Andela Nigeria’s Country Director, Omowale David-Ashiru, spoke with Emma Okonji on the company’s recent feat in securing $100 million funding to boost technology growth and the need to train more Nigerians in software development. Excerpts:
Andela recently secured $100 million funding. How do you intend to utilise the whooping amount in software development?
With the Series D funding, Andela will accelerate the development of its technology platform to identify, develop and match talent at scale. By doing so, Andela will provide its partners with the data they need to understand developer performance and better manage distributed teams. The company will also expand its presence across Africa to meet the global demand for high-quality engineering talent. Essentially, we want to invest heavily in talent and technology that will help us reach our potential, as quickly as possible.
Andela had in the past, secured funding to develop Africa’s software team. How have you been able to impact the software industry with these funds?
As with every series, there are specific goals and objectives to achieve and one of the things we’ve been able to accomplish is expansion. If you look at how much we have grown, we have almost doubled in size in the last couple of years. In terms of direct impact, we have been able to bring about 1,100 developers into the fellowship and with programs like our ALC which is in partnership with Google, Pluralsight and Microsoft, we have been able to provide the online opportunity for talent to be developed in software development. In the last two years, we have empowered over 33,000 people with almost half of that being Nigerians. In the ecosystem, the number of Andelans have been able to develop the ecosystem with initiatives like Teencode, Tech in Pink, etc. Another indirect way that the previous funding has impacted the software industry in Nigeria and Africa is that it has put us in the spotlight and attracted a lot of investors. In 2017 alone we were able to attract over half a billion dollars into African startups and this is because, for each investment that has come in, it has put us out there and also enabled other investors to realise there is brilliance in Africa and there are startups and tech companies doing great things in Africa.
The federal government has been making efforts to train entrepreneurs in software development, such that they can compete globally and add value to the Nigerian economy, but it appears such efforts are slow in yielding results. Why is government not getting it right?
I am not sure I have the exact answers to why the plans of the government haven’t succeeded yet but I believe partnerships are key to success. The government will need to consider tech ecosystem partnerships to help it drive this objective. Also, another very important thing is the role the government has to play in terms of creating an enabling environment. Power and internet are essential infrastructure to drive these things and the government will need to invest in these things if they plan to win.
What are private sector players like Andela doing to raise quality entrepreneurs in software development that can develop commercially viable software that will be of high demand within and outside the country?
One aspect of the entire model is doing exactly that. We identify potential, some of who don’t have any software development background before applying to the Andela fellowship. What we are basically after is potential, grit and determination because we know brilliance is evenly distributed. We are identifying them and the process of identifying is something that Andela has also invested in. We have the tools and ways to identify them and once that has been done, we invest in giving them the right environment and essentials they need to succeed. Once that has been done, we match them with partners that will give them the exposure to technology and world-class systems that would get them to the level of being world class. This is what Andela is doing and I believe other companies will be doing such, so that these software developers become world class that will contribute to solving global and local challenges.
What is your view about federal government’s plan to establish National ICT Park inside Abuja Technology Village, where talents would be groomed in software development and computer engineering?
I think it’s a good initiative. Andela was built on the premise that talent is evenly distributed and we have been able to convince a lot of people through the great strides we have achieved over the past couple of years. I believe this initiative of the federal government would be a good investment not just to the ecosystem but to the Nigerian economy at large. There is still so much to be done. It is fantastic that the government has committed to this but what would be more fantastic is to actually do it. I’ll borrow a little from the page of Rwanda because we have a pan African hub that we just opened in Rwanda. Rwanda is fantastic and we have seen how proactive the government has been with promoting Rwanda as a technology hub. One of the first things they did is to make sure basic infrastructure to drive this initiative has been sorted. With that, they can attract investment to their country. Andela is happy to be there to partner them to develop their talent. I believe this is something Nigeria can and should be doing and it’s something we should proactively pursue.
