The developer ecosystem in Africa is in bloom; by the day, developer communities in the continent are growing in number, in skill, and in diversity. And there’s no denying that a good number of upcoming tech experts and influencers in Sub-Saharan Africa have grown from the thriving developer communities (some even starting these communities), where they convene, both online and offline, to share, to learn, and to mentor.Ghana continues to be a front-runner in Africa as the continent’s tech ecosystem scales exponentially; what with the 119% mobile phone penetration (Jumia Report, 2018), which can arguably translate to equivalently putting a computer in a good number of people’s hands in Ghana. And, with Accra being a hub of tech and entrepreneurship in Africa, I was interested in finding out what the contribution of tech communities and its enablers has been. So I set out to Accra in March 2019 to convene the 1st ever Roundtable with Tech Influencers and Leaders in the Ghana tech ecosystem, with 3 goals in mind:1. To better understand the tech communities in Ghana and their role in nurturing technical talent to be more competitive (in employability or otherwise). Do tech communities contribute to bridging the skill gap observed post-university ahead of employment? Is there any value-add that can move a graduate who joins a tech community to be super competitive in the market either on a freelance front or employability? What’s missing in this equation that tech communities come in to fill?2. To engage the sponsors or enablers of these tech communities, who in most cases provide resources (finances, space, et al) to support the convening of the tech communities, is there any benefit for them?3. To have in-depth conversations with the conveners of the tech communities, commonly known as community leads. It might not seem so from the outside, but the reality is most of the conveners of developer communities fully volunteer their time and effort (aka expecting no pay) to bring together the communities periodically to fill in a talent gap they’ve observed amongst the tech talent. Which then begs the question; what are the upsides (as well as downsides) for them?Here are the top insights from the roundtable (very heated, engaging, informative, and eye-opening for all in the room as well):
Ghanaian tech communities might not be as many or as large as in other Sub-Saharan Africa countries, but one thing is that they do a good job, not only in convening meetups and tech events but also ensuring maximum cross-collaboration amongst themselves for maximum skill transfer. They also have a notable community focused on women in tech who are passionate about technology.Here’s a list of some of the notable tech communities in Accra:1. Developers in Vogue (focused on Women in Tech in Ghana) - what really stood out in this chapter is how active they are in the community with amazing success stories of ladies who’ve gotten globally competitive work opportunities.2.Women Techmakers Accra - WTM is Google ‘s program that focuses on providing visibility, community, and resources to Women in Technology. The Accra chapter has over 400 members and upcoming/past meetups can be found on Meetup.com.3. Facebook Developer Circles Accra - with over 1200 members, Facebook DevC in Accra brings together developers in the region for tech-related meetups and challenges supported by Facebook.4.Forloop Ghana - this is an independent network of developers and tech enthusiasts across Ghana, a community that gives a platform to showcase great products built by Ghanaian developers as well as mentorship and learning opportunities led by seasoned engineers in Ghana. It’s maiden event happened in Nov 2017.5.GDG Accra - this community, with over 1900 members, brings together developers who are in Google technologies.6. DevCongress - DevCongress is a developers' movement aimed at becoming the most vibrant across the software developers space in Ghana and Africa. The objectives are anchored around; growing software engineers, providing resources, contributing to open source, and bridging the talent and challenges in Ghana for local solutions.
The first thing that rings whenever they hear of a sponsor is something that has financial ties. Well, as much as finances are a key part of sustaining tech communities, this isn’t the only resource that is needed to keep such communities afloat. From the roundtable, it was clear that there are other important factors that tend to be overlooked, but which make a huge difference whenever present; like;1. Space to convene meetups (e.g. in tech hubs such as Impact Hub, iSpace)2. Updated resources to run impactful meetups (e.g. )3. Availability of experts and leaders to share their experiences in the craft, and so on and so forth.4. Learning institutions, such as MEST, NIIT, Ghana THINK Foundation, GIMPA School of Technology, etc, who support and invest in techies and tech entrepreneursSponsors and enablers within the tech communities, therefore, need to think beyond monetary support into other forms of resources that can boost the quality and growth of such communities.
- Conveners of tech communities
The tech community leads in Ghana, aka conveners, might be deemed as silent all-stars. They might not make all the noise online, on social, etc, but I realized that they are highly respected within the tech ecosystem (respect here being a result of combined factors including them being really good at what they do technically or otherwise, them going an extra mile to ensure their communities are up and running regardless of availability of sponsors, them championing stellar tech talent whenever they spot it, etc).As a result, the meetups or events they convene are well attended, and this translates to strong, growing communities.From the roundtable, and my observation from being a community convener a few years back, there’s a number of things that could be great to consider (for all the 3 groups above) as we look at growing the communities and ecosystem at large:
- There needs to be a value add whenever a tech community convenes for a meetup. This can range from beginner/introductory workshops, theoretical or walk-throughs - always a bonus to include hands-on sessions, where participants can try out the skill being passed on.
- Sponsors/enablers within the tech ecosystem need to be open with the talent gap/skill gap they have observed when looking for talent to engage with on projects, for employment, to refer for other opportunities, et al.
- Always a bonus if communities convening meetups/tech events can align their focus to the gaps identified above; PS: this does not mean we become salesy and call for meetups to preach a brand, no. It calls for the conveners to be meticulous in ensuring there is a tangible end goal that takes attendees a level up from where they were before attending
- Increasingly document and showcase the skill and expertise within the tech ecosystem in Ghana. It can be anything from success stories, projects undertaken, experiences working with a tool/product/platform, to upcoming tech events, etc. This is the way to ensure that top tech talent pool in Ghana is visible on a global platform. Some Ghana editorials and news outlets can be utilized for this, including; TechNovaGH, Gharage.com, AFD Tech Talk, Citi TV, etc.
++++I firmly believe there is a constant need for entities looking for talent within the tech ecosystem to give back to that ecosystem in ways that ensure the talent therein continues to be nurtured. And for tech communities within the ecosystem to continue convening meetups that level up the community in one way or another towards making them world-class. We need to ensure this lifecycle is not only complete but also continuous.