Two mechatronics engineers are out to make programming easy for children and novices in the world of tech
When Mercy Ngoiri and John Muchiri completed their Mechatronics engineering course at Nyeri’s Dedan Kimathi University at the end of 2014, they had the option to take up job offers, or to pursue a masters degree.
However, they decided to take a different path, the less trodden one considering the options their friends took. The two embarked full time on a project they had started in campus; making local customised programming chips that were cheaper than imported chips. This was in consideration of how the cost of hardware production continues to be a major impairment to the advancement of technology in the country. And in 2015, they founded Warefab, a programming and mechatronics company.
“We realised that our school system is focused more on teaching software components and developments and not hardware, or programming languages, which is used to make the software,” says Muchiri.
“Warefab is coinage for hardware and software fabrications. It is important for people to learn how to develop their own software other than depend on the ready-made software. To inculcate this do-it-yourself culture, we saw that it was best to start working with the youth and children, thus we came up with the ‘Scratch-n-sketch’,” adds Mercy.
The ‘Scratch and Sketch,’ is an easy to use plug and play kit that makes it easy for students, novices to the world of programming and even experts, to learn electronics and how to code. “Apart from teaching programming basics, the kit can be used to make various modules including, but not limited to computer games,” Muchiri explains.
“The kit is a skeleton with several pins that uses the Drag and Drop programming language, which appears complicated at first, but reveals itself as simple once you get the hang of it,” Mercy says. “Drag and Drop is the simplest language for programming enthusiasts, before graduating to other advanced languages such as Ruby, Python, Java and Java scripts, which the Scrath-n-Sketch is also compatible with.”
This informed their decision to start programming lessons for children in a bid to expose them to the world of tech, bridging the gap between most in the Kenyan school system and otherwise. “In international schools, things like programming are a part of the syllabus. Not so for our local schools,” notes Muchiri.
They pair also organises workshops to teach programming techniques in high schools and even to university students.
Warefab sells the Scratch-n-Sketch kit through its website for Sh3,500.
Business is promising with pre orders coming their way from as far as China and the USA. “We have temporarily paused on taking orders to enable us clear the backlog,” Mercy says.
Warefab also makes programmes for microchips such as Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) screens, sensors for temperatures, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Global Systems for Communications (GSM), animations and even controlling the brightness of lights.