Andela’s Strategy is a Skills Development Masterstroke

By using their belief that brilliance is evenly distributed, and sensing that there was an untapped resource, Andela was founded in 2014 with a mandate to assist young developers in improving their skills and providing access to companies that would otherwise not consider employing outside of traditional markets. “Andela is a movement of awesome people that is empowering technology leaders in Africa,” says Seni Sulyman, Country Director for Andela in Nigeria.

There will be a demand for 1.3 million software developers in the next 10 years, and currently there are only 400,000 domestic computer science graduates in the US according to Andela. To bridge the potential job shortfall Andela looked to Africa, home to seven of the ten fastest growing internet user populations in the world.

The Andela model is fairly straightforward. Developers are enrolled in a 4-year programme, during which they are given a laptop, paid a stipend, offered subsidised housing and two meals per day. In addition the developers receive mentorship, technical and professional skills development, and leadership training from senior staff members. The investment made by Andela per developer is around US$15,000.

The programme offers opportunities at grassroots level. There are no formal degree or diploma requirements to apply for a learnership as long as you are 18 years or older, able to commit to the programme full time, and embody the Andela values of excellence, passion, integrity, and collaboration. “One of the key aspects of this collaboration is that everyone involved has a specific role to play, and harnessing their skills they are able to accelerate learning experiences,” says Sulyman. “Passion is also vital as Sulyman states “we all have something that ignites us deep inside.”

Andela’s African focus on sourcing talented individuals for its technical leadership programme is aimed at matching developers who need practical experience in being a software developer and companies that need assistance in acquiring specific skills. “We see our focus as helping amazing people cross the chasm to become world class developers and help world class companies,” adds Sulyman.

To help bridge the divide, business partners are enlisted as a vehicle to provide hands-on skills transfer in the real world, which Sulyman feels is a fundamental part of Andela’s offering. “The oldest form of learning is apprenticeship, and in our experience many computer science graduates do not have the practical skills right away to succeed, they need experience.” Businesses are looking for very strong developers who can be team members, by having a hands on approach  this can happen, he says, and  Andela” objective is to produce skilled and experienced developers in Africa.

The Andela approach is proving to be very successful with developers now applying more than 6 months in advance to join. This has led to a situation where Andela is having to screen learners and only take on those who show the most potential. To lessen the volumes Andela has created the Distributed Learning Community which is an online learning ecosystem from where developers from all over the continent can learn, help each other, and engage in developing software. This community also allows Andela to monitor the progress of budding developers and eventually invite the developers to join their leadership programme. The programme itself is designed to assist young developers who are not yet strong enough and for developers who are not able to commit full time to the Andela programme. The aim of this community is to eventually have an ecosystem of 100,000 technology leaders. The demand for such a community highlights the skills challenge in the industry where it can be difficult to find learning opportunities. This is especially true in an economy that is struggling with underemployment like Nigeria, a country with an acknowledged skills shortage.

One of the criticisms levelled at Andela has been a belief that by empowering young developers and introducing them to global companies that the developers will leave the continent and create a brain drain. This is quite a myopic view according to Sulyman who feels strongly that people must not take a short view and rather focus on the long term. “Look at me, I was brought up in Nigeria, lived in Europe, moved to the USA where I went to university, but now I am back with skills and experiences that I am trying to share with other Nigerians”.  

The world has become interconnected and the internet allows for instant communication, this gives Andela developers in Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda the opportunity to interact and learn from companies all over the world.

Andela has made great strides since 2014 but the future holds much for the company. Sulyman feels that the company will need to focus on three key areas. Firstly there needs to be continued investment in hiring and placing talented African developers with international companies and hopefully see those developers move to greater things in new businesses on a global level. Secondly Andela needs to codify the support structure to cultivate world class developers. Lastly, Andela needs to continue adding value, whether it is fundraising as a partner to companies, or in opening up new markets in Africa.

The Andela model is an exciting one where Africans are allowed to develop their skills as software developers in an environment that fosters practical knowledge. With a population of well over a billion, if you consider the belief that brilliance is evenly distributed, then there are plenty of brilliant Africans that just need a chance.