Creating Positive Community Impact with Oliver Mensah

Lindsay Schardon (ZENVA)

May 19, 2022 in Success Stories

Thanks for joining us for another Learner Success Story! Today we’re speaking with Oliver Mensah, a skilled developer and educator that we’ve spoken with before about his community outreach!

It’s great to speak with you again, Oliver! As it’s definitely been a while, we just wanted to open things up by first asking you about how your personal skills and career have changed these past few years?

In college, I was very eager to develop skills that would help me land a job even before graduation; I was afraid to be unemployed knowing my background. I spent time practicing to become good irrespective of the challenges I went through. I participated in developer gatherings, such as tech meetups, on and off-campus to learn more and get to know what it looks like to work in the tech space.

Doing all these helped me develop skills in both engineering and developer relations. With those skills, I have worked as a software developer and am currently working on a developer relations team at DigitalOcean as a contractor.

As you just mentioned, one of your big personal pursuits is still developing communities for developers. What have you learned and experienced while building these communities so far?

Developing communities was just based on my interest in learning together with other developers along my career journey, and I just love doing that. Having worked with two local companies, AgroInnova for my national service and Devless for my first full-time role, I realized the need to be selective about the kind of teams I work with. So, I opted to work more as a contractor with companies for now after a few contemplations.

Future500 BV was the first company I contracted with from August 2019 to July 2020. And I joined them because I really wanted to have a lot of practical experience regarding architecting software using different approaches – rather than a rapid application development approach like CRUD. Being there helped me learn a lot about the techniques they use to develop robust and reliable applications such as Domain Driven Design, Event storming, Testing (Unit, functional, and acceptance), and Continuous integration and continuous deployment.

Once the contract ended, I then had the chance to get into developer relations, which is more of the community stuff I do voluntarily – but this time joining an awesome team at DigitalOcean, getting paid, and learning from the brilliant minds when it comes to building and nurturing community. Working there has affirmed to me that community is not community the buzzword, but people who meet each other in spaces where they have common values. A community that leads to the betterment of each other and those that come after.

Besides these community efforts, you also have a new initiative now working in the Sefwi region: Brightfield Tech Academy. Can you tell us about this new venture and your goals with it?

I was born and raised in Sefwi Baakokrom, a small village within the Bibiani-Anhwiaso-Bekwai District in the western north region of Ghana. Growing up, I had little exposure to computers, and only in senior high school was I offered an information communication and technology course. And through that, I learned a bit about what computers are for. I only knew about computers as a tool for typing work, playing games, watching movies, and playing songs.

Getting to know much more about computers, I then decided to relocate back home to give back to my immediate communities. This is especially given the fact that I have helped support people in Accra and other places through my volunteer work with developer communities like Developer Circles from Facebook (now Meta and Google developer groups). And thanks to remote work, I could work from my community while also helping these people with little to no knowledge about technology through the social venture.

I also saw it as an obligation for me to do good, since I was fortunate to be on a full scholarship by the Mastercard Foundation to study computer science at Ashesi University. So Brightfield to me is more like a pay-it-forward venture as I journey through the tech space as a professional.

What are some accomplishments you’ve made with Brightfield Tech Academy that you’re particularly proud of?

Before anything, being able to personally finance Brightfield Tech Academy is a greater accomplishment for me.

Back in 2017, I couldn’t even buy myself a laptop when I was robbed, which made me lose my laptop given to me as a scholar. After getting the space set up to run tech-focused programs, I wanted to see a community where the young ones could understand what it is like to be in tech and learn about the kinds of programs they can pursue when attending university.

I also wanted to help those who want to transition into tech get the opportunity to do so right from their immediate communities in Sefwi. Sefwi is still an underserved region when it comes to technology education, and this provides them the accessibility to explore tech. For those who have come through our programs, some have even been able to land in computer science programs at the university, and we look forward to helping them nurture their tech skills. And I’m very proud to be part of their journeys.

In terms of Brightfield Tech Academy, what future are you hoping to see for it and the underserved communities it’s targeting?

I want to see underserved communities, typically those in Sefwi, understand the awesomeness of technology and how they could leverage technology to transform economic activities in the region. And Brightfield is leading the way in enabling them to achieve this transformation through technical training and tools for young rural techies and entrepreneurs.

Community outreach and education are obviously very important to you (and us as well). What would you like to see for the future in terms of development communities and education in general?

At the end of the day, the community outreach and education programs exist to bring transformation to the region we are serving, and that means something is missing here. Education unlocks the path to greatness and, hence, most people should be educated through these outreach programs. I would like to see a future where service-learning is part of us and, thereby, leveraging that to develop our communities.

We’re honored that Zenva has played a role in your journey and helped you pursue these amazing projects. What would you say is the biggest impact Zenva has had for you as the years have passed since first finding our courses?

I started off learning to build desktop applications with VB and even console apps with Java. But, I didn’t really understand what I was doing, because I didn’t know those categories of applications and never thought about how programmable they were. And I had a hard time understanding what I was doing.

After getting to learn about using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for building web pages, I later developed an interest in the computer science program. I learned these from the Zenva platform, so I used Zenva’s courses to bolster my programming skills.

And aside from using the platform, I got to build a very good relationship with the founder, Pablo. When I decided to start Brightfield Tech Academy, I knew I needed to get supplementary materials to help our students to learn. I shared the mission behind Brightfield with Pablo, and he was very eager to support us with 20 participants to have full access to the platform for one year. I’m very happy he came on board to support us!

I’m afraid we have to bring this interview to a close, but we do have one last question for you, Oliver. What advice do you have for developers who are looking to find communities or make positive impacts on society with their skills?

Communities surround us and they are an essential part of our social life as humans. For us the developers, we are fortunate enough that we have dedicated people willing to bring people together to learn and explore technologies and bond with each other.

Being part of a community means collaborating, sharing knowledge via forums and blogs, and supporting one another in our everyday challenges. Together, we connect and network to empower each other.

And that’s the awesome part of the developer communities we have around us. Join in the goal of helping each other to succeed – that’s the beauty of it. And you are making an impact in that way.

A huge thank you to Oliver for taking the time out to speak with us! We’re so excited to see this positive social impact unfold, and we’re looking forward to the bright future that Oliver creates for the Sefwi region and the rest of the world!

Want to learn more about Brightfield Tech Academy? Bookmark their Link Tree to locate their Facebook page, GitHub, LinkedIn profile, Instagram, and Twitter!

Also, be sure to connect with Oliver on LinkedIn as well!

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