Friday, November 5, 2010

Google Tech Talk in Kumasi: Meeting Bright and Motivated Students

We arrived about ten minutes late after getting thoroughly lost driving around the campus of KNUST, Kumasi's science and technology university. Fortunately, in Ghana, ten minutes usually isn't late at all. It was my first time giving such a talk to university students, but it felt like a natural thing to do after being on the other end of so many at Cornell. To our surprise though, when we got into the lecture hall, there were already about 50 students eagerly waiting for us.

The crowd was mixed on that Wednesday afternoon, from some very tech savvy computer science students to other engineers to some decidedly non-technical folks. The talk was sponsored by the National Society of Black Engineers and the KNUST Google Technology User Group, a group of Google enthusiasts, similar to the Google Ambassador Program back home. After fiddling with our equipment and trying to overcome the Internet connectivity issues, the introductions commenced.

The event organizer finished, and donning my brand new Google Africa t-shirt, I began. "Hi, I'm Ben, and I work at Google."

The general theme I covered was spurring content creation in Africa. As of 2008, the World Bank had Ghana at only roughly one million Internet users, akin to Senegal, but far behind South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda, and despite gains in the last two years, there is still a dearth of Ghanaian content online. How can Google help Ghanaians overcome this obstacle? The two products I focused on were Baraza and Blogger. Baraza, which we just launched last week, is a question and answer service created exclusively for Africans. Blogger, as many of you probably know already, is a tool that makes blogging simple and easy for consumers around the world.

After giving my presentation, showing a quick YouTube video, demoing Baraza, and showing off my own blog, I was very impressed by the quality of questions I got about Google products. "How does Google determine how much revenue I make from my blog?" "Is Python the only language supported by Google App Engine?" "How does Google know if a blogger logs on and clicks his own ads to generate revenue?" It was evident to me that these students had clearly done their homework and already pretty astute users. It was very rewarding, and even if nothing else, it gave me a lot of confidence that the next generation of Ghanaians will be uniquely web-savvy.

At the end, we distributed a bunch of Google Africa shirts to a t-shirt-hungry group of students. A number of students came up to us afterward to introduce themselves and challenge us with more insightful questions. As we were walking out, the greatest feedback we received from the organizers was that even though we had been talking for two hours, they wanted us to stay longer to teach more technical content. To me, that says a job well done.


Unknown said...

What a great job you're doing!

Unknown said...

Ben, I enjoyed your time with us. Hope to see you here next time. Anyway I need a special tutorial to visualize programming the android. I liked your talk. Google has a good man in you and another in Andrew.

P.K. said...

I liked this Tech Talk. I found it inspiring.

Unknown said...

Thanks guys!