Africa's tech talent finds its place in the global economy
Jackie Macharia, a 26-year-old software developer based in Nairobi, works for a company headquartered in London that sets up solar panels in India.
In Nairobi and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, stories like Macharia’s—a genuine example of globalization—are starting to become more commonplace. Africa’s technology scene is booming, with over 300 tech hubs that range from software engineering to mobile money to blockchain technology.
Global businesses have long relied on workers in far-flung locations for technology services, but until recently African techies hadn’t been on their radar. Now they are.
One reason is the work of Andela, a company based in Nigeria and Kenya that trains software developers and then places them in salaried positions in companies worldwide.
So far, Andela has selected more than 600 developers, including Macharia, and has found employment for them as full-time engineers in firms across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States.
“There is a mismatch between demand and supply of software developers. Andela offers companies an opportunity to hire African talent and expertise,” says Brice Nkengsi, Andela’s Director of Engineering, who hails from Cameroon.
IFC recognized the positive results of Andela’s innovative business model by giving Jeremy Johnson, the company’s founder and CEO, an achievement award during IFC’s 8th Global Private Education Conference in Cape Town, South Africa. The award notes Andela’s success at delivering high-quality education and training in a financially sustainable way, and its potential for creating the next generation of technology entrepreneurs in Africa.
For young, college-educated Africans, Andela’s program is in some ways a greater commitment than getting a Master’s degree. The four-year program begins with a six-month onboarding period, during which time developers learn technical and professional skills in simulated engineering-team environments. They are then placed with one of Andela's partners, where they hone their skills while building products for a global user base.
This depth of learning, coupled with the prospect of securing a job, has convinced many to choose Andela instead of getting an advanced degree. Wambua Makenzi, 22, was considering a Master’s program in Computer Science until he heard about Andela from a friend.
“I liked the idea of learning on the job,” says Makenzi. “There’s no white-board or exams, but you work with real teams, on real projects, and earn a salary.”
Makenzi was one of the candidates who made it through Andela’s two-week “bootcamp” selection process, which includes aptitude and psychometric testing, as well as assessments of values, passion, and integrity.
Successful candidates then receive six months of intensive training in software development before being placed with Andela’s partner companies worldwide. Makenzi now works for GoKash, a fintech firm in Dubai, while still living in Nairobi. “I think most people learn more at Andela in six months than you would learn anywhere else in six years,” he says.
Not only is Andela changing the way that African youth learn, it’s also changing where they learn. The newly built, sprawling campus in Nairobi replicates world-class tech campuses, creating a setting where minds can thrive.
In many ways, Andela seeks to copy the modern working environment for which Silicon Valley has become famous, but it works hard to foster a culture that is more empowering and more inclusive.
Developers have access to work desks and computers, but also to recreational facilities that can rarely be found in the region. The game room is a popular hang-out. Its centerpiece is a gaming console where developers face off in video games. For others, there’s a ping pong table and board games.
A large cafeteria provides meals around the clock, tailored to the time zones where developers work. When they tire of staring at the screen, the developers, who call themselves Andelans, can retreat to “quiet rooms” with a book, sudoku, and their headphones.
For African software developers, another benefit is a two-week trip to the partner company’s headquarters. For many, this is their first trip abroad. Loice Kivisi, 23, arrived at work in Nairobi on a Thursday morning after a red-eye flight from San Francisco.
She had been to the U.S. to learn the ropes at her partner company, Enuma, which designs educational software for children with special needs. Kivisi will work remotely from Africa with the gaming team, designing learning games for children in primary school.
“I didn’t ever think that I would go into gaming, and it’s tough, but I’m loving it,” she says. “At Andela, you can own your own curriculum, and focus on the skills you want to improve.”
Since its inception in 2014, Andela has formed partnerships like the one with Enuma with more than 100 companies worldwide—companies that are seeking out talented developers for their front-end and back-end software needs. Developers are integrated into virtual teams, and placements can last from anywhere between a few months to two years.
The Zebra, a car-insurance-comparison website with headquarters in Austin, Texas, is another one of Andela’s partners.
"Since we started working together, our Andela engineers in Africa have given us a key competitive advantage not only with the quality of their work but with the enthusiasm and energy they bring to our team,” says Meetesh Karia, chief technology officer of The Zebra. “Any company that limits its talent search to local geography would be doing itself a disservice. There is talent worldwide—if you know where to look for it.”
Andela’s innovative model has attracted the attention of international financiers. IFC is supporting Andela through a fund established with Learn Capital Venture Partners III L.P. The early-stage venture fund invests in companies that are expanding access to quality education in emerging markets.
“Only a tiny fraction of African youth gets a chance for higher education,” says Salah-Eddine Kandri, IFC’s Global Sector Lead for Education. “Andela’s innovative model of combining high-quality IT training and talent-as-a-service agency is demonstrating how to connect top talent in Africa with employment opportunities at global technology companies.”
Along with IFC’s investment, Andela has received $80 million in venture capital from Google Ventures, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and other key players in the global tech industry. Over the next 10 years, Andela’s ambitions will grow: it plans to train 100,000 software developers across Africa.