What an Engineer Looks Like

This past weekend, an Andela engineer from Nigeria named Celestine Omin made his first trip to the United States. He’s not what many in Silicon Valley think of when they imagine a stereotypical software engineer. Celestine — a tall, lanky 28-year-old Nigerian who just became a father — is a leading figure in the Lagos, Nigeria technology scene. A finalist in the U.S. State Department’s Science & Technology competition and the first software developer at Konga, Nigeria’s largest e-commerce site, Celestine was flying to New York from Lagos to work with one of Andela’s partner companies.While it had been a long trip, things had gone fairly smoothly. When Celestine got to customs, however, that all changed. Although he had complied with all visa and immigration protocols, he was brought into a small room where he was told he didn’t look like a software engineer and was asked to take a coding exam -- after 23 hours of travel -- to prove it. Upon his release three hours later, Celestine tweeted about his ordeal of trying to enter the U.S. as an African engineer. Within 24 hours, over four thousand people had retweeted it. Within 48 hours, that was up to seven thousand, and his inbox was flooded by dozens of major news outlets requesting an interview.Celestine’s visit is a standard part of Andela’s process to seek out the most talented engineers in Africa and embed them within elite technology teams around the world. Developers across Africa apply to Andela and, if accepted, complete an intensive six month process to hone their technical and leadership skills. We then pair our developers with one of our company partners and fly them to the company headquarters for two weeks of face time with their new team. Afterward, Andela engineers return to our headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria or Nairobi, Kenya where they work as distributed global team members.Andela solves an urgent recruiting challenge facing technology companies today: there are five job openings for every software developer looking for a job in the United States. Africa, meanwhile, has the youngest, fastest-growing population on earth, with more people joining the labor force over the next 20 years than the rest of the world combined. Over the past three years, Andela has been working to close the talent gap by helping tech employers build the most competitive engineering teams by thinking differently about what talent looks like and where it comes from. The smartest tech leaders today understand that talent is evenly distributed, and that tomorrow’s 10x engineers will not just be young men in hoodies coding into the night on Ivy League campuses. The technologists of tomorrow will be every race, gender and religion, and they will hail from every corner of the globe — from Silicon Valley to Sub Saharan Africa.America’s lack of technical talent will be the greatest challenge facing the tech industry over the next decade. Without enough engineers, American companies are unable to grow and unable to create more jobs. The best engineering firms realize that top talent can be found anywhere in the world, which is why more and more are moving toward a distributed model of work to hire the best people, regardless of location.Celestine was not looking to immigrate to the United States. He’s a proud Nigerian whose life and young son are in Lagos. American companies are fortunate to have the opportunity to convince someone like Celestine, of whom there are far too few in the world, to work with them from afar. If anything, they need much more of it if they intend to overcome the deficit in engineering talent.If we want America to lead the future of work, we need to be the convener of talent. To do that, we need to reimagine what a team member can do, and where they can do it from. If leaders in this country — from established CEOs, to newly minted founders, to government officials — don’t embrace the fact that talent is not based on what you look like or where you are from, as the tech sector so fervently has, we will be left behind. Celestine, who followed all the rules, deserved better. If we want to maintain our position in the world or, better yet, enhance it, we need to do better.Jeremy Johnson, Co-Founder and CEO, Andela Christina Sass, Co-Founder and COO, AndelaIf you're interested in extending your engineering team with world-class developers, reach out here.

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