This Self-Taught Cameroonian Techie Is Solving Africa’s Unemployment Crisis – And He Started From His Bedroom!
Typically clad in simple jeans and T-shirt – which actually constitutes something of a signature look – there’s some sort of boyish demeanor and laid back aura about Cameroonian techie, Mambe Churchill Nanje, which belies his 33 years of age and clout in his country’s tech space.
The software engineer is the brain behind Njorku; one of Africa’s first and biggest job search engines – a feat that is made all the more impressive by the fact that he could neither afford a computer nor internet when he first started out.
Eight years on since Nanje got his platform up and running from his cramped bedroom in Buea, Njorku has served well over 2 million unique users across 11 African countries. The fast-growing job search engine helps thousands of African job-seekers find employment opportunities in locations closest to them. You could think of Nanje’s creation as some kind of “Google for African jobs.”
Nanje didn’t always display any really special inclination towards tech until after he completed high school. After obtaining straight-A’s in his General Certificate Examination (GCE), everyone expected the youngster to have his pick of universities that were raring to have him, but he always had a mind of his own.
It came as a shocker to everyone – most especially, his parents – when he broke the news of wanting to put college on hold in favour of a year-long practical training course in computer maintenance and repair.
The idea was to complete the programme before deciding on a career path, but little did he know of what fate had in stock for him.
After several weeks of bickering and trying to talk their little boy out of what seemed like a “dumb move” without success, Nanje had his way. In October 2003, he enrolled at Trustech Institute of Technology and within three weeks of reporting at the centre, it had become clear to him that he could do more than repair computers.
All it took was a couple of minutes in a programming class that he had found his way into just to while away time, and it dawned on him that he was a natural. On that very day, he had seen the instructor show the class how to write basic HTML and without even trying, he had picked it up. This ‘new world’ he had just discovered was a source of great fascination to him and he was determined to explore.
As he neither owned a computer nor had he the means to access the internet, little Nanje got creative. He became friends with all the cyber cafe managers that he could find in his area and warmed his way into their hearts by helping them do some maintenance work and troubleshooting on their systems – he had picked up a few things from his computer repair classes.
In exchange, he was allowed free internet access in those cafes. Every other day, he followed up his classes at Trustech with visits to those cyber centres – sometimes spending up to 12 hours in front of a computer screen, feeling his way around web pages and programming.
He found some good online resources in W3Schools, Macromedia Dreamweaver, and Fireworks. With these, he mastered some coding and was soon building simple websites for people for around USD 10.00. By now, word of his skills had spread far and wide and he soon became something of a local teenage sensation who could do really cool stuff with computers.
And all that hype around him may have served him better than he would have thought when he eventually got a job offer from Trustech. (the same school he had enrolled in earlier). He became a Web Development Instructor at the institution.
The self-taught programmer started working at Trustech in October 2004, exactly one year after he graduated from high school. The job came with some perks, and one of those was that he was allocated a computer for his work. Nanje made the most of it, working on various programmes at night after teaching during the day.
Sometimes, he had to stay up all night and still show up to work the next day – the passion and zeal was the fuel that kept him going. And all that effort was paying off – he was getting better at his craft. For the very first time, he was actually starting to feel as skillful as all the hype around him suggested before he got the job.
He kept evolving and improving and by the time he called it quits with Trustech after two years of service, he had gotten the hang of Flash/Actionscript, Object Oriented Java, and PHP. All these, he had learned on his own and built proficiency to a very good extent.
The decision to call time on his stint at Trustech was borne out of the desire to focus on software programming and web development fulltime, and it was to prove a good move.
What followed was a couple of years of tinkering with various projects until January 2006 when he landed something concrete in his first company, AfroVisioN Group Limited. He was 20 at the time. Nanje established the company as a consultancy firm for software development – web, mobile, and enterprise applications. Even now, the company still lays claim to over 500 clients ranging from multinationals to small businesses.
After the first few years of successful operations, Nanje ran into a bit of a snag with AfroVisioN which eventually led him into having his second ‘child,’ Njorku. At the time, it would have seemed like a spanner had been thrown into his works. But looking back now, he would probably refer to it as a blessing in disguise.
Nanje had big plans for AfroVisionN but because most of his engineers were better suited to working as freelancers, someone was always leaving the fold and replacing them was not always easy. At some point, the business was on the brink of collapse as he couldn’t he couldn’t plug the holes.
What followed was one crazy evening when he was surfing the web for ideas on how to solve the problem and it occurred to him to build something himself, something that could solve the problem.
And after several weeks of writing endless lines of code in his bedroom, Njorku, which translates to “Elephant” in the local Bantu language spoken in the Buea area, was born. The name of the platform was influenced by his desire to create “something big and robust.”
In 2009, Nanje won the JCI Award for the Most Outstanding Young Entrepreneur in Buea. Some two years later, he clinched the JCI Award for the Most Outstanding Young Cameroonian in Business and Entrepreneurship. And numerous other awards and recognitions have followed since then.
Essentially, Njorku crawls several African career and recruitment sites, retrieves pages and job advertisements, and then provides an easy-to-use interface for job seekers to search through and filter jobs from all those platforms.
Its speed and simplicity, as well as its accessibility on web and mobile, gives job seekers convenience and flexibility when searching for jobs of interest.
The Africn tech entrepreneur actually started out on developing the platform with the intention of finding qualified software engineers for his first company, AfroVisioN. But the project eventually morphed into something a lot bigger.
The platform is now focused on attending to the diverse career needs of Africans, for job seekers and employers alike. Through Njorku, Nanje is hoping to alleviate the unemployment problem in Africa.
Featured Image Courtesy: showings.pw