Technology grows fast, even with slow internet

How people are adapting to technology in Peru, and what it means for the future of tech

Most of the technology products in the tech world are built with high-speed internet, english-speaking developers, and the latest Apple products at arms reach. Most of the world does not fall into that demographic. Kubmo is an organization that teaches technology to women in developing countries. We aim to give these women the technical skills so they can gain independence for themselves and their communities.

We had high hopes when we planned three technology workshops to teach in Urubumba, Perú. The goal was to teach a group of about 20 women, between the ages of 15 and 25, how to use technology to help them achieve professional goals. While teaching, we learned about how much of the world experiences technology without high speed internet.

Workshop 1: Project collaboration using Google Drive.
Workshop 2: Social media for professional growth.
Workshop 3: Code a personal website using HTML and CSS. Push it live using GitHub.

See the full curriculum on our website.

Our workshops did not go exactly as planned because of the glacial speed of the wifi — it was at times worse than dial up internet speeds from the 90s. But still, by the end of the week the group of women had completed all the projects we planned. Each team finished a collaborative project using Google Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentations. Most of the women created their first LinkedIn profiles, and all of the women built an HTML and CSS website either by themselves, or in a group of 2 or 3.

It was important that we were in a realistic wifi environment for the workshops, so that expectations were set for how hard something is to do, or how long a task takes. The stress of slow internet bothered us, coming from the United States. But the participants were patient and didn’t seem to mind, since they were used to the long waiting times. We learned that patience with the internet was the norm. In addition, we learned that apps optimized for these basic internet connections, like Facebook, created a noticeably better user experience simply because they had lightweight versions that worked with the local tech constraints.

In 2015, we did our first trip to visit this group of women in Perú. I wrote a blog post after the trip, talking about the balance between technology and tradition. A year later, when we returned to teach these technology workshops to the same group of women, the technology landscape had already shifted.

Technology is not yet a solid career choice.

Most of the women we talked to are studying to become economists, accountants, or lawyers. A few were studying technology systems, but still didn’t directly see themselves working on the internet. There is not a booming economy, so the tendency is to work towards something attainable rather than aspirational. People working on digital products in the U.S. get paid well, and are valued as highly-needed workers. But going to school for a career in tech in Perú right now would be considered risky and a distraction, particularly by older generations. One woman told us her dad thought computers were evil and he didn’t even want her using one. Overcoming these cultural stigmas is a slow battle. On the positive side, the women were all so excited to learn. They have quickly seen the need to grow their technology skills, but may need a stronger support system to get there. There is a growing community of developers and product thinkers in the urban areas, that will hopefully continue to grow stronger.

Smart phones are everywhere, computers are old.

Many of the women we worked with had a smartphone with applications, wifi connectivity, and often a data plan. A few had Apple devices, but most of them used older Androids. Only a couple of them had access to personal computers. The few families who did have computers were shared machines, and very old. It was a major test of our computer skills to try and find the text editor, or even the browser on a PC from 2007.

Wifi is extremely slow and limited.

The average person has wifi in their home, and some sort of device to connect to it. But it’s not the kind of internet we’re used to in the U.S. Most of the places we went used Claro internet sticks to connect, which are about as slow as a 90s era modem. Data costs money, so websites with big images cost more money to load. Hitting the Google Drive landing page full of images used too much data for the value of the marketing content, connecting to Slack successfully happened maybe once a day, and Spotify was completely out of the question. Most of the girls were using Facebook messenger or WhatsApp to stay connected.

People learn quickly.

Once given the tools, people who have grown up anywhere in the world can learn technology. Before teaching this year, we were told by the leadership group we were working with to take it slow as we taught, that some of the participants had never used computers. We had one group of girls who lived in a rural community with little electricity, and no digital technology access. The first woman to push her website live on GitHub during our workshop was from a rural community with little electricity, and no computer or smart phone access. She was more driven than anyone to learn fast, and see her finished project live. Her eyes lit up when she saw the website on every different device in the room.

The world is not flat.

The internet has opened up doors for a more diverse population to learn and be connected online. But the way they use technology is different now, and will continue to evolve in a new way. Local cultures still have an effect on the way products are used and accepted, even if they are mostly created in a small region of North America. English is still a huge barrier to taking part in the world of technology, since products and resources are made for english speakers.

As the technology usage continues to grow in places like rural Perú, companies will need to build products and tools with a different kind of user in mind. High-speed internet is still not a reality for much of the world, and these communities will continue to have different social expectations. Localization is about more than language. Having technologists in all parts of the world will allow for higher potential for success as tech products expand.

The power of connectivity and income allows people to make products for themselves, and resources for their communities. People from all backgrounds can learn to solve problems with technology, and we believe this skill set will lead to more educated and independent individuals in communities around the world.

Go to Kubmo.org if you want to check out our curriculum or find more resources.