Archive for August 6th, 2009
How should I describe my time with iSTEP? Well, first of all, early. The pre-departure class was at 8:00 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, and even when we were in Tanzania, a country that I have generally found to be very relaxed about time, we frequently left for work shortly after 8:00 a.m. I am normally a very late sleeper, and something really has to catch my interest for me to put in the effort to haul my body out of bed at that hour. iSTEP definitely caught my interest.
I am normally a technical guy. Throughout my time at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, my primary interests were always the more theoretical, mathematical aspects of Computer Science, which are far removed from the realities of implementing software systems, let alone the social implications that software may have. Part of what attracted me to iSTEP – and kept me waking up at those early hours – was the opportunity to try something new. Here was a job where it was all about social implications. I had to think daily about not just creating a solution to the problem, but creating an inexpensive solution that could be used by community workers who may only have a primary education. And beyond that, it had to be an application that we could successfully pitch to government and other organizations. This was new, and it was exciting.
Of course, there was a great deal of novelty from just working in Tanzania. Communicating with people who spoke varying degrees of English – from flawless to nearly non-existent – oftentimes made me wish I were able to speak Swahili. Slow Internet connections and daily blackouts were a fact of life. And on the weekends, I was fortunate enough to get a chance to explore Dar es Salaam and its surroundings.
I do wish that we had more time. 10 weeks was just enough to do the first stage of needs assessment and build a prototypical solution; another 10 weeks and I think we could deploy that solution and get some useful data from it, and more. The fact that the project was too big for 10 weeks was not a bad thing – I enjoyed sinking my teeth into it, and I hope I have started work that others will continue.
Daniel Nuffer was the Technical Lead for Social Workers Mobile Tool project and was based in Dar es Salaam. Dan graduated in May of 2009 from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. He has completed two internships with Microsoft, in Redmond and in New York, and is particularly interested in programming languages and their applications.