At the close of last year, I readily admitted that staffing had been my greatest and most enduring challenge running a technology based business. A recent conversation with an associate who is now the chief technology officer at a celebrated and fast growing not-so-startup enterprise had me realize that the problem is more pervasive than I thought. The question often comes, “Do you know any devs?” Dev is short for developer, a writer of code or orchestrator of infrastructure; an important cog in the wheels that make for a technology business. The curious answer to the question posed is, “Not at the moment, I am also looking”. Underpinned by the fact that one would not want to see talent flight whether on contract or payroll, it points out to a festering issue that we need to address quickly lest we face the fate of the local advertising industry – musical chairs, that have resorted to a numbing of creativity and replication galore, especially in light of weak IP protection or respect for the same.
The challenge we face is twofold, with training first in line. I am not about to go off on that “half-baked graduate” trajectory but instead put it out that there is a need to review the process of knowledge transfer with a focus on real world application that would prevent a graduate feeling lost in the kindergarten of enterprise. There are industry led educational initiatives in other markets that see up to two years of student experience invested in real world application and interaction, and you can almost stamp that resume – ready for market.
The psychological challenge is next, fueled by the stories of success that often put individuals on the pedestal forgetting to highlight attendant critical components of any successful enterprise – teams and process. There are breakout stars who graduate in the top percentiles of their class, brilliant in all ways but restless and hungry by the same measure. Just over a decade ago, while cutting my teeth at then Kenya’s leading web development house whose alumni have done rather well for themselves embracing digital opportunities since, it did not seem like madness to commit oneself to giving at least three years of 110% effort in exchange for what was many times suboptimal pay; but with the bigger picture in mind, to understand the innards of a humming tech business. Gen Y clearly has different dynamics and ambitions with mismatched expectations that stunt the growth of a sector as a whole.
We probably need to celebrate teams and culture more and highlight that one make a great living working in and not necessarily running one’s own business, the challenges of which many are not cut out for and end up contributing to the startup death statistic.
At the very basic, before we can even approach the issues of market access, funding and scale, we must realize that human capital is our biggest asset and we must therefore focus on getting it right from all perspectives.