Featured By Lillian Nduati / April 2, 2013
A Few Good Men
They are a dying kind; a sort almost relegated to the dotcom days of the nineties. A people who, in their hey-day could hack code for complex systems without sleep 60 hours straight. The legend goes that many went on to own the several of the local ‘big’ tech companies we see now.
And then, there were none.
In between 2008 and 2013, nearly all have disappeared. Companies and businesses looking to hire developers and coders affirm the hard task of finding one. So, where are they? What happened?
There is a collective agreement among industry that developers (and programmers) are not only hard to find but also difficult to work with. If the really great ones are not snapped up by the many global tech firms that have made camp in the region, the rest are ‘freelancers’ who hack a living bidding for jobs from NGOs and other development agencies, where payoffs are perceived to be better.
The rest of the field is then left to upcoming developers straight from universities, who, while having the makings of a good developer technical-wise, are still some ways behind in other crucial skills – project management, negotiation skills, providing complete solutions, networking, and so on.
And there is a gap – which businesses, companies, organizations and generally anyone who has ever had to deal with the hiring process of a ‘techie’ knows: there are very few good developers out there, and those that are available are not interested in being hired, or working on ‘small’ projects. Those leftover, either do not meet the minimum thresholds, or are too difficult to work with.
Across the landscape, the common complaints are:
Developers never finish the jobs they are assigned
They take on too much, and are not upfront about the number of projects they are handling;
They lack basic business skills – professionalism, project management, Business 101
Developers are remiss to admit where they lack the technical ability to implement certain systems
So, what is industry doing about this?
We should start focusing on quality, even more than quantity of developers. I think that while we still have a lot of work to do in reaching out to high school and colleges to bridge the gap and increase professionals in this industry , we should focus on the developers that we already have – to make them more industry ready, more competitive in the market, with skills such as quality analysis, user experience, team work principles, analyzing problems…and so on.
Universities have also been accused of being several steps behind in equipping their graduates with relevant skills needed for the ICT Sector. The university system in the country is largely broken – the curriculum is usually several light years behind what is happening on the ground. Graduates usually have to ‘learn on the job’.
Conrad Akunga, who runs a financial software company, and is a mentor to those younger in the industry, agrees.
I have been in the software industry for over 13 years now, and I can tell you that it usually takes about 14 months to train any new recruit to be productive.
iHub, seen as the nerve center and catalyst for tech in the region has perhaps faced with the most flak over this. The innovation hub faces a challenge however: the hub is not an incubator, where businesses can get training on these skills. It is also not a training institution.
“Its true, developers are in demand, and here, demand outstrips supply. The best devs (developers) are employed in some juicy company or run their own companies,” says Phares Kariuki, a technologist who has previously worked as the lead Solution Architect in sub-Saharan Africa for VMware at Westcon Africa.
Large companies such as Microsoft, Oracle and others are in the ‘boring’ business applications sector, for example, running billing systems for Safaricom, Airtel, running their information management systems for Kenya Airways and EABL…and so on.
“These companies hardly ever go down, their core infrastructure is quite stable, which can be attributed to good developers,” says Mr Kariuki.
These companies can afford to hire premium developers.
“The ideal situation should be that when you hire a good developer, you are paying him well and investing in him. This developer, in turn should be training a team that can be at the level of that developer, if not better,” Mr Kariuki adds.
However, very few people invest in talent. An alternative model could be like how Kenya Airways does it – they go straight to the source and start training them from there. The source here being – right from high school.
Could a model like this work to bridge the gap that currently exists between skills needed for the job market and the people available to fill this need?
Google, which has offices locally, is already working with local universities. Google, which is software engineer heavy (employs many software engineers), (check out how much Google loves its Engineers) , offers numerous opportunities for students and job seekers to gain relevant work experience in technical fields through their university program, such as the Google university program. Here, students get access to workshops, scholarships and internships to Master’s, MBA, J.D., and Ph.D.
Ultimately, the responsibility to develop and grow a strong tech eco-system while shared among tech firms, universities and industry mentors, remains in the hands of the developers themselves. It lies with them to seek out opportunities to improve their skills laterally (not just hard-core programming skills,but soft skills and business acumen as well), to network, to remain ahead of current trends, to be the best in their fields – just like those in other industries.
Alison B Lowndes at 19:46:23PM Tuesday, April 2, 2013
A Few Good Men .. and WomenReply
Great article – I’m currently working on “filling the gap”.
