Kehinde Oni, a computer programmer based in Lagos, Nigeria, sees one major challenge facing would-be developers in Africa: the lack of opportunities, making it nearly impossible to gain exposure in major Western clients.

Oni is the daughter of an architect and a small business owner. She aspires to one day launch her own startup--a school that empowers Nigerian children to follow career paths of their own choosing (and not simple ones that seems plausible). With a degree in mathematics from the University of Ilorin, and the unique opportunity to code on the ground in Lagos, Oni might be well on her way to reaching that goal.

Today, she's working with companies like Microsoft and Atlas, thanks to Andela, a young startup that helps talented African developers land computer coding jobs.

"It's one of the best things that has happened to me," said Oni.

She also received mentorship through a U.S. programmer via text and live video chat as part of Andela's new partnership with Codementor, a young peer-to-peer education startup, which the company launched Tuesday.

A quest to impact the "99 percent"

Codementor, based jointly in Silicon Valley and Taiwan, connects over 4,000 vetted teachers, who are well versed in a variety of programming languages, to developers worldwide in need of support on the job. Mentors set their own price (an average of $60 per hour) though that price will be subsidized for Andela participants, explains Codementor's founder and CEO, Weiting Liu.

"My inspiration and our mission for the company is to empower the creators in today's generation to build something people want," says Liu. He adds that his goal is to impact workers in developing countries who might otherwise be unable to afford or access this help.

Direct, personal guidance

Liu, a serial entrepreneur and a graduate of three major startup accelerators (Y-Combinator, TechStars, and 500 Startups), has high hopes that his new platform can serve coders the same way such incubators have helped him.

"One of the best things about going to these top accelerators was being able to connect with great mentors I could learn from," he recalls. While crowd-sourced programming classes are available elsewhere (i.e., The Flatiron School, or Codeacademy), Liu insists that the one-to-one piece of the experience is what sets Codementor apart.

So far, since launching in 2014, Codementor has seen more than 90,000 students, bringing in revenues in the "low seven figures" (it takes a 10 to 20 percent fee from the mentors). It has raised just over $1 million in funding to date.

Generally speaking, Codementor isn't for the novice programmer. It aims to supplement one's education with the peer-to-peer guidance that other learning platforms might lack. Andela, for instance, is partnering with the startup in an effort to scale up the mentorship portion of its own curriculum.

Liu admits that he's had trouble convincing would-be developers of the value of one-to-one mentorship in the past. "For developers, they naturally enjoy helping each other out," he explains. To participate, all the teachers need to do is apply, and go through the formal interview process. On the demand side, however, "we're trying to create a new behavior."

Small business owners have been major adopters of the program, though. "Fast-growing startups are always looking for great developers, no matter what continent they come from," Liu notes. And with a rumored tech-talent shortage across the nation, it may behoove founders to look elsewhere for talent. Africans don't necessarily have access to top-tier universities such as Stanford or MIT, but organizations like Andela are scooping the top 1 percent of raw talent that does exist across the continent.

Not for the faint of heart

Applicants first undergo a two-week boot camp, which measures their aptitude and work ethic. Just 0.7 percent of more than 30,000 applicants are ultimately accepted into the main Technical Leadership Program, which lasts four years, and trains and helps them to integrate with U.S. companies. (The odds of getting into Harvard University are higher). At the moment, Andela works mostly with Nigerians, largely due to the country's savvy populace, and strategic location in a near-Western time zone.

"The primary and secondary education system remains strong here [Nigeria], but the youth population is growing very fast which makes the problem of youth unemployment chronic," said Andela co-founder Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, in an interview last year with CNN.

"It was intense," Oni ultimately says of the vetting process. Judging from the opportunities she now has, though, it was worth it. "Africa is a hub of very smart, intelligent people," she adds.

Published on: Mar 1, 2016