Ian Ortega catches up with David Wampamba, a Software Developer in Uganda to discuss the hard bits. Wampamba opens up on his coding journey, his life background and having to learn it all the hard way.

Ortega: Who is David Wampamba, how was his childhood like? How does he describe himself and the work he does? How did he end up doing this?

Wampamba: Since 2015, I have identifed myself as individual whose purpose of existence is to plant seeds of peace for our peace and the potential within.

I was born in Kampala, and raised in Kansanga. I studied at Kansanga Primary School – a UPE school for my primary education. I was among the few first graders in 2002. I went to Tropical High School – Kabalagala where I met new amazing people in my life. Once again, I was lucky enough to complete my O’level with a another first grade in my life.

However, due to financial constraints, out of fear, and a maybe limited interest, I went to a technical institute “MacMain school of computing – at Mackay Road” to pursue a diploma in software programming. I never cleared the tuition fees! But recently, I tried to get in touch with the school to make good, clear up get my transcript. I planned to use it to join University for a bachelors in computer science but a lot had changed at the school. They had shifted, changed management, and were having their own struggles.

Recently I qualified for an online nano degree scholarship, thanks to Google, Andela and Udacity who partnered up and gave us an opportunity under the Africa Change Scholarship. I was lucky to apply, qualify, study and eventually graduate in Android Basics.

Education aside, I was raised by two blessed women. These are my aunties from my paternal side. It happened that way because of many reasons but most especially my parents’ separation. I’m fortunate enough, they have been there for me, and treated me their biological child despite one of them having health struggles. I’m a naturally shy, friendly, talkative and somehow a supportive person. My personality in a way attracted a lot of my friends to come and repeatedly spend days at our home.

Because of their support, I am an inspiration to some people, a happy software developer, and an aspiring software developer coach. I co-founded and work with Gagawala where for the past four years, I have been working on the web hosting service, and designing websites.At Gagawala, we have been able to help more than 100 small businesses launch an online presence.

This year. I’m occupying the software developer role, and my challenge is to develop software (web and mobile apps) which we shall release before the last quarter of the calendar year. I’m also the interim Operations manager and my role is to work closely with the entire team to help in the creation and establishment of effective operational systems in the company. Our dream is for the company to outlive us.

Ortega: How did you get started on the coding journey? How were those moments when you almost gave up and how did you always pick up yourself?

Wampamba: In P.7 we were asked what we would like to be. I said, a priest, soldier or an engineer. In my P.7 vacation, I visited some age mates in the neighborhood and learned that they had a T.V and a playstation.

I had always watched T.V on the streets and it was my first time to look at the playstation. Though I grew up tinkering with toys, they were not as big a surprise as a playstation. When I went home, I imagined owning such things. The boys in the neighbourhood, one (Ivan) was my age mate and classmate. We supported the same soccer team “Arsenal F.C” internationally, though for local football, I supported “S.C Villa”, and we had similar interests in school subjects, so it was easier to develop a bond. A few months later, he requested me to escort him to the Internet cafe. On that day my spirits were lifted. From that day, I never looked back.

At Tropical High School we didn’t have computer classes but I could talk to neighbourhood friends like Ivan, Richard and Moses, to share their computer notes with me as if I was going to sit an exam. I loved computers so much that when I picked a dead keyboard off the garbage collection, it would share the bed with me for some days.

Since I was studying in day school, it helped me find time to get money and go to the Internet cafe in the evenings or weekends. The more time I went to the Internet cafe, the more helpful I became to young people in my circles and connected with adults. It also helped me revise especially in mathematics.

By the time, I completed senior four, I could type and operate the computer like I went to school for it. I had also started teaching myself HTML coding because someone told me, code is used to create games.

I used to learn HTML, by copying from w3schools.com and writing it in my exercise books. The only books of mine where I didn’t write HTML could have been those of Mathematics and Physics. Even though I wasn’t super good at those subjects, I liked and respected them more than any other.

When I was enrolling at MacMaine, they asked for results of my former class and my age. They were surprised by my courage and confidence. But also disappointed about my academic level, age and lack of previous formal computer education background. I pleaded with them because had they not offered a chance, I would end up a chef or metal welder since it’s what my dad, was interested in but I wasn’t okay with it at all. I also had a second thought about joining A ’level yet full of fear that dad couldn’t afford.

I begged for a test. The following week on a Monday a friend, “Samula Peter” may his soul rest in peace, escorted me to do the test. The notes I used to read from my friends’ books, were helpful because I passed higher than expected.

While pursuing my diploma I was introduced c, c++,Java and VB, programming languages. However, I didn’t put them in practice since they required me to install their compilers and IDEs on a computer if I wanted to practice. Which I couldn’t succeed at because throughout the entire course and for many years, I didn’t own a computer.

However, HTML, and JavaScript are things I practiced, though for JavaScript, it was by accident when I wanted to validate form fields of an HTML form then later PHP when I wanted to send the data of the form by email.

