By Kabelo Makwane, Microsoft Nigeria Country Manager

A great man once said that the internet is the greatest equaliser. I go further to say that access to information through technology is the greatest equaliser.

I remember the first time I switched on a computer. It was just after my Matric year, and it was an x286 PC running MS DOS. I was totally fascinated by the blinking cursor, and by programs like WordPerfect and Pascal. From that day on, I started growing my own software collection, booting programs from a series of 1.44 MegaByte floppy disks. I’m still growing my collection, except now I’m using USB storage devices with 34 GigaBytes of space, and at less than a tenth of the size!

Technology has become a lot smaller over the years. But as an enabler, technology is only getting bigger. Now that the natural user interface has become so mainstream, you no longer need to be a rocket scientist to use a computer. Anyone with a PC can, and in fact is, using computers to access valuable information that leads to new skills, and even economic opportunities. Technology enables people from all over the world to explore their true potential. It makes industries more productive and competitive. And it enables governments to be more effective at service delivery and to stay connected to its citizens.

Information has become like currency and the access to it – whether through traditional means, the internet, social media or mobile communications – has become the lifeblood of thriving economies. Citizens are connected in real-time – they can be productive anywhere! And businesses can deliver products and services at the right time, place and price. ICT holds transformational opportunities for Africa.

Unfortunately, there is a shortage of skills required to deploy, run and maintain most of these ICT systems in Africa. These skills are highly sought after in the world, and sadly, qualified Africans are gravitating towards the more developed markets with better compensation packages. However, if we want to solve the continent’s technology-related challenges, we need African solutions, developed by African people. Solutions which are relevant and which take into account the present set of circumstances. Only an African knows how best to solve an African problem. So how do we encourage them to stay? How do we encourage bright minds to develop locally relevant solutions?

We make sure they see value in the opportunities of Africa.

There’s huge opportunity in mobile solutions. Did you know there are, on average, 2.5 mobile phones per person on the African continent? Mobile apps have become the centre of how people create solutions to real-life challenges. Look, for example, at Tonee Ndungu’s Kytabu app, which is providing affordable textbooks to students in Kenya. He’s just received an innovation grant from Microsoft. His app was also named the education application most likely to change the world in this decade.

Mobile devices have also become our key engagement and entertainment tools. Look here at Nigeria’s Abiola Olaniran, CEO of Gamsole and developer of mobile games. In his first 11 weeks, Abiola saw over one million downloads of his games. He is now Nigeria’s highest paid Windows Game developer.

Tonee and Abiola saw opportunities. And they seized them. Unfortunately, when it comes to opportunities in ICT, a lot of people make two cardinal mistakes. One: They think they need a diploma or degree in ICT to get started. But what if I told you that Tonee has a degree in International Relations and Journalism? As I said, it’s access to information that is the greatest equaliser. There are so many free online ICT tools out there, where you can teach yourself and develop your own skills. Microsoft, for example, has the Microsoft Virtual Academy, a massive online portal filled with free online IT training and courses, all designed by industry experts. And that’s just one of our tools.

The second mistake is that students and graduates think that being qualified in ICT alone is the only way to have a career in ICT. To that I say, the field is vast! Sales, in fact, is an area in ICT where there is a great shortage of suitably qualified and experienced individuals. Why is sales relevant? Even Microsoft has to sell its products! We’re a business, after all. I, for example, studied toward a Bachelor of Commerce in Finance and Management Information Systems, and a Masters in Business Administration. Now I’m the country manager of Microsoft Nigeria!  There is, and will always be, value in key business skills. IT, after all, exists to support business. Finding business solutions that are first underpinned by ICT solutions is an area where I’m in my element.

I have no doubt that Africa is the land of opportunity. There’s no place like it. I’ve only touched on a few of its opportunities here, but as the country manager in Nigeria, I’ve made it my goal to help Africans see more of these opportunities. I want them to see the value in them and to foster meaningful 21st century skills that will help them seize them. I encourage every African to play, learn and explore with technology. You have the access to the tools – seize the opportunity to unlock your full potential and create your own destiny!