Startups

Exclusive: Andela Still Haunted By Familiar Ghosts As It Struggles To Find Jobs For Mid-Level Developers


February 12, 2020

More Trouble In Paradise? Maybe.

Pay attention to the words of a mid-level developer who is currently on the books at Andela Kenya: 

“Sometimes, it feels like we chat with bots on Slack. All we get is, ‘we are working on it’”.

That’s the lamentation of the developer who seems to be frustrated at being stuck in some sort of career limbo having been unable to secure meaningful work months after joining Andela, while being left in the dark over his future due to what he describes as poor internal communication.

Andela, one of Africa’s most-valued tech companies, is the quintessential success story laden with tales of positive impact, for the most parts.

Perhaps, the only blemish on what is otherwise a spotless record is the highly-publicised  “adjustment” from last year which saw Andela close its D0 programme in Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda, effectively freezing out 400+ junior developers and rendering them jobless.

But it appears Andela is still haunted by the familiar ghosts that forced its hand into wielding the axe and taking the chop to the junior developers on its roster. And this time around, it is the intermediate/mid-level developers who are at risk of being frozen out.

Source: AfricanBusinessMag

Reliable sources tell us that placement problems are starting to creep into the mid-level programme and it is feared that it would only be a matter of time before mid-level developers suffer the same fate as the junior developers did last year.

When Andela launched in 2014 through the combined efforts of Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Jeremy Johnson, Nadayar Enegesi, Christina Sass, Ian Carnevale, and Brice Nkengsa, its vision was to train and outsource mainly entry-level software engineering talent to firms around the globe, albeit with a sprinkling of senior talent. And to make money while at it too.

However, in May 2019, market/client demands saw Andela open its doors to client-ready mid-level and senior-level developers, recruiting them directly into the company.

Before that time, the Andela Fellowship (AKA Technical Leadership Programme) was the most common mode-of-entry for developers into Andela. This programme provided an intensive 6-month+ training to entry-level developers before placing them to work with clients.

But Andela by-passed this process and started to step up direct recruitment of client-ready developers owing to an increased demand for more experienced hands, cue the influx of mid-level and senior-level engineering talent.

That set the tone for what was to come in September 2019 when the company made an understandable  “business call”.

Andela shut down the D0 programme altogether because market dynamics had shifted such that the company would “not be able to find meaningful work for the junior developers on its roster over the next year,” as Andela’s current CEO, Jeremy Jonhson, revealed last year.

Jeremy Johnson, Andela’s CEO
Source: 3BL Media

Johnson also admitted that Andela had hired more junior developers than it was able to place and the layoff was necessary despite the company’s first-time released earnings figures indicating that annual revenues for 2019 will surpass USD 50 Mn.

Since that September shake-up, Andela has ramped up its efforts at actively and intensely growing its mid and senior developer populations in line with its goal of adding on some 500-700 client-ready developers to meet the needs of its partners. Just recently, the company launched a programme for senior developers in Egypt.

But that placement problem that forced the D0 closure seems to be rearing its ugly head yet again. The startup appears to be struggling with placing their recent mid-level hires.

Recruiters at Andela Kenya and developers at Andela Nigeria who spoke to WeeTracker on condition of anonymity revealed that it now takes around 3 months for a new hire to be placed, and in extreme situations, this can go up to 12 months.

Confidential information obtained by WeeTracker has it that out of the hundreds of new mid-level hires spanning across Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda, only around 10 have been placed with clients since late last year. The rest are still waiting on the bench.

Some mid-level developers at Andela Kenya who have been stuck in limbo for months and kept in the dark over their prospects expressed dissatisfaction at how the matter is being handled, lamenting that poor communication hasn’t helped matters.

According to them, they have had to sit on the bench for months with no shot at landing meaningful placement in sight and they, as well as other affected developers, have been getting the email version of “blue ticks” when they try to find out what’s going on.

Some developers at the Andela Office in Lagos
Source: TechCrunch

The Andela Kenya developers also pointed out that Andela has a long-going history of poor internal communication especially between developers and their supervisors.

“Feels one way”, describes one Andelan. Developers who have recently joined the company also state that it’s been hard for them to get any conversations going with their supervisors, especially as some of the supervisors are in Nigeria while the developers are in Kenya.

The problem is so dire that the company has opted to create a new department to try salvage the situation. Looks like someone’s got points on the board for effort at least.

A developer at Andela Nigeria who finally spoke up after being repeatedly assured air-tight anonymity corroborated this narrative when he told WeeTracker that there are just too many mid-level developers competing for just a few openings.

“Getting placement is hard,” he said. “There are a lot of people really applying for the same engagement. The clients want developers with more senior role skills, so selling junior and mid-level developers is hard.”

This troubling reality is echoed further by the fact that Andela is constantly hiring, raising questions as to what the company’s strategy really is.

He adds, “There is competition for the same job within the company. But, for some reason, Andela still keeps hiring new developers, I have no idea of the business value that poses. So in a way, I feel it’s a conundrum, but how they aim to solve that problem, I have no idea.”

Indeed, Andela’s Senior Communications Manager for Africa, Oluwasola Obagbemi, confirmed to WeeTracker that the company is still recruiting experienced engineers, in an emailed response to queries bordering on the claims of placement problems and disgruntled developers within the company’s ranks.

