An African solution to the global tech talent shortage

Caroline Wanjiku

‘Eat, sleep, code, repeat,’ is the mantra in Andela’s Nairobi campus, home to a network of Africa’s brightest coders.

Taking the inspiration for its name from the late South African President Nelson Mandela, Andela Invests in Africa’s burgeoning network of software engineers.

Launched in Nigeria in 2014, and boasting Google Ventures and the Chan Zuckerburg Initiative among their financial backers, the firm has raised over $81 million in venture capital and counts more than 800 software developers on its books.

In addition to its offices in San Francisco and Austin, Andela’s African network now includes tech campuses in Nairobi, Lagos, Kampala and Kigali.

The Kigali campus is a pan-African office – the Rwandan capital was chosen because it has one of Africa’s most enabling business environments and one of the world’s least restrictive visa regimes.

“What we look for are high growth companies that are looking to scale their engineering teams,” Andela’s Charity Murigi tells EURACTIV at their Nairobi campus.

The likes of Viacom and Github are among the more than 150 companies which Andela’s developers work with, while a team of Andela developers are part of the engineering team working on the BBC’s online architecture.

So why focus on an African solution to the world’s tech talent shortage? In North America, for example, for every software developer position that is filled there is a need for 4.5 additional posts.

The African continent boasts six out of the world’s ten fastest growing Internet economies, and consultants McKinsey predict that Africa will soon have the world’s largest and youngest workforce.

“The potential is here! That’s why we believe in the mantra that ‘brilliance is evenly distributed,’” says Andela’s Rehema Kahurananga.

Part of the value of the Andela model, Kahurananga says, is that it is keeping Africa’s talent on the continent. Even when its developers are working with a firm in the US or Europe, they will typically work remotely from their African HQ. There is no danger of a brain drain of tech talent to Silicon Valley and London.

70% of the workforce are in their 20s says Murigi, with an average age of about 23-24 years old.

“We are a company in which over 800 Africans go into work every day in their respective centres, whether it is Nairobi, Lagos, Kigali,  or Kampala, and they are able to develop themselves into elite developers and that is bound to have a multiplier effect on the continent and its economy,” says Kahurananga.

Since 2014, Andela has received more than 80,000 applications to join Andela to be part of its fellowship programmes which last for four years. The first 6 months are purely focused  on developing skills before the developers start to be placed on projects with Andela partners.

80% of the applicants are university graduates, but Murigi tells me that a university background is not necessarily what they are looking for.

“With things in the tech industry changing so fast, our focus is finding people with a high learning velocity,” she says, adding that “Anyone can apply! We have people who were security guards and even fishermen who have joined the fellowship and are doing really well.”

In fact, the main challenges that Andela and East Africa’s tech sector face – ICT infrastructure, free flow of data, access to finance and open immigration rules – are little different to those faced by their European competitors.

“If we are in a place that has poor Internet, we’ll just end up with frustrated partners,” says Kahurananga.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s digital champions tend to be in the east of the continent, where the region’s digital sector has developed particularly rapidly in Rwanda and Kenya.

Rwanda was ranked 1st in Africa for ICT development in 2015 according to a World Economic Forum index on political and regulatory environments, while the new Kigali Innovation city has attracted the first Carnegie Mellon University campus in Africa. Rwanda was also the first government in the region to move its education, procurement and commerce services online.

Multiple challenges, particularly in terms of connectivity remain. According to a 2017 Jumia Mobile Trends Paper, out of Africa’s total population of 1.2 billion, there are 960 million mobile subscriptions – an 80% penetration rate. By contrast, fixed-line internet is at only 18%, and connectivity rates are lowest in central Africa and the Sahel region.

But the infrastructure catch-up is well underway. ‘The future of software development is open, inclusive, and everywhere,’ says Andela.


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