ISOC Fellow Vincent Ngundi: At Home at the IETF

By: Wendy Rickard

Date: July 7, 2008

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An engineer from Kenya speaks with the IETF Journal about becoming an Internaut and making his way to the IETF.

“Long live this noble initiative,” declares Vincent Ngundi when speaking about the ISOC Fellowship to the IETF programme. The native Kenyan travelled the long road from Nairobi to Philadelphia in March for IETF 71, and unlike many other fellows, the transition from one culture to another was not too much of a shock for him.

Vicent Ngundi
ISOC Fellow Vincent Ngundi in Johannesburg at the AfTLD AGM

Although my face-to-face meeting with Vincent was brief, his comfort level was obvious; in fact, he was hardly the picture of the awestruck, small-town Internaut trying to fit in with the big guys. “To my utter surprise, I was totally comfortable,” he said.

Vincent’s easygoing manner most likely explains his comfort level, and it should prove an asset to his professional life. As administrative manager of the Kenya Network Information Centre (KENIC), Vincent coordinates and manages the day-to-day operations of the public/private partnership (its board membership is drawn from the public sector, the private sector, and civil soci-ety). But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Vincent confesses that the transition from a position that was purely technical to one that is administrative was not easy. “At first, the challenge had to do with balancing the technical aspect of the job with the business side, but I’ve learned a lot on the job, and all is OK now,” he said.

Vincent’s interest in technology began early, back when he was in primary school. Born in Nairobi in 1978, Vincent has lived in Kenya all of his life. His father is a retired army colonel; his mother is a former flight attendant with East African Airways. “At first I wanted to be an astronaut,” he said. “Being very good in sciences, I thought a career in engineering would be the way to go.” He entered the University of Nairobi’s architecture programme but quickly realized that architecture wasn’t what he wanted to do. After consulting with friends and colleagues, he settled on computer science, even in the face of numerous social and economic challenges in the country, including lack of awareness of the Internet, illiteracy, the cost of access, and poor electricity distribution. “I have never regretted my decision,” he said.

Today, Vincent holds a bachelor of science degree from the university and is currently enrolled in a master of science programme in computer science there as well. He joined KENIC as an intern, immediately following graduation in August 2004. “I was an intern for eight months and later was employed as systems engineer in April 2005,” he said. Moving quickly through the ranks, Vincent was promoted to technical manager of KENIC in April 2007. In September 2008, he was named administrative manager.

“The Internet has always amazed me, and after joining KENIC, I took to learning as much as I could about Internet technologies,” he said. Since joining KENIC, Vincent has been able to gain a wealth of information and knowledge about the Internet, both through his own initiative and with the help of colleagues, workshops, seminars, and meetings like the IETF.

Vincent became interested in the IETF during his search to understand how the Internet works. “I always thought there was some big organization out there that managed the Internet and its technologies,” he said. “Further research brought me to the IETF, a humble entity based more or less on the model for developing open-source software.” Vincent learned about the fellowship programme from the ISOC mailing list and from IETF Journal editor Mirjam Kühne. “I have been a member of the ISOC mailing list as well as other mailing lists, such as AfNOG, AfriNIC, ICANN, and others for a while now,” he said.

In preparation for the Philadelphia meeting, Vincent familiarized himself with mailing list discussions that interested him and read material that was sent to him by his mentor, Shane Kerr, who is working for Afilias. “Further,” he said, “I went through the programme agenda, marking out the sessions that interested me and consulted with former fellows, including Michuki Mwangi and Alain Aina.”

Clearly, Vincent’s proactive nature made it possible for him to approach his first-time experience at the IETF with confidence. He believes his comfort level may also be attributed to the “remarkable introduction by the ISOC staff” as well as the efforts of his mentor, “but the experience was way better than I expected,” he said. “The people were great. And Philadelphia is lovely.”

Vincent has several suggestions for folks who are attending an IETF meeting for the first time. “Decide what working groups you want to attend and follow, then familiarize yourself with the discussions on the mailing lists. Gather from your mentor as much information as possible. Plan to be at the meetings in time for the newcomers’ tutorial and the session on writing an RFC. And remember that Mirjam and Leni will be important contacts before, during, and after the IETF meeting.”