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Juma Allan: Tech Guru Who Scored ‘D’ in Maths and Brain Behind M-Pesa Project

Juma Allan defied that notion excelling in maths is a prerequisite for studying computer science

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Juma Allan is a renowned name in the tech community, having worked with notable companies like Twiga Foods, M-Kopa, D-Light, and also the M-PESA project. Despite growing up with computers around him and his success in tech, he wanted to be a mechanical engineer.

However, upon clearing his high school studies, his dad asked him to join  to Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and do something involving computers. “My mum used to run a cyber business, so I grew up around computers,” Allan says. However, I wasn’t really focused on programming but played games and found fun in the internet.”

He says computer science was a second thought as he wanted to be a mechanical engineer. “But I remember having a conversation with my dad where he asked me, ‘Why don’t you go to JKUAT and do something involving computers?'” he recalls.

While excelling in maths is a prerequisite for studying computer science, Juma Allan defied that notion. This was evident when he joined JKUAT in 2013 for a bachelor’s degree in information technology eve though he had scored a ‘D’ in maths, and three years later, he quit school.

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“I joined JKUAT, bridged math for one semester, then enrolled in IT, but in two to three years, I quit school. Yes, I failed in maths, but I wouldn’t say that doing computer science is a matter of life and death. What math does is enable you to understand computer concepts easily. At the end of the day, it’s something you can learn on your own.”

After dropping out of school, Juma Allan joined Mover Technologies in Thika for one year, then in 2018, he secured a full-time job at Twiga Foods company as an Android engineer. “I worked for Mover Technologies for almost a year, in and out, but in 2018, I found a permanent job at Twiga Foods, which changed the course of my career.”

At Twiga Foods, Allan worked on open-source projects for Twiga and the M-PESA Daraja API. An API is a programming interface that enables systems to communicate conveniently. After one year, he joined D-Light company.

“I developed the M-PESA Daraja API and the present Twiga payment system,” he reveals. “Despite working mostly with businesses that sell Kenyan goods, I have had the chance to work with people from a variety of international backgrounds.”

Juma Allan is a mobile apps enthusiast in the tech arena and advises young techies to identify their niches since tech is a wide sector that keeps changing, requiring continuous learning.

Growing up, Juma Allan was raised in a rural and remote part of Meru, Kenya, being the first born with two sisters.

“While I may have struggled in mathematics, I don’t believe that studying computer science is a life-or-death situation,” he says. “Mathematics, though, plays a crucial role in enhancing one’s comprehension of computer concepts.”

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Steve Wambugu is a journalist based in Nairobi.
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