Christina Sass on The Global Talent Opportunity

Christina Sass on The Global Talent Opportunity

Description: If you want the best people, you have to look in every place. Andela has found thousands of talented programmers in Africa and put them to work for global corporations. What does this mean for business and for society? Where does inclusion go next?
The following transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for ease of reading. 
Speaker: Christina Sass, Andela
(Transcription by RA Fisher Ink)
Sass: So yesterday in one of the sessions—it the ethics, the panel on ethics—one of the examples that was given was an engineer who built some kind of a product that could have been used to sort of create greater difference or divide, racial divide, when applied to recruiting or any number of things. And the question was asked, you know, aren’t you worried about this? And the engineer replied like, I’m just the engineer.  How this thing is used, you know, is not my responsibility. And I just want to applaud Techonomy because you have populated this group of people with a group of people that knows that responsible tech growth is not going to happen to us. It’s not going to be legislated upon us.  It’s going to be because we choose to hire engineers and we choose to make decisions, hard decisions, every single day to actually make it responsible. So I want to talk to you about Andela and a fleet of engineers that I certainly believe will never say, “I’m just the engineer.”
So we’re all experiencing a real crisis of talent in software development. And this is well known. Raise your hand if you have an open job for a software developer in your company or your tech team and you’re trying to fill it. So this is really about how global talent is, it’s both an imperative and a huge competitive advantage, and this scarcity is one that we really haven’t grappled with and wrapped our mind around enough. So there are five open jobs for every one software developer in the United States and this is a consistent pain point of hiring managers, a top pain point. On average it takes about 65 hours in total to hire a senior software developer, and about $23,000. I feel certain a lot of you could find a lot more to do with that time and money.
It is also a persistent problem. So 1.4 million jobs went unfilled, just unfilled in 2016. A huge pain point to those companies that couldn’t grow and this problem is only getting bigger. By 2020 we’ll have more than one million jobs than graduates. The good news is software developers already want to be working in a distributed fashion. We’ve seen a 200% in about the last 10 years and 53% of software developers say this is their top, top priority. In hiring, it’s a lot of the reasons why if we’re stuck in our old mentalities and must be near me, must be in the office with me, we’re just hitting real barriers there.
So we experience a shortage here in the United States. There are about three million software developers in the United States and meanwhile, there are 21 million developers out there in the rest of the world. And while this is fairly obvious, I’m going to say it and keep saying it, again and again, the fastest way to make sure that only one demographic uses your product is to have only one demographic build it. You’ve got to have global mindsets and people with different life experiences actually building that thing. We see a lot of VPs of engineering and CTOs that for whatever reason still believe that they’re going to be able to find more senior talent than they currently have or that the rates, you know, the pain points to hiring them are going to change and that they’re going to be able to find even more diverse talent. And this is just like we are not connecting the two sides of our brain. There just isn’t enough of that talent anyway. So I joke around with our VPs of engineering and say, you know, I know you believe you’re going to find that basement full of like female Cameroonian developers, like in your exact tech stack and they love your product and they’re going to work for exactly your salary levels and bring all of their friends. This is not going to happen. That increase by 2020, if we took all of the computer science degree program grads in the United States or across North America and engineering degree grads and then looked within that pool for diverse candidates, we will not even approach the quotas that companies have put out there that they’re going to meet in the coming years. So if we want to really be competitive in the global talent race, we’re going to have to work in a different way.
So Andela, my company Andela looks specifically at one part of the world, which is the continent of Africa. And I kind of want to retitle this slide “Everything You Know About Africa is Wrong.” But just take it in, because the numbers are pretty staggering.  The continent of Africa is the youngest continent on Earth by a mile. And I wanted to get these stats right so I wrote them down, forgive me. But unlike the rest of the world’s population, Africa will continue to get younger. By 2035, the working age population of Africa will surpass that of India and China. And by 2050, one-fourth of the world’s population will be African, and by the end of the century 50%, one half of the world’s youth will be African. So if you’re not thinking about this, if you’re intending to scale a company and you need huge workforces and you’re intending to find more and more customers and aren’t thinking about this, it’s time to think about it. This continent has so much to teach us and so much unbelievable brilliant untapped talent.
And I’ll just give you my favorite example of this. Think back to the first time that you transferred money on your mobile phone. What year was it? It was exciting. You downloaded some sort of app and you’re like this cool, I get to send this money to this person right away. So can you picture the Masai tribe—they’re sort of tall and strikingly beautiful. They wear like the red plaid. If you’re a “Black Panther” fan, in Wakanda, they are the royal guard, the Masai tribe. The Masai tribe has been transferring money on their mobile phones since 2007. Since 2007. So Nairobi, it’s the birthplace of mobile money. So many of the innovations we see coming out of there are reverse teaching us how to do this. And so we looked at this global talent shortage and said the Internet is now strong enough and dependable enough that we can find absolute top, top, top global talent and share it with the rest of the world.
