James Byaruhanga: The Steward of Uganda’s Data

By Mark Kawalya

James Byaruhanga is the general manager of Raxio Data Center in Uganda. The carrier-grade, Tier III-certified carrier-neutral data center is the first of its kind in Uganda and is at the forefront of data management in the country. With more than 20 years of experience in the IT sector, he has managed teams at leading telecoms and ISPs and currently oversees the day-to-day business and commercial operations for Raxio Uganda.

Where it all started

James grew up in the quiet, leafy district of Kabale, a place that is renowned for its evergreen picturesque rolling hills and quiet countryside living. He was born in 1978 into a family of all-male siblings who, as he was told, were hoping to finally get a sister when his mother was pregnant with him. “I am told that they were disappointed when they were told it was yet another boy that had been born.” He says while chuckling.

Byaruhanga was born into a middle-class family that had a home in Kabale town, and he is the last born with an age difference of ten years between him and his next older brother. His father was a medical superintendent, while his mother worked as a teacher.  

Some of his fondest memories are of walking with his father and a sibling or two to Lake Bunyonyi, where they would have a picnic. During these walks, his father would tell them about their ancestry and who they were.

As a teacher, this mother was a strict disciplinarian who ensured that her boys did not stray off the path of propriety. However, as the youngest child, James was babied by his mother and all her friends.

His Educational Journey

Byaruhanga went to Kigezi High School Primary; he admits that the school’s name is an ironic combination of words, but those are the actual names of the school. He spent seven years at the school for his primary education before moving to Saint Mary’s College Kisubi (SMACK), which necessitated his moving to Kampala.

As someone who was coming from the countryside, Byaruhanga struggled for the first two years of school at SMACK. “It was a huge change coming from Kabale to a school with such a reputation, and so I was trying to fit in.” he says.

However, his fortunes changed when it was discovered on the soccer field that he was an experienced player capable of enabling his team to dominate many a match. This tremendously boosted his reputation and earned him the respect of many.

Later on, he and Francis Kitaka, a friend he made, took an interest in table tennis. With laser-focused training, the duo made it onto the school table tennis team and were considered among the best players in the school. “Francis influenced my lifestyle significantly because he started talking to me about the importance of academic excellence. He made a big impact on my life because he was many social classes above me but didn’t treat me like I was less.”

His A-level education

After his senior four exams, he had hoped to do a subject combination of physics, economics, and mathematics (PEM) at SMACK, but he was offered history, economics, and geography (HEG).

Makerere College School offered him PEM. He decided to move to Makerere College School which accepted him to take PEM.

Here, James made friends with all the students who were considered geeks due to their smarts. He was very competitive and was ranked in the top three academic performers at the close of each school term.

After completing his A levels, Byaruhanga was offered a computer science course at Makerere University, which was government-sponsored. He initially wanted to follow his dreams of being an architect, but his brother convinced him to take computer science telling him that information technology was the next frontier that would be bursting with opportunities.

Kicking off his career.

After graduating from university, Byaruhanga got a job working as a systems administrator for a local bank, but he had to resign from the job after about one year of work due to personal issues. Without much to do, he got into a life of partying with friends and playing video games. “My mother, got wind of the news that I had resigned myself to a life of mediocrity and decided to take matters into her own hands.” he says 

“She showed up at the house with my older brother with the intention of taking me back to Kabale so I could at least become a teacher,” he adds. On explaining to her that he was not going back to Kabale, his mother left with tears her eyes at what had become of her son.     

As his roommate was single-handedly struggling to pay the bills, he asked James to pull his weight. The next phase of his life was marked by Byaruhanga going for countless job interviews and failing all of them due to his lack of real, tangible skills, as he had not properly honed his IT skills.

He remembers one of his interviews that made him hit rock bottom, where a Russian interviewer downplayed his salary expectations vis-à-vis his experience. He made him a low-ball offer that he said was befitting his lack of experience. The salary offer was so small, that it could not even cover his monthly transportation costs. He walked home that day from town to Ntinda, where he resided, crying along the way at what his life had become.

“I felt so disrespected by that Russian guy, and honestly, I think I just needed someone to blame for my predicament.” He says. “I decided to take time and seriously invest in myself so that I could get valuable skills that I could leverage in the IT industry.”

After a chat with his older brother, who led him to an IT company called Sys Corp International, James was given a paid opportunity that enabled him to work and learn on the job. This officially marked the start of his 20-year career in the IT industry.

Having served at Sys Corp for several years, an opportunity to work with Africa online as a network engineer showed up, which he took on. James moved into a network administrator capacity at the same job.

He was later hired as the Section Head, Client Data Networks, atMTN Uganda, a job that gave him tremendous opportunities to shine. At one point, he was crowned employee of the year at MTN after spearheading an advanced network rollout in the country.

James later left MTN to partner with some friends to start Roke Telecom, which is Uganda’s first locally owned internet service provider that has grown to compete against the big telecoms.

Working at Raxio Data Center

James Byaruhanga: Raxio Data Center General Manager

After six years as Roke Telecom’s Chief Operations Officer, he joined Raxio Data Center as the general manager. “Working at Raxio is an amazing experience and has so far been the biggest challenge of my career. A data center is essentially a glorified ‘warehouse’ that keeps goods. The goods in this case are information (data) that is facilitated by things like servers, networking equipment, etcetera. These are all kept under one roof, not purely for storage but in a fully active state,” he says.  

He goes on to explain that active in this sense means that the equipment is powered up, cooled at the right temperature, and offered appropriate security and mitigation procedures to protect it in case there are accidents like fires.

“The fire must be detected very quickly and suppressed. The facility where all this happens is a smart building. At Raxio, we have 74 doors that are fireproof and fire-rated. We also have 84 cameras on site that are monitored 24/7 by actual human eyes in two different rooms. The building being smart can also give you a notification in case there is some sort of issue that needs attention.

Raxio boasts the first deployment of a world class cooling system in Africa as well as one of the most advanced fire suppression systems in Uganda. According to Byaruhanga, some of Raxio’s clients include financial institutions, government agencies, telecom companies, and insurance companies, just to name a few.

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