One month after graduating from the University of Lagos in November 2017, Timi Bolaji received an offer to become a software engineer at Microsoft after scaling through a process that was focused on hiring computer science graduates from African universities. He joined the company’s team in Seattle a year later and has been there since, working on the Xbox Cloud Gaming team.
Microsoft is returning to Africa to hire more developers like Bolaji, with the same tantalizing promise of relocating them to offices in the US and Canada.
The company is interested in people still enrolled in or who have recently completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree in engineering, computer science or related fields, and have one year of programming experience in languages like Java, Python and PHP. Being able to show an understanding of data structures and algorithms is also required.
Microsoft isn’t the only Big Tech company directly fishing for new talent in Africa. Amazon is currently interviewing Nigerian developers for roles that promise relocation to Ireland and Canada. These moves coincide with the growth of software engineering talent in Africa in the last decade thanks in part to the work of companies like Andela that have helped produce the continent’s estimated 716,000 developers. Some of them have become startup founders who then hire developers, creating a ripple effect that inspires young students to consider careers in software engineering.
African developers are in global demand
Microsoft and Amazon may simply be seeking a slice of an already globalizing African software engineering workforce since four out of ten developers in Africa work for at least one company based outside of the continent.
With the so-called Great Resignation of the last two years, “there’s a global shortage of talent and people are recognizing Africa as a source of talent,” says Chika Nwobi, founder and CEO of Decagon, a Nigerian company that runs cohort-based software engineering training programs. He is certain that Big Tech companies will find the quality of talent they need in Nigeria because of the growth in expertise that has led to a vibrant tech-driven financial services ecosystem.
“We may not have that many engineers who can operate at the scale of these large companies, but that’s just an implementation hurdle that’s easy to hop over, at the risk of trivializing it,” says Justin Irabor, a developer who works remotely in Nigeria for a European company. “As with all kinds of professions, there is a wide variation of talent quality, but I strongly believe we have good engineers here.”
By going directly to universities for candidates that do not necessarily have years of experience, Microsoft’s betting on the diffusion of the innovation buzz from African tech companies and communities typically based in cities like Lagos, Nairobi, and Kigali to other parts of each country. The Windows maker may have to thank its competitor, Google, whose developer groups on campuses have become a key channel introducing young African undergraduates to the world of software development.
A credit to African universities?
Many of the students that may apply to join Microsoft from Nigeria are probably at home due to a strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the union for lecturers in government-owned universities, now in its seventh month. There’s no end in sight.
Still, it is a sign of the maturing computer science programs in some schools in Africa that one of the world’s biggest companies is seeking students or recent graduates. Africa’s top universities for engineering and computer science are in Egypt and Tunisia, according to the US News and World Report’s 2022 ranking. Greater Big Tech interest could be the catalyst for schools in other parts of the continent to compete for places on such rankings in the future.