NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 7 – Rehema Wachira career path can be described anything but conventional.
She studied Political and Social Thought for her undergrad but now works with some of the world’s best companies as a software developer, working from any location she chooses.
After her first job at a non-profit, Rehema got a job in marketing working for a mobile telco but she later developed an interest in product development.
“I knew I needed a bit of technical skill to get into a more product development role,” said Rehema, which meant learning a bit of coding to get a foot in.
She started digging around for websites such as Codecademy and Udemy that teach coding for beginners.
It was love at first code.
“I realized I really enjoyed the coding aspect, to my surprise,” said Rehema.
Her first programming language was Python, but she is now more at home with Ruby and Ruby on Rails – which allows her to develop server-side web applications.
Rehema is quick to point out that beginners can start with any of the many programming languages.
What matters, she said, is that “you understand software development fundamentals and computer science fundamentals which can also be learned online.”
In her desire to perfect her coding skills, Rehema sort of stumbled on Andela – a startup that trains and hires developers in Africa out of its tech campuses in Nairobi, Lagos, Kampala and Kigali.
Eat. Sleep (maybe). Code
It is no mean feat getting a fellowship at Andela. The rigorous recruitment process can take up to two months involving written and face to face interviews and assignments.
Out of the 100,000 applicants over the last four and a half years that Andela has been in existent, only 1,000 developers have gotten the four-year fellowship.
But this number is significant looked at in the context of solving Africa’s twin problem of youth unemployment and a shortage of skilled software developers.
Backed by venture capital firms such as Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, GV, Spark Capital, and CRE Venture Capital, Andela is aggressive in pursuing its vision of, “powering global engineering teams while catalyzing the growth of tech ecosystems across the African continent.”
The company has so far raised $180m in funding with the latest round of Series D funding of $100m (Sh10b) announced in January 2019.
Joshua Mwaniki, Andela Kenya Country Director, said the Sh10 billion capital injection will allow one of the fastest growing startups in Africa to meet its goals faster.
The Nairobi hub, for instance, has more than doubled its staff from 200 staff in 2017 to over 600 now based at the new campus off Thika Road.
“When you realize you can have more impact, growing faster is one of the things you have to do and growing faster needs more investment…it’s really fuel for our growth plans,” said Joshua.
The direct impact of the Andela program has seen developers grow their earning capacity by up to 10 times with the more experienced developers earning over Sh300,000 per month.
“A lot of these developers are realizing that their skill sets are not just deployable locally. There is demand for these skills globally,” said Joshua.
Yet, like Rehema, 20 per cent of the developers at Andela don’t have a background in computer science or engineering.
“Interviews are now about ‘here is a problem, code, build something and solve it’. This is how we hire at Andela over a two-week boot camp and that’s what companies are interested in,” adds Joshua.
And with the evolution of the distributed workforce which allows people to work on a project as part of a global team, Andela’s developers are continuing to add to their skills without the need to leave the country.
But while the tech sector is trailblazing in nearly all spheres of the 21st-century workplace, the one Achilles heel that the industry has struggled to rewire is the gender imbalance.
Most studies estimate women make up 30 per cent of computing jobs, at best. That number drops to 10 per cent for programmers.
At Andela, about 200 of the 1000 developers are women, which is double the global stats but still far off from achieving gender parity.
Which is why mentorship is a key cog in Andela’s development wheel with in-house programs like Tech in Pink.
“When we talk to kids in schools and they see a woman like me and we tell them we really enjoy software development, I think that makes a difference,” said Rehema.
But in addition to mentorship, Rehema is of the opinion that companies need to be deliberate in hiring more women as developers and computer scientists to bridge the gender gap.
Rehema’s passion to see more girls join the software development space has seen her join Women Who Code, an organization that champions women’s careers in tech for developers and technical founders.
While it may seem Rehema’s career path is nonlinear and unconventional, her steps were measured and considered, taking her time to research and talk to developers who were already in the industry.
She considers her past experience in different fields as an additional asset.
“Software development is about solving problems; whether it’s about helping people get their food faster or financial access. If you are the kind of person who enjoys finding a solution and using creativity, logic and a huge amount of empathy, then it’s possible to start slowly and work your way to the top,” said Rehema.