I’ve wanted to share more about my experience at Techzim for the longest time but always seemed to be too busy experiencing and not spending time documenting. Happy to finally take the time to let you in on what it has been like being a web developer at Techzim.
Now I didn’t start as a web developer back when I joined the team in May 2017. I was actually a writer. Yes, I am just as shocked as you. You see before joining Techzim, I was a web developer at Calmlock Web Design and thoroughly enjoyed my work there.
It was a dream come true working at Calmlock. Picture 18-year-old Rufaro who had just started learning web development online a few months earlier being hired to do it professionally and achieve his personal goal of becoming a programmer in Zimbabwe.
My deepest gratitude goes to Trust Nhokovedzo for taking that chance on me and there’s no way I’d have been at Techzim without him. You see one day I was just mindlessly scrolling on Facebook when I came across a hiring post by Techzim.
The position was for a blogger and the thought of writing had started to occupy my mind more and more so I decided to give it a shot and apply. To my surprise, I was called in for an interview and the guys said they wanted to hire me full-time.
And it’s the full-time part that was a bit of a problem.
I didn’t want to leave my development job and was only looking to do blogging part-time. After speaking with Trust about it, he strongly advised me to take the opportunity because according to him it’d be very good for me.
To this day, I still don’t understand how he could’ve known that but I am very glad that I trusted him and took the opportunity.
Content Creation At Techzim
Being a writer for Techzim was humbling and eye-opening, to say the least. Up to this point in my life, I had looked highly upon software development and subconsciously looked down upon writing.
What could be hard about writing, right?
Turns out a lot is actually hard and as an outsider, you might not appreciate that as I did.
For what seemed like an eternity (5 months), I’d wake up and cover news, attend events and conduct interviews. Even though it was not natural for me to do, it was made easier because of the great team I was a part of and the editorial mentorship I received from Limbikani Makani (founder of Techzim).
It certainly wasn’t all sunshine and roses, we had our fair share of challenges given how the writing team at that time was made up of entirely new people who for the most part had not had a full-time writing gig.
Apart from writing, I was also one of the presenters of the daily news recap show that we produced at that time. If I had to pick something that made me the most uncomfortable, it’d be this.
Just take a look at the video below
As time went on, the nervousness disappeared and I started to look forward to making the videos as well as writing.
Talking To Computers, Finally!
Remember I said that 5 months seemed like an eternity?
Well, that is mainly because at the core of my heart is a love for computer programming and the one thing I feared the most was to have that fire snuffed out especially when I had just started nurturing it.
And you bet I didn’t make it a secret.
Looking back now, it seems like I took any chance that I got to voice out my passion for coding and how I’d rather be doing that. Things were certainly not made easy by the fact that James Chibwana was around doing cool things that I was itching to do.
So why did I stick with writing despite wanting to code?
Well, it’s because Tinashe Nyahasha (CEO of Techzim) convinced me that it’d actually help my coding and be good for me. So I decided to trust him and I can say he was right because one of the things writing taught me is to put the reader first. Likewise whatever I build I put the end-user first and make decisions based on that instead of making the code or tech used to be the biggest factor.
I eventually moved to the development team at Techzim and started a whole new journey filled with its own challenges.
My first commit message reads: “Fixed overflowing of share buttons bar count on Twitter icon – Made the text for total share more readable”. Just some CSS changes, nothing too fancy. For the most part that was what my tasks were made up of: customizing the WordPress theme on the site by making slight user interface tweaks.
That is until PHP came knocking on my door demanding to be wielded in the creation of dynamic pages like this one which pulled the latest Bitcoin price from a local exchange and also displayed YouTube videos on the cryptocurrency presented by yours truly.
Around June 2018, the website was redesigned (homepage screenshot) and a custom theme had to be built. The major drivers for the redesign were to surface more content (hence the homepage is categorized and has quick access to main categories on the site) and more importantly to introduce a marketplace where readers can buy different gadgets sold by Techzim.
Powering Techzim Marketplace
The shift in business models from being solely advertisement focused to incorporate e-commerce meant more development had to be done as we re-imagined how to sell online by having content creation and e-commerce merged. The first of such developments was the selling of airtime online and it was also the first time that I built something which had real people on the other end interacting with it so that they may get a service.
If you were one of the early customers you’d know that buying airtime on Techzim wasn’t the slightest bit simple, you had to go through a whole checkout flow (inspired by the West) made up of various steps just to do something that could be done on 1 page.
Making the breakthrough that allowed a person to buy airtime on one page is one of my most favourite achievements because a true customer pain point had been solved.
