A shortage of software developers in the U.S. has prompted some companies to seek talent in Africa, home to a young and increasingly-tech savvy workforce.
International Business Machines Corp. has engaged young software developers in Lagos, Nigeria, to help build a data analytics business the technology giant is trying to ramp up quickly. The combination of an educated population and the proliferation of mobile technology on the continent makes Africa a good incubator 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 technology professionals in its analytics tools through online training classes. Developers in Africa and elsewhere are helping write software to support the effort.
IBM is not the only company that recognizes Africa’s potential as an innovation hub. In August, Barclays Africa Group, through a subsidiary in South Africa, launched ChatBanking for Facebook Messenger, software to let local customers conduct bank transactions through the social network’s chat feature.
MasterCard Inc. runs a technology lab in Nairobi to incubate technology for digital payments and microloans for farmers. SAP SE has sponsored an “Africa Code Week” hackathon and Accenture PLC is nurturing talent in Tanzania, Zambia and Rwanda.
Young technology talent can help companies create innovative products fast, Mr. Katsnelson said. “They don’t have a vested interest in established technology.”
Loyyal, a New York startup building a customer loyalty and rewards platform based on blockchain distributed ledgers, has hired a contract developer in Nairobi to work 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.
“He has been absolutely outstanding,” said Greg Simon, Loyyal’s chief executive and founder.
Loyyal plans to put Mr. Ganga on core blockchain projects and may also hire two or three more Andela developers, Mr. Simon said.
He declined to say how much he has paid to Andela, but said the “cost is significantly reduced compared to a U.S.-based employee.”
Andela puts applicants through aptitude tests to assess skills and problem-solving abilities, with fewer than 10% progressing to a round of interviews. Fewer still are invited to a two-week boot camp, where a series of technology 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-fourths 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.
Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg has praised Africa as a source of technology talent. Andela in June received $24 million in funding, led by Chan Zuckerberg LLC, a philanthropic company created late last year by Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. It was Chan Zuckerberg’s first major investment.
“We live in a world where talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in a statement at the time.