OoTheNigerian

sometimes, I make a lot of sense.

Category Archives for: Commentary

Why Aren’t Black Tech Founders And Executives, Speakers at Major Tech Conferences?

15 October 2015 by Oo Nwoye

From Left: Aston, Bilikiss, Obi, Juliana, Iyin

From Left: Aston, Bilikiss, Obi, Juliana, Iyin

As with any blog post on race, I have to include a prelude.

This post is neither meant to be combative nor to apportion any blame. It is merely to add to a continuous conversation about diversity in technology. This post is MY OWN observation made on behalf of MYSELF. If any statement here can be interpreted in more than one way, assume the less combative way and / or ask me for clarification.

I actually wanted to write this over a year ago. However, I had been advised about the risk of branding myself as a diversity activist rather than being primarily known as a technology person. And most importantly, to avoid the risk of pissing off the people who control the tech media. But there is only so long you can postpone a question that pops up in your brain daily. As for the risk, we are in the business of risk taking. 😉

Here is the issue

There are almost zero black faces speaking at the major tech startup conferences held in the US and Europe. And in the rare times they do pop up, e dey get k-leg (basically, it isn’t so straightforward).

Let’s check out the numbers of the most recent major/popular tech events (you can google for previous years).

Numbers are objective!

Conference Total Number of Speakers Number of Black Speakers Percentage of Black Speakers Notes
Disrupt SF 2015 83 3 4% Footballer, Snoop Dogg, Music Agent
Recode 2015 28 2 7% Movie Director, Lucious Lyon!
Disrupt London 2014 54 0 0% Thierry Henry is 1 of 20 this year
Le Web 2014 90 0 0% It happens.
Launch Festival 2015 71 7 10% The best I’ve come across. Nice one Jason.
The Next Web Europe 2015 53 0 0% :/

What you will notice is that in the rare times the black (wo)man is on stage, it somehow manages not to be those who are primarily in the tech field but say, in entertainment or sports. When it’s a tech person, s/he is mostly talking about diversity.

Here is the thing. This past year, I have personally emailed a few of these organizers to highlight the anomaly (no, I will not mention them). I have also recommended speakers. The responses (if they come) have not been positive.

Why are Black Speakers Important?

The Pattern Matching Loop.

When you make a decision based on historical data, you are bound to be biased by the data and produce a similar output. That becomes part of the data set and it continues…in a loop.

When tech black founders aren’t seen on stage (aka recognized as leaders in their field), fewer black kids would believe they have a future to excel in that field. The less black kids go into tech, the lower the chance the situation can change. Of course, that bias does not only influence the future black kids, it affects those looking for a co-founder, those looking for whom to fund etc.

I never blame those that pattern match; it is simply human nature.

Let me confess, if I have a few seconds to make a decision, I would not choose someone that looks like Jamie Oliver to make my jollof rice (don’t read the comments :)).

While it can be argued that food, music and some sports are cultural and therefore could have an inherent racial bias, tech isn’t.

5 years ago, I asked for the renowned black founders. While, there has been a lot of progress in that field since then, it has been against the odds.

The about pages and the speaker list of the tech conferences would have more influence on getting more diverse people into the technology field than any other thing I can think of. I know from first hand experience.

Here are some Black Founders and Technologists that should not be overlooked.

Clockwise from Top Left: Sim, Louise, Anthony, Tony

Clockwise from Top Left: Sim, Louise, Anthony, Tony

First, I have to apologize for putting their names here. Because there is this taint that comes from being used as an example. When they get justifiable noticed, it becomes, “oh, they are there to fill in a quota”. But that could not be further from the truth. These folks deserve to be on the largest stages and are needed to correct the flawed data that say none of the best  happen not to be black.

  1. Sim Shagaya (Harvard MBA, first Google Rep for Africa) is building a Nigerian e-commerce giant. Has arguably tamed the German Moving Train known as Rocket Internet’s Jumia with Konga. Raised $78 Million
  2. Iyin Aboyeji (University of Waterloo). At 24 he has finally got his stride in his 3rd tech startup and has co-founded Andela, the mill to churn out the next 100k technologists in Africa. Recently raised $10 million.
  3. Bilikiss Adebiyi (MIT). Using technology to help take away waste while making wealth and helping Lagos go green. Oh! She happens to be Black, Nigerian and Muslim.
  4. Obi Nwosu is co-founder and CTO at a top UK based BitCoin Exchange in the UK called CoinFloor. Doesn’t get more tech than that.

