Dec 28, 2016 News
“I believe that there is great potential for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to benefit businesses in Guyana. There is an explosion of ICT that transcends other careers and there nothing stopping Guyana from being a part of that movement. There definitely needs to be more sensitisation.”
This is the opinion of Head of the Computer Science Department at the University of Guyana Andresa Harris when interviewed by Kaieteur News about the state and future of ICT and software development in Guyana. She told this publication that broadly speaking, Guyanese are “technology laggards”.
“This is often the case due to the lack of disposable income, and thus Guyanese not being able to purchase, experiment and innovate with cutting edge technologies.”
The Head of Department (HOD) said that there needs to be deliberate and widespread sensitisation which will foster technology buy-in, where there existed none before.
“In this way, the average citizen will be aware of the benefits and develop the confidence to use software in a variety of ways, such as applications in eHealth, eAgriculture, eEducation and even recreation,” Harris explained.
She further stated that since Guyanese get access to the internet, free and open source software and other internet-based tools predominantly at work, sensitisation can aid in the spread of appropriate, meaningful use of software/apps and also that of digital responsibility.
When asked if there is an atmosphere in Guyana that encourages software development, Harris said no. According to her, “Many corporations in Guyana, and even Government agencies, look outwards for their software solutions. There is a preference for off-the-shelf products.”
Despite this, the HOD said that software is still developed by a few start-up companies and even fewer established technology firms.
“Nonetheless, there are not sufficient sophisticated demands being placed on the software sector to drive its development, or to challenge and bring the best out of the existing firms and freelancers.”
She said that website development is popular and is often done by local firms and individuals. Harris said that it is notable that the Hackathon held earlier this year was won by a local team which fielded students of UG’s Computer Science Department.
Such an event, according to Harris, is one of the major ways of informing local businesses about the abilities of local developers. “Most people naively think that our developers are not as competent as those abroad.”
The department usually hosts an exhibition where notable projects out of the department over a two-year period are showcased. However, Harris said that this event is not sufficient to inform the entire population about what the students can do.
“I believe local developers need more channels to showcase their talent and win the trust of businesses in Guyana. As I have no doubt that they are capable of producing any solution required by any corporation here.”
As it relates to employment prospects for persons who choose a career in this field, Harris said that before the options were limited, which included the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company, Digicel or IT departments in government offices where there are usually used as technicians only.
However, “with the recent creation of the eGovernment Agency, there seems to be more opportunities becoming available. This is evident by the job vacancy advertisements on their website”.
She added that government ministries and agencies have been hiring as IT gains increasing respect as a transformational pillar and these entities are scampering to reap the benefits. Harris believes that the eGovernment initiative, since it employs a whole-of-government approach, will definitely place greater demands on the ICT workforce and training institutions for appropriate high-end technical skills.
In addition to working in the public sector, the HOD said that entrepreneurship should be encouraged in the sector.
“In my view, self-employment is honourable, and we must encourage it. Entrepreneurship, around the world, is gaining greater respect and acknowledgement as a key economic activity and source of solutions, often which government and enterprise-sized organisations are unable to supply.”
In light of this, Harris said that the question is not about the relative chances of obtaining a job, whether it be in government or self-employed, but rather is the sector sufficiently developed to cater to the career ambitions of citizens, youths in particular. Nonetheless, she said, the environment and indications of government is encouraging.
Harris believes that software and application development in addition to other ICT services offer tremendous potential for the creation of a non-traditional sector in Guyana.
“There is a growing need, internationally, for innovative technology solutions to social and business issues, opportunities and problems. Guyanese, as we all know, are an extremely innovative and creative people. The potential for software and application development to catalyse this new sector is great.” (Murtland Haley)
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