Seni Sulyman: Andela Leads Disruption in Africa

Last week, HAEd had the honor of speaking with Seni Sulyman, a graduate of Harvard’s Business School (MBA, ‘13), to learn more about his new role as Director of Operations for Nigeria at Andela, a technology start-up that is making waves in Africa.  Andela is committed to identifying and training the next generation of tech leaders on the African continent.  Founded by Jeremy Johnson, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Christina Sass and Ian Carnevale in 2014, the company is backed by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, GV (Google Ventures) and Spark Capital. Last month, Mark Zuckerberg even made an unannounced visit to Lagos to meet with Seni and the rest of the Andela team in Nigeria. Needless to say, it was an exhilarating moment for the team.

An underpinning belief at Andela is that genius and talent are equally distributed around our world.  However, access to world-class employment opportunities, like the ones that Andela provides to its developers, are not.  The team is guided by this vision, Seni shared, and hopes to assuage the jobs-skills mismatch that is currently rife across Africa.

Mark Zuckerberg visits Lagos, Nigeria.

Mark Zuckerberg visits Lagos, Nigeria.

“Andela’s co-founders  know the edtech sector in and out. Andela was created because they saw a huge potential to develop human capital across Africa, particularly to fill a critical need for talented software developers,” Seni said.

Due in part to high demand but also to ensure the top-notch quality of its programs, Andela is a highly selective, four-year, paid program that is currently recruiting talent from across the continent for its headquarters in Nigeria and Kenya. Though there are hopes to expand in the future, Seni said that the focus is momentarily trained on these two countries. Over the course of the Andela experience, developers grow their technical and leadership skills while working for top technology companies, like Microsoft, Udacity, and IBM.

Seni shared with us the story of Blessing Ebowe, a developer in Andela Nigeria’s 10th cohort who is now working with an Andela partner and contributing to some open source projects.

“This is what Andela developers are like,” Seni said. “They push and give their best and are committed to excellence. They continuously reaffirm that awesomeness is possible on this side of the world.”

As Director of Operations, Seni does everything from negotiating the leases for office space, to ensuring access to high-speed internet, to designing the strategy for recruiting new developers. The Nigeria chapter officially launched last September 2014 and since then, it has grown to over 100 staffers strong. While the focus is currently on the Lagos and Nairobi offices, Andela Nigeria Head of Communications Mohini Ufeli said that Andela is looking to expand to other African countries.

Seni graduated from the Harvard Business School in 2013 and now runs Andela's operations in Nigeria.

Seni graduated from the Harvard Business School in 2013 and now runs Andela's operations in Nigeria.

“Our mission is to have an impact on the trajectory of Africa as a whole, and adding new countries means increasing the opportunities for African talent to grow and build,” Mohini said.

When we asked Seni what he misses most about his time at Harvard, he shared that he missed the daily conversations with his peers and colleagues from all over the world, backdropped by Harvard’s ivy-clad campus steeped in history.  Today, Seni is applying the skills he learned at Harvard to bring world-class education and training opportunities to Nigeria. He spoke in particular about a class at the business school called ALD.

“[In that class], we learned that the greatest and most impactful leaders are those who are authentic, who are self-aware, and who have accepted the reality of who they are,” Seni shared. “I feel like I have been able to develop very deep connections at work simply by being real and human, regardless of my role or title.”

For more information on Andela, check out their Medium blog that is written by Andelans as well as the company’s official blog that has developer spotlights and information on various initiatives.  If you are interested in exploring career opportunities, check out their job board for openings.  You can also connect with Andela on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.