‘We need to encourage more big tech companies to come to Nigeria’
2017 for the Nigeria’s tech industry was intense and defining as many start-ups and entrepreneurs acquired new partnerships and skills. Seni Sulyman, Andela’s had a chat with FRANK ELEANYA on the company’s collaborations with big technology firms like Microsoft and Google which defined the work of the company this year.
I noticed many activities in the last couple of weeks, are you racing against a target?
We are not racing against target. What you are seeing is us getting to a point where we are seeing the real traction of the initiatives we have been doing. One of our goals is to have 100,000 developers in ten years. It is to essentially help to cultivate that talent and to achieve, we realised we cannot do it alone. We really do need partnerships. Earlier this year we ran a program with Google called the Andela Learning Community (ALC). It was an experiment. The idea was to if Google has the android language, and Android is going to become one of the biggest platforms in Africa by default, then can they find a way to ensure that we have Android developers here that can support both Africa and the rest of the world. Google then realised that they could actually use a partner that was pretty good at delivering programs aimed at helping people upscale. They came to us, we talked about it. It made sense and we just ran the pilot.
What we realised after the pilot was the demand was crazy. The number of applicants we got exceeded our expectations. The level of engagement was really high. We were very silent about that first one because we just wanted to get a lot of data and understand how we go from there. When we ended that program it was very successful. There were a thousand people that were selected and about a 100 were certified for Android. Google was so impressed about that, they said “Let’s do another one.” We did not see the second one coming, but they said to go ahead. I could remember when Sundar Pichai, Google CEO was here, he talked about millions of training. I think they found that one of the fastest ways to do that was to work with us. So what you are seeing in the last quarter has been us saying “We know this thing can work.” While we were doing that Microsoft also came and said let’s do something similar with that platform. It is just us trying to fulfil our mission.
The truth is Andela is always driven by this dual bottom-line. What that means is, there is the financial part of it, and then you have the impact part of it. We are not going to hire all of the 100,000 people, but it is really for the ecosystem to thrive.
You mentioned the applications being too many, how do you separate people with passion for technology and those just looking for an opportunity to get off the unemployed market?
Honestly I do not separate it. The saying ‘the end justifies the means’ may have negative connotations but in this context, the end does justifies the means. Whether someone goes into software development because they are looking for a job or because they are really passionate about making change, or they are going there because they realise that some people are making money, to me it almost does not matter. What we care about the most is that when they get there, are they going to have the right values, are they going to built things the right way? That is what really matters. Ultimately you really cannot stay for long without adding value. To stay for a while, you are going to have to add value, keep improving and having the right motivation. It can come in different form, what I have seen is that in general people that I interact with within the tech sector in Nigeria, there is a big part of their framework that involves adding value. I have seen that a lot, people want to build something that will change the world.
We have seen many big foreign tech firms collaboration with local tech start-ups, what does that mean for the ecosystem going forward?
One of the things I think people have misunderstood is, so far, the tech companies in Nigeria are not doing tech in Nigeria. It is primarily sales, marketing, distribution and things like that. The reason for that is the talent is not just there. So you look at Oracle for example, or even Microsoft, they come in, they get a customer that says he wants to buy millions of dollars worth of severs equipment. The sales team here will be the ones that do all the sales, but when it is time to implement they have to bring in external folks because they cannot find people here that have the talent. So for me, I do not think we will affect the interest of the companies that want to come in the immediate term, but in the long term, absolutely. What will make a huge difference is to retain a lot of value here. What will happen is they will have a sales and marketing team, and also have a local delivery team. That is where I think we will begin to see the full value of the companies coming. That is the future we envision. If Microsoft for example wants to set up the digital centre in Africa and they want to pick Nigeria, how many people can they possibly hire? Probably not that many, but in a year, two years, three years from now they will actually have a large pool to choose from which would then make other companies to do the same thing.
Some experts have questioned the idea of big tech companies organising one-week or two-week trainings and not continuing. They say this only leave Nigeria and Africa with half-trained professionals. What do you say?
There are two sides to this. One of it is, for me I think nothing is better than nothing. So if a company that is not Nigerian and has no Nigerian connection per se have decided that they should be investing in this continent and they take their resources, come here and they actually spend money training people for a week; to me that is value. That one week alone, can change the orientation of the beneficiaries. We should not underestimate the value of even a week of immersion. It is a different experience. That said, yes one week is not going to be enough to allow someone materially improve their skills or acquire new skills, you need more time than that. What I would say to that is, if people have opinions on what is a better training program, they should go and create something or put together a proposal and send it to Google team and say “Hey this is a better use of your money.” But what we do mostly in Nigeria is, we sit down and criticise and we do not provide alternative solutions. I will not discourage somebody that is coming to give one week training, I will rather encourage them. After doing one week training, maybe one year from now they can say “You have gotten really good from the one-week training, you have reached a stage where you need more training.” May be they go and do more training or they give them free resources for a period of time.
What does it take to be fully certified by Andela?
There are two components to that. There is ‘What does it take to get into Andela?’ and there is ‘What does it take to succeed at Andela and finish the four years technical leadership program?’To get into Andela, it is a combination of technical competency, professional skills and what I call values. For the technical skills, we do that by giving you a course. We give you materials, you go and study and come back and take a test. We see how good you are on the test which also tells us how quickly you learn. It is almost like taking GMAT, NCAT or WAEC. It’s a test you study, you take it and you have proven competence at a certain level. We also do assessment around your professional skills and your values.
A couple of things we have found to be very important are people’s resilience. We call it GREAT at Andela. Life is going to beat you down. How likely are you to get back up and continue running your race? We look for program around problem-solving and team-orientation, people that know how to work with others to deliver something they can do themselves. Some people call it soft-skills or professional skills or core values. We combine those things together. We have people apply, we screen based on the results, invite a number of them to interview. Based on the ones that get here and succeed at the interviews we invite a subset of them to come for bootcamp. The bootcamp is where they spend about a week building things in teams. So everyone that comes of the bootcamp has to build something that solves problems. We have probably produced thousands of bootcamps that solve issues in Nigeria. We observe these set skills and values and their behavioural traits. We then select the ones that we believe will succeed in Andela. You get into Andela, you go through five levels.
…To be continued in 2018
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