There are many more. However, let me not be accused of being biased towards Nigerians home and abroad. But Charity begins at home 🙂

Aston Motes was the first employee at Dropbox outside the founders. I do not recollect him being on any stage. He cannot be seen as a quota at any conference. And no, he is not a diversity expert.

Juliana Rotich of the BRCK team should be on every stage possible. BRCK is globally genius and should get much more love than it does.

Tony Gauda a TC Disrupt Finalist build Bitcasa, a Dropbox alternative. He is very qualified to be on any stage talking tech. And so is Anthony Skinner who was the CTO of Moz for many years, especially during their major technology transition. Louise, Kalam and Courtland are some of the black YC alums that are doing stuff as good as those speaking on any stage. So the question of affirmative action does not arise.

BTW, it took me 3 years to know that 2 Nigerian brothers founded a YC coy as far back as 2012. They just never happened to be on any major stage

Like I said above, I actually emailed a tech publication about their speaker lineup after one of their writeups criticizing the tech companies who had released their diversity reports. I didn’t get a response.

I am certain that there isn’t any conspiracy to deny black people in tech stage presence but it is quite easy to take certain things for granted if you are not checking yourself. One example I use to show there is no deliberate plan by white people is one of the quietly best podcasts on tech around, DRT. Only two black people out of the 104 guests so far and the first was number 99. Well, the host is a black british designer 😉

So how do we solve this?

To Affirm or Not to Affirm?

The biggest criticism of affirmative action is that it gives the impression that those who get in are not there based on their competence. Anyone who knows they are worthy on a level playing ground hates it. It is why I apologise to those people I named above. It would seem that they ordinarily would not qualify. That could not be further from the truth based on pedigree and results.

To me, I have started trying to see affirmative action as being more thorough and conscious. Instead of doing a quick Googling to see who to invite to the next conference, spend more time, go more further to find different types of people that QUALIFY to be on your stage. It is that simple!

I also think having a more diverse staff/speaker selectors at the disposal of those organizing tech events would help. People are quick to go for what and whom they know.

Though I fully respect and understand the need for minority focused events, I do not think it alone can help. We belong in the mainstream.

What finally triggered publishing this post (I wrote most of it a month ago) was the latest speaker announced for TC Disrupt London. When I finalized the draft for this post, they had 0 black people and I noted that there was still a chance to rectify it.

Then they chose Henry of Arsenal.

Please rectify.

PS: I hope because of this, I’m not punished covertly or overtly by the conference organizers I appear to criticize. This is to keep an important conversation going with good intention.

#OneLove

Click to Tweet this post.

PPS: Forgive typos. I just don’t see them. Thanks to Emmanuel, Banke and Sheriff for helping reduce them.

12 comments | Categories: Commentary, Startups, Technology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

It’s Hard Being Nigerian Online : The Moto G Edition (UPDATED)

31 July 2015 by Oo Nwoye

UPDATED: Scroll to the bottom

I love the Moto G.

For price and quality, no Android phone comes close. It’s three times cheaper than one of those plastic SAMSUNG Galaxies and at least twice better (see, I’m always hyping it). I have proven my love for the Moto G with my pocket and the number of referrals I’ve made that turned to sales.

Months back, my Moto G broke not because it isn’t strong, (the Moto G is actually a direct descendant of the Nokia 3310 and can reliably be used to wedge your car when changing your car tyre) but because I was struggling with LASTMA who caught me recording him because he caught me using my phone while driving (you know as LASTMA people hand be na) because…

I digress.

This post is not because of my love for the Moto G but my sadness that the love is not reciprocal simply because I’m Nigerian.

The Sudden Realization

After my phone broke, I decided to step down to “use Infinix hold bodi” until the new Moto G comes out. Two days ago it did!

I rushed to the site, realized you could customise and engrave your name on it. Like everyone on Twitter (having a high dose of narcissism) I tried to engage my name abi, Twitter name @OoTheNigerian

Nigerian Not Allowed

“We’d rather you not say that” ?!! This had to be a bug! So I tried another

American Allowed

American Allowed

Cold this be a “third world” vs. “first world” issue? Go I came back to base and tried another

Ghana man dey!

Ghana man dey!

Kai! Even Lil Ghana. Chai!

So I went direct

Offline or Online, Dem Wan Hold Us

Offline or Online, Dem Wan Hold Us

Basically, the word Nigerian is seen as unfit for Moto Consumption. Try it here

I’m not angry or offended because it was not done deliberately. What most likely happened is the database/algorithm they are using to do the naming has blacklisted  “dirty words” The Moto G site just used what was there.

