Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Abyss of the Great Outdoors ....and the Spider Generation




I am slowly getting used to the fact that I will be lucky if get to write to this blog more than twice a year.
I had been meaning to put down a few thoughts for the past few months, but never got round to it. There a lot of reasons why I could not do it...but I will be honest today and tell you it was procrastination ...there ...i said it!

Cele’s Article

I was however jolted out my happy state of work filled bliss by an article on LinkedIn by my friend Celestine Ezeokoye which I think is well worth a read (its not a very long article...so go on...click the link). To give you a summary of what Celestine is saying: Nigeria already has a thriving tech industry. He goes on to list a number of heavy hitting Nigerian tech firms that were started locally by locals and have grown to become giants on the tech landscape and are doing quite well...to the extent that some of them have received up to 90M USD in funding and so on. Celestine encourages the current generation of tech entrepreneurs to do more to stand on the shoulders of the now established tech entrepreneurship giants who have done so much and learnt so much to achieve success in this rough socio-economic landscape that is Nigeria. He says that we should also do more to promote the successes of these guys who have silently gone about their business in building great tech companies that are looking to stand the test of time (Again...read the article, its not as long as this one).


I agree with what Celestine said in that article. There are many Nigerians (indeed Africans) young and not so young who have managed to build businesses based on technology that they bootstrapped with less than $2K USD in funding (from their wallets, family , friends etc) that are doing very very very well. For the purpose of this write up , “very very very well” means having staff of 15 and above and making revenues of more than $1M per annum. You do not find many of these peeps on Social Media or blogs sharing wisdom on best practices of tech entrepreneurship, startup culture  and so on. A number of reasons have been given for this. Some say that people who are busy running a successful business do not have time for social media or tech meetups. Others say that they live and work in a world where sharing wisdom could give your competition the required ammunition to put one over you. Which ever way you choose to look at it, there is a lot to learn from those who have done it...and are still doing it in the tech space in Africa and I would want to dedicate some lines in this article to join Celestine in encouraging our current generation of tech entrepreneurs to spend more time in the company of these people and learn a thing or two. Invite them to more of your meetups, ask them deep questions, encourage them to share more. I would also like to appeal to these tech entrepreneurs who are doing very very very well to make themselves available for people to learn from their experiences. Spare a few hours from your very busy schedules and make time for the community. Share your wisdom. There is a lot you can teach …. there is also a lot you can learn….and gain and I will talk more about that in the following paragraphs.


Abyss of the Great Outdoors

I would like to spend a little time to talk about the other side of Celestine’s article that we may or may not miss. But first I would like to introduce a concept I like to call the Abyss of the Great Outdoors, It is an abyss that runs parallel to the other abyss that we are all familiar with i.e. the Digital Divide. It’s an abyss that i alluded to in my earlier article on the African programmer and the sun. It is the great wide gulf that exists between the tech entrepreneur and his/her end user, the proverbial man or woman on the street. It is this abyss that makes it almost impossible for a single coder sitting in his or her room in Lagos, Nairobi or Bridge Town (a suburb of Cape Town) to create a product or service that will become an instant hit with 120 million people in Nigeria,  43 million people in Kenya or 51 million people in South Africa. It can be measured in terms of the amount of pain (physical, emotional, psychological , financial and spiritual) that a tech entrepreneur has to go through to directly reach his or her first 1,000 end users. It is an abyss that surrounds us to the extent that we do not notice it and take it for granted. Mind you, this abyss is not peculiar to Africa or emerging market countries because it also exists in places like the United States and Europe. The difference is that in those countries it has been bridged to a large extent. What do I mean by bridging?  lets talk a bit about that.



The abyss of the great outdoors

Over the years , indeed over the centuries a number of industries have built bridges over the Abyss of the Great Outdoors, often at very great expense. Some of these industries that we are familiar with are : the Banks, the schools, more recently the Telcos and the largest of all, the government agencies. These bridges come in different forms, shapes and sizes ranging from banking halls and ATMs to telco service centers, SMS to mobile phones, radio and TV etc. If you want to think about the cost of building a bridge across the abyss , consider the fact that according to this article on lightreading.com as at 2004, a single base station was selling for about $25,000 or more.You could also think about the cost of setting up a bank branch in your neighbourhood and then multiply this by the number of base stations or bank branches across your country to get an idea.


