Of course I say “Saving the World” jokingly. As part of the new group I am in at work the focus is to develop software for emerging economies. Basically, Africa. But, working at a large company leads to a lot of meetings and less getting things done. However, our group is trying to work with Unicef so I got to go to their building. Now I knew they were part of the U.N. so when I headed into New York City I thought I would be heading into the famous U.N. complex and get to see all the stuff that all the tourists doesn’t. Unfortunately for me, Unicef has their own building right outside the U.N. complex.
I was there for a conference called the Open Mobile Consortium. It was a conference put together by Unicef for all the people doing studies in Africa to talk about problems and what works. The funny thing was that most everyone there were college students from Columbia and NYU. More specifically everyone I talked to were ethnographers. I was referred to as “The engineer”. Coming from working for computer companies most of my life I found it hilarious that they all thought that field work was easy, it was the engineering that was hard. Of course, still being students they did not have all the run-ins with lawyers that you have to worry about when working for a company. Lawyers lead to reams of paperwork to make sure that no one feelings are hurt when you ask them a questions.
Most of the applications that people are working on were SMS systems were users would text messages to servers that would parse the text, (usually health care information) and store and process it. These kind of programs make sense since most of the technology right now in Africa is centered around cell phones.