“In the future, with initiatives such as STEM Guyana’s programmes to inculcate a solid tech-based foundation in Guyana’s youth, the University of Guyana’s Computer Science, Information Technology and Information Systems programmes as well as the efforts of Nexus Hub Inc. to create engaging tech work environments here, we are looking at notable, positive growth in our tech industry”
By Gordon French
As a young entrepreneur, he is determined to chart his own pathway to success utilising the values learned from his humble childhood.
Like many of his contemporaries, Eldon Marks had the opportunity to migrate with relatives to North America. Instead, he decided to return home upon completion of university to help build the Guyana he envisions.
Eldon, now age 34, proudly describes himself as a social entrepreneur, software developer and an educator who is on a personal mission to create enabling environments for tech development and growth in Guyana.
He fell in love with technology at the age of 16. At the time, he had just graduated from Bishops High School and had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. His choice to enroll in the Computer Science programme at the University of Guyana was partly inspired by his older brother, Errol, who completed his Diploma in the same programme at UG.
Eldon recalls that around the same time, he received his first computer.
“It was a second-hand machine given to me by a family friend, Mr. Charles Ceres, so I thought, this machine and everything that comes with it looks intriguing, why not?” Eldon recalls.
According to Eldon, he coasted through the computer science degree programme at UG, with average grades until his third-year when he built his first graphical user interface (GUI). It was a simple calculator.
“This changed everything. The excitement I experienced as a child making my own toys came right back but, in this case, I would be able to code just about anything into existence because it was all digital. This is the moment tech became my creative outlet without boundaries and I couldn’t have been more invested in the field thereafter,” Eldon shared.
For the remainder of the degree programme, Eldon stated that as long as it involved programming, he enjoyed what he did and it reflected in the grades.
In his final year of study, students were given the freedom to create their own systems development research project. Eldon built an enhanced chat application with animated avatars that automatically generated key phrases that were typed such as waving when saying “hey or hello”. This was 2004 when the world didn’t have animated emojis yet.
His research supervisor, Malcolm Williams was impressed with his work and the quality of research that went into the project that he recommended that he apply as an assistant lecturer at the University’s Department of Computer Science.
He accepted the offer and joined as a young member of staff at the age of 20 before he technically graduated.
“The environment within the Department was an amazing catalyst for my professional growth. The combination of mentors, variety of roles and activities and the relative freedom to explore other knowledge areas gave me the opportunity to discover a wealth of hidden talents and potential that would otherwise be unknown to me had I fallen into a typical occupation. This environment set the course for my career,” Eldon pointed out.
He spent thirteen years as a lecturer and mentor to students of the Department of Computer Science. During his time at the University, he founded a social-impact led tech company, Version75 Solutions (V75) as well as cofounded weOwn space, a shared office space and ecosystem for entrepreneurs.
He left the University in 2017 to pursue the management of these and other social impact initiatives, full time.
In July 2018, he selected members of his V75 team and co-founded NeXus Hub Inc., a non-profit technology and innovation centre for tech industry growth and development.
“It marks the culmination of the mission that started over a decade ago and presents a promising future to work towards,” Eldon stated.
Eldon attended Stella Maris Primary then went on to The Bishops’ High. He thereafter skipped sixth form and enrolled in the Computer Science Degree programme at UG in 2000. He graduated in 2004.
Then in 2008, he pursued his Master’s Degree in Computer Science at Howard University, Washington DC, USA. Eldon completed the programme in three semesters with a 4.0 GPA and promptly returned to Guyana.
Family is everything for Eldon. He is married to Amanda and the union has produced two sons – Ethon and Elias.
Eldon is the youngest of six siblings. He grew up in a multi-cultural home in South Ruimveldt Garden with his parents Errol and Adeline Marks. His mother is of African and East-Indian descent while his father is of Chinese, Portuguese and East-Indian descent.
All of his siblings have migrated, but he chose to stay in Guyana. Eldon’s dad was a travel agent and his mother a Probation and Welfare Officer.
According to Eldon, his childhood experience was conservative to say the least. His parents worked hard to provide their children with the essentials.
“We got what we needed more than what we wanted. I’d like to believe this helped to ground us; it definitely helped to orient my value system as an adult as well as brought an appreciation of the process of working hard towards an achievement,” Eldon stated.
He observed this in how his parents provided for the household and made the children “work” for what they really wanted for Christmas.
“I made most of my toys growing up and had a healthy curiosity which left the few store-bought toys in pieces or as part of another creation of mine. There was a minimum six-year age gap between myself and my siblings, which made it difficult to bond with them. This guided me to adopt a sense of maturity and discipline at an early age just to ‘fit in’,” Eldon stated.
Additionally, Eldon pointed out that having no-nonsense parents who led by example and had the emotional intelligence to expand on the reasons why as children they were being punished was what he would consider the most important factor in making him the person he is today.
“They taught us to be thoughtful, considerate and generous to others, regardless of how we may be treated in return. They gave us the freedom to express ourselves, creatively and otherwise and taught us restraint thereafter,” Eldon stated.
He described living in a ‘cosy house’ with an extended family.
“We all got along, most of the time, and bonded, helped and supported each other. The most cherished times were sharing stories during blackouts and the Christmas season when my mother’s pepper-pot aroma filled every corner of the house,” he noted.