Zim, Oby and the corporate bridge

Anyways for a long time these were the only bridges available for crossing the abyss of the great outdoors. I will illustrate this with a story about a fictitious pal of mine named Chukwuzimuzo (An Igbo name which in english means God show me the way). Lets call him Zim for short.


So Zim is a sharp guy who can churn out awesome code in any programming language faster than you can type an email. One day Zim comes up with this awesome idea to create a service targeted at young university students in Nigeria. This service allows them study and collaborate online while providing them with much needed educational content and for that he hopes to earn a small fee from each student. I am sure we have seen or heard of this model or similar models targeted at this or another audience. So lets take a look at the abyss between Zim and his intended users. Note that the assumption here is that Zim’s product/service meets the minimum required awesomeness level:
  • First is access to the students, how can Zim get his product/service in the face of the student. Lets call her Obianuju (Another Igbo name which means “The child that came in the time of plenty”), Oby for short
  • Second, how can Zim convince Oby that his service is the best thing since sliced bread such that she is convinced to use it and possibly pay for it?
  • Third, If and when Oby decides to use Zim’s service or product, how can Zim get paid? After all he is not running a charity service #boysmustfeed
  • Fourth, how does Zim maintain a relationship with Oby so that she keeps using the service and product and it keeps improving i.e. customer service and all that good stuff?
If Zim, is to solve these problems, then he has to successfully cross the abyss of the great outdoors. But how can he do this? Remember...this is an abyss we are talking about here.


Now in the days before the internet revolution really (and I mean really) hit Africa ( i.e circa 1996 - 2006), the options open to Zim would look something like this:
  • Setup a meeting with the authorities of the school to tell them about his new service and convince them as to why his service is the one thing that would make their university an Ivy league school in the next 2 years . This means meetings and presentations during office hours, meetings and presentations outside office hours (with a couple of drinks here and there), more meetings, more presentations and a whole lot of other stuff
  • If the school agrees that this makes sense to them , then they need to decide on how to collect money from Oby and her colleagues. One option could be to include the service charge as part of the school fees which the students pay the school and give Zim a cut. Most times they would rather pay Zim off once and for all with a license fee and then charge the students anyway. This means more meetings, more presentation, more drinks and so on.
  • Then when all is settled, Zim and his service can now go live. The school makes an announcement to Oby and her colleagues that Zim’s platform is now the platform of choice for extracurricular studies and that henceforth they will be charged an extracurricular study fee which amounts to about 1% of their current school fees so its not a big deal. Almost instantly Zim has about 30,000 users available at day one of his product launch.
  • In many cases, the platform will not be known to Oby as Zim’s platform but as the school’s platform (white labelling) so Zim stays in the background and happily collects a slice of the 1% service charge
  • A lot of times, Zim is not even in the background because he has been paid off with a one-time license fee and only shows up when there is need for maintenance for which he gets paid a maintenance stipend.


So why on earth does Zim have to get in touch with the school in order to reach Oby? After all his product is for extracurricular studies, so what business does the school have in the whole thing? Well you see, in this particular case the school has built a bridge to Oby, by virtue of the relationship between the school and Oby. The school has almost 24/7 access to Oby via the school bulletin board (or school email etc). This relationship is made possible because the school has something that Oby needs: A university degree. The school can get Oby’s attention whenever they need to. Zim cannot. So Zim needs to get to Oby through the school. There are of course other ways that Zim could get to Oby , for example he could get in Oby’s face via an SMS to Oby’s phone and charge Oby via her airtime but this would mean going through the same process I listed above but this time with a telco, who just happened to build the bridge to Oby and her phone through SMS and their billing system. Zim could also go through Oby’s bank who have a bridge to Oby ...by virtue of her bank account and their banking halls and ATMs…..or he could choose to get the ears of the ministry of education who have the almighty bridge: Policy.
Now if you can think back to the period I am referring to without the school , the telco, the bank or the government in the equation and you put yourself in the shoes of ZIm trying to reach Oby, you will begin to understand exactly what I mean by the abyss of the great outdoors. It is indeed an abyss: wide, dark and full of things that want to eat you.


