I’m very confident about the tech community in Nigeria’- Andela
by Jumoke Akiyode Lawanson
September 12, 2017 | 1:12 am| | | Start Conversation
Andela is a software engineering company that focuses on high level human capital by training talents into very high tech software developers. In this exclusive interview, Seni Sulyman, Country Director at Andela, talks to BusinessDay’s Jumoke Akiyode Lawanson about how the company sources for talents in Nigeria, extends engineering teams with world class software developers, receives global funding and essentially discusses the company’s plans to change the future with technology.
How do you source technology talents Nigeria?
There is a community of people right now that are already tech driven and do not want to do the conventional things. They are like misfits, because they don’t fit into the environment that they are in, so they are looking for something different, so i think what happens is that they find us most times and when they do, they are sure that this is what they want to do. So on the one hand, we work with people that are looking for that opportunity to do something different and relevant, they find us and apply to Andela. On the other hand, we make it easier for them as well by being a bit vocal about what we do. So we are very open and trusted about everything we do and the way we operate on social media, essentially every month, we spend time going to events and running a campaign online.
What is the criteria for being accepted into Andela and what is the section process like?
It is pretty rigorous, we take about 0.7 percent of the total number of applicants, so what that means is that in any given cycle, we can receive up to 3,000 applications and at the end,we probably pick about 15 people to join the company. There are multiple stages along the way, so there is a test that people take online that measures their IQ levels, problem solving skills, its like a psychometric test and then we also have other value based tests because we want to see if people have integrity, are collaborative and fit into the culture here. After that, we screen them and invite a few of them to interview. In a typical cycle, we go from about 3,000 applications to about 150 invited to real life interviews, form the interviews we cut down to about 60 people who would then be invited to the bootcamp. The bootcamp is named that way because it’s reminiscent of a military bootcamp where you go for a week and then you come out well equipped. We bring in people that are equipped to train other people, so the bootcamp is more of learning, where you are given things to do and they watch how fast and well you can learn and endure challenging situations. There are a lot of milestone projects that you have to complete. It is also a lot of team work, collaboration and the idea is that you need to watch people and see how they perfrom under stress in team environments and you can get a lot of data about people in that environment. It is usually about a week long and when that is done, then we have a group of people that select who should come and join the company. Usually, the outcome of the bootcamp is either that you did a fantastic job and we want to hire you, or that we are not interested right now. We don’t believe that people are not good enough to get into Andela, we think they might not be ready at the moment, so they can always go back and try again some other time. The third option is that for the people who are really close to being great and we believe in them; we have created a program where we would give them dedicated attention over a four week period to help them develop and then that way, i they can meet certain milestones within that time and we feel comfortable that they can actually succeed, then we give them a job. Within six months of joining Andela, you would be given the tools and curriculum to learn yourself, and then after the six months, when we feel that you’re ready to be on external engagement, we will actually pair you up with a client and the way you work is that you are physically in the space here, working for Andela but you spend your 9-5 hours working in teams with our clients.
What companies has Andela been able to help build software solutions for since its establishment?
Andela has a mix of clients, predominantly foreign clients for obvious reasons. Firstly, as a startup, we are looking for who is going to pay, because if we don’t get paid then we’ll die. Our Nigerian talents are being exported to get the best work experiences that they can find and then then country will be better off with someone that has spent the past five or ten years getting the best experience wherever it is and then bringing it back home, as opposed to spending thirty years in Nigeria. With software engineering, you can actually do your business anywhere, you don’t have to be physically present, so if these talents know that they can attract a global audience from Nigeria, the story is even nicer. We have clients like IBM, Microsoft and some smaller clients. But generally, to characterise our clients, they are usually companies that are very tech heavy and are trying to solve one big problem, they use mostly web/mobile languages like iOS, Android and they have spent quite a lot of time looking for people to join their teams and they basically have commitments, like they have told their investors that they are going to deliver a product by this time and they need the people to do it, so they find Andela.
How does Andela get funding?
In the beginning there were some visionary Nigerians that believed in the type of thing Andela is doing. Once we could prove that the business model works, then we started attracting global capital. In the last three years, we have received funding from Spark who also investing on Twitter, we also had input from Google ventures and the Chan Zuckerberg initiative which is Mark, the Facebook founder and his wife and we have also had money from people that are random like MBA players.
How does Andela manage the funds gathered from venture capitals and foreign clients?
We have offices in Lagos, Nairobi, NewYork, Kampala and some other locations, so most of the money is spent expanding and then a lot of it is also spent re-investing in and powering the business. Now we bring in about fifteen people a month to work here, so you can imagine how much capital you need for that and the overhead costs, but ultimately, I think that we believe in investing so that we can get a multiplier effect tomorrow. We offer access to some online platforms for our developers so that they can get more education, and we pay for all these things so that they can use stand we do a lot of travel. One of the requirements Andela has is that as soon as you join us, you are required to get a passport, and as soon as you finish the training program, you should get your US visa because many of them have to travel to see the clients.
Do you think that Andela would have grown much faster and bigger than it is now if it was not operating in the Nigerian environment?
I don’t think so, because the kind of work that we do is different. If we were doing E-commerce, then definitely we would be able to grow faster elsewhere, if we were a bank, i think the same thing, but the one thing that we’re doing is the one thing that Nigeria actually has a huge advantage over many places in the world, which is human capital. We are trying to find smart people who want to change the world and change their lives, who are willing to do whatever it takes to learn and who can compete in the wold. If you look at other parts of the world, especially in Asia, E-commerce is huge and that’s because they found a way to integrate themselves fully with people’s daily journeys but we don’t have that in Nigeria.
What are your future projections for Andela?
In this business, future is a very relative concept because technology is changing. We are currently contemplating virtual reality (VR) to see how quickly VR will take hold. Because what will happen is that if it does, we actually have some of the best methodology around how people can work from different places in the world and so if VR takes hold, you can wear the VR head set and be in this room and work somewhere else. This would accelerate the way people hire foreign workers, because what happens now is that a lot of Indian companies outsource information technology (IT) but they have to physically fly to the US, however, with VR, people don’t have to move or violate any visa policies by migrating. With VR, we will get a lot of demand.
In comparison to the Indian tech space, where would you place Nigeria?
I think Nigeria is still probably ten to fifteen years behind India but i think that’s ok because what it means is that we at Andela are literarily in the position to drive the tech industry and i am very confident about the tech community in Nigeria. In terms of funding, i think we are still far behind. The issue people are facing now is that in the initial stages, people give you money to start up, but the minute you grow to start needing a substantial amount of money, people are not ready to give up to a million dollars. At the later stage, once you get big enough and you can prove to the world what you are doing, then people can give you more money. I think India is actually easier to invest in than Nigeria because of its government and regulatory policies and also Nigeria’s reputation which is gradually becoming better but for a long time, we had a bad reputation.
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