Africa’s Talking: Interview with Sam Kiiru

Nathan Parcells
Africa’s Talking: Interview with Sam Kiiru

Meet Sam Kiiru.  He’s a native of Nairobi, Kenya and a student at Princeton University where he’s pursuing a degree in Computer Science.  He’s interning this summer at Africa’s Talking, an IT company that works to connect Africa’s mobile phone users.  I was able to connect with Sam to ask him about what he’s learned from his summer internship experience.

Will: Welcome! I’m Will Barbour and I’m a Marketing Intern here in San Francisco. We have a very special guest with us today all the way from Nairobi, Kenya thousands of miles away is Sam Kiiru. He’s a Computer Science student at Princeton University and he is interning with a company called Africa’s Talking. So, Sam please tell us a little bit about Africa’s Talking.

Sam: Africa’s Talking is what you would call in Kenya a premium rate service provider. What we do is we interface with mobile service providers in the country and sell what we call premium services, which are essentially bug, sms and variations of that, services like ussb and other services like calling and many other services that involve playing around with any of those three.

Will: Why did you decide to intern there?

Sam: Last year I worked with IBM’s Global Business services. I was working at the Nairobi office that just opened and one of the things I realized is that there was a huge gap between the local development community for platforms to build on. We found that Kenyan developers had really great challenges in terms of infrastructure to build on.

Africa’s Talking has this really interesting concept that the infrastructure of the future, of web development and software development in Africa, is on the mobile phone. I was really interested in following up with my work from last year to this year, and I was also seeking the start-up experience, which I’ve got a lot of.

Will: What have you gained from your experience this summer?

Sam: I’ve learned that you work a lot in startups. I think it’s underrated how much work you have to do at a startup: working from 7 to 11 and not sleeping because you’re afraid something is going to break. That’s really awesome. Second, it’s really nice to see how leadership works in these really close settings. Being in a flat environment is also really nice.

I’ve also learned how when you’re a small company, bigger companies can really let you down. Processes that work on their side can kill you on your side and you need to deliver to your clients. I’ve learned the value of personalized client experiences. Clients are more willing to let something slip by if you’re small and you tell them what’s up every minute. And I’ve met really interesting people. This is just not the most conventional environment to be in.

Will: How has your internship impacted you and the way you look at your future?

Sam: I think my internship has changed the way I view my future in several ways in my life. The first is my relation to business. I think I’ll move more into business than academia. I think there are more real problems to solve there.

Also it’s influenced the choices I’ll make in my academic life. I think I will study Computer Science to enable people in the developing world to develop better software. And this doesn’t mean developing software for the developing world. It means focusing on layers in computer science that really can be leveraged by everyone, like cloud computing and networking. And I also think I’ll change where I settle. I want to settle somewhere with a large population or help my country get a larger population because from my business experience I’ve seen that a small company has a small market, which is a huge problem when you’re trying to build something important.

***This is an installment from the series, Mastering Summer Internships. These articles will show how to make the most of your summer internship experience and be a rockstar intern in your company.