A few weeks ago, 1,000 geeks gathered for the fourth Tunisian edition of Droidcon, the yearly conference dedicated to Android developers - that’s way more than for the French Droidcon! Among them were European journalists, international experts and members of the Tunisian government.
As is often the case in Tunisia, this turnout can be attributed to a burning desire to change things, a deep conviction that with the right tools, Tunisians can create their own jobs and help the country grow.
We met Taher Mestiri, founder of Tunandroid.com, a news website dedicated to Android developers, AndroidCon, and the very active Google Developers Groups (GDG).
Wamda: Why did you launch Tunandroid when in 2010, back then there was close to no Android developer?
Taher Mestiri: I could feel than Android was going to be a huge thing, and I wanted to share my knowledge with the Tunisian community. When we launched TunAndroid, there were zero Android developers. People were only starting to hear about Android but didn’t really know what it was.
We launched on June, 4th of 2010. In November, we had a 9 square meter space at the Salon de l'Informatique et de la Bureautique for two hours, and more than 300 people came over. We had to find a private room to host everybody.
For our first event in June ‘11, we organized the first event dedicated to Android developers, now know as Droidcon. We had 400 people, and the room, once again was packed, mostly with students and freelance developers.
Wamda: Yet, there are few Tunisian apps on the Google Market.
Mestiri: To open a Google Play account, one needs an international credit card [and] that doesn’t exist in Tunisia. Up until now Tunisians app developers had to be really creative to get paid.
During Droidcon 2014, we organized a debate with the Communication Technologies and Digital Economy Ministry, three other ministries, the Tunisian Central Bank, and the Tunisian employer organization UTICA to discuss the creation of an international bank card for developers.
There were over 680 developers in the room that day who showed those leaders the kind of opportunities they were missing on the international scale, and the importance of having an international bank card even, if it was limited in terms of purchases as long as people could receive money.
Since I published, in January 2012, a proposition that explained why we needed such a card, the communication with several ministries has been open, but it was after this debate that the we really started talking concretely with government decision-makers.
During DroidCcon 2015 [March, 7th - 8th in Hammamet], Communication Technologies and Digital Economy Minister Nooman Fehri, announced that an “international technologic card” was one of the government’s priorities during its first 100 days.
The Minister was so impressed with the 800 developers around him, and the energy all around him, that he canceled all of this meetings for the rest of the morning, went on stage, took off his ties, and announced that now that the democratic transition was over, it was time to take off the ties and get to work. You had to be there to believe it; participants could not believe their eyes. It was great.
What’s more is that we show that the government can listen to civic society, and be open to discussion, and that together - civic society, the government, and the private sector - we can find a solution. It’s exceptional.
This year, we also started talking about the electronic components importation challenge [Editor’s note: such as smartphones, tablets, and development kits that are vital for developers and integrators to work], and the problem with duty taxes, and we’re starting a new tripartite discussion.
Yes, this is Minister Nooman Fehri taking selfies at Droidcon.
Wamda: During Droidcon 2011, you also launched the Google Developers Groups. How are those groups useful?
Mestiri: It’s true; we launched the first Tunisian chapter of GTUG, Google Technologies User Group, now known as GDG, Google Developers Group. In 2012, Tunis GTUG was the most active chapter in the world!
GDG helps develop a community interested in Google technologies, in which seasoned developers can share their knowledge with beginners. They enable both a culture of sharing, and the training of a larger audience.
It’s important to push people to use Google technologies to avoid having developers get overwhelmed with new technologies.
They also help unemployed people and students to gather as much information as fast as possible, and to be in the starting blocks to seize opportunities.
Wamda: By developing GDG, are you participating in the economic development of Tunisia?
Mestiri: It’s a duty to help Tunisia. Some people gave their lives for the revolution. I only give a little bit of my time and knowledge to help others, it’s the least I can do.
There are many success stories already, but we can’t share them because they’re illegal. I know someone, for instance, who makes $25,000 dollars per month. But he can’t declare those because it’s forbidden to have a bank account abroad. He gets his money through the back door.
When this technologic card will be launched, we will discover a lot of success stories.
Photo credit: Droidcon