And thus we launched Andela in 2014. Andela’s mission is to advance human potential by powering today’s teams and investing in tomorrow’s leaders. And hold on to this idea of human potential. I’m going to come back to it at the end. So what we do is we’re highly selective, not about a person’s resume necessarily or their pedigree, but what we know now makes a great software developer, by nature of for four and a half years monitoring and evaluating who does well once we place them on partners. So we look for a background in computer science, but also for extremely high social and emotional intelligence, and grit and persistence and values alignment, and we’ve developed our own system for screening talent. We’ve had over 100,000 applications for our 1,000 software developers to date and have learned a great deal about what makes an excellent software developer.
We then spend seven months with them on in-depth training that’s actually split almost 50/50 between the tech stacks that we specialize in and team skills or soft skills. I’ll come back to this, but in a distributed world, where you’re really maximizing global talent, you have to get excellent in working in a distributed fashion and the team skills, the people skills that we all know are important, they’re disproportionally important when you work in a distributed fashion.
So we focus on that and like masters level coaching for about seven months. And then we have our developers, they go to one of our offices in Lagos, Nairobi, Kampala, and soon Kigali and Rwanda, and they work there remotely in a distributed fashion for growing companies all over the world through a vendor contract. So they are a full-time integrated employee of Andela.  They remain on our payroll but they’re a full-time employee of growing tech teams. We place teams in pods and embed them really. We do two trips to really solidify the relationship at the beginning of a partner engagement and then they work the rest of the year from one of our offices. On average, our software developers are with us for about four years and then we’re working with them on what their next step is to really harness all of their potential, to reinvest it in their home communities.
So as I mentioned, we firmly believe you cannot just work in the same way that you’ve worked and do that from a different location and that’s great distributed work. There’s a whole slew of tools and services and also skillsets to be a great distributed team and you can see some of them here. The Andelans are obsessed with two of these in particular, Slack and Trello.  When you have a second Google Andela Slack and Trello and you’ll see a rap song that our team created that’s a mock of “Black and Yellow,” the rap song. But anyway, we live by these tools and they’re necessary and they’re enabling a truly distributed workforce.
Here are three things that we’ve learned that I just wanted to share about a really remote-first culture. One is hire for emotional intelligence. So we kind of have developed this thing that’s slowly changing. There’s this idea that your software developers are moody and they sit in back corner and they’re strongly opinionated and they wear big headphones. We don’t think that makes a great software developer. We think a great software developer, when you show them a new feature says, “You hesitated. What did you not like? What can be better? What can be approved upon about this feature?” That makes a great, great software developer. And you can, you can absolutely screen for this, you know, while you’re recruiting.
You must build a culture of trust, and you can do that over video but it does require some intentionality. There’s so much in tone. There’s so much that we think happens at the water cooler that you can also make happen in a virtual environment by being really specific about it and saying, hey, what does it take to build trust? When we have our first disagreement over Slack, is somebody picking up the phone, you know, sort of to really resolve what happened there and understand different tones and things. But you have to really start with trust and build trust.
And then the third one is distributed is its own skillset, and I’ll just give you one example of many. When we say we train with soft skills, we do a lot of business improv. And we’ll say, “Hey, you’re about to orient to a new team in a distributed fashion. Are you prepared for that first call? Are you speaking on that call? Are you introducing yourself? If so have you practiced? Have you set up your computer ten minutes in advance and turn off everything else? Are you making sure you’re not backlit? Are you looking into the camera as opposed to looking into the screen? And are you sure that the tools that you’re using are aligned with everyone else?” That level of granularity needs to be done over and over again until it is just simply habit. And if you do that, you can build a phenomenal distributed culture that allows you to maximize all of this global talent. And we truly believe and see every day that co-location does not have an impact on effectiveness. You can be extremely effective.
So I’ve told you this great story about Andela and I just want to hammer home that the examples that you’re seeing here at Techonomy are very real and are coming alive. So Andela, we now—we started in 2014. We now have over 1,300 team members between Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. We’ve raised $81 million dollars in venture capital. Our developers are placed as full-time employees at over 155 different companies, like Gusto and Seek Geek and Head Space and Viacom. And they’re in 55 different cities globally.
And so I just want to come back at the end to this one point. We’ve been talking a ton about what it means to grow responsibly and I’ll just leave you with this question, what would our world be like, what would the next five years be like if we had an ethical technologist in every room at every major decision point to ask the question, does this advance human potential? This thing that we’re that deciding, this thing that we’re building, this choice that we’re making, does it actually advance human potential? Of course, we need to make money. Of course, we need to do well. But what is the actual risk? Does this decision that we’re making advance human potential? And certainly, we at Andela believe that, while the digital revolution may have started just down the road here in Silicon Valley, its future, its inclusive future, its ethical future will be written by the people who know these problems best, by the people that want them solved best, by technologists in Lagos and Nairobi and cities across Africa. Thank you.


Christina Sass

Co-Founder and President, Andela

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