This week, we are on the back seat as Kehinde and Blessing take a time out on Mirabel radio show ‘My Hustle’to chat with Akonam Ikpelue for Andela. She tells us a lot about Andela and how you can become a fellow without prior tech know how. Following are excerpts from the interview
What exactly is Andela about?
Andela’s mission is to enact human potentials by empowering today teen and investing in tomorrow’s leaders. So that means we’re primarily in the game of enhancing high performing engineering teams using Africa’s top talent. So we work with companies all over the world because as you said, we’re a global company and we’re here to fix the software development gap within our global companies and the world at large.
Saying that means there’s actually a gap, how wide is that gap?
According to stats from the US, stock overflow, they say there are 4 vacant roles for every software developer, and in 2016 there was a report that says there were about 1.3 million jobs available for software developers. Looking at the US, you’d say they have so much talent and you wouldn’t expect the gap to be that much. In Nigeria here, we’re a growing economy. The reason we have people working from Africa is because like they say, brilliance is evenly distributed. So we’re trying to change that perception that it’s only in one place that you’d find the talent you need. We’re trying to fill that gap and hopefully we’re going to do that, not just by ourselves but through partnerships as well.
Based on this that you’ve said, I was reading a tweet by a tech savvy individual, he said when they started their tech company, they had to get people in Israel to build the software but now, they have Nigerians, Africans generally, doing the things they had to pay outsiders to do. Is it that there has been a shift in tech people being imported to having home based doing what we have to do?
Yes, and it’s not just Nigeria, we have other places that are doing something similar to what Andela is doing. Andela has offices in Nairobi, Kampala, and Kigali. In each of those places, what we try to do is to like our mission says, Enhance human potential, support peoples growth and change the narrative, cause I’m sure, if most people hear of Africa, they’ll think they can’t do it but we’re determined to change that perception. You’ll see that the same way India has become a hub for so many things, Africa is also becoming a hub.
What exact ways have you been doing that?
Like you know, Andela cannot hire everybody, we’ve had partnerships with Google, ludacity, Microsoft. We own the ALC- Andela Learning Community. What that has helped us to do is reach out to so many people, give them the platform to learn, connect them with people who have been in this software development field for so long and help them tap into that knowledge. You might have heard of the 70, 20,10 learning principle, so what we’re trying to do is, boost that 20%, social learning, social interaction and if you’re a company looking to partner with us, please feel free to partner in terms of reaching people, if you want to be a mentor, or a coach, you want to give a platform for people to learn, we’re also open to that. Like I said, Andela cannot hire everyone but the foundation is to enhance human potential and we cannot do that only within the walls of Andela.
Are you talking now about the Andela fellowship?
That’s another way to get connected to Andela. There are different ways, I’m not a software developer even though I studied some part of it during university, but that’s a different story
Someone said somewhere that you don’t need to be tech savvy to run a tech company.
So what’s the Andela fellowship about?
If you want to explore how to build your software development career, you can come into Andela fellowship and as you’ve rightly said, you don’t necessarily have to have background knowledge about software development to be on it. I’ll use an example of one of our fellows who has launched, Tolu Komolafe, she didn’t necessarily study that. She came in fresh, she came in to learn, she came with zeal to learn and that propelled her. She’s completed her fellowship and she’s the first to earn one of the highest ranking developer statuses within Andela, so you don’t really need to.
That means there are stages where you can come into the Andela culture whether as a newbie or an expert in one way or the other.
Yes, it’s similar to what other companies do, you come in as an entry or an experienced hire, so for us, we know that people have actually invested in this on their own and they’ve been able to build sustainable systems, so we also have that opportunity for people who have been in that space
So how easy is it for someone that doesn’t have a tech background at all to want to talk about software development. Interestingly, the Lagos state government is doing a lot in that area now, take me for example, I studied mass communication, I hate anything that involves statistics, physics, so how do I come into the tech scene?
I don’t think I’ll be a good judge to say what is easy or not easy, what I would say is we all have dreams, visions and desires that we hope to achieve. If software development is one of that or that is the main focus you want to take, then come to Andela, we’ll help support your growth, we’ll help you enhance your 70% (talking of 70, 20, 10) which is experiential learning, cause to be honest, everyone has the will power to learn, it’s just about what you want to learn and how can we as a company help.