After school, I worked at some Internet cafes as an I.T support personnel and here I learned quite a lot of things about computer hardware and networking. After the internet cafe, I started a company and finally had a computer for my own. Though I was soccer fan, I forewent it to give computing more time and learn complete software development. So in my free time, I was learning SQL, PHP, HTML, CSS and JavaScript. In the process, I was developing functional systems for university students and landing my first gig to develop a Sacco management system.

To date I have worked on various websites, open-source projects such as Woocommerce and manage three servers hosting one of the most popular entertainment website in the country, another hosting an e-marchant platform while the third hosts the 100+ websites Gagawala hosts for individuals, and small domestic businesses.

I must emphasize that am passionate about coding but it doesn’t mean everyday is green. Some times, I have had to push myself beyond limits and learn a programming language in a day because there is a current use case which requires it.

But mostly it’s been times, when clients working on tight budgets, in moments when they can’t afford even the little you charged them. This makes me feel out of place, and doubt my choice of career and the clientele.

In 2018, I suffered from imposter syndrome. Throughout October 2018 to January 2019 I felt like quitting. It felt like dating a wrong person, going to a wrong doctor, voting a wrong president or choosing to take the dark path yet the light one was available.

There is a friend, whose name I won’t mention that wanted to disrupt the domestic education ecosystem by launching a product which would ease the way schools carry out assessments and other processes. Before he approached me, he had bought a developed system which never fully worked, then he tried to hire international talent from a certain marketplace.That too, never paid.

Then he spoke to me about what he was going through. As optimistic as I’m, I offered to volunteer and challenge myself to bring his idea to life. But for the whole year, I failed. Sometimes I could fall sick, sometimes I had zero cash flow, sometimes it felt like I’m getting done in the next couples of days, sometimes I was just not creative, but pressure kept on increasing. I wish I had chickened out in the first month or second or third but I don’t know how I convinced myself not to.

The friend tried to facilitate me with finances, checking up on progress, insisting on setting up deadline, etc but I was big headed. We revised terms from volunteering to compensating me with regular monthly income but at the same time, his business account got into trouble, and he couldn’t facilitate. I got demotivated but I never stood up to show my feelings, instead I kept on telling him, am working on it, don’t worry my friend.

I don’t know how he managed, but towards the end of the year, he told me, he had shipped some laptops, so he would give me one in compensation for my pay. Now, the type of the laptop is one that everyone dreams about. I couldn’t turn down the offer. But remember, I still didn’t have an ergonomic table and chair at home, I didn’t have cash flow, but I was greedy, desperate and hopeless to say Yes.

This was an amazing gesture, but I think my friend was attempting to awaken a dead horse.

So my behavior got the worst of us, affected my productivity and his (I guess), to the extent of breaking us apart.

I would have decided to keep silent about this story but I want the reader especially those who are just emerging in any career to learn something. The pain of mistakes builds anger, kills self-esteem and makes you feel like a loser. The cost of a mistake could be your entire career.

Not to say that don’t try out things, but usually have a plan to follow and most importantly an exit plan. Let your boss know about this plan even before you start work. Growing up in the absence of my father and mother, would have been painful but I can sincerely say, this was more. I don’t know how to heal. These are the mistakes which can lead you in psychiatry therapy yet the pain is self inflicted. Up to now, I wonder how I gave in and corrupted myself.

I believe in my cause, which is to “plant seeds of peace for our peace and the potential within”. It’s what gets me going. I know a broken glass cannot be fixed but the same person who broke it, can make the strongest one in future.

Ortega: You’re currently working on a new venture named; “Ablestate”, what’s it all about? Where do you see decades down the road?

Wampamba: Thank you, for this question.

To take you back, I have had my fair share of losses. That is to say, losing time, money and in the process negatively affecting my dependents and future clients. In the economy that’s a big loss. Because you have to consider that this money would have carried more value by doing what it’s supposed to do; which is building a product that can solve problems at a certain scale.

As a website designer, 99% of people who became my customers, admitted to have lost 90% of their total budget earlier before they found us. We want this to reduce drastically.

We hope to have contributed a certain percentage towards the improvement of the country’s economy in decades to come.

Through fulfilling our goal of empowering domestic software developers to reach world-class level and empowering domestic employers/startups to hire on informed grounds. We also hope that established international companies with a good payment track record will tap into our pool of trained, screened, tested and proven Ugandan developers.

Ortega: What life lesson have you learned that you wish you knew earlier in life?

Wampamba: To be honest, I believe everything happens at the right timing. Even if we wish we knew it earlier, I have come to the conclusion that by that time it wouldn’t have been helpful. The question is why do I occupy my brains with what I don’t know when I will use.

Having that mindset, helps me strategize and work on improving my weaknesses from now going onwards and upwards.

Ortega: What secret do you know to be true that few others believe?

Wampamba: They are 2 or 3;-

  1. God exists, God doesn’t consider religions and God speaks to everyone of us, at the least through three angels per person. For it to work for you, you must build a relationship with God.
  2. Love is a command not a feeling. Most people consider otherwise, they consider it sexual. The earlier we learn and practice that it will be the first time in human history the largest number of people will experience happiness and the presence of God.
  3. Happiness are not the things that excite us. They are the things which are contagious, a recognisable smile that one can’t take back. The more of those one gets, the safer and longer they live.

