How Startups in Africa are Attracting Global Tech TalentHow Startups in Africa are Attracting Global Tech Talent

Loupe 2019 speaker Dara Oke explains some of the best ways she’s seen companies in emerging markets attract and develop top employees.

June 27, 2019

The following is a guest post by Emily Esposito, Freelance Writer. Emily has worked with Amazon, Evernote, Trello, and Zapier and frequently interviews designers on subjects ranging from tech to productivity.

Dara Oke is a speaker at our upcoming Framer Loupe conference, happening August 14 — 16 in Amsterdam. We sat down with this designer-developer hybrid to learn how she helps African startups attract international talent and what she’ll be speaking about at Loupe.

One of the main challenges Dara sees is the difficulty startup founders have in attracting design and engineering talent to bring their vision to life. California is a prime example, where experts predict a shortage of an estimated 2.5 million technology workers by 2025. However, California is by no means unique. From coast to coast and across continents, emerging startups and established companies aren’t able to hire the people they need.

As the head of West and South Africa at Alter Global, Dara has a unique window into how companies in one part of the world are turning these challenges into strategic opportunities. Alter Global is a startup advisory and technology venture capital firm, with a mission to support startups and founders in global markets.

Dara’s role allows her to keep a pulse on emerging companies in Africa. She works closely with founders and CEOs, and understands what they’re looking for when hiring employees.

Here are four ways she’s seen companies in Africa find and grow talent:

Offer on-the-job training

“Everyone is struggling to hire more software engineers and product designers. In Africa, we’re seeing an interesting shift where startups are taking on the function of not only hiring employees, but also training talent,” says Dara.

She considers Hotels.ng, Nigeria’s largest hotel booking platform, a landmark example of on-the-job training. For the past few years, the company has run a three-month remote internship where they hire, then train software engineers and designers. More than 4,000 people have benefited from this training so far.

“It’s phenomenal to see initiatives like this bridge the talent gap in an early, but rapidly growing tech ecosystem.”

Recruit talent from global markets

When African startups struggle to find talent at home, Dara encourages them to think globally. Halfway across the world, there’s a much larger pool of designers and developers (think about cities like San Francisco, Austin, Toronto, or London). And “halfway across the world” is just a flight or two away, so there’s no reason not to recruit talent from overseas.

Dara and her colleagues at Alter Global help startups source international talent with a product and engineering fellowship. They look for people working in developed markets who want to take a break from their jobs or try something new. For example, they’ll give people in San Francisco the opportunity to move to Kenya or South Africa and become product designers at a high-growth startups.

“For our fellows in the program, especially those who have spent most of their career building products in the U.S., I think it’s shifted their perspective on what’s possible,” says Dara.

“It’s no surprise that many of the interesting problems to solve in the coming years will primarily be in emerging markets and I think many fellows walk away feeling like they’ve had the chance to be part of a compelling growth story.”

Encourage free, community-based learning

While many designers and developers in North America are self-taught, Dara says communities in Africa focus on free online and offline workshops and events that accelerate learning for everyone. For example, forloop Africa offers meetups across Africa on topics like the software development lifecycle and how to be a successful female developer.

Nigeria-based Usable offers monthly get-togethers to talk about interactive design, visual design, user research, sketching, and prototyping. Since 2014, there have been over 40 events with more than 600 members.

“The beauty of community-based learning is that everyone grows together. I’ve seen people become really skilled and talented much faster than with formal education or self-teaching,” she says.

“When we have designers and developers coming to work in this market for the first time, they’re shocked at the level of talent. It’s no surprise to me, considering how they have been learning together.”

Focus on company values

How do high-growth startups stand out and attract top talent? For Dara, the most successful companies also focus on their values. She points to Nigeria-based Paystack, a startup that enables modern online and offline payments for Africa. In 2016, it became the first startup in Nigeria to enter the Y Combinator, an American seed accelerator.

Despite its rapid growth, Dara says Paystack continues to focus on the “why” behind the company. “Whenever I am reading write-ups from the design team, it’s really easy to see their values and culture in everything they build,” she says.

These “softer skills” can make a difference in a crowded market. It’s easy for companies to offer similar perks, but a strong mission and brand story helps attract the right kind of employees.

If you’re a designer or engineer interested in working with an early-stage startup in a developing market, find out more about Alter Global’s fellowship program here.

Get more insights from Dara at Loupe 2019

Hear more about Dara’s global perspective on design at Loupe, our conference on interactive design and creative coding. You’ll hear from eight designers and developers (including Dara!), all doing exciting work and ready to share their expertise.

“Loupe is an extraordinary opportunity to step away from the computer and think about the applications of design in real ways. The diversity of thought and perspective at Loupe is amazing,” says Dara.

“As a speaker, I’m excited to share my insights into how to think about customers using your product in different parts of the world. We are living in such a fascinating and important time where people are more connected than ever, so there is a huge opportunity in terms of global impact.”


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