so he let me continue on with my adventure and supported me because I had explained what I was trying to do.

I had been a Techzim reader for a while at this point (July 2016) and one day I was just on Facebook, scrolling as usual when I came across an article about how 80% of websites add no value from Calmlock Web Design which is a good SEO and web design company.

The thought of getting a job had been on my mind already but this brought it back into my mind. I was about to turn 19 in a few months so, in an attempt to make myself  ‘accomplished’ in society’s view,  I decided to just apply. Now I didn’t have a website or any strong online presence so I had low expectations. A few days later I was contacted, given a task and I completed it, then a follow-up interview came.

Learning for life

I quickly learnt that I didn’t know much. And my learning journey hadn’t even started. I only knew HTML, CSS and JavaScript and there I was being told that I had to learn something called WordPress which is a content management system that web developers use to make websites for clients so that they are easy to maintain and manage. I agreed to the contract and on the 16 of August 2016, I was employed and my learning journey continued.

So I began learning WordPress and before I knew it, I was making real websites for real people and actually earning some money. And on 26 of October 2016, I finally received my frontend development certificate from FreeCodeCamp upon completing the course. My plan was to use that certificate to get a job but by then I had one already, however, I still continued learning.

Looking beyond code

Code is one way you can make it in the digital world. However, you can also pursue other things. You can be a writer, social media manager or something else.

I’ve always wondered what else I could try other than coding, now that I knew it was possible to do anything in the digital world regardless of your qualifications or anything. I love technology and I pursued that passion. I’ve decided to try writing about technology, so here I am now, a member of the Techzim team.

Conclusion

Now don’t be fooled that all you need is passion. It’s going to take hard work, dedication and lots of practice. The point of me telling you my story is to show to you that YES even a Zimbabwean can do what may seem to be only possible in well-developed countries. Nowadays, it’s a whole lot easier than it was as we now have public WiFi hotspots that even offer free internet.

Am I the only person with such a story? No, that’s why we at Techzim are starting a new series which will show more stories of ordinary people like me doing things that may seem ‘impossible’, extraordinary or simply ordinary but proving that it is possible. I also encourage you to share your story and document your journey because it may be what someone is waiting to hear to give them hope and inspiration.

We still don’t have a name for the series so please leave a suggestion down below in the comments section. Thanks.

UPDATE: It’s been 2 years since I shared this and a lot has happened since then. Click the following link to read about what my experience has been like at Techzim as of 2019.

You can follow my journey and interact with me here: InstagramTwitter, Web developer’s blog and portfolio site.


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36 thoughts on “My journey as a self-taught coder in Zimbabwe

  1. Awesome article. I also am a self taught coder. Now running a business in Zim that developes custom geographic information systems mostly for Zim, Lesotho and Botswana governments. The business is now 7 years old. Best way to learn coding is start by learning how to write algorithms. Mobile apps and websites arent going to br around for long..they are just derivatives of programming. All i have is 4 points Zimsec A Levels! ???

    1. That’s great man. Keep expanding the business. Passion is more important than your high school passes. I hope more people learn from you

    2. I witnessed you rise Seige & you speak the truth!!!

      @TechZim, these are the tech articles that i like, please do more!

      1. Oh, no doubt @Webmaster that the web as a connected platform is here to stay. Web apps are limited in lifespan, is what I’m saying, and are already on their way out. If you follow trends like virtual and augmented reality you’ll perceive that web-interactivity in the near future will not be through web-sites or web-apps. Consider Googles recent announcement that they are no longer “mobile First” but “AI first” in terms of their development approach. Also consider Facebook big spend towards VR/AR, because they know the Facebook of the near future is not going to be through their app or web-site.

        1. …and you know what drives AI? It’s well written Algorithms! Learn the scientific art of writing algorithms and you will the master of the tech of the future! We have so much data now that all we need is intelligent system that learn from that and do what we need them to do without requiring clicks and key-punches.

          1. Ndashaya button rekuti ‘Like’ apa. this comment needs a like! that is where we are headed AI & AR. we have to adapt as developers otherwise it is easy to be obselete. Adapt or die!

