A 2020 report by e-Conomy Africa in collaboration with the International Finance Corporation and Google revealed a growing tech talent pool in Africa.
It says there are 700,000 professional tech developers across Africa, with more than 50% concentrated in five African markets: Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa. The number is expected to keep rising.
The report says Nigeria has 83,609 developers, the third highest in the continent, trailing South Africa (118 541) and Egypt (86,599 developers).
It implies that Nigeria is fast becoming a tech centre in the continent as local and cross-national demands for developer talents surge.
Prime Progress’ VICTOR AGI spoke with Emmanuel Adirije on how he became a sought-after tech engineer and software developer in the University town of Nsukka. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell us about your background, education, and career choices growing up?
Adirije: I am Adirije, Emmanuel Chukwuemeka, a native of Onitcha Amiyi, a community in Abia state. I studied Computer Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). I am an experienced Laravel and VueJS Full-stack engineer.
I am currently a Senior Full-stack Engineer at Curacel Systems Ltd. As a full-stack engineer, I can fill in both the backend and frontend (full stack) engineering roles during the planning and development of web applications.
As a primary school pupil, I dreamed of being a medical doctor. But I soon found out I hated the sight of blood, and when I progressed to secondary school, my dislike for chemistry and its terminologies finally roused my doctor slumber.
Then I decided to study banking and finance. But again, when I was gifted a desktop computer set by my guardian, my fascination with it soon turned to obsession. When it was time to register for WAEC and JAMB, it was computer science or nothing for me.
At what point did you settle for software development and IT generally? What were your earliest experiences settling for tech?
Adirije: I got the gift in JSS 3 (junior secondary 3). Aside from games, one of the first useful things I learnt how to do was to browse the internet. Not long, I started to ask myself some questions: How did all that information get there? Will it be possible for me to add my own? In search of answers, I started learning about websites on my own.
By the time I got to SS2, my mind was already set on studying computer science. But computer science is broad. During my first year, I got the chance to learn about the different paths I could follow, such as hardware, software, and data centre management. In third year, after taking courses in all the paths, I realized I enjoyed the software classes more.
Sometime in 2017, a friend who was two years my junior when we met in school asked me for help developing a web application for his B.Sc. thesis. Although I had no experience designing websites, I decided to learn it. Much like I did during my thesis, I started reading books on web development and used his project to practice what I learnt. After about four months, the project (my first web application) was ready.
How difficult can breaking through in tech generally be? What has been your personal experience as a developer? At what point did you gain mastery and break through into the sector?
Adirije: Breaking into tech can be daunting, especially in present times. Most companies would prefer hiring an experienced developer on high wages to hiring a junior and investing in their growth. This is because of the enormous competition between tech companies.
Sometime in August 2019, my classmate who had a software as a service (SaaS) product reached out to me and asked if I would like to join. It was just the two of us; he did the development while I wrote the technical documentation and user guides. He had been granted a workspace at RoarHub, UNN. There, I met other developers from start-ups, and my network grew—one of the start-ups offering training services offered to hire me part-time to teach its students.
Now, developers are generally smart people, and I had to be on top of my game to be able to lecture them. It was at this point that I gained mastery in web development. As my freelancing career grew, I had to leave the teaching job to focus on it full-time.
Today, software development and tech are gradually becoming the new oil for young people like yourself. What do you think is responsible for this interest in tech among young people?
Adirije: The tech community is welcoming, and everyone looks out for one another. The seniors do their best to make the beginners feel at home. And the wages are awesome. You do not need a university degree to get into tech; just have something to prove that you can deliver. The best part is that you can work from anywhere in the world.
What markets are available for software developers in Nigeria, and is there any support system for beginners?
Adirije: The market for software engineers is global, and a Nigerian developer can be based in Nigeria and work for any company anywhere in the world. There are many support systems: from online forums such as StackOverflow to tutorial websites such as w3schools to freecodecamp to blogs and Twitter spaces of seasoned pros looking to give back to the community.
What platforms helped you develop? Can you share some of those available platforms for others to explore?
Adirije: When I started, I read lots of programming books, and I had at least three books from different authors covering the same topic. This helped me to compare and better understand the subject. Some of these resources are:
- Java: How to Programme by P. Deitel and H. Deitel
- Java Network Programming by E. R. Harold
- CSS Mastery by A. Budd and E. Bjorklund
- Learning MySQL and MariaDB by R. Dyer
- PHP for Absolute Beginners by T. B. Hansen & J. Lengstorf.
- Tutorial websites such as w3schools.com, freecodecamp.org and tutorialspoint.com
- Online forums such as stackoverflow.com and laracasts.com (for Laravel developers)
- YouTube: there are lots of channels covering various aspects of tech stuff.
Tell us about the limitations and challenges young developers in Nigeria and Africa face in their effort to break through in tech. What policies and systems are drawbacks for youths hoping to develop in tech in Nigeria and Africa?
Adirije: The major challenge here is having access to a personal computer. The price of laptops has risen post-COVID. A laptop I got for N89,000 in March 2020 now costs N180,000. This poses a challenge for most people.
Tech thrives on innovation. The web is getting saturated with ideas, giving birth to fields such as blockchain. We all know the government’s position on cryptocurrencies, the pioneering product of blockchain technology. Things like that are worrying. When the web started, it took years for us to catch up. With the government banning cryptocurrencies, we are at risk of repeating history.
From your experience, what tech skills sell better currently and which ones are obsolete, and why?
Adirije: The top-selling tech skill is programming. At the heart of any tech product is coding. Whether it is a web application, mobile or system app, programmers are essential in turning the idea into a usable service and maintaining it once it has hit the market.
Obsolete tech skills are Manual Quality Assurance tests and SQL. Most developers already have these skills. Application frameworks these days are equipped with ORMs (Object Relational Mappers) that allow developers to interact with databases without writing SQL. With the rise of automated Unit and Feature tests, developers can write code that can automatically test the functionality of their applications.