Anyway, we need this corrected.

Help us take the word “Nigerian” from that list by clicking this (It pre-fills a polite tweet to @motorola and their CEO @rosterloh)

Prejudice is when Algorithms don’t want nothing to do with you. We Nigerians experience prejudice everyday offline on the immigration lines and online when trying to transact on eBay, Use PayPal or even peruse OkCupid (Don’t judge me. I dey do research).

There was a period when mentioning Nigeria(n) in your email was bound to send it to spam. You know, “Pattern matching”

It is why I give special kudos to our folks who make it eventually especially in tech and outside these shores.

But, as they push us back, we march forward with all the pride and arrogance we can muster :D.

I, Nigerian

I, Nigerian

The above picture was taken the TechCrunch office in SF. It was on TechCrunch I started using “Nigerian” in my online alias when I kept encountering hostilities, I decided to take it to them ( the TC monkey now seems symbolic and my arrogant face, apt :D)

As for my “Yes, I Am Nigerian” tee, I made the first version when I traveled to “the west” for the first time. UK to be precise. I noticed how countenance changed once it was “found out” I was Nigerian. First experience was at the airport.

I decided to make a tee shirt to give an advanced warning :D.

I’m nice like that.

 

Thanks Banke for helping me proofread. 

 

UPDATE:

A Mike Jones reached out and informed me the word Nigerian is now accepted.  You can click this to give them a shout out.

Nigerians Accepted.

Nigerian Accepted.

9 comments | Categories: Commentary, Nigeria | Tags: , , ,

Nigeria’s BVN Policy and ONE Matter Arising

30 June 2015 by Oo Nwoye

Nigeria’s Central Bank instituted a policy that requires a SINGLE identifier (BVN – Bank Verification Number) for every banking customer in the Nigerian banking system. Today is the deadline for participation and after which, you will not be able to access your money without it.

On the surface, this is a GREAT idea and not different from the SSN (Social Security Number) system used in the US banking system. If you ask anyone the reason for this, they will list out the upsides to having a biometrically verified identity especially in the banking system.
They may also tell you that it helps in:

  • Prevention of fraud (using different identities to open accounts) which will help with
  • Ensuring a valid credit monitoring system (if you are banned from a bank for defaulting, another bank should have that information)
  • Ensuring tax compliance.

However I am VERY uncomfortable with it and that has to do with data protection in Nigeria or should I say a lack of it?

The strength of a chain is determined by its weakest link.

The system that makes it easy for FIRS to monitor all the accounts you have access to, also makes it easy for unscrupulous people to have the same access. My issue is, what systems are in place that prevents the unscrupulous access.

Let me try to illustrate

Before and After BVN

Before and After BVN


In the example above we have our Magnate, Tolu with 6 accounts in the Nigerian banking system. We all know him as Tolu Ogunlesi and as the Founder of AyeDee Limited. Maybe some have seen his passport and know his other name to be Chukwuma (it is)

Here are the ‘right’ use cases of the BVN as being sold to us

If Tolu Ogunlesi is found to be a member of any type of cabal and all his assets are to be seized, presently his ₦ 2 Million in GTB, ₦19k in Access and his $700 in Union Bank would be at risk. However, as we can see from his accounts opened with aliases, the man will still be balling.

or

When Tolu an Instagram Celebrity and Private jet hopper declares Personal Income Tax on the amounts in the previous paragraph, “nothing can happen” since the FIRS would not be aware of any other source of income. They have no idea who Chuks Ogunlesi is after all.

With the BVN system, all the accounts he is a signatory to are tied to a SINGLE identifier 234666419 . With a single query, the list of all his bank accounts would be pulled up. So there is no way to hide if the good guys come for the bad guy Tolu.

However, risk is not about when things go right. HOW about when they go wrong?

If some guys decide that “this Tolu sef too dey do sef” or wonder “what is this Tolu feeling like sef because he has over 100k Twitter followers” (Any thing can trigger anger over here) and decide to kpake him then wonder what his ransom should be, there will be no need for an ATM card to know how much he has. All they need to so is collect his BVN find out his worth and ask for the 50% of all his monies as their share.

Ransoms can be more scientific/formularized. “Make we collect only 50% of what that guy owns”

In theory, this should not happen but we all are aware that there is ZERO security on biometric data collected in Nigeria. Do I need to remind you how easy it is to access the SIM registration database? or how available our voter registration database is?