OK that’s fine, like you said, you shared with us the mission statement of Andela, and I have scribbled somewhere, what exactly inspired starting of Andela? What are the goals of Andela. I’m sure you’ve been able to mention it one way or the other that you’re interested in building people, and I’m very sure there are more to it
OK let me give a very abridged version of our founders’ story, because each and every one of our team has a specific skill and for each of them coming together, they had this goal of changing the way people view educational system, how do you even enhance the educational system, you will agree with me the educational system and somehow the job market seem to have a slight mismatch, and it’s not as a result of their own doing , I think this is something that has evolved over time and we have to change. And so Andela started on that premise, that brilliance is evenly distributed , so how do we support people in order to enhance their innate ability and so we tucked on to software development that’s something we can do, and you can do that distributedly. So what the founders thought to do was to tap into their own inner self, reach out, join forces and find out how we can build an eco-system that will scale over time. So we’re at this point where we’re seeking to build high performing tech team, and looking to do that by using African talent.
Just this year, Andela Nigeria was Ranked by jobber man as the best place to work, you were ranked 8th last year and how were you able to sustain the momentum, how are you able to get to that feet. What makes Andela different?
So Andela has always tried to disrupt the status quo, even looking our business model, we say you don’t necessarily need to have a background in software engineering to be a part of the fellowship. So in causing that disruption, we also know that we don’t know it all, I think that’s the first thing that we have realized. We’re a learning organization and feedback is key for us, so we leverage on that and if we want to bring out an initiative, for example thanks to our amazing facilities team, we have a sleeping pod, because we realize that people work with different time zones and different workload and we need that power nap. When we introduce something into the market or the eco system, we ask our employees to give us feedback and we act on it. If something is not happening well, we own up and say something is not happening well ,also find how we can do this better. We use ASK feedback (Actionable, Specific and Kind).
Tell us about the food culture in Andela
We Provide breakfast and lunch at the office, because think about it, if you have to get your employees to go out and find food, that energy, that time already is eating part of their day. We also have initiatives from time to time to keep people engaged, we had a pizza party during the last round of matches that were happening. Key for us is also the balance, we also have a health awareness week, where we get vendors to come talk about healthy living, how to keep yourself healthy.
I also noticed that Andela celebrate their tech people a lot, is that part of what is making Andela so different?
We celebrate everyone actually, because we realize that it is not just our technology “family members” that makes Andela what it is. So if you follow us on twitter you’ll see our #humansofAndela. So we pick an employee from time to time to talk about how they add to the Andela family.
Many businesses have always complained about Nigeria’s situation, so many have moved out of the country, some are struggling to survive, what are those challenges that you have been faced with as Andela?
For us, I think the first thing is infrastructure, having good internet cause that’s key for a distributed team and with the way that we’re scaling, we’ve grown really fast and we also need a place to house most of our developers so I think those are the key areas and power to start with, we have to put in so much resources into that but I wouldn’t say that has stopped us, so its key getting your business model right because that will propel you to find ways to survive despite the uncertainties around you. We have also leveraged on partnership, one has helped us in terms of setting up good internet infrastructure and another has helped us with a place we can call home for Andela, but the emphasis here is, is your mission is driving you? If your mission is driving you, despite the things around you, you will survive.
Andela are into investments and I know before the so founders started, they had to deal with some partnership deals. Majorly the Chan Zuckerberg foundation, how did you get the deal because a lot of people were involved and some had to be dropped
Andela is a global company so for the Chan Zuckerberg initiative to see us, it just shows that hard work pays because it didn’t come immediately we started. It’s not just about the founders it’s about everybody doing what they should do and showcasing it to the world and that’s what the world saw and that’s everybody at Andela working as a single cohesive force to achieve our mission and our goals, that’s what pushed us and propelled us.
Is there anything you want to tell people about Andela and how to join the Andela fellowship?
If you want further your career in tech or you want to come in fresh as an Andela fellow, you can go to our website careers.andela.com and you’d get access. You’d have the opportunity to learn so come learn. Then we also have the opportunity for senior developers so if you’ve been in this field and you’ve been able to do things on your own, I mean before Andela came, people were doing things on their own so what we want to do is to tap into that eco system and bring them over as senior developers and as I said, we’re looking for partners. If you want to support the eco system through ALC please, we’re open to have more partners to support this dream and mission
As we round up, what’s your advice to young tech developers, tech engineers, startups? What do they need to know about the industry
Have a mission, have a goal, if you’re an aspiring tech developer and seek to learn, be hungry for learning. Keep on learning, don’t stop. For companies, I’ll say, have a good business model and seek ways to motivate your workforce so that they’re able to that mission and goal the best they can.
When you’re hungry for success, nothing, I repeat, NOTHING can stop you. One day or Day one? Ire oo