Wanted for the Caribbean: Digital Craftsmen.

Whenever I think about our regional tech industry, I struggle to understand the disconnect between what other people are doing in the world and what we are doing. There are many exemplary tech companies from all over the world that compete well on the world stage. There are at least two from Australia, many from China, India, and many other countries.

What creates even more confusion on my part is when I look at our other local industries. The Caribbean and Jamaica in particular have many industries that we participate on the world stage in and excel.

From the obvious reggae & dancehall break-out mainstream artistes (The Marley Men, Sean Paul, Shaggy) to less mainstream but with major followings (Mavado, Kartel, Tami Chynn, Jah Cure, Beres Hammond, etc.).

Not to mention our tourism product. That is by definition a global competitor, and we also excel there - with Jamaica being one of the few Caribbean territories to experience an increase in tourist arrivals in the midst of the global recession. What better to test the quality of our product offering than a global recession that hits all tourism markets?

We also have our track & field industry, where we absolutely dominate. Not just on the field, but also off the field with branding, marketing & revenue generation. This despite having a track that isn’t the best in the world - yet we produce the best athletes in the world, in almost every category.

The common thread in all of these cases is that all the participants didn’t have outside help (i.e. help from outside of the region). They all had to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and compete in harsh conditions. They all earn USD as their primary revenue stream (in most cases). They speak to a global audience. They are unique & innovative in their own right.

I am constantly marveled by the lyrics that our dancehall artistes come up with. While I don’t condone or support the vast majority of the lyrics, there were 2 lines that jumped out at me yesterday while listening to the radio from Mavado. Now, please don’t interpret my appreciation of the wordsmithness of this phrase as support/endorsement of any intent behind the lines. I just love seeing people innovate in their craft - even if I don’t necessarily agree with their position.

I don’t remember the name of the song (if you know it, please leave it in the comments and I will update my post), but Mavado said this:

I am not a fish/Because I am not afraid of the gully-side.

If you are not Jamaican (or have an interest in Dancehall), and don’t understand the nuance of that line let me break it down for you.

In Jamaica, gay people are called ‘fish’ - colloquially. Mavado refers to himself as ‘gully god’. He is from a ‘ghetto’ in Jamaica called Casava Piece (spelling??). That community is built around one large gully. Hence his name ‘gully god’.

He is reiterating the oft-repeated maxim that many artists say “I don’t hang out with gays” - i.e. no gay people can hang out on the gully-side. So, by extension, if you are gay you should be afraid of the gully side.

He is drawing a parallel to gay people and the culture of homophobia on the gully-side, to literal fish that swim in water and their fear of being washed up on the gully-side where they will be stuck and likely die.

In 2 lines, he captured the essence of Jamaican pop culture, his status in the local dancehall scene, where he grew up, and made a clever pun out of it. This is wordsmanship at its best.

Yes, many Jamaican artistes do crappy work and pirate other people’s lyrics and songs. But many come up with original content. They study their craft, they train, and they innovate.

That is what is missing from our tech scene.

We need to make a conscious effort to invest in our craft, learn about how we can generate revenue from customers all over the world - while still living in Jamaica - and compete on a world stage. After discussing this at length with David Bain & Matthew McNaughton yesterday at an informal meetup, David discusses it here, we have all decided that we are going to make a conscious effort to talk more about ‘Digital Craftsmanship’. Not just to raise awareness, but also to do our part - either through workshops or mentoring or anyway we can. 

We, our industry, get too complacent by aiming for “The first in Jamaica” or “The first in the Caribbean”. Imagine if Merlene Ottey aimed to just be fast in Jamaica - and didn’t compete on the world stage. Imagine if Bob Marley never toured and kept his music to himself and to Trench Town. Imagine if Butch Stewart didn’t pioneer all-inclusive hotels and raise the standards of the Jamaican Tourism product. We wouldn’t have those industries that we take for granted.

In a day and age when you can create any digital product your mind can imagine, when you can live in Australia and run a tech company that competes with Silicon Valley’s best - I challenge the entire tech industry to not try to be a “Silicon Valley in Jamaica” or even a “Silicon Mountain”.

Let people say….first they dominate reggae, tourism and track…now they are dominating tech. 

There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to, our peers have shown us the way. Any reasons you come up with, are just excuses. 

If you are a developer and want to become a digital craftsman, please feel free to reach out to me. I am on that journey myself, and I would be glad to lend a helping hand where I can. 

You can either Tweet @me on Twitter or contact me via the form on my blog.