The team behind VC4Africa – meet our coding wizard Valery Colong

On Monday November 1st VC4Africa will launch its new matchmaking platform. Hard to believe knowing we started with only a Linkedin Group and later a platform on Ning:) In lead to this date we would like to publish a bit more on the ‘process behind the scenes.’ It is actually quite remarkable given we worked with designers from Rotterdam and Nairobi, software teams in Amsterdam and in Cameroon and photographers from Kenya and Ghana!! Not to mention the project team comes from Seattle, Limburg and Santa Fe:)

None of this would have been possible without an incredibly talented and motivated team. This week I will be interviewing different people who worked on the project so you can get an insight into the process. It shows that a project can truly be crowdsourced from across Africa, the US, Europe and elsewhere. We hope the new VC4Africa platform serves to mute the naysayers and shows what’s possible instead.

Today I interview Valery Colong. Valery is the technology coordinator of Agro-Hub Cameroon, an Agricultural Market Information Service that aims to deliver timely information to farmers and consumers. Valery explains, ‘the project is about delivering educative and informative SMS messages to farmers and consumers that would enable them connect directly and do business.’ They have carried out their field studies and presented their findings at a conference in Cameroon last year. What is really great for me and the team is to know that Valery is taking the money he receives from the VC4Africa project and using it as startup capital. He is exactly the kind of entrepreneur we seek to support as VC4Africa. We would promote him some more if we didn’t need him so badly:)

What was the draw for you to help VC4Africa launch?

Even though its paid work, it is not so much the money that pulled me into the project. It was more Bill’s involvement and the idea behind VC4Africa. Later, I became more committed as the challenges and the outcomes grew. The knowledge I acquired was the most exciting part of the experience.

How did the process work for you, what made it different and how was it working with a design from Rotterdam, CSS from Nairobi and a Ventures plug in from Amsterdam?

Early on it appeared to be a difficult project as I needed to stay up to date with development and processes from different parts of the world and understand the working style of other team players [crew]. This was completely different from working with a team you already know locally and having face to face conversations. Its all e-mails, IMs and sending files across computer nodes on the internet.

What are the key points for you in building this new system?

1) We believe in Africa: The talent is here in Africa and time to prove to the world that we are not just consumers of technology, but both consumers and producers.

2) Crowdsourcing projects across the globe: I really don’t have to leave my country to work elsewhere if I don’t want to; it can all happen right here where I work everyday.

3) Reduced cost of production: It is easy to get cheap labor from across the globe without people having to move.

Can you give us a look into some of the technical challenges you have faced?

The most outstanding technical challenges I faced had to do with learning new technologies within a very short space and time. I just started learning WordPress when I got involved with VC4Africa but thanks to my Drupal proficiency, it only took a week to get up and running with WordPress. Buddypress being just another WordPress plugin was less of a hassle for me to crunch. Finally Unfuddle; this too was new but with a little assistance from Bill, the interface quickly became familiar.

Delivering on time and staying up to date with the rest of the team in other countries amidst unreliable and slow internet connections is a reality that was difficult for me to accept. Geeks in most parts of Africa will tell you this is what slows them down; the situation is improving in Cameroon though.

And front end publishing on BuddyPress is a major achievement, can you talk about how you tackled this?

Front end posting/publishing is a feature that we needed on the VC4Africa platform from day one but none of the existing plugins tackled the problem. I decided somewhere around the second round of development to develop a custom plugin I called [zippy post] to satisfy our front end publishing need for the VC4Africa platform. The plugin took four days to develop and most of the ideas I borrowed from another plugin [One Quick Post] which we had tested and was good but did not play well with the VC4Africa platform.

And I understand you might submit this and other contributions back to the BP community?

When I see the amount of work that has been done on Buddypress, and is given for free, I am moved to do the same i.e. give back to the community that has given so much to me. I desire therefore, with permission from the VC4Africa pioneers, that we’ll be able to contribute most of the custom codes including [Zippy Post] to the Wodpress/Buddypress community as I am certain that someone out there needs them.

Valery, VC4Africa is an open source project and the fact that you can make this contribution is a huge milestone for us and our efforts to be part of the OS community. Hopefully we can make many more contributions down the road.

Rounding up, how do you look at the results of the site now that we are so far?

I have seen other sites offering similar services like the VC4Africa Platform but I must say, without equivocation, that the VC4Africa platform is the most outstanding and featured packed. I like everything about this platform from idea to site design and usability. We have been able to change WordPress/Buddypress from a not so good looking thing to one that is beautiful and much desired.

As it is said, no work in engineering is ever complete but I am proud we have something working; something for Africa for which Africa contributed.

What is for you the strength in this collaborative process?

Looking at the platform, it reminds me of what is possible when brains are put together. It was an exciting experience especially for me an African working with other Developers and Designers across the globe. It doesn’t matter where we are located or what time zones we are in.We can truly collaborate to achieve whatever we want to achieve (provided we want to) and the only imperfection or impossibility lies with us.

Anything else you think is interesting to add?

To all the crew I say bravo!!! I think it was a wonderful experience working with you all on the VC4Africa platform. It has taken us time and money to make this dream come alive and it is my fervent wish that our efforts yield good harvests. I shall continue to support VC4Africa any way I can provided resources permited. It has truly been a pleasure working on the project.