South African developers build web application to help local athletes

Posted by Aniedi Udo-Obong, Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Lead, Google Developer Groups

Lesego Ndlovu and Simon Mokgotlhoa have stayed friends since they were eight years old, trading GameBoy cartridges and playing soccer. They live three houses away from each other in Soweto, the biggest township in South Africa, with over one million residents. The two friends have always been fascinated by technology, and by the time the duo attended university, they wanted to start a business together that would also help their community.

Lesego Ndlovu and Simon Mokgotlhoa sitting at a desk on their computers

After teaching themselves to code and attending Google Developer Groups (GDG) events in Johannesburg, they built a prototype and launched a chapter of their own (GDG Soweto) to teach other new developers how to code and build technology careers.

Building an app to help their community

Lesego and Simon wanted to build an application that would help the talented soccer players in their community get discovered and recruited by professional soccer teams. To do that, they had to learn to code.

Lesego Ndlovu and Simon Mokgotlhoa holding their phones towards the screen showcasing the Ball Talent app

“We always played soccer, and we saw talented players not get discovered, so, given our interest in sports and passion for technology, we wanted to make something that could change that narrative,” Lesego says. “We watched videos on the Chrome Developers YouTube channel and learned HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but we didn’t know how to make an app, deliver a product, or start a business. Our tech journey became a business journey. We learned about the code as the business grew. It’s been a great journey.”

After many all-nighters learning frontend development using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and working on their project, they built BallTalent, a Progressive Web App (PWA), that helps local soccer players in their neighborhood get discovered by professional soccer clubs. They record games in their neighborhood and upload them to the app, so clubs can identify new talent.

“We tested our prototype with people, and it seemed like they really loved it, which pushed us to keep coding and improving on the project,” says Simon. “The application is currently focused on soccer, but it’s built it in a way that it can focus on other sports.”

In 2019, when BallTalent launched, the project placed in the top 5 of one of South Africa’s most prestigious competitions, Diageo Social Tech Startup Challenge. BallTalent has helped local soccer players match with professional teams, benefiting the community. Simon and Lesego plan to release version two soon, with a goal of expanding to other sports.

Learning to code with web technologies and resources

Lesego and Simon chose to watch the Chrome Developers YouTube channel to learn to code, because it was free, accessible, and taught programming in ways that were easy to understand. Preferring to continue to use free Google tools because of their availability and ease of use, Lesego and Simon used Google developer tools on Chrome to build and test the BallTalent app, which is hosted on Google Cloud Platform.

BallTalent Shows Youth Talent to the Worlds Best Scouts and Clubs

They used NodeJS as their backend runtime environment to stay within the Google ecosystem–NodeJS is powered by the V8 JavaScript engine, which is developed by the Chromium Project. They used a service worker codelab from Google to allow users to install the BallTalent PWA and see partial content, even without an internet connection.

We are focused on HTML, CSS, JavaScript, frontend frameworks like Angular, and Cloud tools like Firebase, to be able to equip people with the knowledge of how to set up an application,” says Simon.

Moving gif of soccer players playing on a soccer field

BallTalent shares sample footage of a previous match: Mangaung United Vs Bizana Pondo Chiefs, during the ABC Motsepe Play Offs

“Google has been with us the whole way,” says Simon.

Contributing to the Google Developer community

Because of their enthusiasm for web technologies and positive experience learning to code using Google tools, Lesego and Simon were enthusiastic about joining a Google Developer Community. They became regular members at GDG Johannesburg and went to DevFest South Africa in 2018, where they got inspired to start their own GDG chapter in Soweto. The chapter focuses on frontend development to meet the needs of a largely beginner developer membership and has grown to 500+ members.

Looking forward to continued growth

The duo is now preparing to launch the second version of their BallTalent app, which gives back to their community by pairing local soccer talent with professional teams seeking players. In addition, they’re teaching new developers in their township how to build their own apps, building community and creating opportunities for new developers. Google Developer Groups are local community groups for developers interested in learning new skills, teaching others, and connecting with other developers. We encourage you to join us, and if you’re interested in becoming a GDG organizer like Simon and Lesego, we encourage you to apply.

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Finding courage and inspiration in the developer community

Posted by Monika Janota

How do we empower women in tech and equip them with the skills to help them become true leaders? One way is learning from others’ successes and failures. Web GDEs—Debbie O’Brien, Julia Miocene, and Glafira Zhur—discuss the value of one to one mentoring and the impact it has made on their own professional and personal development.

A 2019 study showed that only 25% of keynote speakers at tech events are women, meanwhile 70% of female speakers mentioned being the only woman on a conference panel. One way of changing that is by running programs and workshops with the aim of empowering women and providing them with the relevant soft skills training, including public speaking, content creation, and leadership. Among such programs are the Women Developer Academy (WDA) and the Road to GDE, both run by Google’s developer communities.

