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Senegal start-up trains young coders

Senegal’s tech scene has been slow to get off the ground due to a lack of qualified coders. But a locally-run company is trying to change that, while also helping young people find jobs.

Local tech start-ups are tackling day-to-day conveniences in the capital, Dakar. Firefly, a digital advertising company, places TV screens in public buses, but has struggled to find qualified web and mobile app developers in Senegal.

“They are trained in technologies we do not work with,” explains Mafal Lo, the co-founder of Firefly. “For example, all engineering schools in Dakar work in Java. We work mostly with PHP and Python, with new front-end technologies like Bootstrap. These are not things they learn in school.”

Until recently, that is.

At Volkeno, students learn web development, digital marketing or graphic design. At the end of the one-month training programme, they will spend two months interning with a local company.

The classes are free. Volkeno is supported by companies like Firefly in exchange for hiring interns. At least 15 of those interns have landed full-time contracts.

CEO Abdoul Khadre Diallo initially set up Volkeno to provide tech services to local entrepreneurs. The training programme was launched later when he realised none of his interns were sufficiently qualified.

“Here, young people are not encouraged to be interested in these skills. Most schools remain too classical. The training is too classical. You see schools where in five years, there is no decent practical training, in my opinion,” says IT professor Babacar Fall who taught the workshop in St. Louis.

There are efforts to change that. At a coding workshop in the northern city of St. Louis, high school students are introduced to coding and web development.

The Next Einstein Forum’s Africa Science Week is held in 13 African countries to promote interest in STEM fields, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“For me, the problem lies in the content of university courses,” Fall says. “Because you can start by teaching HTML, but then you evolve and teach HTML5. For me, we must simply update everything.”

Volkeno has registered more than 40 functioning start-ups in Dakar, all of which operate through websites and mobile applications.

“If you are trained in technology, you can find work after you graduate,” explains Fatim Sarah Kaita, a digital marketing trainee at Volkeno. “Because it is very difficult to find internships and everything here, and your relations play a big role. But for example, if you learn programming you can set up your own project, create an application. If you know digital marketing, you can do all the promotion yourself, so it is important to get training.”

The founder of Senegal’s next big start-up may be sitting right here in this room. – VOA

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