Technology companies look to Africa for new talent

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Startups and global corporations are competing against each other to find the best talent in Africa's increasingly tech-savvy workforce

A shortage of software developers in the US has prompted many companies to seek talent in Africa, home to a young and an increasingly tech-savvy workforce. International Business Machines Corp (IBM) has engaged young software developers in Lagos, Nigeria, to help build a data analytics business the technology giant. The combination of a large, educated population and great working knowledge of mobile technology makes Africa a good place to find of technology talent, said Leon Katsnelson, chief technology officer and director for IBM’s analytic platform emerging technologies group.

IBM is building “Big Data University” to train tech professionals in its analytic systems through online training classes. Developers in Africa and elsewhere are helping write software to support the education effort.

In addition to IBM, Barclays Africa Group, through a subsidiary in South Africa, launched ChatBanking for Facebook Messenger. This is a piece of software that lets local customers conduct bank transactions through the social network’s chat feature. MasterCard Inc. runs a tech lab in Nairobi, Kenya to develop technology for digital payments and microloans for the agricultural sector. SAP SE has sponsored an “Africa Code Week” hack-a-thon and Accenture PLC is hoping to develop talent in Tanzania, Zambia and Rwanda.

Young tech talent can help companies create innovative products fast, Katsnelson said. “They don’t have a vested interest in established technology.”

Loyyal, a New York based startup is starting to build a customer loyalty and rewards platform based on blockchain distributed ledgers. They have hired a contract developer in Nairobi, Kenya to develop on its mobile app. Loyyal found developer Chris Ganga through Andela, Inc., itself a startup contracting firm with offices in Africa, New York and San Francisco.

Andela puts all applicants through aptitude tests to assess their skills and problem-solving abilities, with fewer than 10 per cent of all applicants progressing to a round of interviews. Even less are invited to a two-week work boot camp where a series of technology and ICT challenges are laid out. An applicant may be asked to learn a new programming language and build software for a specific task, said Jeremy Johnson, Andela’s chief executive and cofounder.

Of 45,000 applicants since its founding in 2014, Andela has hired about 200 developers so far, he said. About three quarters have a degree in computer science or electrical engineering, he said.

Andela works with developers for six months to vet their technology and interpersonal skills before assigning them to contracts with corporate customers.

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