Further, he said, “These times gave me a sense of how important family is and, in a wider sense, how much more individuals can accomplish if they worked together as a family – they may not get along all of the time but as long as they can identify that they share a roof or a country or a planet, then there’s reason enough to live as one.”
Eldon stated that Guyana has a nascent technology industry, but a very promising future due to the wealth of raw talent as well as the various civil society technology groups contributing to youth development.
“Further, the public sector, particularly the Ministry of Public Telecoms has been a major facilitator in organizing and funding various programmes which directly support tech industry growth and development,” Eldon stated.
At the moment, he said, Guyana’s weakness with regards to the technology industry is the lack of a critical mass of mature technology companies that specialize in software product development and software service delivery.
Consequently, he reasoned that trained, talented youth migrate in search of opportunities, which better engage their capabilities.
“In the future, with initiatives such as STEM Guyana’s programmes to inculcate a solid tech-based foundation in Guyana’s youth, the University of Guyana’s Computer Science, Information Technology and Information Systems programmes as well as the efforts of Nexus Hub Inc. to create engaging tech work environments here, we are looking at notable, positive growth in our tech industry,” Eldon noted.
According to Eldon, education is the foundation upon which one is able to build a career and a life for themselves and loved ones.
“What you put in is what you get out,” Eldon stated.
His advice for young persons seeking to enter the field of technology, is simply ‘take time to know yourself, your strengths, your interests, your passion’.
“Everyone is different, with unique predispositions so you must find a career which adapts to you, not the other way around to offer the greatest value to the world,” Eldon stated.
He added, “I understood early on that my predisposition was my creativity and I was able to adapt tech to my creativity. Once it maps well, ensure that you are passionate about every step on your career path, it is this passion, which ensures that you naturally deliver value and quality and you are bound to be supported for it. I’d like to emphasize that you should be motivated by what you do, not what you get in return.”
He noted too that mentors will play a great part in a young person’s life. According to Eldon, his parents, especially his mother showed him what it was to have strength of character, to have faith and to constantly strive to be a better version of yourself with each day.
It was Williams [his research supervisor] at UG who saw the potential in him that he never knew existed and taught him the power of servant leadership.
As it relates to the coming of oil and the impact it will have on the tech sector, Eldon stated that if managed well, oil, like any other resource will bring socio-economic benefits to the country.
He noted that the presence of major players and their primary contractors in response to the oil has already had a positive impact on the tech industry as recently, two local tech companies, Brainstreet and Version75 Solutions collaborated on building a software product for one of Exxon’s primary contractors.
“With the social responsibility clause in effect, coupled with the necessity of tech in operations, we expect more opportunities for local solutions providers to positively affect the industry in time to come,” Eldon stated.
Eldon stated that Version75 Solutions was originally set as a community disguised as a company while teaching at the University. It was designed to help students who were interested in freelancing in tech to build a portfolio and a brand while being supported by a more established brand.
They now operate as a network of consultants, some were students who benefited from the “institution” and went on to build their own company/brand.
He said Nexus Hub Inc. is a non-profit technology and innovation centre for tech industry growth and development in Guyana.
According to Eldon, this was created in response to the deficits in the tech industry and is designed to foster collaboration, stimulate innovation and create opportunities to grow Guyana’s tech industry.
“In the first three months of its operation, we managed to create opportunities for Guyana’s youth through promoting them in documentaries, running a paid apprenticeship programme and bringing together a group of developers to solve social problems with tech,” Eldon stated.
His philosophy and approach to assisting the community is that ‘we are all connected’.
“This world-view inspires my actions. I have witnessed time and time again that the more lives we are able to positively influence, the better the overall quality of life we individually experience. It begins with an approach which asks, “what value do I have to offer” rather than “what can I get out of this” – this value first approach does not impose any restrictions on the rewards you receive in return,” Eldon noted.
Eldon has been instrumental in the development of DevX 2017, the first online digital industry exhibition with offline events. He created an outlet for local tech talent to be showcased both at home and abroad to help create opportunities and grow our local tech industry. An online platform (devxevent.com) was built, which indexed over 200 tech exhibits from over 70 tech entities in Guyana.
According to Eldon, with low rates of collaboration, innovation and global market penetration the odds are not in our favour which meant that we had some work to do if our tech industry was to reliably contribute to economic growth and job creation.
Since the launch of Nexus, the group has completed 25 developer stories, each showcasing a local developer, their specialization, accomplishments and aspirations. Each week, they promote a new “developer of the week” on social media.
“I’m happy to report that it’s already begun to create opportunities – Teekae Jordan’s developer story was seen by a member of Cenedex Solutions, based in California and Teekae is now on contract with them doing Pen Testing,” Eldon shared.
Then there was the Nexus Hack Solve, a hackathon-like event, which was designed to get various developer teams to collaborate, rather than compete while solving social problems with tech.
Asked about Guyana’s future, Eldon prefaced his response by saying that in Guyana, we are all responsible for the future we share – it’s not solely the government’s responsibility, but that of the collective of individuals, which make up the population.
“At the moment, I see in Guyana’s youth an awakening of the awareness of civic responsibility. There are several civil society groups in operation and more on the way which spell a bright and promising future for Guyana, oil finds aside,” Eldon stated.
He stated that these groups and their actions are building a critical mass and demonstrating our capability to compete on the world stage, which is attracting support from the Diaspora, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and the public sector.
Eldon believes that if we continue on this course, in a shorter time that we expect, we’ll experience measurable economic growth.
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