Ortega: What’s that one book that you’ve read that had the most impact on you? What was it about this book?

Wampamba: I have read many text books and listened to audio books but one that gets closest to the Bible is “the Secret”. It emphasizes that everything we achieved physically is a manifestation of our thoughts. Through thoughts we can create fear, boldness, success and failures.

Ortega: What’s your definition of a well-lived life, what were the major influences on that definition, and what steps do you take on a regular basis to lead a well-lived life?

Wampamba: A life in which one has a deliberate sense of purpose and values. The more one’s actions are in alignment with their purpose and values, the more fulfillment one has.

It was 2016, when I first heard about one’s life’s purpose in the book “Start with Why” written by Simon Sinek then I was connected to David Reeve who practically helped me identify and define my purpose and core values.

Through David’s Unleash Dreams program, I learned to design my life and live it by how I want it not by the circumstances or how other systems dictate it. Through the topic about the eco-system(my environment), I identified 8 areas of daily focus, which makes it easier for me to live a designed and well balanced life everyday.

I don’t forget to pray. I don’t forget to write at least a line of code. I don’t forget to do something good for someone. I keep saying positive vibes to myself throughout the day, even when am sick or not meeting my goals. The positive impact I have had for the past one to two years of doing, living this lifestyle give me fulfillment.

Ortega: What’s currently keeping you awake at night?

Wampamba: Basically two entities, Gagawala Graphics and Ablestate.

Ortega: What’s wrong advice you commonly hear being given out in your field? What would you tell a 20 year old version of yourself starting out, knowing what you know now?

Wampamba: I think it’s the wrong to advise a developer in a context of an entrepreneur. Unless it’s the developer who has shown the entrepreneurial interest, I discourage people from going that route.

It destroys much potential in the software and I.T industry. Especially for emerging developers, it builds doubt as they look to juggle between building a software and having to turn it into a business by themselves.

If you are to advise, only do when you know this person is willing to release the version to the market, or persuade them to send the product to the market then advise them on the entrepreneurship ability they require to push their product to the market.

I have come across this advice commonly being given out in tech hubs, conferences and hubs.

Ortega: What are you the most excited about right now that you can’t stop thinking about? What is the source of your biggest fear right now?

Wampamba: I’m super excited about Ablestate’s next step. So far we have tested the project for a year, testing with different methods on how best we can prepare young Ugandan people to work on world-class software products, and how we can be the hiring force for the many startups and established domestic companies which are hiring without accurate information.

Am afraid of Ablestates’ vision. It is interesting but at the same time comes with big challenges.

Ortega: If you could put a message on a billboard, what would you say?

Wampamba: Multiply love and smiles unconditionally.

Ortega: Speaking of your other collaborations, what is your current role at Gagawala Graphics, how are you changing the world through Gagawala?

Wampamba: Like I said before I’m the lead software developer and the interim operations manager. As a lead software developer am focusing on participating in the development of software solutions to automate some internal processes and others to be released to the market. We actually have a Sacco web based application at MVP stage and it’s being tested by Bweyogerere tubeere bumu savings group.

As the operations manager, am overseeing production processes, implementing new ways and setting up an operations policy.

We are providing job opportunities to talented young people. And soon we shall be opening internship opportunities as a way of preparing young professionals for a smooth entry into the job market.

Recently we agreed to invest in and accelerate a gifts and boxes venture, which is a women’s led initiative. Crafty Pie could be the first in Uganda, to offer fully custom made gifts. With these gifts, various people can now how something with which to order and surprise their children, parents, loved ones and friends.

Ortega: Which personality currently fits your definition of success? Why do you consider them successful?

Wampamba: Hope you don’t punish me for mentioning two personalities. One of them “Livingstone Mukasa” aka the people’s professor. He coined and implemented the idea of pension “Mazima Voluntary Retirement Benefits Scheme” – mrp.co.ug for the informal sector – now the Rolex and boda boda men can regularly save money for retirement. Interestingly as these men are sleeping their money is working, earning profits in form of annual compound interest. Personally am a member for two years, and I have never missed earning some substantial realistic interest. All I do is, set up MTN money mobile auto savings of at least 2000/= per day. I finally found the true passive income source. He is the author of a book “Invest for the future” which has sold over 5000 copies, I think you know what that means. In addition to running other ventures and he never stops supporting young people to shape their ideas.

Moshin Juma, a former rugby player and boxing coach has amazingly beaten all odds in the ghetto of kikuba mutwe. In 2006, he co-founded People concern Children’s project to offer kids in this community access to formal education. 10 years down, the road he was able to get some financial support and expanded the school to Mpigi were he has constructed one of the best school facilities in the country. Besides formal education, the people of the community are benefiting from other ongoing practical empowerment workshops, which are delivered by domestic organizations through partnerships.

In the early days of my career, it’s at this school where I was given an opportunity to troubleshoot computers, which has largely contributed to my career. If there is anyone I have seen setting realistic goals, living below his means, speaking his mind out, its Moshin.