• Africa may have missed the agricultural and industrial revolutions but three developers at Andela are determined to make sure Africa does not miss the digital revolution.
  • Young, talented and passionate African developers who work as distributed members of global teams and are passionate about coming up with solutions to some of the most common and challenging problems Africa faces and continues to face.
  • Business Insider Sub-Saharan Africa (BISSA) spoke to three African developers about what drew them to technology, and the challenges and opportunities found in this space.

Africa may have missed the agricultural and industrial revolutions but it is fiercely determined not to miss the digital revolution.

And that is where firms like Andela comes into the picture; the tech company helps companies to build high performing engineering teams by investing in Africa's most talented developers.

At the core of this are young, talented and passionate developers who work as distributed members of global teams and are passionate about coming up with solutions to some of the most common and challenging problems Africa faces and continues to face, from climate change, to a lack of resources, pollution, diseases, poverty, traffic jams, etc.

Business Insider Sub-Saharan Africa (BISSA) spoke to three African developers about what drew them to technology, and the challenges and opportunities found in this space. We also talk about how they hope to use technology to solve many of Africa’s problems.

Florence Okosun is developer at Andela Nigeria and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting from the University of Lagos. Prior to that, she obtained an OND in computer science from Yaba College of Technology.

Caroline Wanjiku, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Laboratory Sciences is also a developer and she is currently based at Andela Kenya and John Kagga is another developer from Uganda and holds a Bachelor's Degree in Electrical Engineering from Makerere University, Kampala.

Also read: Andela's pre-fellowship programmes director, Agnes Muthoni, gets candid on her love for technology

BISSA: So what drew you guys to technology?

Okosun: I guess my initial exposure to computing at Yabatech (Yaba College of Technology, Lagos), although we didn’t do much programming, pricked my interest in tech. I was keen to explore what programming really entails and so I went out of my way to seek opportunities to learn how to code which sadly was really scarce at the time. I picked up Microsoft Access along the line and was able to build a standalone application for my church which they still use till date.

Wanjiku:  I was drawn to tech while working in an insurance company here in Kenya. I worked with a system whose bulk made it inefficient from time to time. I was impressed with its ability to achieve a lot at once, and wondered how best to improve its efficiency or the efficiency of the process. In my curiosity, I did an online diploma in Business Process Management, during which I learnt that programming logic was a valuable asset. I was hoping to do a crash course in programming and move on but Andela offered the option of being a technological leader in the fellowship. I wasn’t too sure about the tech part, but I was sure about the leadership part so I went for it.

Kagga: The need to provide solutions to people’s problems using technology. I found it so fascinating to develop solutions from my computer that impacted people’s lives and wellbeing.

BISSA: Prior to joining Andela what were you guys doing to pay the bills?

Okosun: Just before I joined Andela, I had resigned from the company I worked at the time. It was a technology company and I joined with the hopes of learning how to code but, sadly, that did not happen. I ended up in a marketing role which I didn’t like and so I decided to resign and teach myself how to code.

Prior to that, I had worked at a bank subsidiary but I also resigned from that job for the same reason and joined the tech company.

I started out with HTML/CSS and a couple of ecommerce templates. I learned about Andela on the internet and applied. I was sent a home study link and wrote an online test afterwards and the rest is history.

Wanjiku: I worked as a lab technologist for three years, and as a medical claims analyst thereafter for two years before joining Andela. While I was a lab technologist, I felt that I was not making use of my strongest skills. I was not sure what those skills were at the time. After transitioning into insurance, I discovered I was interested in problem solving. I set up a project to improve the claims management process by reducing the training process and making it friendlier for non-medics using the skills I acquired in the online diploma. It was during this process that I felt that the skills I implemented to achieve this were the skills I was strongest at. I would say I found my passion at this point.

Kagga: Right after campus in 2016, I co-founded a startup called Arvana whose main goal was to enable people in Uganda create addresses both for their residences and businesses using their phones and then share them with their friends and/or customers. We successfully launched the application in Uganda and l also hosted it on Google Play Store. But unfortunately I later realised that I did not have enough technical expertise to continue with it and so at that point I decided to join Andela to learn new skills and also work with people that can help me grow and later come back and finish up what I started.

BISSA: Mother Africa faces and continues to face a lot of challenges that need fixing as developers what problem have you identified and  how do you intend to fix it?

Okosun: I’ll start with the challenges in Lagos Nigeria. Interestingly, there are tons of problems that need fixing, they are not all technology based. Top on my mind right now is waste management and recycling. We have tons of plastic waste causing harm to the environment, these wastes can be recycled into fuel/diesel (I have been doing some research on that lately). This waste problem is not peculiar to Lagos alone or Nigeria alone, I believe if it can be implemented in one place then it can be implemented anywhere. I want to see an Africa that is less dependent on other nations for things as little as waste management and recycling.

Kagga: In my family we have been poultry farmers for a long time and we are still not operating efficiently. I have a strong passion for poultry and I would like to develop solutions around this area so that farmers are able to run their farms efficiently thereby making worthy profits from their hard work.

Wanjiku:   For me I am passionate about medical technology. Improving the quality of medical processes by coming up with affordable and unbiased solutions that would make access to medical assistance easier for patients, and increase the efficiency of medical practitioners. Too many processes are either manual or not properly inter-phased. There’s also very little power given to patients in their own care and an over-reliance on medics for things that people could manage properly if they had greater access to knowledge, instructions and advice, making  better use of medical human resources. I don’t however, restrict my tech passion to purely just the medical field. I am very versatile and can easily integrate into different industries. I’m sure I will end up doing much more.

