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Good ol' Linux Kernel Programming days in Kenya

There are many reasons the young developers these days are told to “respect the ogs”. Some of those chaps you see who don’t have much to show for would be senior executives in a semiconductor companies, in Kenya, if we had some. They have the ability to build Linux support for chips from scratch and use low-level programming skills to communicate with computer hardware.

In the mid-90’s to mid 2000’s distributions of Linux Operating System going round in Kenya were mainly used to setup network routers, mail and web servers. The graphic user interfaces were inadequate and prone to crashes. To get it right, an inordinate amount of time was spent around configuring the graphics card and compiling modules for incompatible hardware. Being a Linux and Unix user then was exciting, the limited Internet meant that you had one chance to get everything you needed at once, and the rest would be done offline until ofcourse you hit a snag. Computers were not as cheap and readily available as they are today, so you had to look for one from a friend, family, school or at work.

Techies working for internet service providers in Nairobi then were very helpful and would get you a copy of whatever variant of Linux you required, overnight. The cost came in when sourcing for books covering subjects like computer hardware architecture, hardware communications and networking protocols. These were sometimes available at the University of Nairobi’s library to students and non-students alike and hours of research and notes would get you what you wanted.

Linux kernel programming was the solution to get computer hardware that did not come with Linux drivers work. Every new hardware coming into the market, from a USB mouse to ETR printers in the late 2000’s was an opportunity to create a device driver that would eventually be useful to someone. Low level kernel programming required a good understanding of C programming, Linux operating systems architecture and computer hardware architecture.

Kenya was developing its share of Linux kernel programmers at the time but as time went by, the hardware manufacturers in a bid to sell their products across all available OS platforms started making their own device drivers. This meant that the only knowledge required to get the hardware up and running was to compile the manufacturers code and add it to the Linux kernel subsystem. The interest for low level kernel programming on Linux systems slowly dwindled as programmers and systems administrators move on to something else.

With the rise of IOT, 5g and blockchain technologies, there’s a lot of potential for upcoming programmers in Kenya. Open source products freely give them all the information and access to learn and understand how to get involved on multiple levels.

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May 18, 2019