The rise of the Google developer community in Cameroon

Interview with Cyprien Tankeu on the evolution and challenges of Google Developer Groups in Cameroon.

Cyprien Tankeu mentors Google Developer Groups (GDG) chapters in francophone African countries. Prior to this, he was manager of GDG Yaoundé from 2012 to 2014. We catch-up with him to learn more about the growing community in Cameroon.


You attended the Google I/O Summit in San Francisco and GDG Summit Global in Silicon Valley. What do you think the Cameroonian tech eco system can learn from Silicon Valley’s startups?

Silicon Valley is a reference in terms of world-class technology and technology incubation and Cameroonian startups need to be inspired by its organized eco system, copy its positive traits and contextualize such that our products reflect our environment.


When was the first Google Developer Group (GDG) in Cameroon created?

It is worth noting that GDGs are first and foremost virtual groups which bring together communities based on specific interests in a town or country. These groups, however, also exist offline because they organize events.


After the 2009 Bar Camp Cameroon, Jean Francis Ahanda and others started Cameroon-GTUG (Google Technology User Group), which was mostly virtual, and it was followed by GCameroon (Google Cameroon) in 2011, which was created after an encounter between developers from several Cameroonian cities and Google personnel such as the Google Director for Francophone Africa. At length, GTUG Yaoundé and GTUG Douala were created. There wasn’t much activity back then because these groups were not only made up of developers, but included general Google users and sympathizers. Nevertheless, 2012 ushered in a global change in ideology and nomenclature, leading to the creation of GDGs (Google Developer Groups), which highlighted the fact that these groups were mostly made up of Google developers. Consequently, there was a migration from GTUG to GDG. The first GDG was GDG Douala, which was followed by GDG Yaoundé in September 2012, and it is at about that time that I became involved, ensuring the smooth transition from GTUG Yaoundé to GDG Yaoundé.


Can you discuss some of the activities carried out by GDGs in Cameroon?

Depending on the GDG and on the realities and problems of the region where it is found, GDGs in Cameroon are independent of each other, though at times they have activities and competitions in common. Each choses the technology and environment with which to work based on their various priorities and realities. Essentially, GDG activities include: access to information on coding, how to develop Android apps, the use of HTML5, sessions on recent technologies, workshops and mentorships, enforcing skills in different coding languages, as well as DevCamps and DevFests.


What do you think about the evolution of GDGs in Cameroon over the years?

We can say that they are evolving at an exponential rate. In 2012 there were two GDGs; by May 2013, there were three; by the end of 2013 (after Google I/O Extended 2013) there were 7; and 14 by the end of 2014.


In 2015, Cameroon has 14 Google Developer Groups, namely: GDG Yaoundé, GDG Douala, GDG Ebolowa, GDG Dschang, GDG Foumban, GDG Maroua, GDG Bambili, GDG Nkongsamba, GDG Limbe, GDG Buea, GDG Bamenda, GDG Ndéré, GDG Bandjoun and GDG Bagante. Out of the 14, 13 have organized events this year.


This places Cameroon as the leading francophone African country with Google Developer Groups, followed by Ivory Coast and DRC (though DRC started GTUGs before Cameroon). In terms of the number of Google communities in Africa, Cameroon is third, after Nigeria and Kenya (and followed by South Africa). Parallel to GDGs are Women Tech Maker (WTM) communities, which, if one were to consider independent of GDGs, the number of GDGs in Cameroon would multiply, but Women Tech Maker communities are linked to particular GDGs. WTM communities originated from GDG Women and other Women Tech Maker programmes which exist within GDGs and their activities target women.


As a mentor and coordinator of GDGs in francophone Africa, what is the greatest challenge you face, and what is the greatest challenge GDGs in this region face?

Each country has its realities and one of the challenges GDGs in Cameroon face is that, given their huge number, the impact on the community is low, and these GDGs are yet to channel their energy in solving specific regional problems, but they are working on it. Other challenges faced by GDGs in Africa include finding partners and making their country understand the importance of GDGs.


What do you think about the intersection between Cameroonian tech communities such as: Linux Land Cameroon, Ubuntu Cameroon, Mozilla Cameroon, Java User Groups and Google Developer Groups, among others? Do you envisage them working together on common projects?

Each community has its specificities, but communal and cross-community projects exist. For example, many members of the Google community work on Linux operating systems and given how large the Google community is, they cannot avoid using other technologies. Similarly, members of the Mozilla community use several coding languages on Firefox OS when developing apps. Furthermore, Android developers use Java language to code, thus all these communities work together and strengthen each other.