-Sihle Isipho Nontshokweni
This post will be the first in a series dedicated to recognizing young, talented Africans living in China. We aim to celebrate the triumphs of these individuals who are actively contributing to the promotion and strengthening of socio-cultural links between Africa and China.
Recently I sat down for an interview on the grounds of Peking University, Beijing with Abba Garba, a fellow African student at the University reading towards his PhD in Computer Software and Theory. The ever humble Abba hails from Gumel in Jigawa State, Nigeria, where he grew up in a large family with many siblings who served as great role models to him. More recently, Abba held the flag of his university, his country and continent high as he emerged as one of the winners of the Shanghai Hackathon 2016 where he bagged a neat $10,000!
Sihle: Abba, it is said that you are an outstanding student, or as the Chinese would say “学霸” (xueba), could you please tell me about your educational background?
Abba: I kick started my post-secondary schooling at Bayero University, Kano, where I completed a Diploma in Accounting and Auditing (D.A.A) that was 2003. At this stage I was particularly interested in entrepreneurship and was intent on pursuing a career related to business management and administration, looking at how I could create job for people and improve their livelihoods.
After completing my diploma I wanted to pursue a bachelor’s degree, but was not sure which direction to move in, I was thinking about doing a Degree either in Accounting or Business Administration at Bayero University, Kano. During this time of indecision I happened to watch a documentary on BBC which featured a section on Tim Barnes-lee also known as TimBL, an English computer scientist, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web (www), who also implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocols (HTTP) making it a uniform address for the internet throughout the world. This documentary sparked my interest in computer Information and Communications Technology…That was around the year 2003.
T’was thus that Abba’s long road to becoming an absolute tech buff began. With his interests now branching in this new direction, Abba completed a program of Diploma in Computing at Informatics Institute Kazure. Recognized for his achievements in this program he was awarded the Jigawa State Government Scholarship which he used to pursue a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science.
Through the following phase of his studies it is clear that Abba has become a seasoned jet-setter. He first travelled to Singapore where he got his Bachelor’s under the belt in 2010, from University of Portsmouth campus located in Singapore. He proceeded to cruise through a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) at the University of Whales in the UK which he completed in 2012, after which he returned to Nigeria for a year to complete his national service in the National Youth Service Corps (NYCS). He then headed to Kampala, Uganda, where he completed a second Masters degree in Information Systems. Then, as if that was all not enough, he came to the Middle Kingdom in 2015 after some encouragement from his elder brother, Nasir.
Currently Abba is the only non-Chinese student in his entire department, holding the flag high once again. Initially doubting his competence to take part in the Hackathon, Abba surprised himself and did Peking University proud as he performed outstandingly at the competition attended by representatives from tech firms across the globe.
Sihle: Abba can you tell us what the Shanghai Hackathon is about?
Abba: Well, the aim of Shanghai Hackathon was to encourage innovation using Blockchain technology. The blockchain is a digital ledger of sorts, where all transactions that have been made, or any events that may have occurred, can be seen online, by anyone, without compromising the privacy of the parties involved. These ledgers are shared and distributed amongst different computing nodes, and can only be changed once there is a shared consensus among all nodes. Once information is entered, it cannot be erased, and the distributed nature of these records — along with a built-in layer of cryptographic protections — make them difficult to hack or alter by any one individual. The idea was originally developed as a way to record transactions made using BitCoin digital currency, invented by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009.
Sihle: Abba, what idea did your team come up with at the hackathon?
Abba: Shanghai Hackathon, looking for new ideas or proposed applications that can work based on this new technology. Blockchain is considering being a disruptive technology that can revolutionize Finance and Banking industry in the near future. China is collaborating with experts from across the world to take advantage of this opportunity. So we proposed General Platform solution for Product traceability (Foodchain).
Foodchain is an implementation of the Multichain private blockchain system. It is a general platform based on blockchain technology that can trace the transactions chain of a provenance. You can trace any particular product transactions in real time around the world. Consumers can get first hand information on a product used; the proposed application can also help regulators and purchasers to gather information on a product, thereby allowing everyone to be informed about the full history of a particular product. Information in the blockchain is fully transparent.
Sihle: Can you tell us a bit about the participants and the sponsors of the Hackathon Competition?
Abba: Some students participated, but primarily entrepreneurs were eligible to participate in the competition. The competitors included people from different start-up companies China and Japan, there were also private individuals from various countries around the world, including Romania, Ireland and Italy to name a few. The competition was being sponsored by Deloitte, WanXiang Blockchain Labs and FBS Capital.
Sihle: How did you find the experience of the competition?
Abba: The competition was tough, although we were in Shanghai we practically had no time to see the city as we went the entire duration of the competition, more than two days, without a wink of sleep. What kept us going was the prospect of developing something which had not been developed before. It was intense, we ultimately had to give a demonstration of the project our group put together and had to test our coding in front of a panel of experts from around the globe. Nonetheless, it was a fantastic and enriching experience overall.
Sihle: Going into the competition did you expect to win?
Abba: Not at all, when they were announcing the winners everyone was exhausted and just wanted to find out who the victors were. The moment they announced that we won was absolutely surreal; I did not foresee this at all! I think I persevered by placing all discouraging thoughts aside, placing emphasis on interaction with other people, and understanding that it was a valuable learning opportunity and through the sharing of ideas.
Sihle: Do you have anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Abba: well let me start by Ray Goforth quotes “There are two types of people who will tell you that you cannot make a difference in this world: those who are afraid to try and those who are afraid you will succeed”.
Strive to be a hard worker, try to make it happen whether you succeed or not you will learn and experience a lot.