Buffett SIGP spotlight: Timothy Mwiti helps create a coding bootcamp in Nairobi

February 16, 2017

“As a student in computer science who reported to college having never written a line of code in their life, a search for a summer internship after my freshman year was bound to be a hard one,” Timothy Mwiti (McCormick 2019) says. After doing some online research during his freshman year, he had his sights on an internship with an NGO in Nairobi. Although it seemed like a great fit, the internship was also unpaid, and came with extremely high travel costs. Thanks to a grant from the Buffett Institute, Mwiti was able to accept the internship, and spent his summer as a co-founder and instructor at NaiCode, a coding/technology camp for recent high school graduates.

NaiCode instructors and co-foundersMwiti and three friends (pictured) — fellow engineering/computer science undergraduate students at Stanford and Dartmouth — set out to tutor 20 young adults in Java (for Android development) as well as HTML and CSS (for web development) as part of their internship with the Kenyan NGO Pacemaker International.

Mwiti was slated to teach all three programming languages at the camp, but before starting his internship, his Java knowledge was limited. 

“Right before the camp, I immersed myself in an intensive personal study schedule,” he says. “I taught myself the Java language, and practiced HTML and CSS on a daily basis.” 

As part of the camp curriculum, Mwiti helped students develop their own projects, which included building a food ordering app and an app that helps users book a seat on the bus. He and the other instructors also took students on trips to local tech spaces, where they were able to network and learn more about Nairobi’s burgeoning startup scene, sometimes referred to as “Silicon Savannah.”

Timothy Mwiti at a NaiRobi tech space

“It’s definitely something that was bigger than I expected, and I’m really proud of what we achieved and the potential we have,” he says. “I also gained a lot of valuable experience in working with team members, because in a school setting you have coding assignments, but you don’t get to work with a lot of people who are very different than you all the time.” 

NaiCode students in class

The coding, teamwork, and project management skills he developed are a valuable asset now that he’s interviewing for 2017 internships at companies like Google. And he says Java is now his strongest programming language. 

Buffett’s International SIGP grant is a great opportunity for Northwestern students who, like Mwiti, sometimes struggle to integrate a heavy course load and internships with a meaningful global experience:

“My advice, especially if you are a freshman or sophomore who cannot find opportunities [in the US], is to look at global companies. It’s not every day [a non-US company] can have a student from Northwestern come and intern for them. Most of them would not be able to pay for your flight, or your salary, but that’s why there are programs like SIGP to help you.”

“Most people don’t think outside the box when imagining the kind of internship that SIGP would be willing to fund for them. But in my internship, I got to be with my friends, starting something small of our own. Regardless of how ‘small’ your idea might be, just speak to somebody from SIGP and they will help guide you.”

Interested in learning more about the Buffett International SIGP awards? Visit the Buffett SIGP page. Undergraduates are eligible for up to $6,000 to do a summer internship abroad. Applications for 2017 awards are due April 4.

Africa, Technology, Undergraduate Students