Whoever said "Change is slow" hasn't been to Myanmar (also known as Burma). In seven short months, the country transformed into the something I now barely recognize. Getting Myanmar visa never been this easy, many direct flights to Yangon from all international hubs in South East Asia everyday. The Yangon airport is chocked with tourists, the prices just went through the roof. This time I didn't bring any crisp, unmarked hundred dollar notes to haggle for better exchange rate with the punters on the Yangon streets.
Walking out of the airport, I realized Myanmar has switched to driving on left side of the road. The roads are clogged with second-hand Japanese minivans, imported SUV's and decades old taxis jostling for space. For a moment, I longed for the small colorful Mandalay jeeps plying the quiet Yangon streets at sedate pace. Stuck in the traffic jam, I killed time by counting different cars with left and right steering wheels.
If you get stuck in the traffic jam, you can use the 3G mobile network to catch up with your email. Mobile SIM cards doesn't cost US$2000 anymore. Mobile SIM cards with data plan can be rented for $10 a day. If you are lucky you might even find $20 voice only tourist SIM cards. Mobile connections are still very expensive, it costs US$150-$200 for mobile connection. Perhaps it might soon change when the telecommunications market opens up in next few years.
Back in Myanmar after two years for Barcamp Yangon 2013, the biggest community organized un-conference in the world. This year over 6000 participants are expected to attend this event. Barcamps are hugely popular in this country, the event addresses the digital divide with open sharing and even help kick-start technology entrepreneurship activities.
Few years ago, young students would attend to use the free wireless internet access at Barcamp Yangon. Internet access was restricted to educational institutions and Internet Cafes. Today you can get internet connection in restaurants, cafes and even at home. It is easy to buy personal computers, smart phones and tablets locally. There will be explosive growth of internet users in Myanmar.
During Barcamp Yangon 2011 I kick-started the effort to translate Firefox web browser into Burmese. I have been mentoring the local Mozilla Myanmar community ever since. It had been a long road, we had many problems: building Mozilla community, finding volunteers for translations and deploying right web based localization tools. This trip to Myanmar would give me a chance to work with the community and resolve translation issues that are blocking Firefox Burmese release.
Barcamp Yangon 2013
Once again the barcamp organizers and volunteers efficiently organized such a large event. The event attracted significant
sponsorship this year, the talks in main rooms were marketing pitches from those sponsors. There were some interesting talks 'Make the web speak your language' and 'Women in technology' panel discussion. It was good to see many international participants at the event, they were in Myanmar on vacation and decided to attend the event. The Q&A session with the international barcampers was a good experience, it provided an opportunity for young Burmese barcampers to interact and get perspective on wide ranging subjects.
In my talk How to become a Firefox Hacker I shared how one can leverage existing web development skills to contribute to Firefox. Mozilla Myanmar localization lead contributor Zinmin shared the Firefox localization process and gave a demo of Pootle web based translation tool. The participants were encouraged to join the Mozilla Myanmar community and localization sprint after the Barcamp Yangon.
Attending Barcamp Yangon gave me a good opportunity to keep the pulse the fast changing Myanmar. It was good to reconnect with the open source communities and meet people in technology and non-profit world. Next year I hope to attend Barcamp Mandalay, it seems to have more developer focused audience.
Mozilla Myanmar Localization Sprint
After Barcamp Yangon, Zinmin organized Burmese localization sprint in Yangon. The localization sprint provides hands-on training for new localizers. After a quick introduction from Zinmin and the team started translating remaining strings Firefox Aurora. The Pootle web based tool does perform well bandwidth constrained environment such as Myanmar. Zinmin cleaned up most of the translation errors that were blocking the productization of Firefox Burmese Aurora.
During the sprint, Sajal and I spent some time testing Firefox Mobile. Firefox Mobile is important in countries like Myanmar where there is a large growing mobile web users than desktop users. However due to economic sanctions Google Playstore is not available in this country. Burmese users resort to various alternative app stores to find apps for Android devices. Another problem is network latency, for instance, tweeting pictures was really difficult. We looked in how to test Android apps network latency and performance issues.
Technology Entrepreneurship and Start ups in Myanmar
Spent some time meeting various technology entrepreneurs in Yangon. Start-up incubators like Rocket Internet and few others opened shop in Myanmar. Expats and Burmese diaspora are returning to start technology start-ups. Along with opportunities from the burgeoning economy there are challenges: People with good technical skills are hard to come by, the overhead costs are really high due to inflated prices.
I hope you'll get a chance to visit Myanmar and experience its rich culture. Perhaps you might wanna join the
Barcamp Yangon next year or spend some time working I'll help you find a co-working space in Yangon.