The “Open Web” Bridge

Now let us look at a world where there is another bridge...one that connects the tech entrepreneur DIRECTLY to the user without any need for physical meetings and the like. This bridge connects directly from the techie sitting in his self contained house with laptop to the front of the end user. Today it is (or usually is) the open internet, a.k.a the web. That is what i meant by the abyss being more or less fully bridged in countries like the USA and in Europe where the web is ubiquitous and part of everyday life. Most of the population can be reached via this bridge. This (in my opinion) is why the stories abound of great tech companies founded from dorm rooms and garages. The people in these stories had a bridge that linked them to their first real users across the abyss of the great outdoors.


There are a number of things required to cross the bridges built and maintained by the large corporates and government apart from basic entrepreneurship and technical skills. A number of things come to mind first like presentation skills, dressing the part when you show up for meetings, learning the corporate etiquette and culture of the organization that owns the bridge that Zim is trying to cross, negotiation skills because you need to negotiate the toll for crossing their bridge. But then there is the big one: the connections. You do not just stroll up to a telco , school, government agency or bank and say : I want to use your bridge, give me access. You need to speak with the right person or else you will be speaking for years to come with no results.  Now consider if Zim is a pimple-faced guy just fresh from undergrad or in his final year, what do you think are his chances of negotiating the corporate bridge with his sharp brains, bright ideas and coding skills? Particularly in our environment at a time when ageism ( stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age)  and classism (prejudice or discrimination on the basis of social class) ruled the day?  I would say somewhere between slim and nil.
Now this differs from the internet bridge where Zim deploys his app , configures a payment method, does some internet and social media marketing and is up and running...no long thing. The users of his service need not know that Zim is a university undergrad or fresh graduate who came up with this idea while decapitating bottles of beer with his mates 2 weeks ago.


There are however aspects to the open web bridge that are not always obvious or necessary on the corporate bridge for example if Zim are using the internet bridge, Zim has to be ready to carry out 100 different updates to his service in a year if need be because the users (and their usage patterns) demand it. For the corporate bridge this may not be necessary, once the corporate is happy, Zim is happy. Not so on the internet bridge, Zim needs to be on his toes monitoring Oby , her colleagues and their usage patterns. He needs to be able to change his business and marketing model overnight if need be.  He may not always need to do this if he is using the corporate bridge as he has SLAs and licensing agreements to cover his behind.
Also on the internet bridge, user experience is a do or die affair. The ease of use of Zim’s product / service (e.g. where Zim placed a particular button or the font he used for a particular piece of text) could make the difference between Zim being the next Google and his service  being just another waste of internet bandwidth. Not so on the corporate bridge. I you do not believe me, next time you are in a large corporate environment, take a look at their intranet and then take a look at your favorite social network, the difference is 7UP.
Lets not even go into things like recruiting and managing tech and other talent for both scenarios , that is a like 4 different blog posts on its own, the first of which was this one.
Bottomline what I am trying to say is that skills and knowledge needed by Zim to thrive via the open web bridge are different from those needed to thrive on the corporate bridge.


The Spider generation

Now let us come home.
1935-Unfinished-Golden-Gate-Bridge.jpg
Image from www.sycmu.com


On our dear continent, the open web bridge is still being built, policy by policy, base station by base station, dongle by dongle, web-enabled phone by web-enabled phone, app by app, payment system by payment system and awareness event by awareness event. It is a painful process but it is sweet pain (like the type you get from push ups) for those of us who have dedicated our future to the pursuit of success on the African soil. We have slowly moved from when there were only the corporate owned bridges to a time when we have a bridge under construction, this bridge has a few strands connecting both sides which we hope will support the full structure in the years to come.


