Program Builds Mobile App Skills for Cambodian Coders

After graduating from Setec Institute in Phnom Penh in 2014 with a degree in information technology, Chhit Chanmony, 23, is confident in her ability to build a website using various scripts.

But this week, Ms. Chanmony began learning a skill more relevant to the habits of Cambodia’s Internet users. She spent each morning huddled around a table at the Instedd iLab in Phnom Penh with 11 other young tech professionals and programming students to learn how to program a mobile application.

“I don’t have a history in working with mobile applications,” said Ms. Chanmony, a web designer for Internet provider Chaun Wei. “I’ve only ever worked with regular [Web] developing.”

Launched on Monday, the three-month pilot program is a combined effort by Instedd and Unesco to improve technology education and address social issues.

The participants were selected from more than 100 applicants, according to Jamie Lee, Unesco’s country communications director.

“We’re trying to let the students understand issues that are facing their country…so they can identify specific problems that they would like to tackle, and see how mobile applications that they develop can address these issues,” she said.

In the program, Unesco representatives will teach the students about social issues, then the pupils will pitch ideas for apps to their two instructors from Instedd. The students will then form small teams to develop the best ideas into apps that will be available in app stores for Android and iOS, she said.

Sokmesa Khiev, 27, one of the Instedd software developers involved in the program, said Ms. Chanmony’s background is the norm for IT graduates in Cambodia.

“Most of our developers here know how to develop a Web application or desktop application, but not yet the mobile application,” Mr. Sokmesa said.

“We want to see our new generation having skills in mobile development, because this technology— even though it happened almost a decade ago—it’s very new to Cambodia,” he added.

Internet use on mobile phones or tablets far exceeds desktop use in the country, accounting for 98.78 percent of total Internet users countrywide, according to Auk Dorany, second member of the Telecommunication Regulator of Cambodia. And mobile Internet use continues to increase drastically, snowballing from 4.76 million in January to 6.17 million in August, he added.

Javier Sola, an IT expert and the program director at the NGO Open Institute, said the pilot program would help fill a skills gap in the country’s tech industry.

“People [here] do not specialize while they are at university,” Mr. Sola said. “There’s a huge demand in Cambodia for application developers. There’s not enough people inside the profession.”

As for Ms. Chanmony, she hopes to work with others to expand the niche industry.

“I want to share my knowledge with other people,” she said. “But before I can share with them, I need to make myself strong first.”

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