Notes from the road: Strengthening partnerships and connecting with talent in Kenya and Egypt
By Jeremy Johnson, Andela's Co-founder and CEO
November 8, 2023
We founded Andela in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2014 on a simple premise: brilliance is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not.
As we expanded from country to country over the first five years, I was back and forth between the US and the continent almost every other month. When the pandemic hit and all travel was shut down, this physical connection to the continent and the energy of the Andela talent and teams in the region was one of the hardest things to give up. Recently, I got back on the road and was able to make a trip to Kenya and Egypt - two of our earliest and still largest countries of operation - where I was joined by Tony Capasso, our Chief Business Officer, and Jerry Robinson, our VP of Enterprise. While there, we got to spend time with Andela’s talent and Andela clients, and it was remarkable to see firsthand how much has changed over the past few years.
Even though Andela represents talent from over 175 countries globally, Africa still represents the soul of the company. It is where we started; three of our co-founders are from the continent, and today, it still represents over half of the talent in the Andela network.
While other regions faced stagnant or declining growth in 2022, Africa remained resilient and even showed some growth in the tech sector. Even the World Economic Forum now agrees that “Africa is emerging as a significant source of software engineering talent and is home to the fastest-growing population of developers.” With more than 22 million Africans joining the workforce each year, the continent offers not just a growing consumer market but also an expansive, untapped talent pool prepared to drive global tech innovation. This trip enabled our team to connect with some of Andela's diverse clients and talent, to hear first-hand insights into the current state of remote work in Africa, and to update our thinking on what’s possible in the coming years.
The demand for quality tech talent is growing
One exciting aspect of this trip was spending time in person with some of our clients and getting to see the progress they’ve made. Some of the largest, most successful names in business on the continent - from telecom to banking - are longstanding Andela partners, and many have undergone meaningful digital transformations during the pandemic. Increasingly, they are now regularly competing (and winning) against global technology companies. Our clients are operating at an increasingly high-performance bar and appreciate the importance of world-class software engineering. We heard multiple times that Andela isn’t just a conduit for tech talent but also an accelerator of what their executive teams think is possible.
After meeting with seven companies across North and East Africa, another theme we heard from our client meetings is their view of Andela as a strategic partner. We not only help them plan for future staffing needs, but we are a partner with a unique global view of where tech innovation is headed. Andela’s Talent and the client projects they work on provide us a heat map into global talent patterns, emerging areas of interest among engineers, and cycles of new technology like Generative AI. Andela’s community has grown to more than 4 million software developers (out of about 25 million globally), giving us a better heat map of emerging technical talent than almost anyone.
Many of our discussions focused on the use of AI, which has rapidly infiltrated almost every vertical, and how companies are exploring ways to use it to create business leverage. Our talent are naturally curious engineers, and many have been experimenting and exploring Generative AI for some time. We have been able to provide our clients with developing recommendations for building an AI project, standing up a team to actually execute it, as well as implementation of the work. As a two-sided marketplace, there is an important symbiotic relationship between Andela clients and Andela talent that shines through this body of work they have created together.
From finance to farming, African tech talent is making an impact
On the last part of our trip, we had the opportunity to sit down with our amazing talent. We hosted a talent meetup at BaoBox to show our appreciation for all the work that they do. Thank you to Andela Kenya Community Champion Koffi Kelvin, our community manager Ofejiro Ikogho, and program manager Patricia Ngetich for organizing the event. It was the largest meet-up we've hosted in the two years we've been running community events - with 90 people from our Andela Talent Marketplace. The delicious Kenyan barbecue, best in the world hospitality, and powerful energy that flows through East Africa were particularly special and joyful.
A number of talent in attendance were Andela Community [ALC] alumni, which underscores the impact of the ALC program and its reach. It has been remarkable to see how they have grown their careers over the past six years. They have moved from learners to mid-level and senior engineers working with our clients (or looking to). We launched ALC back in 2017, and the program has provided training and career opportunities for over 150,000 engineers worldwide at different stages of their careers, including 35% of the engineering population of Africa.
We are entering an era where technology transcends borders and sectors, and it was clear during this trip that Andela’s talent is leveraging their advanced skill sets across a multitude of industries - from banking to agriculture - and beyond, all while charting transformative career paths and shaping industries.
It was amazing to hear how Andela’s talent is enabling transformation in the agricultural sector. Take our partnership with Tawi Fresh, a B2B digital marketplace for secure eCommerce transactions, financing, and value-added services from farm to fork. The platform seeks to connect over 50 million smallholder farmers to commercial buyers and other market opportunities. Our talent is not just building products for the company in Kenya but also enabling farmers to improve their livelihoods and support education for their children. As a talent delivery manager, Andela engineer Maureen Kamau led a team, in partnership with the leadership at Tawi, that built their application in just a few months. Fast forward: there are now over a thousand farmers on the platform, and they're just getting started. We love seeing our partners thrive, and Tawi is especially close to our hearts.
Our talent is seamlessly integrating into teams and powering change in the banking industry as well. A 110-year-old bank in Egypt is undertaking an impressive digital transformation to offer online banking services and enhance customer experiences. Because there’s a talent shortage in Egypt, the bank tapped Andela to help accelerate their initiatives. Today, the bank’s app provides access to millions of Egyptians and has been recognized with several awards, including Best Digital Bank in Egypt 2023 - a testament to the speed and quality of work provided by Andela engineers.
The entire trip was a palpable showcase of top-tier African technological skills.
Looking towards the future of remote work in Africa
For the first five years of Andela’s history, we primarily connected African talent with companies in North America and Europe. Increasingly, we are seeing exciting growth from clients in Africa who are more than ever playing in the global tech ecosystem and, as such, are navigating the global talent world.
Furthermore, global brands like Visa, Google, Meta, AWS, Alibaba Group, and Rolls-Royce have all expanded operations in Africa to tap into local talent. African engineers no longer need to rely solely on companies based outside of Africa for opportunities. It is amazing to see that talent and opportunity are flowing in both directions. This wasn't as common five years ago, but I think it creates a really interestingopportunity for the continent. It's something we'd always hoped and expected to see.
Even though a lot has changed, a lot remains the same. While I haven't personally been on the continent for the past few years, and we haven't had a physical office presence now that we're a fully remote company, the name Andela was everywhere, and the spirit was shining through. Every office we walked into, we connected with people who were either former Andelans, who had been to one of our campuses, and/or who understood the impact we've had in the ecosystem. It was palpable. There were a number of companies that would use language like “we care about our software developers being craftsmen and the craft that they do.” We introduced that language into these economies in 2015/2016. And hearing people say that not knowing that backstory or that was part of our training and instead just thinking about quality and the potential for brilliance to impact on a global scale was just really fun to see. There was an appreciation for how much Andela has contributed to technology in Africa and to the perception that brilliance is evenly distributed. Our mission has held true over the past nine years. “This is Andela'' energy was alive and well!
As I reflect on our momentous journey that brought us to Kenya and Egypt, it is rewarding to see Andela playing such an important role in meeting local and global business needs for world-class engineering talent. Through the power of remote work, we continue to craft a new narrative for Africa - one that highlights our commitment to empowering talent, fostering partnerships, and driving positive change. We are innovating workforce strategies, enabling organizations to tap into the potential of remote technical talent, and, more importantly, shaping the future of work.
Serving as a bridge between the engineering and business sides of an organization, application engineers are highly sought after - and by upskilling in this field, you can set yourself up for an incredibly impactful and lucrative career.