As entrepreneurs start and grow businesses, they are dependent on talented and skilful people and teams.

Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

Last Thursday, while sharing some thoughts on Ecosystems, I posted a summary of key elements of a thriving ecosystem (by Kauffman Foundation). These are:

Entrepreneurs who aspire to start and grow new businesses, and the people who support entrepreneurs.

Talent that can help companies grow.

– People and institutions with knowledge and resources to help entrepreneurs.

– Individuals and institutions that serve as champion and conveners of entrepreneurs and the ecosystem.

Onramps (or access points) to the ecosystem so that anyone and everyone can participate.

Intersections that facilitate the interaction of people, ideas, and resources.

Stories that people tell about themselves and their ecosystem.

Culture that is rich in social capital – collaboration, cooperation, trust, reciprocity, and a focus on the common good – makes the ecosystem come alive by connecting all the elements together

Fundamentally these elements are about people and culture. Communities are about people. When one hears about companies poaching from each other, skills gaps, we are talking about people.

People (Talent) that can help companies grow.

Lots of digital ink has been spilled in private and public channels talking, arguing, discussing about developers, poaching, and skills. As entrepreneurs start and grow businesses, they are dependent on talented and skilful people and teams. When a startup ecosystem gets to a certain point, with increasingly more companies and people participating, there is a tipping point where the rest of the world sits up and takes notice. This is what is happening on the African continent with more investment money and big tech setting up shop properly. I say "properly" because in the past, big international tech companies typically maintained sales offices in key markets on the continent.

Here are some interesting insights from the  Africa Developer Ecosystem (2021) Report by Google and Accenture [PDF].

  • South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria and Kenya (in that order) have the largest number of developers and collectively account for 50% of the entire developer population. This is no surprise as over 80% of venture capital went to these countries.
  • Startups hire over half of Africa’s developer population.
  • Junior developers (0-3 years professional experience) account for close to 50% of the total developer population.
  • Startups are often the first businesses willing to hire junior developers, providing critical on-the-job training. Quoting a Coding Bootcamp Executive from South Africa: “Startups are often the only companies willing to hire junior developers. The top employers in Africa really go after mid to senior-level talent.”

There is greatest demand for senior engineers for these reasons:

  • The entry of international companies: “International companies with deeper pockets are our biggest competitor when it comes to recruiting top engineering talent” (quoting a founder from South Africa). “... They need assurances of strong, quality talent that can do the job, which translates to more senior talent” - quoting a startup founder from Ghana
  • Many developers on the continent aspire for international opportunities
  • Senior engineers account for 22% of professional developers
  • there seems to be an over supply of junior developers. There is a pervasive perception that junior developers are often ill-prepared for professional software development.

To be clear, I know we have some of the best engineers, and have what it takes to be the next engineering capital of the world.

Centres of Excellence?

The research paper has a summary of various initiatives that the big tech companies and major players are undertaking towards skills and developer growth.

The question that has been on my mind is whether any more can be done to:

  • support greater developer transition from junior to senior levels
  • incentivise and / or startups for the key role they play in taking on junior developers
  • 10x (100x ?) the number of senior engineers in say 3-5 years.

I’ve been mulling for some time over the practicality of a form of Centre (or Centres) of Excellence geared towards:

  • providing structure for ‘proof of concept’ projects that potential junior developers or engineers can take on beyond training
  • providing a form of practical proof or work

I don’t like replication though, and my bias is towards collaborating, so I’m keen to learn about anyone doing something similar. What initiatives are out there?

Beyond engineering talent

Startups on the continent will need experienced hands for this startup boom to be sustained.

This in Nairobi:

Nyasha has setup a speed networking event for startups and advisors this Friday (18th Mar 2022). More details here.