The Kenya ICT Board (KICTB) on Tuesday Morning announced the launch of "Chipuka", a certification program for software developers in the country. The project was launched at the board's office's at Teleposta Towers, and will be run in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and headed by Andrew Lewela from the Board. Dr Bitange Ndemo, Kenya's Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Information said the aim of Chipuka is to create an international standard through which software development skills can be established. CMU was represented by a team led by Randal Bryant, Dean, School of Computer Science, while KICTB was represented by its CEO, Paul Kukubo, amongst others.

Ndemo said that the need for such a concept arose after the KICTB visited Silicon Valley and marketed the country as a software development destination. Following the visit, firms including IBM came into the country, but found few "employable" developers. "We have been looking at the supply side of things, but no one has been looking the demand," explained Ndemo. He says that this showed the need to establish a standard from which the software development prowess of an individual could be determined.

Randal announced that Chipuka would test for general ideas and programming concepts. The project will be run as a trial with 500 developers expected from the first bath in April 2013. Kukubo says that he expects the number of certified developers to increase to 1000 depending on the initial success of the program.

Phillip Miller, also with the CMU team and former CEO at ClickMedix and ClickDiagnostics, both firms dealing with mobile health, says that the concept of software development certification is not only new to Kenya, but to the world. Miller has been running a similar program for more than 25 years, but within the confines of Carnegie Mellon University.

"Chipuka will be an authentic exam, targeting entry level developers, checking whether they can develop. Kenya needs to quantify (its software development industry) and the best way to do this will to build a software certification program that IT firms such as IBM and others will identify with," said Randal.

A team from CMU has been talking to various players in the industry, both local and foreign, with the aim of establishing what their expectations of developers. This will help at creating the requirements to be examined.

"It's easy to whip up an exam, but it is critical to whip up what is really needed, find out what is really critical for entry level developers," says Miller.

Kukubo says that the choice of CMU was because it is a globally recognised software development leader, having been among the first universities in the world to introduce a degree in Computer Science. Partnering with a globally recognised institution would attract the interest of top global firms and ensure high standards of the project.

According to Miller, IBM has already expressed interest in the program and is ready to test about 10,000 people. "At least one large Indian company has said yes, but I would like to meet them face to face. I am meeting a very senior executive just to make sure he knows what he is getting into," said Miller.

Randal said that the course may later be expanded to accommodate more advanced levels of skills depending on industry needs. The test however will be a progressive series of tests that will test for a variety of skills."This will be useful for employers to gauge if their employees need training in some areas," he said.

Plans will be to carry out the tests in established test centre, where examinees can show identification and then sit for a standard exam. The centres will also make sure the students do not cheat.

Ndemo termed Chipuka a "triple helix partnership between the academic sector, government and private sector", which he says we need more of to take the country forward. In addition, he said that Chipuka gave all software developers an equal chance, regardless of their education institutions and thus would be advantageous especially to those in rural areas and not able to access top learning institutions.

It is anticipated that Chipuka will establish what will become an international software certification standard for entry level developers.