A New Generation Of Tech Workers Could Transform Nigeria

When a young man named Innocent Amadi wanted to work with computers after graduating from college in Lagos, Nigeria, he couldn’t afford to be selective. Nigeria has an unemployment rate of over 35% among 15- to 24-year-olds. “It’s a common narrative to go through school and spend two, three, even five years without work,” Amadi says.

It was about a year after he graduated that a friend shared a social media post about a new program: A Lagos-based startup company called Andela had put out a call for applications from Nigerians who were driven to work in computer programming.

Amadi, who was a teacher at the time, responded and was invited to interview. Following the interview, he joined 62 others for what Andela calls Bootcamp, an intensive training and application process designed to reveal the cream of the crop of Nigeria’s new generation of software engineers.

Andela’s claim is that it can cultivate software engineers as talented as those found at any Silicon Valley giant by recruiting homegrown geniuses from Nigeria’s computer-savvy citizens. The company’s tagline is a fitting description of the opportunity: “Genius is evenly distributed, opportunity is not.” Andela is just one company, but the idea it’s tapping into — that human potential is the key to transforming the country’s workforce potential — is catching hold in other African countries, like Kenya and Ghana.

In the past few years, African startups have proven remarkably successful at finding talent where no one has thought to look, and — most importantly — nurturing that talent. In 2007, Kenyan telecom company Safaricom launched a mobile money service called M-PESA, bringing anyone with a cell phone into the digital economy. Innovation like M-PESA’s mobile wallet technology — in a country where mobile phones are prevalent but access to banking isn’t — spurred a wave of tech startups and entrepreneurs.

In Ghana’s emerging tech sector, startups with names like MiQasa and Tress are pulling local talent from training programs such as the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology. It’s infrastructure like this that the startup community will depend on for growth.

There’s now realistic talk by organizations like the World Economic Forum that Africa will be home to the next great tech economies, a homegrown transformation that could drive long-term investment, employment, and growth in the region.

In Nigeria, where Andela is based, the root of the shift dates to 2010. That year, a group of entrepreneurs led by knowledge community organizer ‘Bosun Tijani set out to lay the foundation of a Nigerian tech sector. Tijani helped build Co-Creation Hub (CcHUB), a multipurpose gathering space and events program where entrepreneurs, academics, government officials, and investors can come together to discuss and develop ideas.

CcHUB gained credibility with an early partnership with the African Leadership Forum, which it used to host functions aimed at getting so-called change agents together in one room.

For Lagos, a dense metropolis with decent electrical and broadband infrastructure and a large population under 30 that grew up with video games, it was as if CcHUB had dropped a lit match on kindling. In the past seven years, more than 60 tech startups have come out of the project, and the area in Lagos where CcHUB is located is now known as Yabacon Valley — a riff, of course, on Silicon Valley.

“We have people who are talented, people who are dreamers … that is a major part of our future and one of the things that will determine how far we go as a people,” Tijani told the Nigerian Monitor.

Amadi, the Andela coder, couldn’t agree more about the groundwork that’s being created for the upcoming generation of Nigerian workers. “Lagos is the next big thing when it comes to tech,” he says. “That’s going to have a big impact on society in the long term.”

In Amadi’s case, it’s easy to imagine how. His first job as a teacher had an effect on him, and he now spends a portion of his time organizing Andela’s Teen Code program, which distributes technology learning to secondary schools around Lagos. Using his magnetic personality and the tools he’s learned at his dream gig, he wants to help interested kids get early exposure to a high-quality tech education.

“In 20 years, I see myself using my skills for community development,” Amadi says. “I’m very committed to building capacity in Nigeria through technology and access. I think that’s where this is all leading for me.”

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