This week, we announced that we are laying off 135 Andela employees, or approximately 10% of the company. While I know that nearly every company is being impacted by COVID-19 in some way, it doesn’t make it hurt any less. We took every measure possible to try to avoid this decision, but ultimately it was necessary to secure the future of Andela.
Many of our customers have been impacted by the economic downturn resulting from COVID-19. And while I’ve been blown away by messages from engineering leaders explaining how much they value the Andelans on their teams, it has become clear that we will see attrition from our customer base and lower than expected growth. As a result, we were forced to make the difficult decision to reduce costs and ensure we’re ready for what will likely be a tough year.
That said, this was not simply a cost-cutting exercise. A company organizes itself around the problem it’s trying to solve, and the problem we solve today is different from the one we initially set out to tackle.
When we started Andela, we were focused on solving the problem that “brilliance is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not.” We organized the entire company around unlocking potential and enabling prospective software engineers to develop the most in demand skills.
Today, the world needs something very different. While we’ve made great strides in unlocking brilliance and developing talent across Africa, there are still countless barriers that prevent talent, regardless of experience level, from connecting with great opportunities. Over time, we’ve shifted our focus to breaking down those barriers. This shift, driven by where the world is going, has been underway for some time, but we must accelerate it given where the world is now.
While the difference between unlocking brilliance and enabling talent seems semantic, it actually has far-reaching cultural and operational implications. One of the most important examples of this is how we think about physical space.
For instance, in 2014, our first office in Lagos, Nigeria was a critical component of developing talent, because being in person accelerates the confidence building and networking abilities of junior engineers. Tens of thousands of engineers applied from cities outside of Lagos, but they weren’t able to get in unless they could relocate. On the other hand, Andela Egypt, which we opened in 2019, has never required engineers to come to an office. As a result of this, within the first few months, we had exceptional engineers working from multiple cities other than Cairo.
What’s the difference? In 2020, the same office approach that helped us create opportunity for brilliant minds when we first started now restricts opportunity for talented engineers who can’t (or choose not to) relocate. As such, requiring offices is now part of the problem we are working to solve.
This week, we announced at an all-hands that we are going to be a remote-first company. While we’ve always been a leader in distributed work, we’ve now proven that we can operate fully remote by delivering excellent work to our customers over the past couple of months. We will continue to ensure that our engineers have the infrastructure needed to operate at a world-class level.
In addition to going fully remote, the transition to a focus on enabling talent requires us to think differently about talent itself. We are broadly known as the top network of engineers across the continent of Africa. While we’ve trained more than 100,000 people through programs like the Andela Learning Community, in order to actually be placed with a company, you’ve historically had to be a full-time Andela employee. This limits the opportunities we’re able to provide, and it also limits the breadth of talent available to our customers. Moving forward, we will expand the network to include top engineers from across the continent, and eventually around the world — and we won’t require engineers to be full-time employees to apply for opportunities.
What the world needs is a long-term engineering talent network: a way to make the global talent base feel local. We’ve seen a dozen examples of this that cater to short-term relationships, or gigs, but not a network that supports building long-term, trust-based relationships — the kind that result in great teams and extraordinary products. The transitions we are making this week, while painful, will allow us to expand access to top talent for our customers and increase opportunities for the best engineers around the globe.
To those of you who we had to say goodbye to this week: I’m sorry. You’ve created miracles, and this is not your fault. You are some of the smartest and most capable people I’ve ever worked with, and the companies you end up at will be lucky to have you. When society emerges from this period, the Andela you’ve helped build will continue to be a beacon of hope and inspiration for people all over the world. We will continue to break down the barriers that prevent talent and opportunity from connecting, and your work will not be in vain.
To those of you who remain: we have a lot in front of us. Before COVID-19, we were already helping hundreds of the world’s most forward looking engineering organizations build and manage remote teams. Yes, the world just took a beating, but it’s going to emerge even more in need of what we do. Our engineers will now be on the same playing field as every other team member, and it will be that much easier to see Andela talent for what it is: extraordinary.
Together, we are going to help usher in a world where the most talented people can work from anywhere and build careers commensurate with their impact. We face the challenges of today with heavy hearts, greater clarity, and a renewed sense of commitment to building the future we know is possible.