The new tech companies in Africa that are coming up today are like spiders trying to stretch a web across an abyss, the abyss of the great outdoors. Have you ever wondered how spiders manage to build webs across roads or wide open spaces? Yes? Well then read this short article from the New York Times. In summary I will quote some excerpts directly:


Spiders that build the familiar orb-shaped web usually start with a single superstrength strand called a bridge thread or bridge line.
…..
First, the material for the bridge thread emerges from one of the spider’s specialized silk glands and is formed into a strand by its spinnerets. The loose end is drawn out by gravity or the breeze and allowed to blow in the prevailing wind


And now the most interesting part:


If the strand does not make contact with something and attach to it, the spider may gobble up the strand and recycle its proteins, then try again. If the gap is bridged, the spider reinforces the strand and uses it to start the web.


Does that remind you of any tech startup you have met in Africa in the last 4 years?


These startups are pioneers trying to do stuff that may have been done before in a place where it has never been done before and in a way that it has never been done before. They are not waiting for the bridge to be completely built before they get on...they are on the bridge...building along with (and in many cases ahead of ) the builders. They stand at the edge of the partially built bridge and extend their webs to an unseen and yet unknown destination.
I salute them.
I salute them because they have a lot to teach us, they are in the laboratory….the field laboratory….the laboratory overlooking the depths of the abyss. They are carrying out experiments everyday, many of these experiments fail, a few pass, when it fails, they recycle their energy the way the spider recycles its web proteins and they try again another day. A lot of the lessons they have learnt cannot be thought by any tech entrepreneur or business school in the world be they from Silicon Valley….or Lagos who has not walked in their shoes ….not on this path. Simply because this path has not been walked before. Because there was no path…. it is an abyss.
I salute the likes of Konga, hotels.ng, Iroko, Jobberman to mention a few. I salute all the startups hiding away in the likes of the Co Creation Hub , the iHub, MEST, iSpace, 88mph , IDEA Hub and a host of other incubators and tech hubs scattered around the continent.  I salute you and I root for you because you are the spiders...building a web across the abyss. I salute you because if you manage to build this bridge, it will be a bridge not just to one billion African users...but also to the 5 billion users across the emerging markets of the world.


Let us learn from each other

Yes, there is a lot to learn from the tech entrepreneurs who have found success plying the corporate bridge, things like tech entrepreneurship 101,how to run a company and manage people,  how to scale into the corporate world, how to leverage on corporates for success, how to use what you have to get what you want etc. But when it comes to how to locate , target, convince and convert the man or woman on the African street from scratch , with nothing more than a value proposition and keep them loyal to your brand, there may be a thing or two that the corporate bridge users can learn from the current generation of spiders.
I  know of a number of corporate bridge walkers who are trying to cross over to the open web and are beginning to realize that it is not a walk in the park. They have met with varying degrees of success but are all quick to appreciate that it is a different ball game.


I believe that increased collaboration between the spiders and the corporate bridge walkers will result in this bridge being built faster….with more rewards for all at the end of the bridge. We all have a role to play. Let us think about what it is….and play it.




P.S
I wrote this while listening to this awesome YouTube playlist of Congolese music (I was bitten by the bug in DR Congo this April). If you encounter any typos ...horrible grammar etc, blame it on the playlist. And give me some credit...its a tough job writing and dancing at the same time

Monday, April 1, 2013

No Techies on the front page


I remember sometime in September 2009 when news filtered out that the London Stock Exchange had concluded arrangements to acquire Millennium IT, a Sri Lankan software firm that had just developed and deployed what was at the time the world's fastest financial trading platform with the ability to process about 1 million orders per second for about 18 million pounds ....Sterling.

