A jump-start for Africa’s new generation of tech talent

Large group of people posing for photo (Courtesy of Andela)
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with Andela fellows in Lagos, Nigeria. Andela recently got $24 million to expand from the Zuckerberg Chan Initiative and other venture capital sources. (Courtesy photo)

Andela thinks big.

The New York–based talent- and software-development company aims to find and groom the best developers in Africa — thousands of them.

Since setting up campuses in 2014 in Lagos, Nigeria, and Nairobi, Kenya, Andela has been flooded with more than 40,000 applications. It selected 250 for paid, four-year fellowships working with tech leaders including Udacity, Microsoft and Facebook.

Andela recently got a $24 million vote of confidence from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and other venture capital sources. It’s using the money to open a third campus and become a major tech trainer across the continent.

Group of people sitting in chairs in circle (Courtesy of Andela)
For each new class, Andela reviews 1,000 applications, conducts interviews, brings two dozen applicants to a boot camp and chooses six or eight fellows. (Courtesy photo)

“We’re on a mission to find and catapult the career path of the next generation of tech leaders across the continent,” says co-founder and chief operating officer Christina Sass.

For Andela’s accomplishments and goals, the socially minded New York company is a recipient of the Secretary of State’s 2016 Award for Corporate Excellence (ACE), which honors companies exemplifying the best of U.S. values in the way they operate overseas.

Andela’s blue-chip clients engage fellows to work remotely on their software projects. Fellows get to fly to California, New York, Boston and other places for weeks at a time to get started with companies’ tech teams.

The fellows’ average age is under 25. One in five is female. Most had computer science or engineering degrees when they began the four-year paid fellowship, but many were “wildly underemployed, trapped in an IT position in a bank or looking for work,” says Sass.

Close-up of woman sitting with others (Courtesy of Andela)
A love of video games led Tolulope Komolafe to study computer science and win a coveted place in Andela’s boot camp for promising software developers. (Courtesy photo)

Tolulope Komolafe was in that category. She’d taught for a year and was seeking a challenging job when she learned about Andela. She’s now part of a team writing code for a New York company, Everplans, that helps families plan end-of-life care.

“I loved games and always wanted to know how they worked,” said the 26-year-old, who learned to code from textbooks. She didn’t get her hands on a laptop until she was a senior in college.

Now she envisions herself becoming “a tech leader and having my own firm. I believe I can compete with any developer from any part of the world.”

While fellows are under no obligation to stay in Africa, Andela’s founders hope they will.

The ACE awards will be presented January 5. Other winners are Bureo and Interface, which recycle fishing nets into skateboards and carpets; General Electric, for an all-female business center in Saudi Arabia; McDonald’s Germany, for hiring hundreds of refugees; and copper mining company Sociedad Minera Cerro Verde, majority owned by Freeport-McMoRan, for sharing a new wastewater treatment plant with the city of Arequipa, Peru.