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Omolwale’s Talent-Spotting For Global Tech Companies

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As the world grapples with the shortage of technology talents, Andela, a company started in Lagos, Nigeria is building high-performing engineering teams by investing in Africa’s most talented software developers who are farmed out to work with the best tech companies around the world. Andela Nigeria’s Country Director, Omowale David-Ashiru spoke to Our Correspondent. 

Andela’s $100 Series D funding is a continuation of previous fundings…

No one will invest $100 million in you if you haven’t done what you said you would do previously. In a way, it is a testimony to what has been done previously, what has been achieved and all the hard work that has gone in. It is the faith that our investors have in us. This round was led by a company called Generation Investment Management, they are into sustainability research. It is a company co-founded by the former vice president of the United States of America, Al Gore.

One of the things that they believe is that the future of work is distributed. They believe we would not have enough software developers to build the technologies that would advance humanity, which would get us to the future. These two beliefs that they had from their research aligned totally with what Andela does and of course, we are developing world class software developers.

That alignment was what led to this funding round. It was led by them but again, I should mention that all our current investors, institutional investors were also part of the round. And for what we will use the money for- first of all, technology. A lot of investment will be in technology in terms of identifying talents, developing the talents to use our learning tools and matching the talents with opportunities worldwide.

We would be investing in the technologies…

That would help our partners, the people that we work with, to be able to manage the teams and understand the team’s performance better. That is one of the major things. The other thing is expansion. Again, at the heart of this is finding the talents, developing the talents. We know that Africa has these potentials and we don’t want to just be a recipient of what is going on in technology, we want to drive, and we want to contribute.

And we would expand, we are already in four African countries. We’re in Nigeria where we have the most number of developers, we are in Kenya. We are in Uganda and we just opened our pan-African hub in Rwanda. So, definitely we would be looking at expansion both in-country and across the continent. The third thing is more of what we’re doing, sustainability of what we have been doing and that’s it in summary.

The foundation for anything that we do is the talent, it is about developing talents…

Whatever we need to do in terms of infrastructure, in terms of tools to be able to expand what we have or the developers that we are currently serving, that is what I mean by in-country expansion. We have been talking to educational institutions, there are a lot of people in the tech ecosystem who are already applying this initiatives in the education sector.

Even the government, because this is where the government comes in. I have been talking about the infrastructure and an enabling environment. The government, apart from being willing must act on this and so, partnerships along that line will also help. So, we are open.

For the Andela Fellowship, what we say is that we are developing the next generation of African technology leaders…

It is not just about the technology and coding, it is about leadership as well which is why I say to people when you talk about leadership it is always a smaller subset. So, it is a rigorous process. We have technical assessments online- interviews, onsite bootcamp where you have all the technology assessments that you will be doing, the coding while watching other things, watching your ability to learn, your willingness to learn and ability to learn fast.

We are looking at grits, we are looking at determination and values. They are key because it’s not just about coding, it’s about everything, your soft skills, your professionalism, and your leadership qualities. We look at all those things. Just to talk a bit more about the ability to learn because that is really key, how fast you learn. It’s not the intelligence, the normal way people will describe intelligence.

For instance, if somebody came into the boot camp at a 20 percent level and within the two weeks it went up to 70 percent and another person came in at 70 percent and went up to 75 percent within the same weeks, we are more likely to take the person that went from 20 to 70 percent because that shows the ability to learn fast and the willingness- technology is like that. So, to keep up and to be world class you’re going to have to be that kind of person, a lifelong learner and somebody who can learn fast.

The Andela model I think personally is fantastic because it is doing so many things…

But, I think two major things that are clear is what I already said and that is Africa where Nigeria is also a subset. Using Africa, 1.2 billion people, the largest youth population and of course, the mass potentials. We don’t want to just be at the receiving end, we want to actually drive and contribute to technology. We want to determine the technologies that would advance humanity.

So, what’s the best way to do that, we have to be proactive and find young brilliant Africans, give them the right resources, the enabling environment, the learning tools that they need to become world class. That is on one end. The other end is it turns out that the greatest crisis globally is not even money, it is talent, which is what everybody is looking for. There is a global talent shortage, technological talent shortage.

The crisis is there but the beauty is in trying to develop these developers on one hand…

Match them to those opportunities, exposes them to the newest technologies, experiences, all of what will make them world class. At the same time it is solving the need, the global technology talent shortage. On the other hand, it is also empowering them economically without even leaving their home base.  So, they are contributing, they are learning, they are earning and they are impacting because they are here and a lot of them even have initiatives that they are doing in the local ecosystem.

Where we are developing youths, we partner with high schools for free to develop young children in coding and technology. Which was why I said there are so many things that the model is doing but at the heart of it is developing the talents and meeting the global challenge shortage.

One of the things that Andela is doing is the Andela Learning Community (ALC) where we have partnered with companies like Google, Microsoft, etc to take this online…

We have the Andela online community where you go through the curriculum, some three months or six months; you are exposed to the Andela learning science and basically at the end of it, you are job ready and a certified developer. It is something we have done over the last year or two. We have empowered about 33,000 developers. This year we plan to do about 35,000 developers. This is also something that scales even more than just coming physically into the fellowship. The 33,000 is across Africa but in Nigeria it is about half of that. So we want to do more.

Brilliance being evenly distributed is not the same thing as saying brilliance is equally distributed…

Like saying everybody has the same amount of brilliance, that’s not what we are saying. We are saying that brilliance can be found in a girl, same way it can be found in a boy. Brilliance can be found in a little village in Kogi, same way it can be found in big city in Australia. Brilliance can be found in a four year child that sees something that blows your mind, same way it can be found in a ninety year old. The point is that brilliance does not look at gender, race, age or geography, which is what we mean by brilliance is evenly distributed. You can find it anywhere.

When you look at Africa, it attests to the fact that brilliance is evenly distributed. When you look at Africa, a continent of 1.2 billion people, the largest youth population relatively unknown in the technology space, relatively untapped, people didn’t realize there was this potential. That’s one of the reasons why the focus was and is on Africa. Will that change in the long term future, I don’t know but that is the focus for now.  We had a goal then, a 10-year plan to empower 100,000 developers.

I think we are going to surpass that.

When I talked about empowering 33,000 developers already, a plan to do 35,000 this year and we are just in our fourth year, going to our fifth year, I do think we are going to do more. Specific figures I can’t say but that 100,000 developers we would definitely empower that number or more.

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