My excitement knew no bounds. For the next few days it was practically all I could talk about.
So much so that it prompted my then colleague Sogo to ask me:
" O boy why this thing de trip you like this? , in fact....wetin de power you ?"
Which in plain English roughly translates to:
"My friend, why is this news exciting you so much? In fact...what drives you? What are you passionate about?"
At the time I really could not give him a straight answer. I just knew that I was very excited. At the time I told him that the reason for my excitement was manyfold.
One reason was that the company in question was from Sri Lanka, not the US, not Europe.... Not even India but Sri Lanka.
Another reason was that the platform was replacing another one that had been implemented by Accenture, the world renowned ICT consulting company.
This confirmed to me that it was possible to create world class products and services regardless of where you are and where you come from, all you need is the determination to follow standards and best practices regardless of all the obstacles presented by your environment.
Fast forward to this week, about 3 years later and I was chatting with a colleague in Uganda and it dawned on me the real reason I was excited back then and therein the answer to Sogo's question as to what drives me. I told my colleague that my main motivation in my current role was to make it possible for a  local tech driven company to make the front page news for the right reasons in Africa. Maybe this happens once in awhile in Asia, we know it happens every now and again in Europe and the United States but I have never seen it happen in Sub Saharan Africa.
Note that I did not say it has never happened.... I said I have never seen it happen.
And by front page I do not mean the front page of your neighborhood tech magazine or website. I mean front page of your everyday national daily. In Nigeria where I come from that would be the likes of Guardian, Punch and Thisday. In Kenya it would be a paper like the Daily Nation and in Uganda it would be Daily Monitor...or Red Pepper  (I joke!!! , I joke!!!)
Oh and what do I mean by tech driven company? I do not only mean software companies like Millennium IT who spend most of their time creating software for the use of others. I am casting a net wide enough to include all companies that have about 70% of their staff strength made up software engineers, system administrators, system integrators, network engineers, product managers, system analysts and business analysts. But NOT wide enough to include the major mobile telcos .  I would go on to include internet marketing companies and firms specializing in new media in this list.
How many times if ever have you seen any of these making the front page of your national daily in your country? I am not sure it has happened at all in mine.
Sure there are many locally grown and locally run tech driven companies that have created a lot of value and whose owners have done very well for themselves. But how many of them have ever made the front page of your national... Or even regional daily?  Take a look at the front pages today, you will see politicians, bankers, civil servants, religious clergy, top executives of manufacturing companies, the occasional sports man but hardly ever if at all...a techie.
So you ask: so what if a tech driven company makes the front pages for the right reasons? How will that change the price of snuff in Okigwe? Well...it may not directly change the price of snuff in Okigwe but I think it will be an indication that techies and tech entrepreneurs are finally be taken seriously and have been given their rightful place when it comes to contributing to the macro and micro economies of their respective countries. It would mean that the press, politicians, bankers, civil servants, "investors", business peeps and so on would have finally come to see techies as something more than tools....or "whiz kids" to be used and quickly discarded once the promised land is in sight.
What I am saying is very simple: Techies and tech driven companies have not made the front page simply because they have not attained the status worthy of making the front pages, at least in the eyes of the so called “people that matter”. As a technology expert in today’s Africa, when you attend a meeting where your expert opinion is required, and you give your views, you are at best given a sympathetic ear or at worst tolerated. And almost always when its time to discuss the main issues (e.g. the financial aspects) you will be politely excused. To my knowledge there are only two times when you will be given serious attention as a techie in these parts:

