Andela’s head office has become one of my favourite places to visit as a journalist interested in the growth of our nascent tech community.
I have delved extensively into the ethos of the company, how that ethos has influenced the company’s process for hiring, management hierarchies and execution and how that idea has helped Andela raise several rounds of funding and placed developers in companies around the country.
However, the article that came from my first interactions with Andela missed one crucial aspect of the company’s presence in the country and the continent; the Andela Learning Community.
The stats around the flagship programme are impressive.
In 3 short years, the ALC has impacted 65,000 people across Africa, trained 23,500 learners and graduated 12,000 people in 7 training cycles since it began.
It is currently partnering with major e-learning platforms like Udacity and Plurasight to offer a much larger curriculum.
It also has heavyweight partners like Google working with it to streamline the programme and expand the curriculums to meet the ever changing needs of a rapidly developing post industrialist world.
They have managed this through 500 offline meetups, and a cumulative 220,000 hours of learning.
Somehow, the ALC hasn’t managed to break outside of tech circles into the mainstream in the way Andela has, and I wanted to understand how the ALC works, how its impact and scope differs from Andela and how the programme will evolve to meet the specific challenges that currently hinder the programme from scaling.
To get some answers I had Mayowa Olunuga & Osoba Olayiowa walk me through the programme as it is today and the plans for the future.
Olununga is the Talent Partnerships lead at Andela, and has helped build the ALC since 2018 and Olayiowa helps communicate the programmes and intiatives at Andela to an increasingly tech savvy audience.
Olunuga’s excitement for the ALC was palpable as he described the ALC 4.0, its most recent cycle of Google Partnerships.
A new partnership with Plurasight, a leading online tech educator meant expanding into learning programmes in product designer and user experience, expands the diversity of education partners for the programme and increases its effectiveness in helping young people interested in breaking into the tech eco-system either in developer or non-developer roles.
Partnerships like this are the lifeblood of the programme, as well as the mentors (from within the Andela family and outside of it), who offer their time and expertise to ensure that the young people who join the programme get the best possible experience.
“Powering today’s teams, investing in tomorrow’s leaders”
Mayowa and Osoba often circle back to remind me during the duration of our talk that Andela is a very young company, (Andela was founded in 2014).
While it has grown rapidly in the last half decade, it is still essentially a startup without the infrastructure and reach that much larger multinationals have.
It’s outsize impact has created the exaggerated impression that the company can simply absorb thousands of people who want to start their journeys as developers or switch gears in their careers.
Finding ways to keep these people in the community without overwhelming the rhythm the company currently has is an ongoing concern, and the ALC helps with that. Both are honest about the programme’s limitations and excited about its possibilities.
“The Andela Learning Community is tied directly to Andela’s Mandate to advance human potential by powering today’s teams and investing in tomorrow’s leaders.
The second half of mandate is one of two reasons that Andela has chosen to invest in a remote learning community.”
This direction makes sense.
Half of our estimated population of 190 million people are between the ages of 18 – 35.
Traditional education and civil service centric labour market simply cannot match the needs of these people, especially not for tech related disciplines that require a lot of iteration and personal exploration.
Remote, immersive learning opportunities with tailored curriculum and mentorship opportunities are geographically accessible to potential cohorts are all concerns that the education in the tech sector needs to solve and where the Andela Learning Community is providing important insights.
But first Andela had to dispel the myth that the Learning Community was a ‘substandard’ alternative to the company’s developer programme.
Its partnerships have helped give it some legitimacy but success in this regard has really come from the testimonials from the programme’s alumni, who speak highly of their time within the community, vouch for its capacity and introduce others to join the community.
The 12,000 graduates from the programme are already affecting the entire tech industry in the country and on the continent as well as influencing its adjacent industries.
“Finding the right balance of what to do and for who”
As the Andela Learning Community grows, it has had to deal with some very present concerns.
Globally, the tech industry has been unable to attract or a sustain a sizeable female population into tech.
That shortage has manifested in a number of ways; most prominently in products that often ignore or provide inadequate solutions to women’s needs. Armed with this knowledge, Andela sees the ALC as an incubator of sorts for slowly integrating women into its workforce at their own pace and their level of comfort.
It has had more success in finding and retaining women within its company (in January 2019, 16% of its Nigerian developer workforce was female, dwarfing the global average for tech companies which hovers at a paltry 7%).
It is working to integrate more women by going offline and creating offline communities that connects its present female workforce with girls and women interested in tech.
Another tool that has proven successful has been holding empowerment classes and workshops that focuses specifically on women and addresses concerns like work-life balance and career advancement opportunities in helpful ways.
An all-female cohort cycle at Andela complements the ALC’s efforts, as well as work to sensitize women on the diverse career options that exist in tech beyond software engineering.
The group is also working to make the programme as a whole more accessible to people who are, unable for financial or personal reasons, to meet the basic requirements of a laptop, decent internet and computer literacy.
This is being tackled as a two-fold problem that also includes ensuring that people who do get into the programme apply themselves to gaining the skills. Mentoring, and a curriculum that tracks participation and interests and adds this to the requirements for graduating from the ALC are fail-safes to ensure fewer people are excluded from the opportunities the community provides.
“The end goal is to catalyse the entire African tech ecosystem”
Because the ALC is not profit driven, it has been able to reach people who otherwise would have been excluded from careers in technology because of the financial burden of an education in tech.
Scholarships from Learn with Google allows people attempt careers in fields they have a personal interest in but have previously been dissuaded because there is the assumption that certain careers are not lucrative in the short and long term.
It has also allowed business owners and professional who already have careers or projects to return and re-educate themselves in the ways their industries are evolving in response to technology and how to integrate that technology into their businesses today.
Olunuga tells me the ALC has seen architects, structural engineers, doctors and lawyers all join the ALC to gain secondary skills in product design, data science and UX research.
The eventual goal of the ALC is for the alumni, volunteers and mentors build online and offline communities and those communities eventually become self-sustaining, helping new graduates find jobs and monitoring independently how members of these alumni communities are advancing in their lives and careers.
All this information helps Andela streamline subsequent learning cycles to actually meet the needs on ground and solve real problems. Olunuga tells me they are just only starting to figure out how to measure the eventual success of the ALC but early projections are very promising.
To connect the ALC to Andela itself in a more tangible way, the company is launching the Andela talent Marketplace.
Working as a tertiary community where Andela and the ALC intersect, the Talent Market place will work as an open market for local businesses to find tech and tech adjacent talent that plugs into the specific needs for the businesses or projects.
Talent marketplace does two things; it takes on the responsibility of vetting talent to ensure that they have finished the advanced learning programme and they can offer the skills the company needs.
They also vet companies to ensure that their hiring practices are fair to talent, especially for graduates of the ALC who have not graduated from more established learning options.
The problem is vast and complex, but the wins the community has achieved suggest it’s a worthy sink for time, resources and time.
The ALC’s next cycle is projected to reach another 65,000 by its end.
Nearly double the current number. And with 90 former ALC alumni now Andela developers and many more plugged into businesses and projects across the country, continent and globe, there is affirmation that the ALC is solving real problems.
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.