U.S. tech firms turn to Africa-based developers

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Tech companies founded in the United States are setting up software development centers in Nigeria and Kenya, where a number of young developers has led to growing tech communities.

Microsoft has launched its Microsoft 4 Afrika initiative, aiming to help empower African youth, entrepreneurs, developers and others to make their ideas a reality. Steve Case, the AOL founder, and his wife Jean, Generation Investment Management and Sir Richard Branson have provided $19 million to Kenyan pay-as-you-go energy start-up M-KOPA Solar.

Andela, which has attracted $24 million of funding from a scheme led by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, says it has screened more than 40,000 applicants across Africa over two years and accepted the top 0.7% to work at its bases in Lagos and Nairobi. The developers write code and specialize in frameworks such as Python/Django, iOS and Android and PHP/Laravel.

Andela picked Lagos and Nairobi as bases because of the interest in technology among young people, a buzzing tech sector and the fact English is spoken in both countries. The firm said it intends to announce a third country by the end of the year.

The ultimate goal is for Andela alumni to lead the spread of technology across the continent, and Andela’s founders expect them to start their own social businesses and to be chief technology officers and product managers. These coders also could fill what U.S. tech companies say is a shortage of qualified engineers — a claim that’s been contested by some advocates for U.S. tech workers

“We live in a world where talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not. Andela’s mission is the close that gap,” said Zuckerberg in a statement.

Seni Sulyman, Andela’s director of operations in Nigeria, said in his vision for Nigeria’s tech future, he expects to see a lot of innovation from “unexpected pockets” in the country. He said three key challenges the country’s tech industry faces are a lack of affordable infrastructure — especially electricity, Internet and real estate — low access to funds and a dearth of experienced tech entrepreneurs.

“Despite these challenges, Andela is already driving change by connecting local talent into the global technology ecosystem, and we aspire to eventually mobilize hundreds of thousands of developers across Africa,” he said.

He said Zuckerberg’s visit “reinforces not only his support of Andela’s mission, but his belief that indeed the next generation of great technology leaders will come out of Lagos, Nairobi and cities across Africa.”

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