by Chukwukere Okpani
The tech industry in Nigeria is getting more attention and there are certainly, loads of untapped potential. Adeola Allison worked with IBM for 18 years in different capacities, now she is committed to helping young, local hopefuls build their talents in IT.
ALL54 has been around for some time and has produced young IT experts whose careers took form after they trained with the firm, for free.
We caught up with Adeola Allison at the CyberXchange Conference and in this interview with YNaija’s #Impact365, she shares details of her firm, how it stands out from Andela and how they’ve affected lives of young technology-inclined Nigerians.
Tell us what you do
My name is Adeola Allison, CEO and Co-Founder of ALL54, an IT talent development and IT service implementation firm. We focus on building and developing talent across Africa. We provide opportunities for local talents with private and public companies or you can look at it from the angle that we use local talents to deliver IT project.
Can you say it is similar to the idea of Andela?
In a sense. Andela uses local talents to deliver projects for mostly foreign companies. A lot of Andela talents are out-sourced. They are here in Africa with clients abroad. Our goal is to make sure that companies in Africa have access to world class local talents which is really high quality and at a very affordable price.
So, does ALL54 organize the training?
We partner with technology vendors, like IBM, Facebook, and others. Prior to founding this company I worked with IBM for 18 years both in the US, East Africa and West Africa. My time in Africa was what actually inspired this work. I noticed that most of our clients had a challenge laying their hands on local talents. Our role is to sell them these software(s) and get them started, but ultimately we want to be responsible for maintaining and providing solutions. The real challenge is getting local talents to maintain and deliver IT projects.
Are the tutors local or foreign?
Well, a lot of multinational companies we partner with have a presence here in Africa so we get local trainers from them. We (ALL54) also have staff that train these local talents and all our trainings are free. We don’t charge because the multinationals we partner with are mostly concerned with the fact that they want their solutions known in the market.
A major concern at the beginning was that people were complaining – they realize that most Andela staff are learning on the job and were not getting it done as well as the clients want?
Right, Andela is doing a great job, but our module is different in the sense that Andela focuses on programming languages and testing but we have taken a solution-centric approach, richly for careers. We have different career paths which are being defined based on market demand; cyber security is one career path, business prospect management. We have a curriculum we work with and it’s not a far-fetched curriculum because most universities in Nigeria and the rest of Africa are already adopting this curriculum to train and certify their students on specific career tracks. So for whomever we recruit we take them through these rigorous training process. In addition to that, we provide them with customers and also we still engage in managing and finishing the projects. So, we provide clients with that confidence that not only are we providing you with skilled resources at a very cheap rate that you can’t find anywhere else, but we also still engage in managing your project to make sure it is delivered to requirements.
So, what is the end-game for your students? Are they working to own their own IT firms?
Again, we take a career-centric approach. I’ll give you an example of some of the projects we have worked on. Looking back, some of the young people I worked with in 2013, three years later, 70% of them have gone on to either start up their technology related businesses or are gainfully employed by technology professionals. Practically all of them went on to say the training inspired their IT careers. It is the same module we are looking to replicate in the others where there is no requirements to access our resources. If they excel on projects we put them on, our clients are welcome to approach them with deals. We organize Hackathons and then come with creative ideas and make them feasible. If any of their ideas catches any of the investors’ interests they could invest in them and we have presence here in Africa and in the United States. Our end-goal in the long-run is to provide our local IT talents in Africa with business opportunities in IT related profession. There are a lot of opportunities in the IT environment besides just being a developer. I spent 18 years of my IT career at IBM, I probably spent 5-7 years as a developer where I was a major performer. My goal, honestly, is to help young developers in Africa, young IT talents and aspiring IT talents to understand that there are so many opportunities in the IT. There’s opportunity as a front end developer, back end developer, there’s opportunity as a tester, there’s opportunity in content – as a user – there’s opportunity as a marketing person, technical person; exploiting these opportunities across boards. We open them up to these opportunities through on-the-job experiences that we give them; they can get access to these opportunities, be it with our partners, be it with our clients, be it with our venture capital partners and sometimes even on their own. Some of them, even without investments, can catch the bug – the entrepreneurial bug, looking at our brochure you can see that about 30% are entreprenuers another 40% of them are employed. Our module is to empower African’s talent pool to acquire these skills and develop solutions to Africa using opportunities wherever it exists
How long does the training typically take to complete?
Typically, it takes about 3 months from when we identify the talent to when we take them through the process, but for some it takes longer to get certified.
So, there’s a certification process?
All of our students are taken through the curriculum and we access where they are, we access them across the board; programming, cognitive thinking skills, soft skills, career interest, so we do a general accessibility of them so we use that to recommend them to experts. The training generally takes 3 weeks to 3 months. Like some of our developers here, they didn’t go through any of our training. So what we do is we bring them into hackathon scenarios like this [cyberXchange hackathon] and over a period of two days, we get to choose the ones that have the base level skills. So what we do is identify the talents to where the client need these skills, we bring them together to actually develop a prototype for the client. The client will give the requirements and they will pick the ones they are comfortable with. The training never ends as we keep monitoring and mentoring them. The developers in Africa are not there yet, the on-the-job training continues. There’s also a payment process based on the projects they partake in.
Between the undergraduate and graduate recruits, which of them have shown greater potential?
To be honest, I think they have shown the same level of success because we take them through the same rigorous process. It’s like we put all of them in a funnel and those that come out on the other end of the funnel, we put on the projects.
The previous question is to identify the trend. Does the undergraduate feel like his or her options are still open compared to a graduate?
There’s a slight variation, with the graduate, we offer some kind of internship while the undergraduate they work from school as we don’t expect them to abandon school for this.
How many people are on board?
We are currently on-boarding like 15 for a project in Kenya and we have a couple of projects in our pipeline. over the course of 6 months, we will be on-boarding close to 100 including some of the people here participating in the Hackathon.
What is the level of involvement of women in tech?
There are not as many as could be. It is global thing, basically. It is general but we’re trying to get more women on board. Here at the CyberXchange Hackathon, there’s only one team that has a lady in it so this reflects the defect that pervades the industry gender-wise. We’re working with schools to include young female students in the curriculum and cut off that bias.