“Andela continues to evolve how we connect excellent engineers to leading technology companies around the world,” reads the email stating Andela’s position on the matter.

“As we grow as a business and into our new strategy, we are learning each day how to better address market needs. We’re still recruiting experienced engineers that we’re confident meet the needs of our customers. We’ll continue to invest in finding the best engineering talents to do great work with our customers so that we can better connect brilliance with opportunity.”

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, at the Andela offices in Lagos in 2016
Source: TechPoint

According to a recruiter at Andela Kenya, the company is in operational transition, constantly hiring in an effort to meet client’s demands with certain skill sets that the current pool of developers might not have.

We also gathered that Andela’s choice of clients is changing from what one would call mid-size companies with less than 200 employees to big shots with 500 employees and above.

So, the obvious question is: If Andela’s current pool of developers does not match clients’ requirements, and the company has moved on from its previous strategy of training developers, should the current pool of mid-level developers be afraid for their jobs? Perhaps this is yet another question that only time can answer.

How’s Life After Andela For The Junior Devs Axed Last Year?

Andela put last year’s strategy reset down to a shift in market demand, describing the layoff of junior developers as a tough but necessary call.

As a consolation, the company pledged its unwavering support to the affected developers. “Once an Andelan, always an Andelan” was the watchword, as the startup promised bumper financial and emotional resources to former employees who were hit by the shift.

In addition to free access to key tech hubs in Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda, the company also claimed to have identified over 60 companies who are looking to hire top-quality junior engineering talent. Andela offered to hook them up somehow.

So, was this the case? Did Andela deliver as promised or leave the juniors hanging? Well, the answer is yes and no, it’s kind of a mixed bag.

We spoke to several junior developers who were let go after last year’s reset and while many were glowing in their assessment of the company’s efforts after the layoff, others were not as impressed.

One of the junior developers in Nigeria who was with Andela for 8 months and didn’t want to be identified claimed that the company did send out their CVs to a lot of places as she got a lot of calls from out-of-the-blue availing her of openings and opportunities that she didn’t even apply for, though she maintains that she landed her current Front-End Engineer role at a big tech firm purely as a result of her own job-hunting efforts.

Source: MindMeet

Another ex-Andelan in Nigeria said the company, in which he worked for 7 months, did “a whole lot of things”.

“In my opinion, I think we were compensated very well. Also, there were programmes that were put up to ensure that we got interviewed by a lot of companies to help us get back on our feet immediately.

“Plus having Andela on your CV does give you an edge. I mean, the entire situation really sucks for everyone but I feel like what I gained at Andela will really help me in my career,” added the source who also admitted that his current developer job didn’t exactly come from a direct Andela referral, though the startup was really helpful.

Another former developer at Andela Nigeria lauded the company for “doing more than what was expected.” This developer claimed to have landed his current job at a tech consulting firm through a job fair he got to know about through Andela.

Additionally, he claimed to know a good number of ex-colleagues who landed new jobs through Andela while revealing that the company also helped them with professional CV writing and even gave out MacBook laptops to some of the affected developers.

But one ex-Andelan in Kenya has a rather contrasting account of how things went after the layoff.

This source revealed to WeeTracker that since his last day at Andela, the company has done nothing at all to help him get any job.

“These guys have never even sent me an email afterward,” he adds. According to him, all the opportunities he got came from other ex-Andelans and well-wishers but nothing came directly from the company.

Echoing this view is a junior developer who worked at Andela Nigeria for 7 months before the layoff happened, and has since landed a remote role with a tech company in Singapore.

“They did provide access to tech hubs as promised and people used it. But as for the job part, that never happened as far as I know.”

He adds, “We got sent a bunch of links to sign up or whatever, but for me, nothing came out of it, I don’t know about other people. The lot I know got hired based on the jobs they hunted by themselves and applied for.

“When the whole thing trended, a lot of people got opportunities. I don’t know anyone who got a job as a result of what Andela did but Andelans, the people who work there, helped a lot in making sure people get jobs through referrals, creating documents and so on.

“There was a lot of help from people in the organisation but for me, I can’t say Andela as a company did this or that. For me, it never happened.”

On their part, Andela declined to comment on this while also remaining tight-lipped over the mid-level developers’ placement issues.

Co-Founders Of Andela
Source: TechCrunch

So there you have it; there are mixed accounts of what happened with the junior developers after last year’s layoff, just like there were mixed reactions after word of the strategy tweak first got out.

While many chided the startup for letting people down by selling the dream of, first and foremost, connecting brilliance with opportunity and then going against that vision by seemingly adopting a “business-first” approach, others opted to look on the brighter side.

To these optimistic folks, Andela had released over 400 brilliant people into the African tech ecosystem, and these are talents it developed for free.

Whichever way the matter is looked at, one thing that is clear is the fact that Andela has deftly morphed into more of a shrewd, for-profit business, and less of a social-impact venture, not like there’s anything wrong with that.

Brilliance is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not? More like: Brilliance is evenly distributed, but sellable brilliance is the goldmine.

Featured Image Courtesy: CFAMediaNG

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