BISSA:  What project(s) are you guys currently working on?

Kagga: I am currently working with the Technology Product department in Andela specifically on the Feedback team whose main purpose is to create efficient systems to gather, store and analyse feedback from both Andela developers and partners.

Wanjiku:  With my Andela partner, I am part of the engineering team building a car subscription software. I am a backend developer working with Python but also often have DevOps related tasks. Individually, I have built a few apps from scratch and am currently working on an app that allows a user to write code and run it and see what the outcome is. It is similar to Codeacdemy’s interactive interphase.

Okosun: Apart from partner projects, I am actively working on a personal project which I plan on making commercial by the end of the fellowship, It is my startup idea.

BISSA: Interesting stuff I must say, but I am sure it comes with loads of challenges so day to day what kind of challenges do you guys face?

Okosun: Top on the list has to be time management, funny but true especially so when requirements change too often and too quickly and the pressure to deliver within tight deadlines, can be very challenging.

Offering mentorship, while this is a good way to self-check one’s status, it’s demands are great and can be intimidating sometimes but rewarding in the end.

Inability to check every item off my TODO list is another another challenge I go through every day, i usually end up checking out 25-30% of all I set out to do in a day.

Wanjiku:  I must second Okosun on the time management and organization, it’s a real challenge. The schedule gets tight because I have two calendars to work with, I have to stay efficient both for Andela and for my partner Mobiliti.

I also have to have an accelerated learning curve. Technology is very dynamic and hence the need to learn something new fast, It’s exciting, but also challenging.

Africa is an upcoming tech hub and so as developers we have the responsibility to convince the rest of the world that tech talent here is just as excellent as in other regions that have been rated as superior so we have to work hard and smart to build our confidence and convince the world.

Kagga: I don’t know whether it is a challenge or a great thing that I have to keep up with the technology trends with the need to learn new technologies so that I remain relevant to my team and this industry.

I also always have to balance the use of time since I have my typical day’s work and I am also volunteer as a learning facilitator for the Andela Women Technical program whose goal is to increase the number of ladies in the technology field, add to that the fact that I also volunteer as an editor for the Andelaway publication.

BISSA: You guys have been in this space for a while now so you can get the hang of things, how has the journey been like for you and what what are some of the things that have changed about you? Or skills you have learnt on the jobs since you joined Andela?

Wanjiku: Well, I did have to learn programming. I have interacted with Python, Javascript, Machine learning. I will continue to increase my knowledge base as I progress.

I have become more inquisitive. Asking all questions is relevant in any problem-solving process. Sometimes not all information is provided until we probe. Getting people to say what they are thinking helps to understand the problem that needs solving.

My research skills have also been sharpened because of the need for exponential growth, I am often in the process of researching about one technology or another.

Working with diverse teams within Andela (my colleagues are in Lagos, Kampala, New York) and in an engineering team that is also diverse (they have teams in Costa Rica, Accra, Austin) have also improved my cultural awareness and communication skills.

Okosun: Now I am a software Engineer! Now I am living the dream and adding value. Now I don’t have to be in the job role I hate. Now I am positive I can speak at a conference or tech meetup. Now I can pick up problems and model a solution all by myself and list goes on and on.

Through Andela I have learnt crucial skills such as effective communication, documentation, both in code and for users of code written by me just to mention a few.

Kagga: I have greatly improved my communication skills. Before Andela I was not able to effectively communicate with other people or stakeholders, but now I am very confident and I even recently held a technical session during the recent Andela Uganda DevCon.

BISSA:  What do you love the most about being developers?

Okosun: Everything from the fact that I don’t need a degree to be successful at my job,  the ability/choice to work remotely, because the future of work is distributed, the diverse learning opportunities is super great because learning never ends even with older technologies and being surrounded by a community of like-minded individuals, talented developers and entrepreneurs is priceless.

Kagga: I love the fact that I am able to influence my community and world through the work I do. With software I am able to change people’s livelihood from anywhere in the world. The programs I contribute to are able to solve and also impact people’s lives globally.

Wanjiku:  The satisfaction of seeing a user interact with something I have worked on makes my heart glow, interacting with curious minds, engaging in interesting debates, being challenged, meeting the great minds in tech through different forums makes me fall in love with tech every day.

I also love the fact that tech is a very interactive and challenging community which keeps me on my toes.

BISSA:  Being veterans in this space do you have any words of advice to an aspiring developer?

Okosun: If your current role or path in life does not support your growth as a developer, quit! Anybody can become a successful software engineer and that includes you!

There are problems to be solved and value to be added, we need you!

There will be challenges, it’s hard, it’s not a smooth sail, the reason they are challenges is because they are meant to be overcomed, don’t give up! Question everything, you will find answers. Read only books that have answers to your innermost questions.

Start now!

Wanjiku:Tech is the right choice. Technology has a consistent presence across all industries. The growing need for technical solutions, translates to an increased demand for technical skills. Commit and run with it because you are needed. If you feel doubt, or any form of imposter syndrome, let that be a reason to make you keep improving and not to stop you at all.

Kagga: Every industry now requires some sort of technology to function efficiently, with that said, this is the right time to join the technological revolution and join us in solving today’s problems and create a better future for the generations to come.