Conversation with App Developer Munir Abduselam

Our guest today is Munir Abduselam, a self-taught application and software developer who has created multiple user-friendly, content-provider applications that optimize studying for all students by providing free access to school textbooks. He has also developed a fun quiz app intended to help students prepare for the Grade 8 General Examination.

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When did you start making mobile applications? Were you trained in software development?

No, I taught myself to program. I’ve always been fascinated by technology and all its potential. I actually studied business management in school.

What led you down this path, then?

When I was younger, I held multiple tech related jobs in computer maintenance, graphics, film editing, desktop software development as well as database and web design. For some time, I even tried my hand in animation. So, in one way or another, I’ve been involved in the digital world for about 20 years. I think it helped, particularly with gaining a general grasp of computer interface, that I was always moving in and out of interconnected areas within the same digital field.

When learning something new on your own, is it difficult to reach a level of competence?

It’s not that difficult. You just have to first gather as much learning material as you can. I think the difficulty for most people is that they study one set of skills and carry on with it for years. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but in this day and age, specializing in a single field does not allow you to be flexible. By the time you seek to diversify and pick up a skill or study something new, it feels too daunting to start from scratch.

Take me through the process of acquiring a new computer skill.

The starting point for me is deciding on a project, what I’d like to create or do. Then I go about collecting all the books, tutorials and information I can get my hands on, and then I simply start. For many people lack of resources is the most common reason for giving up. But if you’re truly determined to do something, you will eventually find all the materials you need. It’s rarely the lack of resources, in my experience, that stops people but the inconsistent investment of time for study. Learning something new is not always fun. You have to be dedicated and very disciplined.

Fortunately, I’m not an idle person. I make a point of not squandering any spare time I have. I remember making the best of those difficult COVID years. They were a period of inactivity that I tried to turn to my advantage.

Do you ever get frustrated in the initial phase of learning, when you can’t quite get past a certain point?

Yes, but it doesn’t discourage me. It only motivates me to double down on whatever is proving difficult until I am confident that I have a good grasp on it. There were days when I would spend up to 10 hours trying to understand a new, complicated concept.

I try to stay updated on global digital advances, constantly refreshing and upgrading my knowledge. With the emergence of AI assisted developments, it is crucial to stay updated on the latest advances.

How do you decide what to learn next?

My studies are project based. If I have a project in mind, I will pick up the required skills and learn all I need to know about it. Recently, in the past five to six years, I’ve been focused more on developing educational apps and software, specifically for android operating systems.

What was the reason for that?

One of the blessings and curses of the modern age is the ubiquitous nature of technology. This is inescapable and unavoidable, especially among the younger generation. I see it in my own kids. They have an alarming attachment to these devices, which they use largely for games and entertainment. There is nothing to be gained by removing technology altogether from our lives while the rest of the world makes exponential technological advances by the second. We can’t shield them from the pitfalls of technology this way. So, I thought, why not make it so that they can be educated through these ever-present devices. And in the process of instructing them, we would also increase their familiarity with how the technology works, which is an important bonus.

Most of these apps are made in collaboration with Rora Digital Library. How did this collaboration start?

When I shifted towards designing educational software, I decided to start by creating an elementary grade academic textbooks application. I made an app that functioned as a small library of textbooks and took it to Rora Digital Library. They were interested in my work, and have played a big role in distributing it to schools and the wider audience. I have since developed multiple apps of similar educational content for Rora Digital Library.

Why haven’t you commercialized your work?

From the very beginning, software development was more of a hobby than a business venture. It’s never really occurred to me to commercialize it. Besides, with all the mindless entertainment freely and abundantly available out there, what’s the point of adding an unnecessary paywall for educational content. That would defeat the purpose.

Do you have associates or partners in this endeavor?

For the Grade 8 National Examination app, the Ministry of Education provided me with question papers and answers of the previous years’ exams. The application is a game designed to engage students.

But, with regards to the technical work, I’m mostly on my own. Like I said, a lot of people never stick it out and get past the initial phase of learning a new skill. Others who venture into the field want immediate financial returns. Since software development requires effort and is time consuming, it is understandable that they would wish to be remunerated. But it’s rather hard to stay on the path if that’s your priority.

Who would you say inspired you to be the resourceful, skilled person that you are today?

My older brother, Kelifa Abduselam. He passed away two years ago. He always encouraged and supported me in my pursuits.

And what keeps you inspired to continue doing this?

My children and the next generation. I hope to equip them with all the tools they need to navigate through life, and some of these tools will undoubtedly be the capacity to learn and the ability to operate digital devices.

What are you working on next?

I’m trying to create a reading app of school textbooks in each of our nine languages for grades 1 to 5. Since elementary schools in Eritrea are taught in the mother tongue, this project is extremely important in ensuring that students in every corner of the country have consistent and, most importantly, shareable access to their school textbooks.

Finally, where can students find these apps?

Primarily at their schools, but they are also available at Rora Digital Library.

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