Andela, the San Francisco-based company that develops African software engineers, has announced that it is laying off hundreds of developers and staff in Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda. The company, which counts Serena Williams among its many investors, has said it will be getting rid of approximately 420 staff (mostly junior developers) because it does not see itself getting them any meaningful work within the next year.

Now, under any circumstances, laying off 400 plus staff is close to a catastrophe, considering that on its website Andela says it has 1,200 developers. No matter how hard you spin it. For example, as part of the retrenchments announcement, Andela sneaked in that it made $50 million in revenue (less than what it has raised in VC funding so far) and that these lay-offs are just a response to global trends.

Andela has punted itself as being able to train youth with no experience in software engineering and in a short space of time turn them into competent software developers ready to be deployed on IT projects by corporates. With recent lay-offs, it seems this model is coming into question.

However, that is not entirely true, at best, it is equivocation.

“Today, we are announcing that we are closing the D0 program in Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda. Moving forward, we will be focusing D0 training efforts on our pan-African hub in Rwanda. In addition, we will be letting go of approximately 250 Andelans in Nigeria and Uganda, with an additional 170 potentially impacted in Kenya, who we don’t believe we’ll be able to find meaningful work for over the next year,” - Jeremy Johnson, CEO and Co-founder at Andela

Perhaps in those words by Jeremy lies the hint of what has possibly transpired at Andela: “we don’t believe we’ll be able to find meaningful work for over the next year.” As my colleague Sello Moloi put it when reporting on the news, one of two things possibly happened:

  1. Andela could not develop a sales pipeline big enough to absorb and keep its hundreds of junior developers busy and off the bench.
  2. No clients wanted to use Andela’s junior developers as they were possibly not good enough (whether they were or not can be a matter of perception or indeed true) to be deployed on client projects.

However, more puzzling for me is how Andela is also shutting down its flagship D0 training programs in Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda. That to me suggests even bigger possible problems but I don’t want to speculate on that as I am aware Sello is following up on the news and gathering more information to present a holistic picture.

For some time, having followed how Iyinoluwa “E” Aboyeji started Fora and later pivoted or restarted it as Andela, I have been trying to figure out how essentially a consulting body shop can raise from VCs on the promise that it can scale?

By its nature, consulting is tough to scale without equally increasing your costs. The product Andela is selling as I understand is humans (who happen to be skilled at software engineering). That’s a cost-intensive business, and I repeat, difficult to scale, but perhaps I am missing something.

Also curious has been how Andela once announced that it could be launching in South Africa but that was the last we heard of those plans. To me, that’s an even bigger question mark. Because of the number of software engineers and analysts that companies in South Africa are hiring, I would’ve expected Andela to have challenged for some of these outsourcing contracts, again I wonder why not.

Which brings me to the last point that has left me even more confused. Now, going forward, Andela says it is now going to:

“hire another 700 experienced engineers by the end of 2020.”

Yes, not train, but hire. That to me not only confirms the point that Andela is no different (not much anyway) to a consulting company but also perhaps their junior developers were not good enough for their clients.

At this stage, all I can do is ask the questions as much does not make sense. However, what I do know is, Africa is no continent for junior developers. Well, at least according to Andela.

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