SEATTLE, Washington — Microsoft plans to invest $100 million on software development initiatives in Africa over the next ten years as a further demonstration of the company’s continued commitment towards leading the digitalization of the continent. Microsoft’s Africa Development Centers will open in Lagos, Nigeria and Nairobi, Kenya by the end of 2019.
Sparse Opportunity Despite Available Talent
Nigeria and Kenya have become important tech hubs, but the lack of lucrative opportunities for local software engineers has resulted in an exodus of talent. Microsoft hopes to reverse this trend by establishing development centers in these countries to employ, retain and cultivate local talent. Microsoft hopes to employ 100 full-time developers by the end of 2019 and to increase that number to 500 by 2023.
Microsoft’s Africa Development Centers will create opportunities for engineers to be part of a global software development network without having to leave their country. The initiative will also create opportunities within communities, allowing developers to stay with their families while simultaneously developing their careers.
Africa’s Rapid Digitalization
Africa’s young and digitally inclined population is rapidly pushing the demand for data services. Currently, African users account for more than half of the total mobile banking users in the world. Harvard Business Review predicts that Africa will be home to more than 636 million smartphone users by 2022. African usage of cloud technology like Microsoft’s Azure is also expected to grow as e-commerce and mobile payments become more common aspects of online retail.
Despite the large demand for digital services, Africa’s internet and cellular infrastructure are currently insufficient. Two-thirds of Africans lack internet access, and those who can access the internet, experience slower and more expensive service compared to users on other continents. This insufficiency is something that companies are taking into consideration.
The continent’s rapid digitalization has not gone unnoticed though. Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent visit to Nigeria has firmly placed the spotlight on Africa’s growing digital industry. Other tech giants, like Amazon and Huawei, have plans to develop initiatives like Microsoft’s Africa Development Centers. Their plans primarily focus on fully integrating African users into their cloud technology and ensuring that the 1.2 billion users will be able experience full, uninterrupted functionality of their services.
An Investment in Today and the Future
Microsoft’s Africa Development Centers will employ teams of engineers and developers for projects involving mixed reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning. Microsoft’s initiatives will benefit not only current software developers but also future talent. By working with local universities, the company plans to work with young software developers to create unique solutions to issues of compatibility when using Microsoft’s Azure. Cultivating and strengthening local tech hubs creates positive externalities for local companies as well.
Using its growing presence, Microsoft has already embarked on partnerships with Kenyan and Nigerian companies to implement innovative business solutions, like FinTech, AgriTech and OffGrid energy, that help modernize businesses. In this way, African companies can become more streamlined and compete with businesses around the world that already use these technologies. Andela, an African start-up company that actively recruits software engineers and trains them to become fully employable developers throughout the continent, will see more opportunities afforded by the Microsoft initiative.
Africa’s tech development hubs are currently concentrated in Lagos, Nairobi, Johannesburg and Cape Town, but African software entrepreneurs hope that these initiatives will create spillovers that extend to smaller cities. Microsoft’s Africa Development Centers in conjunction with companies like Andela are helping the continent reach its massive digital potential.
– Julian Mok