Think for a minute, did you see any form of security when you went to register for your BVN? Now when the database is synced, the adhoc 50k/month staff at GTBank Oshogbo has access to it. Likewise the chap in the Aguleri , Nguru, Otoueke or gasp BENIN!! branch.

I really do not have power to fight this BVN system however, if there is anyone out there who can, I’d like you to find out the following.

  1. Is there ANY system/person that can determine all your bank accounts with the BVN?
  2. Who has access to that system and what is the procedure to having that access?
  3. Has there been an external audit (preferably international) of the system as a whole to assess the security risks of the BVN system?

Right now, I no too hold so I am not really worried or affected. But one needs to prepare for one’s future :D.

BTW, I looked around and could not see any Data Protection Law for Nigeria although I came across a bill trying to establish the Data protection Office.

Thanks Boro for helping reduce the typos in this post.

10 comments | Categories: Commentary, Nigeria | Tags: , , ,

Watch out Swatch! Today, Apple Starts the Clock for You and the ‘Timepiece’

09 March 2015 by Oo Nwoye

I wanted to write this post after Apple announced the Apple Watch but decided to wait until the launch day.

For such an old device, the timepiece has not evolved for quite a number of years in terms of function. As the mobile phone became ubiquitous, the wristwatch being single function device lost is utility and became a full time fashion accessory. This changes today.

Before we talk about how Apple upends the cart, lets try and understand the meaning of time.

Understanding time

The Timeline Interface by Pebble

The Timeline Interface by Pebble

If you think about it carefully, time itself is not really important as its accuracy expires the second we look away from our watch/clock/timepiece. Time only really useful in context.

“How long before my flight?”
“How long before the match starts?”
“How long am I behind schedule for the meeting?”
“How long before I need to wake up?”

Watches should tell us the time and not us looking at the time and doing irrelevant mental math (this generation will ruin the brain)
With the sensors and app that will come with the Apple Watch, our watches will move beyond the time realm and prompt us with

“Dude you’re about to have a heart attack!”
“Dudette, your blood sugar is low. It’s time for your next insulin shot!”
“Mamalete, ya babylette’s temperature is too high. Nope, not Ebola”

Pebble with their timeline interface, and smartstraps have built the first wearable that’ll take input from our bodies, compute without us looking like dofusses.

Time to say goodbye, swatch

Swatch

A collection of Swatches

 

Swatch‘s business model has always been built around the uniqueness on the watch face and strap. However, the core of the watch remained below basic.

It is not even Apple that will turn swatch to blackberry, it is Pebble, the cross platform alternative to the Apple watch that gets it right; as regards to building and affordable mainstream wristwatch.

Why spend $150 for a piece of plastic that tell you the time and at best has a stopclock when you can get a device that gives you infinite number of faces and tell you a lot more stuff beyond the time plane.

Here comes the Apple

Apple Watch

Apple Watch Collection

I am not a fan of Apple products, however, if there is one company that can take a consumer electronics mainstream, is is Apple. They tell the cool kids when it is time to move.

Today they are taking the smart watch mainstream and we are going to have a number of casualties.

You might ask, what’s so different? Smart watches are not new!

Apple has attacked the segment not as a gadget like her predecessors in the Watch race but as a fashion item that happens to take the timepiece to the next level. Looking at the above, you would have to admire the three pronged approach

  • The Sports watch (Casio, G- Shock and co)
  • The Casual
  • The Luxury (Made of 18Karat Gold)

As you can see, unlike with Pebble (who have done a great job) and other tech companies, Apple has 10s of millions of iPhone owners who are tired with wristwatches that do not really do much. After a person’s watch stops her from getting a heart attack, and other countless answers and activities and uses like opening doors (I’ll send my key to your watch), cars etc. Would the person put a piece of metal or plastic on their wrist that does nothing more than ‘look good’?

Of course, there is the ‘little issue’ of battery life which will only keep improving . That is the only reason the death of Swatch and co will be slow. Death of course is certain for  a lot of the old brigade.

Hopefully, rather than laugh like Balmer, Swatch would be hovering around founder asking “Guy, how far na?”

As for me, I’ll be getting my first watch in 10 years this year and is is not going to be from the old brigade.

*ticktock*

This is my first post this year. I’d like to blog more frequently so I’ll probably increase commentary pieces. Not every time serious post. Sometimes, Apple. As usual, forgive typos and please point them out for me.

2 comments | Categories: Commentary, Technology | Tags: , , ,

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