On Twitter a few days ago, Celestine Omin, Engineering Manager at Paystack shared his dialogue with a young Nigerian developer he’s looking to hire.
According to Celestine’s tweet, the junior engineer is simply looking for a place where he can learn for “12-18 months before leaving the country.”
Someone referred a junior engineer to me. I asked the person to ask the engineer how long he plans to stay before living for Germany/Amsterdam.
Engineer: I just want a place where I can learn for 12 - 18months before living the country.
Me: say what now?
— CLSTN. (@cyberomin) March 2, 2019
The young engineer’s plan to leave Nigeria for the U.S., Canada or Europe is the not so new wave of brain drain being experienced in the Nigerian startup community.
Suggested Read: Nigeria is exporting tech talents, but there is a problem
Every other week, a Nigerian developer is announcing their emigration to Germany, Amsterdam or Canada on Twitter. In December, Obinna Ukwuani, founder of NESA by Makers shared a similar experience at his company.
Like clockwork, the top engineers and designers I have worked with at @nesabymakers on development contracts or as teaching staff are all on their way to Canada and Europe for work + a better life. Our graduates will follow in the next 12-24 months, I’m sure. #nigeria
— Obinna J. Ukwuani (@oukwuani) December 6, 2018
Similarly, a Nigerian startup founder lamented to Techpoint how a Silicon Valley giant poached his Chief Technical Officer (CTO) recently.
Brain drain in the Nigerian startup community
The brain drain in the Nigerian startup scene can generally be attributed to the current state of Nigeria’s economy, but specifically to the prospects of higher remunerations tech talents enjoy in more developed countries.
Suggested Read: How well-paid are software developers in Nigeria?
At the peril of the Nigerian startup community, the influx of Nigerian developers into other developed countries is solving the tech talent brain drain in these countries, like in the case of Canada.
The past few years have seen thousands of Canadian tech talents leave the country for jobs in Silicon Valley. A study led by Zachary Spicer, a Canadian researcher revealed that 66% of software engineering graduates are leaving the country for work.
However, through its immigration programmes, Canada is making up for its loss by taking in tech talents from developing countries all over the world. On the top four of the list is Nigeria.
Unfortunately, Nigeria cannot afford such luxury. As more of its skilled developers seek jobs in other parts of the world, the local startup scene in Nigeria is left with a large pool of unskilled talent and a few highly-skilled engineers who most likely work with big companies that can afford to pay them or remotely for foreign companies.
Your startup is probably a means to an end for developers
A stepping stone to a better life abroad if you will. Just like the junior engineer in Celestine’s tweet, the developers handling your startup engineering are probably plotting an exit to a better life outside the country.
Despite the growing number of software developers in Nigeria, finding the right highly-skilled, reliable and dedicated developer with the right experience and a good cultural fit is no small feat. But that is only half the battle. For the most part, engaging and retaining them is a bigger challenge and this is not restricted to just Nigeria.
The world over, software developers are infamous for leaving the companies they work for only a few months in for reasons ranging from uncompetitive pay, unchallenging work projects, lack of autonomy and flexibility, to the desperate longing for something new. The question then is, how do you keep them from leaving?
Truth is you probably can’t, especially in Nigeria, unless you can afford to pay them handsomely and still manage to keep them interested. However, at some point, the longing for something new would come into play.
There’s no doubt that Nigeria has a growing number of tech talents to offer the world, as such, retaining your quality software developers has never been more important. Since it is apparent that if the current conditions of the nation’s economy do not change, many Nigerian developers will continue to seek opportunities abroad.
However, as Mark Essien, founder of Hotels.ng puts it last year in a tweet about brain drain in the Nigerian startup community, there is no shortage of local developers in Nigeria.
“There’s only a shortage if you are unwilling to invest in their training, but you want them to come and work when they are trained -- and at below global market prices,” his tweet reads.
I'm a big advocate of Nigerian developers moving abroad. Because there is no shortage of local developers. There is only a shortage if you are unwilling to invest in their training, but you want them to come work when they are trained - and at below global market prices.
— m_e (@markessien) November 23, 2018
Hence, as a Nigerian startup, to retain a quality software developer, you have to be willing to pay them well and provide an engaging work environment where they can gain valuable experience.
There’s a possibility that this might keep them for as long as you want, or not. The Nigerian dream is after all to leave Nigeria.