Developer relations in sub-Saharan Africa


Developers in Nairobi

Developers in Nairobi

The sub-Saharan Africa developer ecosystem, as we know it, has been active for close to two decades now and has seen growth on a rapid scale. As of 2015, there were roughly 500,000 developers compared to approximately 800,000 in 2018 (based on statistics from StackOverflow). This 62% growth is the key to understanding the state of the ecosystem and where things are headed.

However, despite significant growth in the tech ecosystem as a whole, there is still a lot to be done. Many of the newer developers coming into the ecosystem are in the early stages of their careers and finding opportunities for growth has become a challenge. This is where developer relations steps in to work on fixing this problem.

The core principle of working with developers is to teach them to place an emphasis on solving problems for the communities that they are in. This has become crucial to finding success. To give context, numerous start-ups have been able to streamline their payment processes through mobile payments APIs. Mobile money is powerful, but when integrated into modern applications, services and products begin to open up to more people within the community. Mobile money marked the start-up boom of the first decade of the 21st century in Kenya and is now rapidly spreading across Africa. Mobile money is not a global trend, but it has defined a radical shift in the finance sector for Africa; more specifically, the East African ecosystem.

Localised solutions that can be replicated across markets have created these successful tech start-ups. Personalities in the ecosystem have also encouraged more young people to take up careers as developers.

The advent of developer relations

Developer relations is about building relationships with the developers in your ecosystem and helping them find the tools to help them become the best that they can be. As developer numbers grew, having a team focused on having them to grow.

Google introduced the first proper developer relations team in Africa and this helped kick-start Google-based communities in the region. As a matter of fact, many of the developer relations programs that emerged after Google’s were very similar in structure and approach. Whether this is a good or bad thing is still up for debate, however, that initial spark created momentum for a breed of community organisers and developers to take on the mantle of helping developers build, grow and find success within their communities and, moreover, the entire African continent.

Africa’s Talking, Flutterwave and Andela, among others, have built their own developer relations teams within the African developer ecosystem and have achieved varying degrees of success.

What developer relations means for the ecosystem

I have been lucky enough to have worked with both Andela and Africa’s Talking and have witnessed two different examples of how the developer relations role works in Africa. More so, I have seen how these two perspectives begin to solve some of the biggest challenges facing developers in our ecosystem.

Levelling up

According to the Accenture developer survey in 2018, education was a top priority for developers and that holds true. Access to the materials needed to help developers move beyond their hello world roots to building complex systems that provide value to businesses is scarce and, often, expensive. This may seem self-explanatory but let me break this down while also explaining how these problems are being solved.

A scarcity of learning resources

This could refer to the scarcity of developer related content but that couldn’t be further from the truth. YouTube tutorials on how to build your own website or machine learning models are not lacking. What’s missing is quality content that can help a developer grow. Content that embraces learning sciences to help the developer learn more efficiently, providing the most value to them. Moreover, content that can be supplied to developers at barely any cost to them.

This is what we did at Andela through the Andela Learning Community (ALC), first with Udacity and, in its current iteration, with Pluralsight. The greatest thing is that it’s all free for the developers who participate in the program. Currently, over 30,000 developers have gone through the program and the success stories speak for themselves. Individuals from all walks of life have developed skills that have allowed them to find jobs and, in some instances, launch their own start-ups.

Making a living

One of the most crucial aspects of learning something new is finding it useful in your day to day life. Will it improve your quality of life? Will it help you access opportunities that were previously unreachable? This is why I work with Africa’s Talking. The company’s goal is to empower developers to build businesses that can thrive in the African ecosystem.

My team focuses on training developers to take advantage of our APIs and helps them build businesses that can take advantage of the opportunities that lie within our tech. On top of this, helping developers build software for clients that use the APIs and makes sure that they can make a living off such projects is very satisfying.

We’ve seen developers make deals that have changed fortunes both for them and their families; as well as developers thanking us for stable APIs that they can always rely on. These are the success stories that make doing dev rel worthwhile.

The future of developer relations and the growth of the ecosystem

Developers need something to aspire to; something to believe in. They hold on to the hope that there is something better for them once they get these skills that are being imparted. The goal of developer relations is to make sure that as many developers as possible find a way to achieve their dreams. Factors such as political instability, stable power and internet access are immediate challenges to developers across the continent and make it harder to achieve our goals but, even so, we do.

Major progress has been made in increasing the technical proficiency of developers. The Rwandan government, for instance, has made strides in making the country an ICT hub, signing deals with Andela and Moringa School to bring developer education to their population.

This makes the work of developer relations professionals even more critical in making sure that developers are on the right path and have access to the tools and resources that they need to thrive in these emerging markets.

As we advance into a more connected and technologically advanced sub-Saharan Africa, our role as developer relations professionals has never been more vital.

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