For two years, a quiet technological revolution has been underway in a busy second-floor office block in the heart of Ethiopia’s rapidly developing capital Addis Ababa.
This revolution has seen home-grown Ethiopian software developers outsourced to companies ranging from startups in New York to French multinationals in Senegal – not to mention flagship Ethiopian businesses just around the corner.
Gebeya – meaning “marketplace” in Amharic – believes it can supply Africa’s IT industry with the talent it needs to become a global digital leader.
CEO Amadou Daffe is steadfast in his commitment to Africa’s tech revolution and has implemented a business model to follow suit.
With 400 developers already on the books, his aims are clear: “Gebeya should resonate in the next five years as the best company to get tech talent from in Africa.”
Africa’s institutional ecosystem for producing software engineers is lacking.
While Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt have decent higher education facilities covering science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, the vast majority of African countries lack academic expertise.
As a result, many companies, whether foreign or local, hit a talent barrier when looking to grow their technological functions, resulting in the importation of disproportionately expensive expert knowledge.
Daffe describes Africa’s approach to building its tech industry as putting the cart before the horse.
“Without the talent you can have all the great ideas in the world, but you won’t be able to implement,” he says.
“I believe that the only way we can even have the proper tech industry – and one which can eventually globally compete – is for the talent to be proven first.”
Gebeya, for its part, has been training talent through an education facility in its Addis academy.
While Ethiopia has a good supply of science and technology graduates, many lack the specialisation needed to work to international software standards.
Gebeya finetunes these graduates through a training programme offered on a four- to six-month period to produce a professional software engineer.
Instead of top-down lectures, senior industry practitioners guide the aspiring developers through the entire process of building a product by the end of the course with a particular industry in mind.
The end result is market-ready software engineers.
“Right now we are building a brand; we want to control the quality; we want to control everything,” concludes director of operations Bekure Tamirat.
“When a bank comes to us, for example, our developers are ready.”
This model has attracted significant attention from stakeholders in Ethiopia’s technological development.
Gebeya received a $500,000 fund from the International Finance Corporation to bring 250 women up to international standard, which should pave the way for a gender balanced technological future.
Daffe believes the training will provide women with the tools necessary to become well-paid software engineers as well as digital entrepreneurs, thereby creating immeasurable benefit for the society and economy at large.
In a similar fashion, the Ethiopian government believes Gebeya is a key locomotive in the country’s technological development.
The two parties have signed a memorandum of understanding and plan to train 5,000 developers over the next five years.
Daffe explains how this collaboration is a necessary move towards developing and strengthening innovation in Ethiopia:
“The Ministry of Innovation and Technology recognises the impact that the private sector – especially startups such as Gebeya – can have in the overall education, technology and economic ecosystem.”
Through the partnership, the government is essentially seeking to secure its future supply of tech talent as it begins to put greater stock in technology as a means to development.
Gebeya is therefore preparing young tech professionals with a focus in artificial intelligence and blockchain training – two digital areas which will soon come to define a country’s tech competitiveness.
Daffe’s company in fact made its largest leap towards a steady stream of talent last summer when it acquired Coders4Africa (C4A).
Operating as a not-for-profit, C4A leverages development finance institution (DFI) money to train coders around Africa in pursuit of the continent’s technological advancement.
Daffe co-founded C4A before exiting in 2015 to focus on Gebeya.
With offices in Africa and North America, the acquisition gives Gebeya access to over 3,500 developers who can easily merge into the Gebeya model.
These coders require only a short onboarding course before being exposed to Gebeya’s marketplace and the possibility of entering into lucrative engineering contracts.