17 year Old Cameroonian Nji Collins Gbah Emerges as First African Winner of Google’s Coding Competition


Since January 18th, internet connectivity has been shut down in the regions of North-West and South-West – the English speaking parts of the country – following government’s order.

Luckily for 17 year old Nji Collins Gbah, this happened a day after the deadline for submissions for Google’s annual coding competition – Google Code-in for pre-university students between the ages of 13 and 17.

Nji told BBC how he completed 20 tasks in the competition between November (2016) and mid-January (2017). He said one of the tasks took one full week to complete.

More than 1,300 youngsters from 62 countries took part in this year’s competition.

Nji said he had been learning how to code for two years mainly from online sources and books.

Nji lives in Bamenda, North-West Cameroon where the people have accused the government of discrimination, adding that they are excluded from state jobs as a result of their limited French language skills.

This led to protests on the streets, and the authorities have responded with scores of arrests and a text-message campaign warning people of long jail terms for “spreading false news” or “malicious use of social media”.

Nji is looking forward to visiting Google’s Silicon Valley HQ in the summer, as part of his prize

At the moment, Nji says he is hard at work building his knowledge of artificial intelligence, neural networks and deep learning.

“I’m trying to develop my own model for data compression, using deep learning and machine learning,” he says.

His eventual goal is a “huge step” forward in capabilities for data transfer and storage.

In a few days, Nji will turn 18, having already won international recognition for his achievements.

He admits to having gone back through previous years’ Code-in prize announcements to double-check he was the first African winner.

When I ask, he says he has received congratulations from “a lot of friends and family and some people I don’t really know”.

Has anyone from the government been in touch?

“No, no-one,” he says.

Back in Bamenda, a city of 500,000 and home to one of the continent’s brightest young technologists, they wonder when the government will plug the internet back in.

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