After enjoying the #IfAfricaWasABar tweets on twitter, I soon realized that I had never in my years of twitter usage noticed Zambia trending. I suggested this as a discussion for one of the Lusaka WordPress Bloggers meetup and this was resulted in a discussion on how to promote your blog. The discussion concluded with the question of whether trending is a goal to be attained or should the target goal be to get more Zambian content out there. Who is responsible of putting out Zambian content and how should it be done? I was thrilled about the idea of the 52 bloggers challenge because not only are we getting Zambian bloggers together writing about their lives, work and Zambia, we are getting exposed to Zambian content, we are casting the net out wider and reaching out further to Zambians who are not even locally based in Zambia but have stories to tell about Zambia.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Luke Brown. Luke is not based in Zambia, but he contributes to Zambian content through The Best of Zambia. I had a great time getting to know him through his personal blog, The Best of Zambia publishing’s and email exchange. Luke has an interesting story to tell from his life in Zambia up to where he is now in the UK, the challenges he overcame and he has some great experiences- some which he has well outlined on his personal blog.
Who is Luke Brown? What is your background, education and where did you grow up?
I spent my early childhood in Zambia playing in the mud on a farm between Ndola and Kapiri. I was home-schooled there by my patient and persevering mother. I pushed her to her limits I think, I was more interested in chasing cows and fishing than sitting down to read the escapades of Peter and Jane who tried to trick me into learning. I played through the rest of my childhood and at the age of 10, I went to boarding school for a year or two before moving to the UK. It was quite an adjustment; from a rather strict (but infinitely fun) school environment to the chaos of a class where kids ruled and teachers struggled to keep control. The new found freedom took its toll and I unlearned all the good habits my teachers in Zambia had carefully taught. The lack of being challenged in school turned me to gaming. Classes were just to whisper strategies with my best friend and fellow keyboard warrior, and school books were just for sketching cars; the doodles in the back filling up more pages than the notes in the front.
I went to college and university more to dodge work than seek an education, combining the two things I knew, art and computers. First studying Information Technology in college then Graphic design at University. Uni was a shock. Suddenly I couldn’t play games all night, doodle superheroes through class and also get a decent grade. I really struggled to adjust to the new workload, almost dropping out and ultimately failing my first year. This was a pivotal moment in my life. I remember my parents having a very real and frank conversation with me about whether going back to repeat the year was worth it if I’d fail again. If I wanted it, I’d have to try. Failing was a punch to the gut that brought me down to planet earth and the realities of life. I wasn’t entitled to achievement, I had to work for it and earn it. So I decided I wanted to succeed and not waste all the opportunities I had been given.
I was also battling with my faith for the first time. Away from my parents I was free from any expectations and had to decide for myself if it was something I wanted to pursue. Looking back, I think this is something every person, religious or not, has to go through at some point in their lives. Outside of the influence, pressure, and expectations of parents, friends, communities and society, I think everyone has to decide for themselves what they believe.
How did you end up at the Best of Zambia? Tell me more about your role the best of Zambia and Something Beckons and what’s a typical day/week for you working in both places?
One of my last university projects was to create a portfolio website showcasing our work. At the same time my parents and sister’s new business had taken on a few web projects. It seemed profitable to temporarily work together, easing their workload while building up my portfolio.
I graduated and moved back to my parents’ home, a city that isn’t exactly a frontrunner in tech. For the kind of job I wanted I’d either have to move city again or commute (3 hours a day) to London. This was a quite a big undertaking for someone who suffers from decision paralysis (yup, it’s a serious disease!). It seemed obvious to take on any work overflow from my family’s business while I was looking for a job. 8 years later and I’m still looking for a job.
Apart from The Best of Zambia , I also work on Something Beckons, a small marketing agency that specializes in helping companies get their unique message out. For The Best of Zambia, I design and develop the website, bringing my teams ideas to life. With Something Beckons, I build and design client websites with my colleague: Sara. Sara does the hard stuff – dealing with clients, painfully extracting what their business does and converting it into information that’s useful to their customers. And then I come in at the end and make it look pretty (at least try to!). Day to day, I spend about half my time on TBOZ and the other half on SB, but we’re wrestling for both me and Sara to spend more time on TBOZ because that’s where our hearts lie.
Besides work, why did you start blogging?
Hmm, so I’m not exactly sure lkbr.co qualifies as blogging, it’s very focused on one particular thing. The idea is, as humans, we’re constantly learning things and developing values. Our values influence our every decision but we rarely stop to consider them and truly understand where we’re at and what we stand for. We might think about them sometimes, but thoughts are very ethereal, scattered and foggy. Writing things down brings clarity and captures something in time. I started writing because I wanted to condense what I am learning down to its simplest and most clear form. The very fact that it’s public forces me to follow thoughts through to their conclusion and make sure they actually make sense. And if what I’m learning resonates with anyone they’re welcome to take part.
What influences your writing? What inspires you to write when you’re not blogging for Best of Zambia?
My personal journey — what I’m doing, what I’m learning, where I’m going. Boy, that sounds cliché. But seriously, I think we all have to really understand ourselves and writing (or probably the thoughts that happen before writing) helps me understand myself and capture it.
Are you a reader? What do you mostly like to read?