  2. Wow I am impressed, I was looking at the fees for coding just yesterday and they come to about $ 4,000 for one full year. I realy want to crack it into the digital/tech world

  3. Great article, Freecodecamp is a great way to learn how to code (http://freecodecamp.com/)
    It teaches u html, css & javascript – You also get to learn a lot of frameworks, algorithims & oop techniques using java-script

    I think anyone who manages to finish the freecodecamp has a solid foundation in programming I like the practical oriented nature of freecodecamp

    one can then go learn java/php e.t.c after having grasped JavaScript

    If you give many people who call themselves coders some of the assignments in the freecodecamp roadmap they wont be able to do them

    1. I can’t agree more it has helped me learn quite a bit, and when you get stuck the other campers help quite a bit, just learning coding from freecodecamp as a hobby for now, just reached build my portfolio which seems quite daunting, my task for tomorrow will be how to make the top stationary! Thanks for the inspiration to continue. I tried joining the Harare Freecodecamp on facebook (Haven’t been accepted as yet)

  4. Yoh man i was really impressed and motivated to a greater extent by your article , and i always followed TechZim since last when i was in form 5(and i would love to be part of it by the end of my studies if i get the Requirements ) ,

    But since i had never studied computers at any level at school i always find myself saying that ” some days i would be a programmer(since i practise creating webpages, from youtube Tutorials i see and have tried out WordPress but i loved coding from nothing (offline) , and having a youtube channel called Geek Broz where i would post some of the Editing effects from Adobe packages and tech stuff ) .

    For me i’m just a ‘A level student’ who get low grades every term ,but on the other side finding myself being called a Tech Geek at school by student, teachers (who at any time refer any problem they come across) , and relatives by except my parents who know that there is no where i can go without A level .

    But the thing is I just don’t know enough. but wishing Zimbabwe to have programmers and even school for those who have Interest in Tech who might have no required grades for University .

    1. Learn html, css, javascript then
      Javascript frameworks like boostrap, angularjs, reactjs, jquery and nodejs then
      Php, mysql, apache then
      Java

      To validate ur skills ur can do the following certifications
      Java certification with oracle
      Mysql certification
      Mcsd app builder with microsoft

  5. This is actually a really good article. good on you mate

    “nothing worthwhile ever came easily”

  6. Very interesting story. In my view, designing systems is even better (than cutting code) so there is even more to learn. Unified Modelling Language and Object Oriented Analysis and Design will hold your fort in every direction you decide to take, going forward…and having a dig at the hardware side fills up the missing link!!

    1. Thanks for the support. I haven’t had a chance to play with hardware before, hope one day i’ll get to build my own computer or something cool.

  7. Inspiring story Rufaro , I started on Java Script a few months ago through Coursera & gave up …Now after reading this will definitely resume. It would be great to join a community of coders in Zim if there is one, learning on your own is definitely a challenge

  8. Hi everyone!

    Just read read this article and I’m so impressed!

    I see a lot of you want to learn coding, and I can help. I’m in the US and can send you more learning materials for free.

    My email is : Nextgenzimbabwe@gmail.com

    Send me a message and I’ll get something for you!

    I also see that some of you want to start (or already have started) your own businesses.

    I have my own here in the US but I want to help out however I can back in Zim.

    You all seem so motivated and hard-working. I’d really like to help support your businesses, or even start a new venture with you.
    Me

    Message me and let me know what you think!

  9. I have had to self teach some languages as well and it certainly feels good when you eventually get the basic understanding of the language and doing things becomes easier. It can take some time, as highlighted in the article (good read). But worth all the effort in the end. Having self-taught some of the Web-app stuff (HTML, CSS) and also the mobile side of things (java/swift), I personally enjoyed the latter more. Happy coding.

    1. Thanks. I’m starting to get drawn back to mobile development but the web is fun sometimes. If only I could get more time in a day, I would try out everything.

  10. young man i was motivated by your story ,, the journey to code is not easy as we might think it needs courage and persistence . Yes courage you may ask me what i mean by that ,the answer is simple ” don’t be terrified by bugs , the bugs makes you a guru just find right place for reference when you are stuck , i recommend stack overflow .”If you are beginner in race of coders go to w3schools and after that go to tree house but this is paid take a free trial for a sample in 3 weeks you will be somewhere trust me .

  11. That is great man, that is my story too, I started learning code in 2015 just after my A’Level, the journey was very tough and it is still tough because there is no particular point when you say you are done learning about code and technology in general. There are many things in IT and upgrade is needed everytime especially to developers. Just 2 years down the line and today I feel happy to say that I am developing an e-Learning system that will see the reduction of school dropouts in Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole. The system will be rolled out soon and I will post the link here at Techzim. Not impressed by how many student are dropping out both primary and secondary, I came up with an idea of an e-Learning system which is targeting primary and secondary education. but it became possible to do after a learning period of 2 years now. code for have and develop passion, all algorithms will become clear

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