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Nigeria’s software engineering outsourcing market gets ready for COVID-19 harvest

The increased technology awareness and adoption necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to drive a surge in demand for software engineering talents from Nigeria, according to stakeholders.


Most of these talents would likely migrate to countries in Europe, the US, and the UK as soon as full normalcy is restored in the global economy. Already, many of the businesses in the space in Nigeria are making frantic efforts to take advantage of the expected harvest.


The pandemic has seen companies lay-off staff and freeze capital on engaging new workers as part of measures to survive the lockdown and movement restriction that was imposed worldwide. In the post-COVID era that is gradually setting in, experts project that companies’ recruitment activities would mostly focus on people with high technical skills, many of whom are in the tech workers community.


Since the outbreak of the virus, there has been a rapid migration of business operations to digital platforms across industries. Remote working is becoming an integral part of organisations operational strategies. Some global companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google, to mention a few have given their employees the option of working from home indefinitely. In Nigeria, as well as in other African countries, business and government affairs are now conducted using virtual platforms.


With new capital deployed to acquire technological tools to power the new normal, highly technical skills able to work remotely are now in high demand, at least as far as big tech companies hiring is concerned. There were 46,188 new listings for software engineers on CareerBuilder since March 8, according to the Wall Street Journal. Amazon alone advertised over 20,000 open tech jobs on top of the 175,000 new shipping and logistics roles it recently announced. Demand for cybersecurity engineers, systems engineers, and systems administrators went up 20 percent, 11 percent, and 7 percent respectively between February and March 2020 and is expected to grow more in the coming months.


India dominates the software engineering outsourcing market globally. For instance, the country has 0.3 percent – about 3.9 million people – of its software engineering population working in England alone.


Nigeria, on the other hand, has between 6000 to 10000 people working as software engineers which is far below the global average.


“If Nigeria has 0.3 percent of its population working in this space, we should have about between 600,000 and a million people as software engineers,” Chika Nwobi, founder and CEO of Decagon told BusinessDay.


Decagon, a software engineering firm is on a mission to scale Nigeria’s talent pool by over 100,000. Nwobi says Nigeria is currently doing 100 times below its potential in the market. His organisation is pushing up plans to bridge the gap.


“We are punching above our weight and we are being recognised already as a software developing hub. Microsoft and Facebook have an engineering program here. Nigerians are being recognised for their quality. We don’t have the scale but we have the potential to have a huge scale,” he said.


Like Decagon, Tek Experts, a global software engineering company based in Nigeria, also has big plans for the market. Since the beginning of the year, the company said it has been actively recruiting and training new talents.


“We’ve been growing quite significantly before the pandemic. We started in Nigeria in April 2018 with 200 technical support engineers. In May 2020 we have over 1300 people. Which means In a little more than 2 years we’ve added over a 1000 people. That is a beautiful story. What is even more beautiful is that we continue to hire during the pandemic and now that we have seen a flattening of that curve,” Ashim Egunjobi, Head of Business Development for Africa, Tek Experts told BusinessDay.


The industry has seen its fair share of challenges. Earlier this year, Andela, one of the notable players in the industry, laid off 135 staff members across five countries including Nigeria, with senior staff taking salary cuts of between 10 percent and 30 percent. It is not the first time Andela has laid off some of its staff in recent times. After the company raised $100 million in its 2019 Series D funding round, they ended developer training programs in Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda, letting go of up to 400 people as part of the company’s restructuring plan.


The COVID-19 pandemic has also disrupted activities in the software engineering market. Decagon, for instance, had to suspend its training process as a result of the lockdown.


“The training is mostly done physically because we provide accommodation for everyone that gets into our program, feeding, laptop, and stipend. So we needed to really understand and follow the government guidelines,” Nwobi said.


The lockdown also disrupted recruiting in a lot of companies which in turn impacted the software engineer outsourcing market. The main people that hire are people like banks and tech startups. For many of them, there was a temporary disruption in recruiting.


Irrespective of the slow down in recruiting, Decagon has been able to supply about 65 percent of its skilled talents during the lockdown.


“We don’t see there is a shortage. We also don’t see there is an oversupply of talent. It depends on what market you play in and it also depends on who your customers are. We have a view of our customers being more of our partners,” said Egunjobi of Tek Experts. The company has been able to count on the loyalty of its clients during the period.


While these companies are focused on skilled engineers, achieving scale remains a challenge that needs to be addressed. Countries like India, Poland, and Ukraine have been able to tackle this by tapping into the high-quality talents produced by their universities. Nigeria lacks in this department, hence the need for companies like HNG Internship which is helping get more people to learn basic software skills such as coding.


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