My summer has been full of work-related changes, set on a backdrop of global unhappiness. Gaza was bleeding as I wound down my daily activities with Javelin. ISIS was taking over half the Middle East as I teamed up with JK and friends over at AirPair. A few weeks later, realizing that partnership was flawed, and with Ebola just beginning its fatal run across West Africa, I somewhat glumly started looking for something else to keep me busy.
You know how easy it is to get down on yourself when things are okay, but not great? Here in the USA, I feel like we are living through a period of truncated dreams and widespread cynicism about what the future holds, the kind of world that we’re leaving for my children.
Maybe that’s made me a sucker for a good cause, more than usual. I went into this latest venture with eyes wide open, and prepared to bail at the first sign of exploitation, but I haven’t found anything concerning. What I have found instead is that my new friends at Andela are one of the most sincere and optimistic teams that I’ve ever worked with, and also one of the most capable. The result: it’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited about investing so much of my life into a new venture. The team and its mission is reminding me of what greatness a startup is capable of achieving when they think big, risk failure, and work together.
Naturally, since I’m so excited about what I’m doing with Andela, I want to talk about it. But given our current situation, which I intend to describe in this blog post, I am especially interested in talking about it to experienced software developers eager for some change and adventure in their lives. To the extent that many of us are at least somewhat aware of software craftsmanship, it’s fair to say that I’m seeking out what you might call journeymen.
As you progress through the stages of craftsmanship, you retain the attributes of the previous stages. Therefore, like the apprentice, the journeyman and the master will maintain an inward focus in order to learn and grow in their craft. And yet, another focus is added for the journeyman. This new focus is on the connections between practitioners, the communication channels within and outside the team. Traditionally, a journeyman would move from master to master, along the way disseminating ideas between the various teams… This focus will eventually expand into a responsibility to mentor those around you
“Patterns of Apprenticeship” — Hoover, Oshineye (2010)
If you’re a typical software developer, say 5 to 10 years into your career, you might have had the opportunity to work at half-a-dozen or more different companies already. Or perhaps you have moved between departments of a larger corporation, but in any case, you’ve been in the industry long enough to get some variety, and if so, you could consider yourself a journeyman. Now in the olden time of guilds, that designation meant a couple of things. One, you went on journeys to seek out new masters and opportunities to improve your craft. And second, it meant that wherever you ended up, you participated in the mentoring of apprentices.
Andela finds the brightest young people in Africa, trains them to be world-class developers, and connects them with employers around the world looking for top technical talent.
In other words, we are creating software apprentices. As I write this, our first batch of Andela fellows in Lagos, Nigeria are already placed with clients. This initial class is composed of 6 of the brightest young minds we could find in our first round of recruitment, which drew a pool of 700 applicants. Our second class drew 45o0 applications, out of which we hired 22, and that cohort is now deep into their programmer training. There is even a waiting list of clients eager to roll them onto projects as soon as they’re ready.
Every month for the foreseeable future, we expect to be introducing around a dozen new apprentices to the market. Initially we’re operating only in Nigeria, but expansion to sites across Africa, such as Kenya, will follow quickly.
Apprenticeship is more than simply hiring entry level people. Apprenticeship is coupling an apprentice to a journeyman. That doesn’t mean they’re pair programming all the time, but it does mean that the journeyman is overseeing the apprentice’s progress and that the apprentice has an experienced developer in close physical proximity to turn to for guidance.
“Patterns of Apprenticeship” — Hoover, Oshineye (2010)
While most of the elements of our mission are in place, there is one area that is lacking: we need experienced software developers on-site in Lagos to pair-program with and provide coaching to our apprentices so that they get up to speed quickly. We envision these mentor positions to be modestly-paying contracts lasting 3 months, including travel expenses, room and board. During those three months you will live and breath code, while making new life-long friendships and exploring one of the most dynamic countries in Africa.
I can almost hear you asking yourself, “modestly-paying, Obie?”
Okay, so in all honesty how modest are we talking about here, and why? First of all, we don’t want to attract anyone to this program that would be into doing it just for the money. It’s a big market out there, and demand for qualified developers is high. Anyone good who just wants to make big money is not having a problem doing so. This is a passion project. What we are looking for are remarkable men and women that have the freedom to take a few months off from their usual routine and do something special. We are offering $2k USD per month, which we think strikes a good balance between being too little and breaking our budget.
Wait a minute, are we trying to pay people $2k and make thousands of dollars in profit marking them up to our clients? No, no, no… not at all. Instead of being assigned to a single project and billing their time out to clients, Mentors split their time amongst the apprentices and help them on an as-needed basis. The help includes expert advice, pair programming and even a shoulder to cry on, if necessary. Most of all, you should come with an open mind and a kind heart. Our apprentices need role models, so we’ll be selecting mentors not only based on their technical capabilities, but their personality traits as well.
What about Ebola?
Everyone I’ve spoken to personally about this opportunity has brought up the fear of contracting Ebola. Given the panic-inducing coverage in western media, that in itself is not surprising. However, Nigeria has handled the outbreak particularly well.
Nigeria will be officially declared Ebola-free in less than a week after containing the disease. Only eight of the 20 people infected in Nigeria died and there have been no new cases confirmed since 8 September.
How sure am I that the risk is minimal? I’m flying to Lagos this Sunday.