Software developers have been around for years, but they have mostly existed as individuals or small groups bound by informal relationships or work. However, as a community -- a group of people moving in packs, working together and sharing code, ideas, and their experiences with each other, and, once in a while, ruffling feathers at scale -- they have not been around for long.
A developer meetup here and a developer meetup there, one hackathon here and one hackathon there, inspired by the rise of technology startups (initially sprouting from Yaba, Lagos to form ‘Yabacon Valley’), the Nigerian developer community has grown. And this has not happened without catching the attention of some of the most influential tech people and companies in the world.
"Nigeria is one of the fastest growing developer communities on GitHub and we are really impressed. Consistently, for two to three years now, Nigeria has been growing as fast or faster than any other country on GitHub," Nat Friedman, CEO of GitHub tells me a few minutes into our conversation.
GitHub is a software development platform where people can host and review code, manage engineering projects, and collaborate with a 36 million-strong community of developers. "Most open source projects and communities live on GitHub," Friedman says, with as much as 100 million contributions happening in the span of 30 days.
Friedman joined GitHub as CEO in late 2018 after Microsoft acquired the company for $7.5 billion, taking over from one of the co-founders, Chris Wanstrath.
At the time of this interview, Friedman was visiting Nigeria on a “fact-finding mission” alongside Omoju Miller, a Machine Learning expert. This was Friedman's first time in Nigeria, although GitHub teams have been here in the past.
During the course of his visit, GitHub organised a few meetups with developers and some of the most prominent tech startups in Nigeria.
"Three days ago, we had a really fun event where we invited the top 50 open source contributors in Nigeria in the previous 60 days on GitHub to a mixer. And it was just awesome. The talent in the room was world-class. I was extremely impressed with every single person I met. Some of them knew each other already, some of them did not. They would say, 'Oh, who's this guy? He's working on the same thing I'm working on,'" Friedman says.
Further into our conversation, he adds, “I'd say in terms of the talent here, what you see is a huge amount of potential and aptitude; incredibly smart people, motivated, persistent, and with a positive attitude. At the top, it's just world-class talent, with deep technical knowledge and skill.
“You go to a place like Paystack, and it is a top startup worldwide. Not just a top Nigerian startup, but worldwide. You see it in the team, the culture, the way they are thinking about how they're building the company, the growth rate, all world class.”
GitHub’s plans for the Nigerian market
One of GitHub’s plans for Nigeria is to double down on its education programmes to better accommodate the peculiar challenges developers face in the country.
“One of the things we heard from people is, 'Hey, I want to get access to GitHub student resources, but I don't have a student ID to prove that I'm a student. And you're asking me for student ID, some of us don't have that.' Or, 'You need an email address from my school and my school doesn't give us email addresses.'
While GitHub student education packs do not necessarily require emails or student IDs, they do require some form of documentation that proves student status. This, however, still proves a challenge in Nigeria. "We have to debug why. Probably 20 people complained to me about this during the trip," explains in a Twitter conversation.
“So, one of the definite plans that we have is to expand our education program and adjust our student verification process to work in Nigeria," he says.
“This is the kind of thing that you don’t know if you don’t talk to people. You can sit there in San Francisco and say ‘We should do this or that’ but then you go out and you hear ‘We don’t have IDs or student email addresses but we have this other thing which you should accept’.”
Another thing about Nigerian developers that Friedman says impresses him is the “amount of people who are self-taught” and basically learned how to code “on the University of the Internet. It goes back to what I was saying about motivation and aptitude and persistence.”
Although a graduate of Computer Science himself, Friedman says that he learned most of what he knows about programming on the Internet.
“I feel very connected to these people who taught themselves on YouTube or on GitHub or on Stack Overflow,” he adds.
Update: The article has been corrected to reflect the fact that GitHib student developer packs do not necessarily require ID or student email, just a form of documentation that proves current student status.