Tech Firms Hiring Workers Across Africa

By Dinah Wisenberg Brin June 20, 2019
Tech Firms Hiring Workers Across Africa

​In the five years since its founding, Andela, a U.S.-based company that assembles engineering teams for startups and tech giants around the world, has built a workforce of 1,800, almost all located in Africa. The company represents a growing focus on Africa among global tech firms, including Microsoft and Google, that are looking to train software developers and build tech workforces and consumer markets on the continent.

Andela's 1,300 software developers, largely working from their home cities in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda and Uganda, serve clients in 13 countries, the majority in the United States, said Nairobi, Kenya-based Wambui Kinya, Andela's vice president of partner engineering.

Andela, she said, has identified "great skill in Africa" among workers who can help U.S. companies address a tech talent shortage, showing that qualified developers are available on a continent not typically known for its software engineering talent.

Microsoft's Investments

Microsoft, which opened its first offices in Africa in 1992, introduced its 4Afrika program six years ago to invest in entrepreneurs and small businesses, develop skilled workers, and provide affordable Internet access. The software company recently rolled out two major training and recruiting initiatives in Africa.

In March, Microsoft opened its first two hyperscale data centers in South Africa to help local businesses reach the cloud. And in May, Microsoft announced its first Africa Development Center, or ADC, with initial sites in Nairobi, Kenya, and Lagos, Nigeria.

The ADC will help Microsoft "better understand a continent rapidly adopting technology in the cloud" and serve as "a premier center of engineering for Microsoft," the company said at the time.

"We are developing a consumer base who are empowered to use next-gen technologies—like cloud computing and artificial intelligence—to make more data-driven decisions, deliver services to market faster, solve challenges through innovative solutions and compete on a global stage. Our focus is on bringing our intelligent cloud platform to African governments, partners, startups and small to medium enterprises," said Amrote Abdella, Nairobi-based regional director of Microsoft 4Afrika.

"To build the next generation of business, we are fully cognizant that we need to equally invest in growing the talent pool in Africa," Abdella noted.

To staff the ADC, Microsoft is recruiting people from across the continent to work on artificial intelligence and machine learning, and it plans to hire 100 full-time engineers by the end of this year and 500 at the two sites in Nairobi and Lagos by 2023. It's also working with local universities to create a computing curriculum and offering graduates access to the center to help them launch tech careers.

"Our desire is to recruit exceptional engineering talent across the continent. This also creates opportunities for engineers to do meaningful work from their home countries and be plugged in to a global engineering and development organization," said Michael Fortin, Microsoft corporate vice president based in Redmond, Wash., in the May announcement.

Microsoft also runs an intern program and 19 skills labs, known as the AppFactory, across Africa. Its partners, including Ethiopian Airlines and the Tulane University Center for Global Health Equity, operate the skills labs, which helps them build their own pool of software engineers, Abdella said. In Nigeria, for example, Sidmach Technologies hired all 12 graduates from its first lab program.

Microsoft brings employees from around the world to Africa to work with local employees, customers and partners through a volunteer program, MySkills4Afrika. So far, 600 volunteers have participated in the effort, according to Abdella.

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Google's Expansion

Meanwhile, Google, which has maintained offices in Africa for more than a decade, announced two years ago that it would train 100,000 developers across the continent and provide a digital skills program to 10 million Africans. Its regional Launchpad Accelerator works with the developers and supports scores of tech startups.

Recently, the Internet giant opened an artificial intelligence research center in Accra, Ghana.

In announcing its ambitious training plans in 2017, Google noted that Africa was forecast to hold the world's largest working-age population—1.1 billion people—by 2034, but it was producing only 3 million to 4 million new jobs annually.

Andela has teamed with Google and others to offer tech skills programs, part of the developer staffing company's own goal of training 100,000 African software engineers over a decade. Andela recently said it had already provided instruction to more than 33,000 developers, and, working with Google and information technology skills training platform Pluralsight, it would train another 30,000.

"There's a great need for developers," Kinya said, noting that African engineers and U.S. clients share four to five work hours a day of time-zone overlap.

Andela's employees enjoy full-time, salaried work, benefits and appealing workspaces.

Andela expects to soon double in size, hiring another 1,000 software developers and investing heavily in data, engineering and product development, said New York City-based spokeswoman Dami Oyefeso.

Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance journalist and writer based in Philadelphia.



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