Sunday, April 11, 2010

Synergy Career Fair

The synergy fair was organized by Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in collaboration with Synergy Global HR Programs to help introduce and educate tertiary students on selected brands and companies in Ghana. Google Ghana was invited and a team of three developers were picked to represent Google at the event. The team was made up of Henry Addo and Jojoo Imbea both from Suuch Solutions and me, Kweku Kumi Danso from Hutspace Co. Ltd.

We arrived in Kumasi on Saturday 10th April, 2010 at around 12:00am and headed straight to the guest house which is directly opposite Evandy hostel, one of the big private hostels of the university. We met with Kofi, our Kumasi representative who booked and helped us check into the guest house. We said our goodbyes and headed to our various rooms since it was already late and we had a big day tomorrow.

Our rooms were quite comfortable with king sized beds and equipped with bathroom, air condition, TV and one bottle on chilled alvaro, on the house. I fell asleep around 2:00am because I had to make a few additions to my presentation. I woke up at 6: 30am and started preparing for the event, i put on my Google T-shirt and we checked out 2 hours later. We actually had to walk for about 20 minutes to the university campus to take a ride because of the difficulty in getting a taxi.

We finally arrived at the university's Great Hall at 9:00am and immediately realized the event was actually bigger than I had previously expected, which naturally increased my anxiety because it was my first major presentation after completing the university. We signed up for the fair and proceeded to setup our Google stand at the right hand side of the stage. I had the chance to receive the program and realized (in theory) that we were actually late since the event was scheduled to start at 9:00am and our spot was from 11:00am to 11:30am. It turns out we were 2 hours early since the show finally started at 11:00am when the organizers had put all the finishing touches and audience had finally filled up more than half the hall’s capacity which i roughly estimated to have a capacity of 800.

There was an immediate setback for me largely due to the way the presentations were going to organized. There was a central laptop located at the back of the hall where all presentations were collected and projected when needed. They had another laptop on stage which they had remotely logged in and was monitoring the activities of the presenter so as to coordinate the slide show from their end. This meant I had to take out the demonstration of the Gh Menus application from my presentation. There were a total of 9 different companies presenting including Google Ghana, namely Newmont, Fidelity Bank, Stanbic bank, Meltwater, ACE consult, Kharis magazine, MTN and Oxford and Beumont solicitors. ACE consult was the first to go up delivering two separate presentations talking about education in the USA and how to write a résumé. This lasted for about an hour and a half draining all the time and energy from audience and presenters. The rest of the presentations had to be cut short because of time factor and the questions segment was taking off the program. Even then a few people managed to sneak in video presentations which got an irritable reaction from the presenters.

There were a couple of noticeable presentation apart from Google Ghana’s (obviously) and these came from Meltwater, Kharis magazine and MTN. Meltwater because of what they deal in which is developing and supporting software entrepreneurs in Ghana. Kharis magazine was a relatively young Christian magazine, in its second publication own by a young CEO of about 24, who gave a great presentation. MTN mainly because they were actually talking about a product, the MTN mobile money at a career fair which was quite out of place considering the fact that they were not originally on the program.

I finally took the stage and was the 7th person to give the presentation. Another setback which actually started with the 6th presenter was the projector mysteriously going off during the presentation. I had to give my presentation with no projector support and deny the audience of seeing the carefully written and designed slide show. By that time, most of the anxiety had oozed out of my system as did a considerable number of the audience because of the long presentations before. The audience analysis was done by the first presenter which was made up of 95% of final year students with the rest coming from level 100 through to level 300. I took to the stage and introduced myself and my team and went on to talk about Google and its plan in Ghana. There was considerable crowd reactions when I said was doing my national service and a year ago I was also doing my project work and described it as not being easy and lecturers actually telling us to shut up and suffer. The presentation went on and I could see nods from a couple of people as I talked about Google's strategy to promote local content in Africa and even got more attention when I started talking about Gh Menus. There was also another spike in interest when I explained you could actually search for your favorite local dish, say banku of which I actually got a reaction from a camera man for in front of me, laughing and saying, “saa” meanly really. There was another guy who I think was bursting with questions inside especially when I started talking about maps, who actually had a question on maps after the presentation. I wrapped up with the importance of working in a software company and encouraging users to be creative and help build the software industry in Ghana.

I left the stage with a round of applause and realized I had actually made an impact when students were shaking my hand and congratulating me as I was leaving the hall. Two students were waiting for me outside with questions about Google and developing software with python. Most of the students were using PHP for developing web applications and Java mainly because that is what they were learning in school. We setup our stand outside around 3:00pm and was amazed by the number of students trooping in ask questions. I didn’t even have enough time to crack my chicken bones. They asked about Google and its plans, how they could be a part of it and how I ended up working for Google after school. I explained Google’s strategy and told them of the Google Technology User Group (GTUG) which had a KNUST launching on the same day in a separate event. I had to explain that I worked for Hutspace and not Google but was part of GTUG which anyone can join for free. We stayed for about 30 minutes and got about 35 visitors which was quite impressive considering the time and the fact that the show was almost closing.

We had students talking about build social software applications, building software to aid in their program of study mainly with the engineering students. One interesting pharmacy student was thinking of how he could use maps to effectively locate places especially pharmacies in Ghana and even use the GPS navigation system in some cars which do not work here in Ghana. There were a ton of interesting questions and even a couple of female students who just came around to chat about Google.

I had to leave my team in Kumasi because they were attending a friend’s program and I had to be in Accra for similar circumstances. The event was quite interesting and I realized talking to a large crowd was really not as scary as many people think. Also realized given precise and relevant information in presentation are the most important things even though it would have been nice to give a showcase of Gh Menus.

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