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December 2, 2019

How Andela is growing tech talent in Africa: a conversation with Christina Sass

By ITU News

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey suggested last week that he may move to Africa for three to six months in 2020 because the continent will “define the future”.

Indeed, Africa is quickly emerging as a place of digital innovation, having already shown its ability to leapfrog development challenges using technology.

The continent, however, has sometimes been overlooked as a source for developer talent. But as global tech talent shortages continue to rise – with an estimated global shortage of over 85 million tech workers by 2030 – this is quickly changing.

“There’s no one better positioned to solve scalable problems through technology than technologists that come up through these tech ecosystems, that live and understand it.” – Christina Sass, co-Founder and President of Andela

An African solution

Andela, a technology training accelerator focusing on the African market, hires and trains Africa’s top software engineers to work remotely for top global companies.

Earlier this year, the start-up raised US$ 100 million in a Series D funding led by Generation Investment Management, with participation from previous investors Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, GV (Google Ventures) and others.

“There’s a lot of really passionate young people that are interested in technology,” Christina Sass, co-Founder and President of Andela, told ITU News at Web Summit 2019.

Based in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, the start-up trains developers on a four-year fellowship contract. Of over 130,000 applicants from across the African continent, Andela has trained over 1,000 engineers – an acceptance rate of just 0.7%, a statistic that led CNN to call it “the start-up that’s harder to get into than Harvard”.

“We have a 23 per cent women software developer rate at Andela – it’s 6 per cent globally. We’re hoping to be a cause of better and healthier trends globally, and certainly [in Africa],” Sass said.

According to latest figures from ITU, more men than women use the Internet in every region of the world except the Americas – and the digital gender gap is increasing in Africa.

Growth opportunities

While a base layer of technology talent exists in Africa, there is room for the continent to develop, according to Sass.

“The marketplace is somewhat flooded with a lot of junior talent and a lot of bootcamps – and the market is looking for more and more mature developers,” she said. “Once they get to that base level – I’d say three to five years’ experience – then there’s tons of demand for their knowledge and their skillsets.”

One remedy, as Sass sees it, is better education pathways for those with core technical skills.

“We need more feeder systems,” says Sass. “We need more quality tertiary education that’s set up in product teams, in simulated teams and not just book learning or computer learning, so to speak, but learning by doing apprenticeships.”

Andela’s training follows a similar format. The first six months are spent developing technical skills in a simulated distributed team, after which the developer will be placed on a project with one of Andela’s partners as a full-time, distributed team member.

Virtuous cycle

Once the developers graduate from the programme, they remain in Africa, working remotely for companies around the world, which has the added effect of catalyzing the growth of tech ecosystems across Africa, according to Sass.

“The continent experiences massive challenges and also massive opportunities,” she says. “There’s no one better positioned to solve scalable problems through technology than technologists that come up through these tech ecosystems, that live and understand it, and also know what cutting edge technology looks like and how its cutting edge technology teams work.”

“So that’s our goal: to have them add value and get exposure to the best tech teams in the world and then eventually reinvest that expertise in their home communities,” Sass said.

*Reported and written by Lucy Spencer for ITU News.

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How Andela is growing tech talent in Africa: a conversation with Christina Sass

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