Is being good at code/design enough?
**This post originally appeared on kirui.co.ke/blog **
Is a career in software development lucrative in Kenya? Some would say yes and others would say that it is similar to being a banker or any other ‘normal’ career. Over the last 8–10 years the tech ecosystem has grown immensely in Kenya. More and more college students are opting for coding compared to other careers in tech. It is clear that it is good being software developer or a designer.
So what does it take to succeed in this space? Is technical expertise enough? Do we have the skill base locally to take advantage of the opportunities available? Many times I get requests for developers or designers from local and international organisations. Every time I point someone to a jobs board they always insist that I do a direct referral. According to most of them jobs boards give them poor applications. With referrals they claim they stand a better chance of identifying the right talent. It seems that there a skill gap between what organisations are looking for and what the market can offer. On the other hand Kenya has a good amount coders. Where then is the gap coming from?
Having worked at iHub Consulting over the last two and a half years I am confident I have noted the gap. We have a good number of coders and designers around but most don’t meet the standard required by most organisations. Compared to regions like Europe and the US a local expert coder would pass as an intermediate coder there. Our standards compared to advanced regions like the two are wanting. Most of us still don’t see the need to learn best coding practices. The incentive to do so is inadequate as techies get paid the same amount of money. Why spend a lot of time documenting, writing tests, doing code reviews and doing proper versioning if it isn’t going to make you more money there and then?
Unfortunately this a self-defeatist attitude. It ensures that your options are only limited to clients who think and work in the same way. According to The Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs, a multi-stakeholder partnership led by the European Union, although millions of Europeans are now without a job, companies have a hard time finding skilled digital technology experts. By 2020 there could be up to 825,000 unfilled vacancies for skilled digital experts. That is you and me! Why can’t we take advantage of such opportunities?
The skill level difference is biggest hinderance for local developers. Most of us are not able to meet the demands put down by companies in Europe and the USA. Luckily a number of organisations are now working on this.
In no order below are some of the organisations working on connecting African coders to more opportunities.
Andela opened shop recently in Kenya. The first cohort of developers are still being trained. From the iHub blog:
Named by CNN as one of the startups that rocked Africa in 2014 alongside Kenyan luminaries like BRCK and Angani, Andela recently opened its Kenya office and recruited its first cohort of 9 fellows from over 1200 applicants, who will train as software developers over the course of four months before being placed to work remotely with a technology company. At Andela, the mission is to train 100,000 young people in Africa in the next 10 years to be world-class software developers and transform the global technology landscape by connecting top employers around the world with this vast untapped pool of African talent.
Andela is very selective with the developers they recruit. They originally launched in Nigeria and are now in Nairobi. They train developers and then hire them out to Fortune 500 companies. Sounds really exciting!
CodePamoja is a relatively new initiative compared to Andela. From their website:
CodePamoja is a Dutch-Kenyan initiative helping software developers in Nairobi get up to speed with the latest techniques in software development and project management. Using Agile methods, Dutch firm Competa supports and mentors Kenyan partners, collaborating on projects and learning together.
CodePamoja are currently seeking developers to join their program. You can apply by going to their official website. You will then go through a training program to prepare you for the job market. Unfortunately, they haven’t really explained how they will get you work.
Tunga is positioning itself as a social network for paid tasks for developers. From their website:
Tunga allows businesses that have a chronic shortage of coding capacity (who doesn’t?) to have instant access to talented software developers from Africa. Unlike traditional freelance marketplaces, Tunga allows businesses to create a following that can be mobilised on-demand to an issue in their Github workflow.
For this you definitely need to brush up your Github skills. Tunga currently isn’t training coders but instead looking at getting people who can jump in and get things moving. You can join the pilot program on the official website. Additionally, you can give to their Indigogo campaign.
Established late 2012 iHub Consulting brings together freelancers and works with them to deliver on software projects. From the iHub website:
Started in 2012, iHub Consulting aims to meet the technology needs of organisations by tapping into the immense talent pool that iHub’s diverse community of freelancers — namely project managers, developers, designers and quality assurers — provides. We realised early on that it was not enough for the iHub to bring these people together in one co-working space. They simply wouldn’t develop as much as we knew they could. It became increasingly important to leverage their brilliant skill-sets, while simultaneously developing them even further, by getting them to work on projects they would normally not be exposed to as individuals. Using the iHub brand, which was attracting a lot of client attention, we positioned ourselves to provide the world-class tech consultancy that companies were knocking on our door for.
Having been part of the team at Consulting almost from start I have seen the huge opportunities available for Kenyan developers across the world. This will only come to pass if they can match the professionalism required by companies in Europe and the USA. Consulting recently rolled out a series of workshops dubbed “The Craftsmanship Series” for equipping software developers with the right skills to take advantage of these opportunities.
Being a designer or a developer at this time in history is very lucrative. However, for Kenyan techies to take advantage of such opportunities we really need to step up. Being good at coding or design just doesn’t cut it any more. It is important that you know good software practices as that is what will land you better gigs. Join any of the above programs and in a while you will see your fortunes turn for the better.