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Young programmer in pursuit of solutions

As a student he was interested in information technology. He began software development when he was 9th grader. His passion for the development of desktop and mobile applications has been a driving force in what he has accomplished so far.

He plans to achieve more and more in computer engineering and particularly in artificial intelligence. He, along with students in his department, developed “Natna Operating System”- a windows platform in Eritrean Language. Eng. Sham Mesfn studied computer engineering at Eritrea Institute of Technology and graduated in 2016. “Natna” is a Tigrinya word translated as “Ours”. Mesob Kutsri (mathematical operations for primary school) and Setarit Financial Software Package are among his products. Eritrea Profile conducted a brief interview with Eng. Sham regarding his work. An excerpt of the interview follows:

  • Tell us a bit about your educational background?

My passion for software development began when I was a secondary school student. I managed to produce two educational desktop applications related to the subject matters we were studying in biology, chemistry and the third was for English. The projects were displayed at 2008 in the national festival at the Expo grounds. These works introduced me to the public. Later, I went to Sawa to pursue my 12th grade studies. In the secondary school matriculation exam I scored full four mark. I then joined Eritrea Institute of Technology to study computer engineering.

  • Applications you developed?

Some are desktop applications for windows and Mac. The operating system we developed as part of our senior project at the college is platform independent. There are mobile and desktop applications already released and others are being developed.

  • I am very keen to know about “Natna Operating System”?

Natna Operating system is a senior project for our Computer Engineering studies. I developed this operating system along with five students in my department. The driving force for the development of this software was that almost all operating systems we use in the country are in English. Thus, we took an initiative to prepare it in Eritrean language.

This operating System was designed to help people in rural areas and any individual who is not familiar with the English language. Kids who have not yet studied English are also beneficiaries. This operating system has Tigrinya and English options. It lets users select any of the two interfaces.

The name for the overall project was Eritrean Languages Operating System (ELOS). Natna is the first version. We also have a plan to prepare it in Tigre and Arabic. The general plan is to include all Eritrean languages.

This operating system is a platform. Other applications that would be prepared by Eritrean developers in local languages will have a chance to be included within one platform. For instance, Tigrinya word processer could be integrated within the package.

  • Compatibility and hardware requirements for the programs you produced?

Natna Operating System is low cost and low energy software. The ultimate goal is to revive all computers that are now outdated. Computers of the 1980s and 1990s will be functional with this very operating system. This operating system can be installed or it runs from flash disks and SD cards. If the computer’s hard disk runs out of space, it runs from the flash disk.

The Operating System is only 650 Mb in size. It requires a 128 Mb of RAM and only 1.4 GHZ of processor speed. It works with all computers that range from Pentium one.

  • What about educational and entertainment applications?

“Mesob Kutsri” is a desktop application designed to facilitate mathematical operations for primary school. This application helps students learn numbers and basic mathematical operations step by step in a very simple way. The courses in their classes are simulated in the software as per the level of their studies. I developed this software with Mr. Yakob Merhawi, who is a teacher by profession. I was engaged more in software related tasks while Yakob’s contribution was in the educational content.

We also developed another application known as “Tigrinya for grade one.” These applications are prepared in compact disk (CD) and are available for sale at stationeries. These two applications were awarded in the National Festival back in 2014.

I am more inclined to the development of educational applications. Assisting students in their studies by deploying relevant educational materials has been the main objective. For each desktop application, I have been releasing, free of charge, mobile applications for promotional purpose.

Mesob Kutsri is bilingual. It works both in Tigrinya and English. Students can make use of the software by creating individual accounts which can help them understand their personal progress. Similarly, the “Tigrinya for grade one” enables students create individual profiles and asses their progress.

Others are small entertainment applications Known as Habesha Jocks and Habesha Cartoons that are relevant to the Eritrean context. These are purely entertainment applications. The content is taken from some local books. These mobile applications are available free of charge.

  • Programs you developed for institutions or small scale firms?

Setarit Financial Software Package is a desktop and mobile application designed to facilitate financial transactions. Most small scale firms had no program to make a record of their financial transactions. That is why, I was interested in developing the software. Boutiques, electronic shops, groceries and supermarkets had no mechanism of storing their financial transactions for further reference. This software has been in use for the last five years.
Some business firms are making use of this software both in desktop and mobile application forms. This software has made a difference in the management of stock level, determining daily level of sales and other financial transactions.

  • Let’s talk about Geez speech to text converter and its accuracy?

The Geez to text converter converts spoken words into text form. It is a prototype and is not yet deployed. The difficult task is the dialect issue. It accurately converts common pronunciations that are available in all Tigrinya dialects.
At this point, the expectation is to be mostly used by people with disabilities, particularly visually impaired people and others, who are not able to write. If the application is able to recognize 80% of the spoken word, it is alleviating a huge burden. At this moment it is not 100% accurate.

The ongoing project is to prepare it in the form of mobile application. Since it will be portable, it will be easy to convert audios recorded via mobile voice recorder into text. So far, this application has the ability to convert Tigrinya speech and any language that uses geez dialect into written form. There is also a possibility to make this application a personal assistant. It will enable users give voice commands. The possibility of making it a personal assistant is high though it requires extensive efforts to make it a reality.

  • Other works?

“Bio puzzle” and “online test” platforms are some to mention. The design of the “online test” is similar to websites. It is not yet deployed in a website form though. Schools create categories and prepare questions. Students take exams using their accounts. It is a general purpose online test. It accepts any set of questions. is a domain that is dedicated to artists. Its primary aim is to create a venue where poets, writers and photographers post their works. This website is mainly trying to familiarize artists with the public. Any interested artist can write their biographies and are granted a page to share their products.

“Shamboko puzzles” is also another small mobile application. A set of games are included in one package.

  • Feedback from the public?

Generally, there is good feedback from the public. The educational applications are the most accepted. Mesob Kutsri and Bio Puzzle have gained reputation. What this tells us is that our people are interested more in the educational and entertainment programs. All of Mesob Kutsiri CDs we displayed in the Youth Festival held in 2014 in Sawa were totally sold. A number of people shared views saying that this software needs to be made available in other local languages.

Setarit Financial Software Package is also gaining reputation. Small scale business firms have been using this application for their financial transactions. We have been upgrading the versions as per the recommendations of users.
Natna was also gaining wider acclaim. VOA gave coverage to this application. A number of people recommended that this operating system needs to be developed to a higher level.

  • Your future plans?

The general trend is towards Artificial Intelligence (AI). The overall goal is to enable geez speech to text converter program learn the dialects by itself rather than feeding it now and then. Upgrading the already developed programs into artificial intelligence is part of  the future plan. Mesob Kutsri is being developed in that way.

Some mobile applications are also being developed. Habesha recipes, Habesha puzzles and Habesha Jocks will be sustainably developed. I generally call them Habesha series.

  • Thank you!!!


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