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Last Updated Wednesday July 26 2017 11:43 AM IST

Tech communities: the necessary ingredient for a knowledge ecosystem

Robin Alex Panicker
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Tech communities: the necessary ingredient for a knowledge ecosystem

Further to my previous article in Onmanorama about the lack of technology skills among tech co-founders in Kerala, I am thinking aloud on how the issue can be addressed. To find a solution, we need to identify the root cause. And I believe the root cause is the lack of a knowledge ecosystem in Kerala. Yes, we have good educational institutions and many research institutions, but mostly such institutions work in isolation and not as part of an ecosystem. Hope the Kerala Technical University will address the issue to some extent.

While the above-mentioned issue of educational institutions working in isolation is beyond the control of startup founders and technology enthusiasts in Kerala, building tech communities is something that we all can and must contribute to. In fact, such initiatives have already started. FAYA Port 80 in Trivandrum and the Ruby Community in Kochi are examples of such initiatives. Good start, but not enough. We need more such groups catering to different verticals and horizontals. The idea is not to bombard community members with events every second day, but to enable peer learning and knowledge sharing.

Learning and sharing are processes, whereas events are just that – events. We need tech communities on our college campuses. Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Centres (IEDCs) are now present in close to 200 colleges in the state. It’s high time these IEDCs focused on creating tech communities on their respective campuses. I may be wrong, but the current popular trend for IEDCs is to focus on the entrepreneurship part and not much on innovation aspect. That needs to change. As mentioned above, entrepreneurial ecosystem works best when built on top of a strong knowledge ecosystem. And IEDCs have a special responsibility to ensure that a strong knowledge ecosystem is created and sustained. Let me make it very clear. I am not talking about the need for tech events. As mentioned above, tech communities should be about knowledge sharing. I believe readers feel nostalgic about their college days and the ‘combined studies’ that helped them score marks. Why not use the same concept to build a knowledge ecosystem? Let small groups of people come together with the agenda of learning a specific technology and let them work together on it for a couple of hours. If our cafes and meeting joints see more such group activity, then we can be sure we are building a strong ecosystem.

Peer review of minimum viable products is another activity tech communities should take up. Product review by peers is a very effective way to improve the product and correct mistakes in the user interface, experience and architecture well before markets complain about the same. That really works. Have doubt? Ask entrepreneurs who have attended the Round Tables by iSPIRT, and they will vouch for the effectiveness of such an exercise.

The core of any community building is the ‘trust’ factor among the members. We need to learn to trust people. Somehow, we are engineered by our society not to trust others as if everyone else has only one agenda, that is to cheat us. We should stop thinking that everyone out there is there to steal our idea and product concept. After all, only those who successfully implement an idea will get rewarded. So, if we are focused on implementation, no one else can steal your idea and win the market. One simple way to create trust among members of a community is to keep the member size small enough so that everyone knows every other person in that community. Create a network of such communities and you create what they call ‘knowledge ecosystem.'

So who is this ‘we’ that I keep repeating in this article? ‘We’ includes anyone who is hungry to acquire tech knowledge, be it entrepreneurs, industry thought leaders, passionate researchers, academicians, technology enthusiasts and any such people. ‘We’ are all those who will directly benefit from such initiatives. I personally believe such initiatives are not going to come from our tech parks beyond a point, as knowledge sharing seems to be least important in the priority list of our tech park (non-tech) communities. Even the likes of FAYA Port 80, which are born inside Technopark should expand outside to realize their true potential as a tech community. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, I am just thinking aloud about a simple (not necessarily easy) solution to a complex problem. This may sound stupid and idiotic, but I will be happy and grateful to the readers if this article triggers some serious discussions in our ecosystem about the need to create a sustainable knowledge ecosystem. Because we need to create avenues and platforms for knowledge acquisition and skill upgrade. It’s high time!

(An investor in multiple tech startups across Kerala and outside, Robin Alex Panicker is a software engineer-cum-entrepreneur. Views expressed here are personal.)

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