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An Interview with Josef Scarantino of African Tech Network

By Wayan Vota on May 12, 2010

Recently, we caught up with Josef Scarantino who has just launched African Tech Network to strengthen African technologist in 3 primary ways:

  1. To connect technologist to economic opportunity
  2. To build a network of technologists around community, both physical and virtual.
  3. To contribute to technologists education and training.

Over email, we asked him a few questions, which he’s answered below. If you too have a project you want to talk about, contact us today!

African Tech Network seems to be an eLance for Africans – why recreate a site just for them?

The general consensus that I was hearing from many African technologists was, 1) that they were slipping through the cracks on these other professional websites and, 2) that these other sites weren’t really catering to the professional development needs of an African technologist. It was nearly impossible for them to compete on the same level and get themselves noticed. In addition, African technologists have needs that are going to be different than a freelancer from, say, San Francisco or Seattle. I felt very strongly that African technologists needed a professional site dedicated to meeting their needs and helping to build bridges to opportunity, all from an African perspective. Africa has a lot to offer the world but the exposure desperately needs to be there.

What advantages does African Tech Network have over other similar sites for African technologists?

The advantages that African Tech Network has over other sites is that we are concerned with the entire well-being of the African technologist, from economic opportunities to community-building to professional development. I believe those are the three most important things to an African technologist; the trinity, so to speak. If there are opportunities locally for an African technologist to engage with other members and even participate in some mentoring or educational events and training, they need to know about those opportunities and have access to them.

While other sites generally try to “get you work”, we are more invested in the professional development of the African technologists’ career and all of the real challenges that come with that. Having said that, there are some great communities out there that cater to Africans working in technology and we want to highlight those communities when we can. A great example is African Digital Art set up by Jepchumba. She is making strides in connecting Africans working in the digital arts and is doing a fantastic job.

African Tech Network seems pretty Africa focused – can non-African organizations hire African technologists through African Tech Network?

Absolutely! The general idea will be to eventually open the network up to any and all organizations, nonprofit and for-profit, to gain access to these technologists and participate in the network. Opportunities for member organizations can range from offering work to mentoring or even internships.

Going back to the mission, the idea is to build bridges and allow organizations to participate in the professional development of African technologists. They will essentially be acting as partners in the development of many, many technologists and the future direction of technology development in Africa. The bottom line for African Tech Network is to make sure those connections are made and to help build the economic independence of African technologists.

How does African Tech Network relate to Web Start Africa?

Originally, the idea was to spin off African Tech Network as an initiative of Web Start Africa, a nonprofit foundation I started to serve African technologists. But the more people I spoke to working in African tech, the more I became frustrated with the nonprofit model and felt the right move was to separate the two entities and allow African Tech Network to spread its wings and act as a for-profit entity.

Once the business plan is finalized, the idea is to offer some of the core African developers equity in African Tech Network and allow it to grow organically with its members as a sort of living organism. And yes, the network will remain free for technologists who choose to join. The next step is to build a board of advisors who will help guide African Tech Network strategically as we begin to move forward. Already on board is Ben White, from VC4Africa, who has had a crucial role in the iHub in Nairobi and has already helped tremendously in giving advice on the direction of African Tech Network.

How will African Tech Network “go mobile”? Care to share strategy & tips for others thinking along the same lines?

Well, being completely new to the African mobile market, one thing I do know is that it is crucial that we not forget the influence of mobiles in Africa. In this day and age, it is simply impossible (and foolish) to ignore mobiles in Africa. African Tech Network will start by offering certain updates to be sent to members’ mobile phones such as local event reminders, messages from other members, or even new opportunities from member organizations.

My goal with mobile is to start small and scale up as we grow. Although it isn’t quite time to allow members to manage their profiles from their mobiles, I think that day is fast approaching and we will be on board with that. The future technologists in Africa won’t necessarily be chained down to a laptop or Internet cafe, but will be mobile with a variety of low-power devices. When we get to that bridge, we will be seeking out expertise in the mobile market as we create a strategy for reaching out to members in new ways with new technologies.

Who developed the African Tech Network site? We’re jealous & want to hire them too!

Up until this point, I have developed everything solo in Drupal and phpBB on a virtual private server (VPS). Yes, lots of late-night coding sessions! Although, I am currently talking to some African developers who might form the first nexus of the African Tech Network development team. Long-term I want to be able to take a step back as CEO and allow the development team to handle site improvements while I work on creating those critical relationships with organizations who will act as partners and the critical link to African technologists. The course is being set and we already have a number of organizations in several African countries strongly interested in partnerships. One step at a time!

What is in the pipeline for African Tech Network?

Over the next few months I will be working on several site enhancements such as a complete overhaul of member profiles, including a member portal that each member will be presented with as they log in to direct them to where they want to go on the site. Also coming soon is the integration of a member forum, and special profiles and opportunities for member organizations wanting to get involved.

I also have a strong interest in integrating Google Maps and mapping the growing Internet infrastructure in every African country, sort of like the JiWire Global WiFi Finder with a twist. Some of these ideas will likely arise out of partnerships with other organizations. We want to be sure we are not duplicating any of our efforts.

Thanks again to Wayan Vota and ICTworks for the opportunity to be interviewed


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Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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One Comment to “An Interview with Josef Scarantino of African Tech Network”

  1. Just wanted to say thanks again to Wayan Vota for making this interview happen. My hope is that with a healthy dose of community and collaboration, we can build the African Tech Network into a useful, lasting tool for African technologists across the continent for years to come.