Why Joomla Day reminds me of my early days as a developer

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During my time at the University, I picked interest in web design as hobby. I had spent my time in the 8-months-long vacation as, among other things, a computer tutor back in my hometown, Kabale.

I was considered an expert because I had very good knowledge of Microsoft Office applications. It probably sounds like fiction now, but back then, there used to be a computer-training “package” called Internet and Email, at 50,000 Uganda Shillings – roughly USD 30 at the time! The problem with the Internet and Email package that I hadn’t been unfortunate enough to enroll for was that the trainee would have to incur the hidden costs of Internet; about UGX. 3000 per hour. Hidden because this figure was never indicated on the initial fees sheet.

And luckily, I had had enough Internet/Email training back in Ntare School when, as a 14-year-old I joined the exclusive computer club and signed up for my first email addresses. But that’s the story for another day.

So from Ntare I had vast experience in Word processors and Spreadsheets. But I found the working of the Internet quite intriguing; that you could click certain text and it leads you to another page. I had heard that such text was called a hyperlink. But somehow everyone I tried to ask for an explanation on how it can work either didn’t know, or explained that it was too complicated.

Outside of Word-processing, computers were more of output devices only; offering information that would have been input by someone else. My curiousity was growing. I wanted to be one of those who actually input the information that the others would find.

And that’s the curiosity with which I went to university.

Unfortunately, web development wasn’t going to be listed among my course units since I was a student of Statistics and Economics.

So I had to find another way. I heard about Microsoft Frontpage – a now discountinued look-alike of Microsoft Word that would enable me create web pages. I started exploring with Frontpage, learnt HTML, installed Adobe Photoshop and learnt to design basic graphics.

A year later in 2006, I convinced someone that I could design websites and he asked me to design one for his tour agency; for a fee! This was big! I was both excited and nervous.

The client’s needs were – obviously – way beyond my skillset. I did a lot of internet research; for example, on how to make an image slideshow (or carousel). Then later, I discovered a website called Dynamic Drive from where I got tens of scripts that would do almost anything I wanted to do at the time.

It wasn’t easy being a developer at the time. But one job led to another and two years later, I was at Makerere University Business School (MUBS) with the task of building tens of internal websites, including the main university website. My portifolio had since grown as I had even created a somewhat popular script to send free SMS from one of my websites to people using MTN and UTL simcards: a lot of students at my hostel visited my website just to send free SMS.

At MUBS, I was told of an open-source system called Joomla!. I was familiar with Open Source software because I was already running one website built on PHP Fusion. But Joomla, I was told, was much easier, more secure and more widely used.

My first Joomla web project was called Procurement Uganda, a collaboration between MUBS and Kyambogo University. As I heard heard, I found the Joomla quite user-friendly, with thousands of free modules, components and templates available for free download. It was a chance for everyone to own a website.

I had developed over 100 websites by the time I stopped using Joomla in 2012. And that, in fact, means I had made a living – and a name – off Joomla.

Today, Uganda’s Joomla community organizes the Joomla Day events, with the next one happening on September 4th at Hive Colab in Kampala. JoomlaDay™ events are officially recognized, but not organized, by the Joomla!® Project and Open Source Matters, Inc.

While I won’t attend, I’ll be following online with a bit of nostalgia.

  • Oh Dynamic Drive! That website was a game changer during it’s time!

    • You also used it? Thought you’re too young!

      • Albert, I started doing web development/design in my S.4! In 2006! Then Dynamic Drive was still reigning!

    • joshtwin

      LOL! Those scripts! Gamechanger indeed!

  • Ziyal Amanya

    Interesting story, Albert. More so because I relate to this a lot. After doing some very amateurish web design in high school, I was introduced to Joomla as senior six vacist chap fresh out of St Joseph’s, Mbarara. I went through university at MUST living off my freelance Joomla website design work, got somewhat retained to work on and maintain internal websites which, in some ways, led to my current job. Clearly, Joomla and well, a lot more Open Source stuff has empowered thousands of young Ugandans out there.

  • joshtwin

    I also have a history with Joomla, if I remember right, I first heard it from you!

  • ROBERT N

    Nice one here at Ndugu Albert