The sub-Saharan tech landscape barely existed a decade ago; today its features are made and remade every day. The first African “unicorn” is a Nigerian e-commerce company, and the country now has the world’s second-best Ruby developers, after Finland and above Switzerland, according to HackerRank. Zuckerberg just completed a whirlwind tour of Lagos’ tech hubs; Y Combinator is incubating three Nigerian startups. For Sass, Andela is a catalyst and beneficiary of all this movement, which, she hopes, will “lead to the equitable, responsible spread of the internet across the continent.” Already, the internet, and new jobs in coding, are erasing traditional employment barriers and knocking out some of the earlier prerequisites to the middle class — i.e., a traditional university education.
Case in point: Tolu Komolafe, a petite 26-year-old whom Sass calls Andela’s star developer. We meet at Philz Coffee, in the SoMa neighborhood of San Francisco. Komolafe recounts how she graduated university with a degree in computer science, but like many CS programs on the continent, it was heavy on theory and very light on coding skills; she was told she didn’t have enough experience to land jobs at mega-corporations. She applied to Nigerian startups too, but the CEOs asked her about her relationship status instead of her CV.
But at Andela, Komolafe excelled: Within three months, she had leveled up enough to start teaching the incoming cadres. The startup where she worked remotely as a developer invited her on-site, in New York, to help with a major code push. (The customs agent at JFK couldn’t believe that a tiny Nigerian woman was a coder, Sass and Komolafe each tell me, separately and pointedly.) Now, back in Lagos, Komolafe runs She Codes, an all-women outreach group at Andela to change perceptions of female coders. And, of course, to recruit.
Sass envisions a sort of exponential self-perpetuation, where Andela graduates like Komolafe become agents of technological growth. They’ll work to scale Andela, or advise government ICT ministries, or lead tech companies, or launch their own startups. Some believe that over the long run, Andela could spawn a massive pool of African tech talent, spurring tech giants to open engineering offices in Africa, not just sales offices. The coders seem to believe in Sass’ #culturesofexcellence and big dreams. “You’re looking at the next Bill Gates, the next Sheryl Sandberg,” says John Kariuki, a 23-year-old Nairobi-based fellow, gesturing toward himself and another fellow seated next to him.
This post is excerpted from OZY