Wambui Kinya is Wambui Kinya is the Chief Strategy Officer at Andela, a technology company that helps​ ​companies build high performing​ ​distributed engineering teams to overcome the tech talent​ ​shortage. Image: Supplied.
JOHANNESBURG - Wambui Kinya is the ​c​hief ​s​trategy ​o​fficer at Andela—​ ​a​​ New York-based startup helping companies overcome tech talent shortages by delivering high performing distributed engineering teams that leverage some of Africa's finest coding talent.

Kinya joined Andela in July 2016 after spending over eighteen years working within the professional services space - spanning digital, mobile marketing and technology consulting - in North America, Europe and Africa for companies such as ThoughtWorks (where she notably served as Group Managing Director for Pan-Africa and South America), Praekelt Consulting and IBM Global Business Services.​ ​In her current role, Kinya has been tasked with developing partnerships with top tech organizations across the continent and with spearheading Andela's tech leadership recruitment efforts.

​At Africa Tech Summit Kigali 2018 last month, ​Kinya joined me for ​a candid ​podcast interview for AfricanTechRoundup.com in which I asked her to unpack Andela's distinctive approach to capitalising on the global gig economy trend. I also asked her to address some misconceptions that outsiders like me tend to have about how things work at what’s easily one of Africa's most-publicised startups.

I’m probably not the only long-distance Andela watcher who senses that the firm is practically drowning in first-world privilege. After all, they’re tight with Mark Zuckerberg, they appear to have zero problems reeling in venture capital and attracting top-notch talent, and with many of Africa’s best young coders falling all over themselves to ​get​ recruited by Andela, it’s fair to say that company exudes a distinctive Harvard-esque ‘glamour lives here’ vibe.​ ​When I put this view to Kinya, she was keen to set me straight, saying that while Andela’s ability to fundraise with ease is helpful, it doesn’t eliminate the on-going challenge of chasing profitability by successfully scaling a business that trades on delivering reliably on world-class service.

According to Kinya, 15 to 20 people are being added to Andela’s ranks every month to keep up with demand. She also explained that despite appearances, executing the recruitment efforts to seek out developers who embody Andela’s values from the onset, the operational planning required to cover basics like securing adequate physical space to house a growing team​,​ and the deployment of effective business development strategy is no mean feat.

When asked to address some of the most common misconceptions people tend to have about Andela, Kinya lead with, “We are not a school. We identify talent and take them through a four-year leadership programme.” Essentially, Andela looks to recruit coders who already possess all the necessary technical and leadership qualities that their enterprise clients around the world are looking to rope into their engineering setups on a full-time basis. 

During this four-year “learning journey”, the company aims to attract, equip and deploy coders who not only possess a mastery of various technology stacks, but who also intuitively express empathy, consistently act on their curiosity and lead by collaboration.

Meanwhile, there are murmurings on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria that Andela is contributing to the overseas brain drain problem, and that the “Andela effect” is resulting in local businesses finding hiring costs for developers increasingly inhibitive. Some critics have openly called into question the near PR-perfect wholesomeness of Andela’s gig economy aspirations. Speaking to both points, Kinya told me that such contentions are baseless, citing the fact that of Andela’s 1,000 employees located in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and the US, 930 reside on the continent. Further, she argues that the company can’t be faulted for offering Africa’s top developers enviable global experience with leading companies based outside the continent, and for providing a progressive work environment.

Kinya says that Andela doesn’t pay developers above market rate and that perhaps we should all be more concerned about corporates who seem intent on undervaluing IT talent. She claims that it’s not uncommon for their top people to turn down sizeable salary offers that they’ve been made elsewhere in favour of staying with Andela, and she reckons that there are many other factors beyond money matters that inform the choice to work for them over others.​ ​Kinya did grant, however, that at present, most of their clients (or “partners” as she called them) are overseas entities, and that signing on African corporates across all major sectors is a major strategic priority for ​them.

When asked if Andela’s annoying (to me, at least) link to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative aka Facebook Foreign Aid has resulted in any reputational liability to the company, Kinya told me that all their investor-investee relationships are fairly straightforward and don’t impede their mission in the least. She did concede, however, that Andela took delight in surprising more than a few people by appointing CRE Venture Capital - an outfit run by the South African Pule Taukobong and the Zimbabwean Pardon Makumbe – to lead their Series C last year which was valued at USD40 million. Kinya believes that the move demonstrated Andela’s commitment to being a key part of the continent’s future, and that it signalled to all new and existing investors, that they were not prepared to compromise their keen Africa-focus.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that I pressed Kinya to give me a sense of when, all hype aside, Andela might graduate from Africa’s startup darling to being a profitable business. But alas, Kinya wasn’t about to give away any such details. I had settle for her sincere assurance that Andela’s profitability is “within sight”.