In January 2020, the Center for African Studies supported Mohamed Ally Iddi, a rising senior studying computer science at Harvard College, to travel and organize a three-week coding boot camp named “BitHub255” for students in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, during J-Term.
The aim of the project was to demystify computer science by introducing students to the basics of programming using Python. Mohamed collaborated with two students Edmund Sepeku (Rochester ‘22) and Akram Ismail (Rochester ‘22) from the University of Rochester to implement and run the project. The three college undergraduates partnered with Kijitonyama primary school, Dar Teknohama Business Incubator (DTBi), and Airtel Tanzania to acquire the space and computers to use during their boot camp. Shortly after advertising the program via all major social media platforms, Mohamed and his friends noticed tremendous interest in the program beyond its capacity when they received over a hundred applications within the first three days with a capacity of only 30 students.
A group photo of instructors and students of BitHub255. 4th from the left is Mohamed Ally Iddi (Harvard ’21). Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, January 15, 2020.
BitHub255 ran every week day from 11am to 2pm with short breaks in between. They divided the day into two main sessions: the morning session which was focused on introducing new material and reviewing live coding examples, and the afternoon session focused mainly on solving short problem sets while testing the students’ grasp of the material taught in the morning and previous days. During both sessions, Mohamed and his friends made themselves available for students to ask questions and get help in debugging their codes.
Akram Ismail (Rochester ’22), BitHub255 instructor, assisting Victor (student) in debugging a problem. Dar es Salaam, January 2, 2020.
Although the team faced a few infrastructure challenges such as unreliable electricity and slow internet, they found creative ways to work around it and achieve their goals.
“One of the highlights of the project, for me, was seeing some students go an extra mile to add more input validation and make more user-friendly command line programs. They were eager to learn and understand the relevance of the lessons in the real world,” said Mohamed.
At the end of the program, the team created mentorship groups to remain connected with their students and provide guidance and support on how to further their learning. Mohamed hopes to run a similar program in the future with a focus on a different computer science paradigm such as app development or web programming.