Shortly after that, it became possible to buy airtime just after reading a post (below post airtime screenshot) on the blog (content + e-commerce = 1) as well as on a dedicated airtime page instead of having to visit a product page for the specific network that you wanted.
Then earlier this year, we introduced a bot to allow people to buy airtime right within WhatsApp. You see often people have money in their EcoCash wallet but not have any data to access the website to purchase NetOne or Telecel airtime because they were using a bundle that restricts internet access to WhatsApp.
The introduction of the WhatsApp bot saw a real surge in the number of daily airtime customers. I still don’t know how I manage to sleep peacefully knowing that so many people are depending on the code to function well.
In June we launched the Techzim Market app so that you can easily pay for your DStv subscription via ZIPIT using RTGS$ and also buy airtime there (though the bot is my favourite means). Apart from airtime and DStv, you can also buy various gadgets like smartphones, laptops, Arduino kits etc from the Techzim store. (market home screenshot) (product page screenshot)
So that’s pretty much a high overview of some of the integrations that I’ve had the opportunity to work on and what my journey has been like so far.
Now to distil the lessons learned from being a writer and developer at Techzim.
1. Keep It Simple Stupid
This is one of the famous design principles out there that was ingrained in me when I was part of the editorial team.
You see, writing for Techzim can tempt you to want to sound smart. I mean you have thousands of people reading your posts daily and naturally might want to come off as if you know what you’re talking about by using technical jargon or big words.
But that’s not the best for readers.
Instead, removing all the tech jargon and making the subject so simple to understand that non-techies would not be lost is the way to go. This principle surfaced again when I started doing development especially on projects that had people interacting with them like the e-commerce projects.
2. Publish Boss
William Chui had this famous saying “Publish Boss” when he was at Techzim. Essentially the idea was that once the news has come out, do all you can to break the news as fast as possible and leave the analysis for later articles. I learned to prioritize tasks based on that saying because it wasn’t always beneficial for readers to wait a long time for an in-depth analysis without being told that something is even happening.
Later on in development, this idea came differently: “done is better than perfect” or “get to market as fast as possible”.
I’m someone who tries to preempt all the possible bugs in my code and ship something perfect but that’s impossible and is not the best (business-wise) because you spend time planning and not getting real-world feedback.
I learned to build something very basic at first even if I could see how it could be better so that we’d get feedback from customers as soon as possible and improve based on data.
3. Strong Businesses Are Systems Dependent, Not People Dependent
As we started to scale e-commerce sales, there came a point in time where changes couldn’t be dependent on a single person. For example, if only Rufaro could alter a critical setting in the buying process then if Rufaro is sick or away on vacation, everything would come to a halt. Same applies to other activities like giving support to customers.
So, most of our processes are documented in simple checklists such that any team member can pick up any task easily. This ensures we deliver the best service to our customers no matter who is sick or who is in Hawaii.
Due to this lesson, whenever I code, I keep in mind that I shouldn’t be the only one who can make non-technical changes that affect service delivery and I make sure to create a checklist where needed before I can mark that feature as completed.
4. Don’t Get Too Attached
This one was hard to learn. Back in the content creation days, we had to stop producing the daily news and this came at a point when I was looking forward to them.
And then recently, it happened with a system that James and I had built which had to be suspended and replaced with what was originally there. Talk about watching your beautiful code go to waste!
Yes, I said beautiful.
In both cases, I had become too attached but I learned that it may not always be the best decision for the business to continue with a product.
So often things will die and that’s okay because it’ll allow you to focus on the important stuff. And that important stuff is defined by the ultimate goal of the business which in most cases is to deliver the best value to customers and to be constantly profitable because at the end of the day families need to be fed.
5. Attitude > Skill
The stakes in this business aren’t as high as Formula 1 driving, however, just like Formula 1 driving it’s not about just the driver but the overall team. So much can go wrong when the driver comes for a pit stop and cost the race regardless of how skilled the driver is.
Techzim doesn’t hire just for skills (makes sense otherwise I wouldn’t have got that writing position) instead attitude is more important. You may be the best in your craft but if you have a bad attitude and you’re not a team player then your time will be short-lived at the company (if you even manage to sneak in) because one bad apple can spoil the bunch.
More importantly, skills can be taught whereas changing someone’s attitude is hard.
I’ve had to work on my attitude since becoming a part of the team. Think becoming more human and less robot. And I’ve become a better person because of it.
Interesting Times Ahead
The list of lessons above is by no means exhaustive as there are other things which I may have forgotten that have shaped me into the developer and person I am today.
We’ve just scratched the e-commerce surface and I absolutely can’t wait to see what comes next especially the lessons and challenges that will bring.
Thanks so much for reading. Happy 10th anniversary to Techzim and the whole Techzim community.
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