Back in December, I was browsing the internal Microsoft forums (Yammer) and stumbled across an announcement for a new volunteer outreach program – MySkills4Afrika, part of the larger Microsoft for Afrika program. They were accepting applications from full-time employees to share their skills and expertise to energize the tech industry and entrepreneurship in Africa.
Instantly, the posting spoke to me in that way you can’t quite ignore, even though travel or outreach to Africa never seemed like a realistic possibility for me up until that moment. Out of curiosity, I searched the available opportunities and discovered there were in fact several opportunities to specifically go overseas to teach a week long course in design thinking and user experience. It felt like a perfect next step since I’ve been developing much shorter UX intro workshops over the past year+ – and soon, I found myself applying. I love sharing my passion for user experience with others, and I’d love to see how that exchange changes in other cultures.
The application timeline got pushed out a week in January, so instead of finding out mid-January, I had to wait until I was on vacation to hear back a “yes” or “no.” In a reasonably-sized dose of irony or possibly foreshadowing, I was booked at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, an African-themed zoo resort. I love AKL, partially because it gave me an experience that seemed massively far from the opportunities available to me. But that Monday, on January 27, I got the good news via email while zebras and giraffes walked outside my window. The final morning of my stay, I took the orientation call while watching ankole cattle lope slowly across the “savannah”.
For me, this is another example of why I love the diversity of opportunity at Microsoft. My manager is incredibly enthusiastic about my participation, and as a world traveler himself is sure it’ll be life-changing and has plenty of useful travel advice to boot. The actual assignment will take me away from my daily work for a week.
As for the assignment itself, I will be traveling to Nairobi, Kenya in early April for a week to teach user experience to the entrepreneurs at the iHub incubator lab (Wikipedia). It’s very exciting – iHub has the first open user experience lab in sub-Saharan Africa, so this is a huge opportunity to have positive, early impact on the community there. From what I can tell, they’ve been quite active, even hosting a 3-week UX month in September. (You can visit their UX-focused blog here.) Microsoft has already had an influence there, teaching scenario-focused engineering and other workshops late last year.
My next challenge is to craft the specific curriculum I’d like to teach over 5 days. I have my own experience teaching school students as well as experience with Microsoft’s internal courses as a starting point – the problem will not be finding enough material, but finding the right speed and prioritizing the content. The other challenge will be finding the right skill level to target that matches the needs of the community. I’m excited to see what’s top of mind for the folks who have been evangelizing UX in Kenya up to this point.
And of course, the travel preparations. I’ve never travelled anywhere that requires a visa before; only European destinations. Got my first vaccinations on Monday and my arm still feels a bit as if Iron Man punched it. Such is the life of travelers!
For my colleagues in the user experience discipline here in the United States, I’d love to hear your thoughts on new concepts to share, book recommendations, online learning resources, and the like. If you have anything to share, find me on Twitter – @muppetaphrodite – to start the conversation. And for those of you who have traveled to Nairobi, I’d love your travel tips as well!
I’ll share more of my experience as we get closer, during, and after my assignment (April 7-11).