  • When there is a an emergency of a technical nature, and someone’s job/reputation is on the line
  • When someone needs someone with some technical expertise to take advantage of an opportunity that could potentially hand them a truckload of cash
As people in technology I am sure you are all too familiar with the first scenario which usually provides the best opportunity to be in the limelight. That limelight usually lasts until shortly after the emergency has been solved and then you are relegated to the background once again.
The second scenario could also be familiar to many people (on both sides of the fence). It is the only time when people see techies as “partners” and treat them with a certain level of respect and appreciation. Its the same old story. The guy(s) with the business acumen and /or cash “partner” with the guy(s) who possess some technical skills to achieve certain goals, usually in a start up. The partnership works out well at the initial stages as both parties operate as a well oiled unit to make things happen. The problem usually starts when the intended goal is close at hand or a certain measure of success has been achieved. This is when you start hearing things like :
“After all I put $XXXX into this business and all he did was write some code ”
“How much did he contribute?”
“I can hire 3 more like him”
For me this proves that the partnership in many cases is just a way to get those technical skills at a cheaper rate and later on in the game turning those “partners” to employees. Do not get me wrong, very few entrepreneurs or investors go into a partnership with the intention of one day turning their partners to employees, but somewhere in the midst of wading through the minefield that is running a tech related business in the challenging African environment, it is very easy to forget who is a partner and who is an employee.
I once wrote about the fact that there are very few if any large scale software companies in Africa. A look at some of the more successful software companies in the United States will show you that they were made up of a combination of technical expertise , business acumen and in some cases some initial cash. Even though sometimes all these three things were present in one person, usually you needed at least two people to make it happen. An example is Apple Computers and the two Steves (Jobs and Wozniak). Now that I think about it, this could be one reason why the large scale software companies have not taken off yet in Africa.
When you treat your technical partner as an employee (as is the case in many parts of this continent) because you own a majority stake and you put in most of the initial funds, you run the risk of him leaving to go and become an employee somewhere else...where he will get paid a lot more. Sure you can hire 5 more people like him to do the job, but you will just be hiring employees, not partners who were willing to spend the night in the office to ensure that version 3.0 shipped on schedule. You will have employees and not partners who like you will lay awake at night thinking of that next differentiating innovation but unlike you have the expertise to implement them. Treating your tech partners like employees will probably not bring about the end of your fast growing startup. But I am willing to bet that it will destroy the chances of your firm ever making the front page news in any national daily.
So if we agree for the sake of argument that techies are not accorded the respect they deserve (sometimes even by their fellow techies who are now wearing the entrepreneurial hat), the next question is whether African techies have done enough on their own part to warrant an invitation to drink at the table of men ( a question that is asked by bankers, politicians, press etc). Have they really pulled off feats worthy of front page headlines?
In my heart i believe that hidden in this current generation of techies are the ones who will eventually find a place on the front pages for tech driven ventures. Discovering and encouraging people like these … is exactly what gets me out of bed in the morning (when i get out of bed in the morning).
I would love to hear what you think.....and oh....if you come across any front page headline that I might have missed...please do share!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I de find developers (Boiling The Ocean)

Forgive me reader for I have sinned, it's been like 10 months since my last blog post.
As usual so much water has passed under the bridge since we last had a chat. The tech ecosystem in Africa continues to make steady progress. While things are still a loooooooooong way from where they could be , there have been a number of positives to gloat about . For example more and more people are beginning to realize the value that tech hubs (or innovation spaces or shared spaces or whatever name you choose to give them) can bring to the ecosystem and have started to support them more. It is also heartening to see more events and competitions in the community ...organized by the community for the community such as the Africa Android Challenge and the Innovation Open Ideas event in Douala Cameroon. Interesting times ahead!!!

Anyways, now to today’s gist. I came across this this article some days back. Its a well written article with a lot of useful insights. I do feel however that it is not telling us anything new, that is unless of course you have been living under the proverbial rock for the past 2 years or so. Pretty much everyone has heard at sometime or the other that Africa is new frontier with the greatest growth prospects and all that jazz. The bit that caught my eye was a single sentence, that i know also caught the eyes of a couple of people.
Though skills are in short supply, they are becoming more abundant
I totally agree with the first phrase of the sentence, the second phrase , while true, is not happening at a fast enough rate to suit me . All over the continent, a number of smart men and women are coming up with wonderful ideas that could change Africa’s fate. From many of these ideas, a number of startup companies have been created and quite a few of these startup companies have been able to get to the market with the first implementation of their awesome idea. Some of them have even been able to go the extra mile and get the first round of funding from an angel investor or two and are now set to commence that long , arduous journey to play in the big league....with the big boys. But there is just one little challenge that they need to meet before the journey can start in earnest. They need to bring on board 2 or 3 new staff. In the software solution/service business, these would most likely be software developers, business analysts or marketers.
Not a month goes by when I do not hear someone say something that sounds like :
“I de find developers” which roughly translates to “I need to hire developers”
And the response to that is:
“What kind of developers?”
And our person replies:
“Java developers, I will send you the job description”

When he does send it, the job description reads something like this:

Job Description:
Work with the Research and Development team to complete the development of our web Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software as well as other web and mobile applications, using Java Technologies on NetbBeans IDE, Oracle Glassfish Server and MySQL Database.

