Raising Andela’s Pocket Change

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How do you fix a thing that isn’t broken?

John Doe was terrific at Java. John left the university, worked for a software company here, and even found time to lecture at the University. A USAID project came looking and John was the natural fit – top and exceptional Java talent to run a mega IT project. Soon, the project came to a wrap. John – now accustomed to an 8-figure salary and great perks couldn’t get rehired by regular companies. John couldn’t find gigs small enough to sustain his life. Also, there weren’t many Java projects in town – the tech stacks were fast and fluid, the specialist left feeling jurrassic! After a while, John landed an opportunity – but he had to relocate abroad. His skill, though precious and top-notch, is now fit only in specific markets, for people who are ready to pay 8 figures (I know, wait, I mean Ugx). You could say, John is not a fit for this Ugandan “ecosystem” anymore.

Andela is currently being vilified for what smaller software companies are now calling “a drain of the ecosystem” – of all the top developer talent. Junior developers are not spared, they even run a teen-code club (by the way its an excellent free program!). What happens to this talent? The simple version – Get in, get a mac, get trained, and for 4 years develop, as part of a team, world class software, for a global market! Surely what’s evil about this?

Until you start to see the net (and unintended) effects on the ecosystem. Andela requires that developers work in teams, on solutions that are not born of your neighborhood, for a client that stays in a city you only see in the movies. You get a world class education in software development techniques and a great office to work in (Kampala, Kigali, Lagos, Nairobi, New York, Austin, San Fransisco with HQ on the Internet!). Moreover, soon enough, you start earning a really great 7 figure salary. For some of our impressionable young people, its hard to look back. The problems you solve for clients in the global market are so big.  Its like tasting the fruit of the garden… Your eyes are opened, you are wiser, so much more – and now, your peers are in Mumbai, San Francisco, Barcelona and Toronto!

Again – you have to ask, what is wrong with all this?

Andela believes that while brilliance is evenly distributed, opportunity is not. Their mission is to make available opportunities to brilliant talent on the African continent. (Strong Applause Here).

Here’s what I think Andela should consider, in repairing the unintended consequences of its brilliantly executed model:

1 – Reconsider hiring talent straight from the University – because such impressionable kids will loose an opportunity to exercise their skill locally, before it becomes available globally. Moreover on the back of holistic development, Andela would benefit from hiring great software development talent that has actually experienced industry – Education, Agriculture, Health, Finance etc.

2 – Ask your Devs to Develop Others – as part of their full-time contract. We already know that training others supports mastery of any skill. Holding 2-3 mandatory community training sessions by 15 senior devs will create a give-back attitude, strengthen mentor-coach skills and add to the soft skills needed to produce a great Andelan. Just their tee and mac is sufficient branding. Moreover, the social capital one gains from that tends to be invaluable a few years later. Where its happening, take the ALC away from the building.

3 – Give Devs back to the industry – without turning your own lights off. Andela is perfectly positioned to support devs – in partnership with carefully selected local non-profit partners – to work on local technology solutions. This partnership model would be available to companies below a certain budget threshold. Carefully managed, this model has every opportunity to use local problems as the sandbox for training and development – a much added value.

4 – Some people are not cut out for working away from home – or relocation, or working in 4 time-zones. Some people are  perfectly fit for the local market. Andela can create a pricing model that makes such talent available for the local recruitment needs. Yes, they wont be paid top dollar relative to their colleagues, but that’s the opportunity cost of choosing to enjoy all 12 hours of the equatorial sun! And there’s nothing wrong with that.

This morning when I went over to the Andela breakfast, it was to honor an invitation to hear President and Co-founder Christina Sass. I enjoyed listening to her passion, but mostly to her compassion. I agree, we needn’t attach intention where there is none. Andela is not evil, and no they are not snatching the top 1%. Andela have a model, that works. Kampala has talent, that’s brilliant. The world has opportunities, ready to be filled.

Let’s not fail to feed the very ecosystem on which this model thrives.