In four years, Andela has assessed more than 100,000 applicants, hired 1,000 software developers, and integrated them into hundreds of companies. What impact are these hundreds of companies making on the Nigerian economy?
For starters, the most direct impact is that we have these 1,100 developers work right here from their home base and that is economic empowerment. Yes, they are contributing to companies and partners but they are earning. These are people who may not have been doing anything or earning. By that, they have been able to impact and empower their own system both family and work and that is a very direct impact that we have from people being able to work with companies around the world from their own home base. It is also helping to grow our economy both economically but also in terms of the knowledge transfer and have been able to directly impact those that are right next to them in this same country.
What are your plans to expand Andela’s presence across Africa to meet the global demand for high-quality engineering talent?
We have plans for this, and it is one of the things that the series D will help achieve.
You are playing in a sector where the males dominate the females especially in software programming and coding. What is Andela doing to address the disparity?
Andela is trying to play its part. The first thing is awareness. One of the things we try to do is track the data, try to identify what the gaps are and what are stopping women from coming out. More proactively, we have done initiatives like having an all-female cohort. This means we have had a whole application cycle dedicated to just women. The reason is that we understand that in a field that is dominated by one particular gender, there might be something of psychological unsafety. We tried this and saw a difference. It is something we’ve done in the past which proved successful and we’ll keep doing this in the future. We also hold workshops targeted to the women. We are also targeting influencers who are the gatekeepers because we realised that young women yearn to be part of this industry but they are limited by forces. If we could sit down with the influencers and mothers to educate them about the benefits, then we will get farther.
There is a global shortage in software engineering talents and the job demand for this talent is on the increase. What do you think is the best approach to handle the situation from Nigeria?
This ties to the essence of Andela. All that we have done in the last five years has been towards solving this problem.
Nigeria is working towards digital transformation and smart cities. How will Andela accelerate the development of Africa’s best tech talent in Nigeria to achieve digital transformation?
Continue to do what we are doing.
Quality of locally developed software has been an issue why Nigerians still prefer foreign software to local software. How can this be addressed to build local confidence?
This is one of the reasons that Andela was founded. We believe that as we produce more world-class software engineers, they will permeate and will be part of the people that will propel Nigeria and Africa to where we want to go. We have already even started seeing that and one of the things we are doing as part of the learning process is that we have the apprenticeship program where our developers work with local businesses that are developing products.
With tech campuses in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, Andela has been recognised as “The Best Place to Work in Africa” in 2018. How true is the statement and what makes Andela thick?
The statement is obviously true from the awards we have won from prestigious platforms. It is true because of the culture that we promote; Excellence, Passion, Integrity, and Collaboration. We live by these values and even in bringing people into Andela. It’s not just about intelligence. We are very interested in value alignment and even as you come in, you catch the culture. We’re not just creating developers but we are creating leaders of tomorrow.
There is a recent report from Konga that over 70 per cent of Nigerians do not shop online because they don’t have access to the internet. How is Andela coping with internet access in developing software engineers?
This is back to what I said about an enabling infrastructure. It is no news to anyone that doing business is not as easy as it should be in Nigeria but we are not going to give up, we are going to keep investing and that’s why it is a thing of joy to have these investments so we are not limited instead, we are fueled to pursue our mission to produce world-class developers.
Nigeria attained 31.48 per cent broadband penetration in December 2018, which surpassed the 30 per cent broadband target of the country. How will this development impact on Nigeria’s software developers?
We are happy at this development, but we need more of this because if we believe the future of work is distributed, then that type of milestone and more will get us to the future faster than we can imagine.
Given the current rate of technology adoption in Nigeria, what is your projection of the country’s technology growth in the next five years?
I think we are going really fast and I don’t see this stopping, thanks to companies like Andela and other tech companies. I can’t give specific numbers but I believe if we continue on the path we are taking to being proactive and putting our country out there in the spotlight for investors to come in, I definitely believe we can be at the forefront of the technology revolution that is currently ongoing.