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.