Two software development students from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth have come up tops in international app development competitions, proving that when local talent is developed, South African youth can compete against the best international players and beat them too.
Jason Cross and Nicholas Jordaan first gained attention in the local software development industry in 2015, after winning the local round of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2015. This global technology competition provides opportunities for students across all disciplines to team up and use their creativity, passion and knowledge of technology to create applications, games as well as integrated solutions that have the potential to change the way we live, work and play. It empowers tertiary education students of all ages and skill levels with the tools, programmes, and instruction they require to turn innovative ideas into software that can tackle real world problems or provide entertainment.
Normally, the kind of students entering this competition are in the final stages of their undergraduate degrees or even Honours level, however, Cross and Jordaan entered as first years with the goal of getting a little experience and seeing how they rank in terms of skills when matched against their peers. The duo formed a team called Digital Interactive Games and saw their project, a 3D Labyrinth style game called PYA Maze of Gods, win the local round of Imagine Cup and they went on to represent South Africa at the global finals.
As a result of the vast amount of learning that this experience provided the team with, they wanted to compete again in the forthcoming Imagine Cup 2016. Their latest project, called Of Dragons & Sheep, was born out of this need and incorporated the learnings from last year’s experiences. Consequently, the team has already managed to edge out global competition to come up tops within the games category of the 2016 Big Idea: Design Winners competition as well as the games category of the 2016 Big Idea: Pitch Winners. They also landed an honourable mention in the 2016 Project Blueprint challenge.
Entries for Imagine Cup 2016 is still open to all institutions of higher learning and students can register their teams on www.imaginecup.com. The finals of the local round of Imagine Cup 2016 will take place on 30 March 2016.
For the first time, primary- and high school students are also able to enter in the Imagine Cup Earth category. This new online contest is open to students aged 6-18, with the goal of using computer programming to create a game, simulation, or story inspired by the kinds of earth science that NASA and other researchers do every day. Altogether, 18 students will win prizes totalling $36 000.
Tapping the youth
According to the latest research from Statistics South Africa, there are about 19,706-million working-age youth (15 to 34 years) in the country, most of whom (around 9,885-million) are not economically active, meaning they are students, care takers at home, or are no longer actively seeking employment opportunities. Approximately 6,239-million are employed, while 3,646-million are unemployed and looking for work.
In order for South Africa’s youth to participate in the economy and software development industry effectively, young people must be provided with the right training, opportunities, access to jobs, internships and learning experiences through initiatives like Imagine Cup.
“The phenomenal achievements of Cross and Jordaan reassures us that South Africa is on the right path of developing skills in software development that is able to compete with the rest of the world. Initiatives such as Imagine Cup provides an important avenue through which to develop future IT entrepreneurs who will soon be creating more jobs for the youth of the country and delivering apps that will grow the local software economy,” says Clifford De Wit, developer experience director at Microsoft South Africa.