Kenya is considered one of the leading nations for information technology (IT) in Africa, but many projects go to international companies in the USA and India because Kenyan software developers lack the necessary experience to manage major contracts.
Andy Haxby, Director of the Dutch IT company Competa IT B.V., wants to change that. He is keen to help Kenyan companies acquire new customers with bigger projects – and to give more Kenyan contracts to local software developers rather than continually outsourcing work internationally.
Competa was keen to gain a foothold on the African market but needed skilled local software developers well versed in the methods and standards of the IT sector.
The search for experts, however, proved difficult: Kenyan software developers are skilled at programming but lack practical experience in project management. Complex assignments are therefore not easy to manage. If Haxby wanted to be successful in the Kenyan marked, he needed to act.
Haxby researched potential partners and support programmes and discovered that only one merited consideration. He embarked on a development partnership with sequa gGmbH, commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) develoPPP.de-programme.
The aim of the partnership was to provide practical training for Kenyan software developers to enable them to access the global market. Competa cooperated with two local IT companies, BTI Millman Ltd and Dew CIS Solutions.
To provide practical training for the software developers, Competa worked with sequa to develop a training programme called CodePamoja. Developers in Kenya use video chat to interact with their peers in the Netherlands and collaborate on joint projects – it is an international approach to training, in which Dutch experts mentor the Kenyan participants.
As one Kenyan participant explains: ‘I used to work alone, so everything took a long time. Here, I’m learning to work as part of a team and share tasks.’ The title of the training programme – CodePamoja – means ‘programming together’ and was chosen to reflect the cooperation between software developers in Kenya and the Netherlands.
During training courses, trainees learn modern methods of managing Agile software development projects, such as Scrum. These methods are common in the ITsector, but as very few customers know anything about software development, their demands in terms of the end product are often vague.
As a result, Scrum foregoes rigid specifications and deadlines in favour of regular discussions – as a team or with the customer – so that programming can be adapted on an ongoing basis. Kim Massaro, Technical Manager at Competa, says: ‘We start each day with a stand-up meeting to share progress. That way, we can tackle problems before they cause delays.’
The main benefit of the methods is to help developers structure their projects and streamline complex processes. One trainee sums up the benefits: ‘A project used to take me up to six months: with Agile, I can do it in less than a month. I can now break large projects down into smaller chunks, which means I can keep a closer eye on progress and act on customers’ requests more rapidly and accurately.’
Enthusiasm for the new methods is also reflected in the jobs that trainees go on to: Massaro says: ‘The training has given the Kenyan software developers practical experience that opens up new job opportunities. And now they want to share those opportunities with others.’
To embed Agile project management methods sustainably, 17 trainees have also been trained as ‘Scrum masters’ and are now passing on their knowledge to other developers.
Not content simply to train software developers, Competa has gone further and introduced Fair Trade standards in its work in Kenya. This breaks new ground in the IT sector, as no software or IT services company has previously been Fair Trade certified.
Competa took the initiative and set up a non-profit organisation to establish Fair Trade principles in the software development sector. Its initiative has been a success, with four further companies signing up and committing to implementing Fair Trade practices in the IT sector.
80 of the 90 trainees have gone on to work as self-employed programmers or have found a job using their skills in a local IT company. Six have set up their own business in the IT sector.
Dickson Mutuma is one of them. He believes that would have been impossible without the expertise he gained during the project: ‘I learned a lot during my time with CodePamoja, but it’s only since I’ve been running my own projects that I have seen the impact the training has had on my company and on my life.’
The training has enabled the Kenyan partners BTI Millman Ltd and Dew CIS Solutions to compete internationally and secure a major contract with Barclays Bank to set up a mobile customer management system across seven African countries.
Eileen Ndegwa works for Barclays in the area of corporate development and is responsible for commissioning projects. She is positive about Scrum: ‘Scrum has enabled us to integrate requests in a timely manner. We’ve been able to adapt the app to our sales team’s needs on an ongoing basis. Now our advisors are able to recruit new customers in rural as well as urban areas.’
For Andy Haxby, finding the develoPPP.de-programme was a real stroke of luck: ‘The scale of the develoPPP.de programme is just right for a mid-sized company like ours to try out an idea without having to commit to an excessively large investment.’
The project has also produced unexpected benefits. As well as acquiring new customers, Competa has also attracted new generations of talent keen to work for the company in the Netherlands. ‘CodePamoja has helped us enhance our reputation and develop our brand. We used to find it difficult to recruit enough young developers, but the develoPPP.de project has raised our profile among graduates. Over the past month alone, we have taken on 30 interns and trainees keen to work in international teams,’ says Haxby.
The development partnership has enabled Haxby to recruit skilled experts and successfully tap into the Kenyan market. And Competa is now planning further investment in Africa, as Haxby explains: ‘We’ve learned from our experience with CodePamoja and we believe we can do even better next time in terms of managing the programme.’
He wants to roll out the Kenyan experience with sequa in other countries in East Africa with the support of GIZ’s regional network – and, once again, with help from develoPPP.de.