Steve Waweru at 21:10:00PM Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Great article. I must agree. As a student in Bsc. Computer Sci, I wonder how the career path plays itself. From poachers from various companies giving opportunities just as u graduate, to other individual entrepreneurs.Reply
Andrew at 16:30:53PM Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Very good article. Accurately describes the employer’s dilemma!!Reply
robert at 16:34:10PM Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Very interesting piece. Just earlier today i came across with similar insights, and developers were right on the spot.Reply
GEORGE MUYA at 17:42:44PM Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Hi, thanks for your article, you have hit the nail on the head. However, I am of the opinion that the local market is yet to open up to accommodate real programmers. To be frank, almost every company in Kenya requires you to have skills in PHP. What happened to Java, Ruby, Django, and other languages? I think the companies have to widen their scope of programming languages. It would not make sense to spend years working with only one language while you spent so much time learning other languages.
Most programmers spend years gaining skill a particular language or set of languages. I, being one of them, would not be willing not to utilize the skills I have taken years to garner. I would rather operate as a freelancer and utilize all (or most of) the skills I have than work in a local firm using only one of the languages I know.Reply
Most programmers have opted for freelance; where they can practice all their skills. I still believe there are many quality programmers in Kenya. . . .Its only that they are not willing to leave freelancing…FOR REAL
Editor at 19:26:38PM Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Hi George, valid points those.
The larger issue is that our developers as you point out are “language” people. In this fast paced industry, languages come and go quickly. Isnt it better to have developers equipped with the fundamentals who can adapt with the needs of the industry and the market?Reply
Paul at 21:54:33PM Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Nice read, I do agree with the authors observation. I believe however that good developers are hard to find. It boils down to passion for the “hobby” and standards good quality standards these can propel a amateur dev to a professional dev in a few years.Reply
Kevintich at 09:07:26AM Thursday, April 4, 2013
True and very informative . The go to source model always works. Identify talent and straight positive attitude from trainees and sooner than later your will have a teamReply
Lillian Nduati at 11:48:22AM Thursday, April 4, 2013
That is very true Kevin.Reply
Lillian Nduati at 11:50:22AM Thursday, April 4, 2013
Hi Paul, at the core of it, lies the passion for what a developer does. This, mixed with the ingredients of networking, mentorship, putting themselves and their work out there, can go a long way towards propelling them to profession dev status.Reply
Lillian Nduati at 11:50:57AM Thursday, April 4, 2013
Yes, and women Do let us know what you are doing to ‘fill the gap’ !Reply
Francis at 15:45:57PM Thursday, April 4, 2013
Hi Lilian, great points. I think most young guys, coders etc. are kind of living the good life, or bascially a somewhat decent life, with parents, food, clothing, shelter not a threat. I may not be totally correct but sometimes you have to be on the grind for some really amazing stuff to come through. Another thing i think is a problem is without exposure to how big companies and corporates work, it is impossible to envision solutions for them. Some exposure is needed and that leads me to my argument that for our budding passionate programmers, some real work experience, exposure is needed at these corporates.Reply
RogerInc at 16:40:49PM Thursday, April 4, 2013
By training University students?Reply
pips at 18:50:34PM Thursday, April 4, 2013
The editor said it best..programmers must focus more on creating value (product) than being obsessed with a particular ‘tool’ or way of creating that value/product/solution. Be like water, take the shape of whichever ‘container’ you are poured into, yet still deliver the goods.Reply
GEORGE MUYA at 23:31:41PM Thursday, April 4, 2013
Sure! Having equipped developers who can adapt with the needs of the market is a sufficient solution. Seeking proficiency in a particular language is a short-run solution. We need to focus on the fundamentals. We need our programmers to impact the current generation and influence the future generation. How I hope to be one of them…Reply
Sang at 09:44:30AM Sunday, April 7, 2013
I have read your post which reveals the truth,am not developer neither an expert but i have heart to be one in day to come.i did my diploma in c.s, hdip in cs@TUM,now @UoE 4 bachelors.Reply
Sang at 09:49:27AM Sunday, April 7, 2013
I have read your post which reveals the truth,am not developer neither an expert but i have heart to be one in day to come.i did my diploma in c.s, hdip in cs@TUM,now @UoE 4 Bsc comp sci,i av gain knwledge in Design,coding and networkng but i have never seen a great gap btwn job seekers n professionalismReply
Musau Joshua at 14:46:47PM Sunday, April 7, 2013
The few good men became wise men. They quit employment and now run their own companiesReply
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