Not as much as I’d like to. I read a lot of fantasy fiction through my school and uni years. It was a tremendous waste of time but extremely rewarding. Even with fiction, the more you read, the more you explore, the greater your perspective. These days I’m pretty nerdy (as if fantasy wasn’t nerdy enough) and spend a lot of time keeping up (trying to at least) with the ever moving web developer industry. It’s very fast paced and you can easily get left behind if you remain in a vacuum.
I noticed the writing style on personal blog is rather brief and more like an echo of life messages/lessons learnt that start off more as a “note to self” and they progress into your blog post, can you talk more about that?
Absolutely. My wife, Delba, is studying for exams at the moment and behind every door, on every wall and even the fridge, are colourful notes and flashcards. She’s condensed all the complex things she’s learned over the last year onto a fraction of the paper. It’s much easier to remember and much easier for her to refer to. I’m trying to do the same. The description of the site is “Things I’m learning, presented in their simplest form.” And to quote one of the posts – “The ability to break down a complex idea and express it in its simplest form is a skill I greatly appreciate in others and I’d imagine they would appreciate it in me too.”
What would you like to achieve with your blog? (Seeing as it mostly about giving simple advice.)
Hmm, I’d really like to turn that around, that’s not what I want to communicate (in fact, on reflection I changed the title of the blog from ‘Simple advice’, to ‘Simple lessons I’m learning’. Thank you for helping me find clarity!). ‘Giving advice’ is from a superior position down to someone of less experience, I’m more comfortable when I’m equal with the audience – just things I’m learning and you’re welcome to follow along if it’s relatable.
As for what I want to achieve with it, not much, just collecting my thoughts.
Do you have plans on expanding your blog topics at some point? If you did, what would you like to write about? (Apart from all the topics Best of Zambia covers)
Sure, I’ve thought about a few topics. One of them being ‘Letters to my future children’. On a similar vein to Simple lessons, but now from a superior position hah! – “listen here little punk, here’s some advice from the old man”.
You described yourself as a recovering introvert (haha, I thought that was funny) who is a recovering introvert? Does this make you more of an extrovert or an ambivert? What is great about life as a recovering introvert?
Recovering means I’m making a conscious effort to get out there, online and offline. I still have relapses though! The great thing about being a recovering introvert is how you get there. I got past that awkward teenage stage (although, for me it lasted well into my 20’s) of not knowing or being comfortable with who you are. Now I’m clearer about who I am, what I want to be and I am a lot more confident with myself and my work.
Had life been different, there having not been the family businesses going on at the time you finished school, did you have a second option?
Sure, after graduating I could have found a job but I have a tendency to choose the easier option – it’s difficult for fresh graduates to find something in their industry and because of the creative nature of what I studied, I was limiting my options unless I moved to a bigger and more “trendy” city. With these two challenges the first option seemed more attractive.
What advice would you give to someone experiencing the challenges you experienced based on what you have achieved? (Especially if this someone happened to be in Zambia with the current economic situation).
It is certainly a difficult and extremely frustrating period for Zambia. But my advice would be capitalise on the opportunities that are available and not waste time and energy focusing on everything that’s going wrong. I really do think that there has never been a better time to be stuck in a challenging economy. With the internet, the disadvantages of location – where you come from and where you live, are slowly becoming less and less. There is hope. If you have access to a laptop and the internet there are now many of opportunities that have never been available.
For one, there is an online education revolution going on right now. You can literally learn to do anything, if there’s a skill, subject, or topic, they’ll be a place online to learn more about it. Not always, but often for free. Maths, Algebra or Indices. Marketing, Social media or Facebook marketing. Building apps, building apps for iPhone, building apps for iOS 9. No matter how broad or niche you go, there will be somewhere to find out more about it.
- For traditional subjects – universities are starting to offer free courses and “MOOC’s”. Places like online.stanford.edu, edx.org,udacity.com, coursera.org and khanacademy.org to name a few.
- If you want to get better at something or learn an entire new skill, places like udemy.com and skillshare.com and even youtube.com come to mind.
- Finally, there are thousands of websites and blog posts dedicated to very niche topics. For example in web development there are codecademy.com, tutsplus.com and teamtreehouse.com.
The point is, the resources to learn are there and you can use them to learn new skills, improve old ones, get more experience in something or use online education to help better understand topics in your traditional education . I will use myself as an example, I am incredibly privileged in that I had access to a good education and a very supportive family, but everything I know about web development, I learned by reading online – anyone could know what I know. I am in no way downplaying the incredible challenge the unstable economy poses and I realise having the internet is a privilege that not many have, but there are many people who have it but are not utilising it to its full potential.
If this were me writing a book about you, what would be 3 major things you would like to highlight?
Woah Dai! That’s a toughie to conclude. Really struggled with this one, so perhaps some personal proverbs instead?
- Everyone is a work in progress. They are not presenting the final product. Compassion, empathy and patience go a long way.
- Life is a flowing river, you can constantly fight the current or accept it and use it’s momentum to change course.
- Proverbs are not absolutes, there are always cases when they don’t apply. 😀
Thank you so much Luke, I enjoyed this. You mentioned how you found it quite difficult to talk about yourself, I felt the same way when I worked on the questions for my interview. This bloggers challenge gave opportunity for introspection that I think most of us got to appreciate. My favourite part of all of this was finding out that you and Sara (who interviewed me) are siblings and I absolutely loved working with you both!