Responsibilities:

  • Collaborate with the Development Team on software design
  • Implement designs created by other team members
  • Work with others to ensure a high level of quality within software
  • Participate in code reviews, design discussions and testing
  • Create technical documentation
  • Correct defects found within product
  • Handle escalated technical support calls

Qualifications and Requirements:

  • Minimum of OND in Computer Science or equivalent
  • At least 1 – 3 year’s experience in a similar role
  • Experience on a client/server, database application development
  • Experience in Web applications development using Java Platform, Enterprise Edition
  • Proficiency in JavaServer Faces Technology, CSS 3, HTML5, PrimeFaces and Richfaces
  • Experience in Mobile application development using Java Platform, Micro Edition
  • To be a highly energetic self-starter
  • Ability to work under tight deadlines
  • Good oral and written communication skills.

Mind you I scraped this JD off a real jobs website.
Looking at the JD , i would say that chances are that this company that put this out is looking to pay at most NGN 80K - NGN 100K (about $500 - $600) per month . Unless they happen to be one of those startups with deep pockets (and believe me they are very rare in this part of the world) then they may be able to up the stakes to NGN 100K to NGN 200K.

Now comes my question.
What do you expect will happen on the day the guys who put up this opening sit down to conduct interviews for the position?
Well let me put on my babalawo (native witch doctor) hat and attempt a prediction.
They are going to get at least 25 resumes out of which only about 6 will look anything like what they are looking for.  After 4 hours of interviewing people, they are going to end up frustrated and pissed off. If they are lucky they will be able to find 1 person that is close enough to what they set out for. They may end up hiring him for lack of a better option with the intention of training him to bring him up to speed. This developer will most likely know a bit of Java and has probably at some point or the other built a basic MVC application using one of the popular Java frameworks. I am almost willing to bet that he would never have used (or even heard of Oracle Glassfish, JavaSeverFaces, Richfaces, Primefaces, HappyFaces, SadFaces or UcheFaces). He will most likely be one or two years out of college having just finished his national youth service (or whatever it is called in your country).

Why do I think this will be the case? Well....I think its quite simple. The dream developer who knows and is proficient with all the things (Faces) listed in the above JD is probably already working happily in a firm where he is being well taken care of (more than 100K) and if you want to get him to move then you should be looking at upping his dough by at least 50% which i am willing to bet will be a tall order for such a startup.
So what happens? You hire this guy (lets call him James) and work hard to bring him up to speed on the frameworks that you use (all the ‘Faces and Glass Fishes) to build stuff in your sweat shop. Typically it takes an average of 60-90 days for a guy like James to become proficient to the point that he can start writing code that you can feel comfortable to ship to your customers (unless of course you are really desperate).  Of course during this time he is earning a salary :-D. And in some unfortunate cases you find out 3 months after hiring James that he just cannot cut it and you need to start thinking of hiring someone else.

So what option do you have?
You could go and poach a guy with all the skills from another company and pay him an armed robber’s salary and of course run the risk of him running off at the first sight of another armed robber’s salary in another company (like guys who move for the sake of armed robber’s salaries usually do)
or you could consider a concept i have been advocating for a while now:
Invest some resources (time or money or both) in training the ecosystem .. yes....attempt to boil the ocean!
This idea came to me in my first job. It was a startup that grew to become a decent company at the time. We got to the stage when we needed to hire developers like every software startup has to. It was not long before we ran into the issues I hinted at above. The reason was simple. At the time we were one of the few software companies in Nigeria that was doing serious J2EE development, utilizing the full J2EE stack. At that time most of the developers around were either PHP or .NET developers. The ones that could really do J2EE were of course working in the then higher paying telcos and the like and would not dream of leaving their relatively cushy jobs to come and sweat it out in a Naija software company. So when the Java team wanted to hire it was always a problem (the PHP and .NET team had it easier at least in my opinion). We ended up with some school leavers whose only contact with Java was a very basic command line app they had written in university but who could code in PHP or in some cases C++ :-D.
So what to do?
Did we hire them anyways and start training them on J2EE? No! We could not afford to do that.
Did we give up on the whole thing, pack up and go home? No!
I’ll tell you what we did, we developed a whole new hiring process that integrated training and recruitment. The process went something like this:

