Cameroon’s latest tech golden boy is a lanky 17-year-old with a soft smile and unassuming demeanor.
A resident of Bamenda, where the authorities have switched off the internet more than 50 days, Collins Nji has been basking in the spotlight as the first African to win the Google Code-in challenge.
“I was excited and amazed that my hard work was finally paying off, it was a great feeling,” he said on a recent afternoon after the ministry of post and telecommunications hosted a public event to recognize his achievement and that of several other young Cameroonians.
Nji learned about Google Code-in challenge from a friend and mentor, Wisdom Nji in Bamenda.
“He came to my school with some google developers to talk about the competition,” he says.
Going into the competition Nji was only coding at a basic level, using his father’s six- year-old and outdated computer with a small memory capacity.
His high school Maths, Physics and Chemistry background, he says, helped him navigated the complex tasks he needed to complete to stand a chance of winning.
“Basically the competition consisted of tasks, taking into account both quantity and quality of work done,” Nji explains.
Nji completed 20 tasks that included coding, outreach, and documentation.
Google Code-in is a competition for students between 13 and 17 years old. Some 1,300 young people from 62 countries entered the 2016 challenge to detect flaws in open source programs.
Nji submitted his tasks a day before the internet was shut down in the Anglophone parts of the country, as part of a government crackdown on protests fired by social media.
The prize includes a trip to Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, USA.
Nji will visit Silicon Valley with other winners in June as guests of Google Chief Executive Officer, Sundar Pichai at the GOOGLEPLEX.
For four days, they will be mentored by the best engineers at Google.
Nji plans to study computer sciences, specifically artificial intelligence and encourages others to follow his example in using IT to get opportunities like the Google Code-in.
Nji’s award is a success story in the Cameroon developers’ ecosystem, says former Google Africa Representative, Cyprien Tankeu.
Nji participated in a program in Buea in 2015 and was the youngest speaker, which predisposed him to the Google Code-in challenge.
He is not the first to take part in the google open source program in Cameroon.
Google has many programs and coding starts with the open source data available for users to develop applications.
Google Summer of Code is reserved for university students and allows them earn a stipend. The Google Code-in program is for pre-university students.
“Students are introduced to the open source because it is the base for the development of applications, programs and the spirit of sharing,” says Tankeu.
In 2013, two Cameroonians retained for the Google Summer of Code went to Mountain View. In 2014 two young women were among the participants and last year there were 16 young techies from Cameroon.
Those who participate in these programs become mentors in other programs such as the Google Code-in and the Technovation challenge.
Tankeu maintained that the main hindrance for many to take part in such programs is “ignorance and lack of information”.
The government recently hailed the performance of Nji, Habsatou Nadia Kalkaba and the Angels of Tech of Africa, who distinguished themselves internationally over the past few months in the field of digital economy.
Other pacesetters of the industry are Theophile Abega Moussa of Mgsoft, developer of Mboa Store, and Olivier Mabida developer of the video game Kiroo.
Cameroon is trying to harness the potential of its young tech community.
The minister of Post and Telecommunication, Minette Libom Li Likeng, organized a gathering of ICTs for youths on February 19, 2016 through a platform dubbed TicForJob.
Cameroon equally organized the first “Android Village” in May 2016 and later the Globe Trotter of the digital economy, to encourage youth-led projects.