Andela Calling

An update to my October 2014 post titled Africa Calling where I described my new adventures at Andela. It’s been going very well, possibly some of the best six months of my life.

Andela is a Global Talent Accelerator

Global: Even though we’re focused on Africa at the moment, the work we are doing should be replicable in most developing nations. Talent: Our belief is that human brilliance is equally distributed around the world, but opportunity is not. So we’re going out there and helping to unlock potential for talented young people to work hard and reach their full potential. Accelerator: It’ll happen a lot faster with us than without us, if at all.

Class V hard at work during core technical training with trainer Ifeanyi Oraelosi

How it works

Our core training is similar to bootcamp-style software training programs in the USA like Turing School. We aim to produce well-rounded and confident junior mobile and full-stack web developers in about six months.

To that end, we run an extremely selective application process, with less than 1% of applicants accepted into our program. The application process includes tests of self-learning capacity, problem solving aptitude, intellectual and experiential disposition, as well as, grit and perseverance in the face of obstacles.

Rukkie asks a question during one of our all-female bootcamps. Four months later, she’s one of our rising stars.

During a two-week, unpaid bootcamp in Lagos, applicants must show promise beyond a shadow of a doubt. An average of 25 people start the bootcamp. About half drop-out or are cut during the two weeks. At the end, we extend job offers to the best 8–10 candidates.

Those hired candidates, now called Andela Fellows to denote their membership in our four-year fellowship, then undergo up to 6 months of instructor-led core training in professional soft-skills, computer science and practical programming concepts, including carefully orchestrated realistic project experiences meant to teach them how to handle working with remote technical teams and stakeholders.

The fact that we’re hiring candidates before their official training even begins is an indicator of our differences from typical tertiary educational institutions. Because we operate in developing world nations, our students don’t have ten thousand dollars or more to risk on a career gamble. Neither can they take on that risk on as a student loan, which means that charging tuition would be a non-starter.

Instead, we start off our new hires at a middle-class salary that puts them in the top 5% of Nigerian earners right from the start. We also provide full medical benefits, subsidized food and housing, and a savings plan redeemable upon graduation from the program. It’s a good deal and competitive with what experienced developers can earn in the Nigerian market.

The reason we can operate in this manner is that after about six months of training, fellows are matched up with remote technical teams for long-term assignments. The revenue generated by these engagements makes the whole system work, allowing us to invest in subsequent generations of fellows. As I write this, we have over 30 fellows placed on client assignments, and are hiring a new cohort every month.

Emmanuel Issac practices his public speaking skills at Andela’s local Toastmasters club

Four years of professional development

After the initial four to six months of onboarding, we really diverge from the bootcamp model in ways that are probably not possible elsewhere in the world. Our fellows stay with us for the remainder of four years, which means we can foster them to continue growing professionally and self-actualizing at a rapid pace.

Chidi Nnadi leads an inofrmal UX and Design training session

Business Improv

One of my favorite aspects of the program is our use of Business Improv for soft-skills training. From the very beginning of their onboarding, fellows participate in improv activities to build confidence, teamwork and openness. I actually teach a lot of the improv sessions myself, building on the training I received from my friend Jessie Shternshus at ImprovEffect when she was our teacher at Hashrocket.

…the qualities that Google looks for when hiring, which include the ability to process on the fly, a willingness to relinquish power, ease with creating space for others to contribute, and individuals who can learn how to learn from failure […] Those are the qualities of an improviser, and they can be learned. It is common knowledge that diet and exercise are keys to staying physically healthy, but practicing improvisation is like yoga for your professional development — a solid, strengthening workout that improves emotional intelligence, teaches you to pivot out of tight and uncomfortable spaces, and helps you become both a more compelling leader and a more collaborative follower. Even better, these qualities are fully transferable to your life outside the office.
from Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration by Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton

Improv is one of the best confidence boosters I’ve ever known. And I think learning the acting skills that come along with improv really help fellows to tame inevitable bouts of impostor syndrome. If they can imagine themselves as world-class professionals and act like one, then they’re closer to actually becoming one. Fake it ‘til you make it, am I right?

A vibrant end engaging culture

Andela is an intentional community, populated with brilliant individuals, pushing each other to succeed well beyond local standards. Plentiful time and effort is invested into bringing the best aspects of Silicon Valley to how we work and play. That cultural zest manifests in myriad creative ways.

A pickup soccer game on the roof of Amity, our live/work facility in mainland Lagos

Fellows participate in special interest groups and clubs around topics as diverse as user experience design and discrete mathematics. We have a ping-pong table, and field a team in a local soccer league for techies. There is even a band of musicians that call themselves Kode of Konduct.

Opportunities to show off your skills abound. The hardware hackers recently got frustrated with getting locked out of the building, so they interfaced the door lock to our Slack chat using an Arduino controller. There’s a currently a month-long, company-wide competition called Bot Olympics to see who can come up with the coolest new chatbots.

Ebun Omoni drops some knowledge on Rack City

Fellows that are placed on client assignments have their own club called Rack City. They meet on a weekly basis to discuss challenges inherent in client work, and how to face those challenges successfully. When I created a private slack channel for the group six months ago, it only had a few members. Now it has over 40.

We’re hiring

Andela is growing rapidly and hiring for many positions in NYC and Africa. We’re in the midst of our first international expansion, with the pieces now in place to run our first bootcamp in Nairobi, Kenya.

As CTO, I’m primarily recruiting senior engineers, professional development coaches and technical trainers to join my team in Africa. I need leaders willing to act as exemplary role models, people who share our passion for helping young people to become the future leaders and innovators of Africa.

Any of this sound interesting? Please do not hesitate to email me.

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