We did a standard interview, which basically consisted of trying to confirm that everything on their resume was true and that they were smart and could think for themselves

After that came the main part: A mini project. At that time it was very simple. Build a simple J2EE Student or Employee Data management system (Basically a CRUD app) for those of us who do not know what a CRUD app is, it is an app that allows you to carry out basic operations on a database: CReate, Update, Delete. In our case we also insisted on a search functionality. This app was to be built from scratch , with no code wizards and no generated code.  You also had to use a particular application server and database management system that just happened to be the same one that we used in-house. In short you had to build it on the same stack that we used in-house. and then the best part....there was NO time limit, you could take as long as you pleased, a day, a week, a month? Have fun! the guarantee was that once you finished the app and were satisfied with it, you could come back and take us through you app. Run it, and walk us through the source code step by step. The moment we were satisfied, you got the job. Simple.
Someone (usually me) was put at the disposal of the candidate in case he had any questions or ran into any issues (I am not sure that stackoverflow existed then) . The candidate was also given URLs to various online resources and tutorials that we felt could help.

The results were interesting.
About 40% of the people who took through this process never came back to defend their project.
About 10% of the candidates dropped off at various stages.
The remaining 50% usually ended up getting hired. They did whatever it took because they wanted the job. They borrowed laptops, worked out of cybercafes and made serious sacrifices to make sure that their projects were completed. On average it took them slightly more than a month to complete the project and come and defend it. Many of them showed up in between to ask for help in troubleshooting thorny issues and finding bugs which was duly given.
With this approach we found that :
  • The ramp up time from when they were hired to when they could start creating shippable code was about a month as against the 60 - 90 days that i mentioned before
  • They understood the basics of J2EE development from the ground up
  • Their loyalty level was AWESOME
  • With time it came to be known far and wide (even in some universities ) that if you wanted to be hired by the place where i worked, you needed to know J2EE, with special attention on the stack that we used and with time, people showed up from school with their app in hand, pretty much ready to be hired
  • I dare say that every single one of them is amongst the top Java developers in Nigeria today. Infact if there is any company that has used Java extensively and has ever had a Java team with more than 7 developers, that company has most likely housed one of our alumni :-)

I would highly recommend this approach for startups out there that are looking to hire young developer talent. Do not take it for granted that you will find fresh developers who have a deep knowledge of you coding methodology especially when you have never taken time to impart this knowledge to them. You should even take it a step further and reach out to the developers in the community before they come to you to ask for a job. Offer to hold free trainings to introduce people to how you do what you do. Teach them your frameworks (Richfaces, PoorFaces and Dullfaces :-D) and all the stuff that you are crazy about . Not only will you be giving back but also you never know, the company you save may be your own.
One question that always comes up is : what happens if I invest all of this energy and the guy leaves for another company? or he gets hired by someone else before i can hire him? Well...my guy thats the same risk that you run if you hire and train people except in this case that the rewards are far greater.

I have already seen a few people who adopt this approach and I want to take this opportunity to applaud them. The likes of Chuka of MircoSmart and Ehi of Rancard who take out time from their busy schedules to enrich the community with skills that could make the difference in the real world. This approach also goes beyond software or technical skills, it applies to pretty much any field of endeavor.
The Industry MUST play a greater role in educating the community for us to reach our full potential and by industry I do not mean the big boys....even the small startups and growth stage companies have a lot to offer.

Abeg forgive any typos or horrible grammar.....as usual I was half asleep when i wrote this :-D will probably spend the next few days correcting them.