With more than 1000 graduates around the world, WDA is a program run by Women Techmakers for professional IT practitioners. To equip women in tech with speaking and presentation skills, along with confidence and courage, training sessions, workshops, and mentoring meetings are organized. Road to GDE, on the other hand, is a three-month mentoring program created to support people from historically underrepresented groups in tech on their path to becoming experts. What makes both programs special is the fact that they’re based on a unique connection between mentor and mentee, direct knowledge sharing, and an individualized approach.

Photo of Julia Miocene speaking at a conference Julia Miocene

Some Web GDE community members have had a chance to be part of the mentoring programs for women as both mentors and mentees. Frontend developers Julia Miocene and Glafira Zhur are relatively new to the GDE program. They became Google Developers Experts in October 2021 and January 2022 respectively, after graduating from the first edition of both the Women Developer Academy and the Road to GDE; whilst Debbie O’Brien has been a member of the community and an active mentor for both programs for several years. They have all shared their experiences with the programs in order to encourage other women in tech to believe in themselves, take a chance, and to become true leaders.

Different paths, one goal

Although all three share an interest in frontend development, each has followed a very different path. Glafira Zhur, now a team leader with 12 years of professional experience, originally planned to become a musician, but decided to follow her other passion instead. A technology fan thanks to her father, she was able to reinstall Windows at the age of 11. Julia Miocene, after more than ten years in product design, was really passionate about CSS. She became a GDE because she wanted to work with Chrome and DevTools. Debbie is a Developer Advocate working in the frontend area, with a strong passion for user experience and performance. For her, mentoring is a way of giving back to the community, helping other people achieve their dreams, and become the programmers they want to be. At one point while learning JavaScript, she was so discouraged she wanted to give it up, but her mentor convinced her she could be successful. Now she’s returning the favor.

Photo of Debbie O'Brien and another woman in a room smiling at the camera

Debbie O’Brien

As GDEs, Debbie, Glafira, and Julia all mention that the most valuable part of becoming experts is the chance to meet people with similar interests in technology, to network, and to provide early feedback for the web team. Mentoring, on the other hand, enables them to create, it boosts their confidence and empowers them to share their skills and knowledge—regardless of whether they’re a mentor or a mentee.

Sharing knowledge

A huge part of being a mentee in Google’s programs is learning how to share knowledge with other developers and help them in the most effective way. Many WDA and Road to GDE participants become mentors themselves. According to Julia, it’s important to remember that a mentor is not a teacher—they are much more. The aim of mentoring, she says, is to create something together, whether it’s an idea, a lasting connection, a piece of knowledge, or a plan for the future.

Glafira mentioned that she learned to perceive social media in a new way—as a hub for sharing knowledge, no matter how small the piece of advice might seem. It’s because, she says, even the shortest Tweet may help someone who’s stuck on a technical issue that they might not be able to resolve without such content being available online. Every piece of knowledge is valuable. Glafira adds that, “Social media is now my tool, I can use it to inspire people, invite them to join the activities I organize. It’s not only about sharing rough knowledge, but also my energy.”

Working with mentors who have successfully built an audience for their own channels allows the participants to learn more about the technical aspects of content creation—how to choose topics that might be interesting for readers, set up the lighting in the studio, or prepare an engaging conference speech.

Learning while teaching

From the other side of the mentor—mentee relationship, Debbie O’Brien says the best thing about mentoring is seeing the mentees grow and succeed: “We see in them something they can’t see in themselves, we believe in them, and help guide them to achieve their goals. The funny thing is that sometimes the advice we give them is also useful for ourselves, so as mentors we end up learning a lot from the experience too.”

TV screenin a room showing and image od Glafira Zhur

Glafira Zhur

Both Glafira and Julia state that they’re willing to mentor other women on their way to success. Asked what is the most important learning from a mentorship program, they mention confidence—believing in yourself is something they want for every female developer out there.

Growing as a part of the community

Both Glafira and Julia mentioned that during the programs they met many inspiring people from their local developer communities. Being able to ask others for help, share insights and doubts, and get feedback was a valuable lesson for both women.

Mentors may become role models for the programs’ participants. Julia mentioned how important it was for her to see someone else succeed and follow in their footsteps, to map out exactly where you want to be professionally, and how you can get there. This means learning not just from someone else’s failures, but also from their victories and achievements.

Networking within the developer community is also a great opportunity to grow your audience by visiting other contributors’ podcasts and YouTube channels. Glafira recalls that during the Academy, she received multiple invites and had an opportunity to share her knowledge on different channels.

Overall, what’s even more important than growing your audience is finding your own voice. As Debbie states: “We need more women speaking at conferences, sharing knowledge online, and being part of the community. So I encourage you all to be brave and follow your dreams. I believe in you, so now it’s time to start believing in yourself.”