How forloop is inspiring a new generation of African developers, one country at a time
"We needed a vibrant community of developers that can help each and every one of us achieve our goals faster”, says Prosper.
forloop Africa which started as a community for Nigerian developers is now set for North Africa expansion.
In her (pen)ultimate year (2015/2016) at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Microbiology student—Ada "Kolokodess" Nduka Oyom—organised the Google Developers Group (GDG) chapter for UNN. According to her, she "fancied all the cool technologies" but was never quite sure on how best to proceed. In 2017, she joined a tech fellowship, Switch—that was training and placing developers with local companies. Her days organising GDG UNN and her interactions while at Switch gave her a decent exposure into the budding tech ecosystem in Nigeria. From there, she continued to attend meetups like forloop and her network further expanded. In 2018, she was noticed by the founder of forloop, Ridwan Olalere who offered her a role to build out the forloop podcast channel.
I've been a member of forLoop since 2017, I think. I was just an (active) meet up attendee really until 2018 when Ridwan reached out to me to know if I would love to host the podcast, I said yes and the rest is history.
Today, the forloop podcast is available on major platforms like iTunes, Apple podcast, Spotify, Google podcast, and Castbox. They have run eight episodes which has seen 3000+ offline downloads.
forloop Africa has spurred many to stay abreast of the latest technological trends while encouraging them to hone their craft of software development. Particularly, for volunteers like Ada, she has been able to sharpen her soft skills as well as connect with a lot of technical talent from across Africa. A feat she does not take lightly.
Being an active member of forloopafrica has helped me grow in lots of areas; technical skills and soft skills, seeing that I run the podcast, I always have to be on top of new tech, happenings in the tech world and co, while becoming better as a developer from meetups, newsletter features etc. It's also availed me the opportunity to meet and engage with the larger Developer community across Africa.
Ada like many other volunteers of forloop Africa are simply driven by the potential impact their investment in such a nascent and previously overlooked market like Nigeria can have on the continent.
An evolution of the developer community in Nigeria
For local developer events and meet-ups, Nigeria has recorded such a high and growing participation, so much so that the global community acknowledges. In May 2017, the first Laravel (a PHP programming framework) Nigeria meetup, organised by Neo Ighodaro (former CTO, HotelsNG) saw 150 plus people attend. It was such a big deal home and abroad, that even the global Laravel news blog reported on it and featured it in their newsletter. Also, it trended on Twitter, in Lagos.
But this wasn't always the case that hundreds of people would assemble in Nigeria for a developer-focused event. So, what was the tipping point?
Perhaps, it might help to go back to the years before Mark Zuckerberg—a developer icon—visited Nigeria in 2016, after his foundation led a $24 million fund raise for Andela, a company that trains African youths on professional software development.
In 2015, I was working out of Yaba—a key tech ecosystem destination in Nigeria—and I witnessed how low the turnout of people can be for meetups and events.
Founded in 2011 by Bosun Tijani and Femi Longe, Co-creation Hub (CcHub), Yaba was the typical event hall for tech-focused events. Yet, in my time being there, there were usually less than 100 attendees ("techies") present. One of such memorable (design) meetups is Usable started in 2014 by Kene Udeze, who was a Product Designer that was working at the hub then.
Years later when Concatenate conference (August 2018), an international developer conference organised by Nigerians and foreigners, was going to hold it chose a 650-seater hall and almost filled it up! Two months after, Google's DevFest Lagos used the same massive event centre and literally caused traffic in the entire complex.
Recent happenings have led me to believe that the growth of the engineering and developer talent in Nigeria has been inspired more by not-for-profit communities like forloop than Universities teaching Computer Science. Nigerian Youths who would have hitherto studied other “professional” and “career-focused” courses like Medicine, Engineering and Law are finding fulfilment in STEM degrees like programming, data science and design.
The growth of the engineering and developer talent in Nigeria has been inspired more by not-for-profit communities like forloop than Universities teaching Computer Science.
So, when I say we have grown as a community, that is what I mean, from tens of developers at events to hundreds and even thousands.
So, how did forloop start?
forloop was inspired by two quotes, Prosper “Unicodeveloper” Otemuyiwa tells Benjamindada.com.
Unicodeveloper (as he is popularly known), serves an Evangelist of the forloop movement which has now expanded beyond Nigeria appropriating the name forloop Africa.
There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.
The quotes by Helen Keller and Margaret J Wheatley speak to the power of collaboration and a vibrant community.
Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.
“We needed a vibrant community of developers that can help each and every one of us achieve our goals faster”, says Prosper.
Indeed, Andela was pivotal to the growth of the Nigerian developer ecosystem. They showed that brilliance was evenly distributed and modelled the future of anyone looking to put in the work—placement with their global partners like Google, Pluralsight, InVision and Zapier.
“Ridwan (forloop founder) had told me early 2016 that we needed to start forloop”, says Prosper, who at the time was working as a Technical Trainer at Andela preparing their recruits for the world of work with Andela partners.
Like Concatenate, forloop could have started as a big developer conference in Nigeria, but they decided to try out with smaller meetups.
“We just wanted to start it as a big Developer conference but somehow starting small as a Meetup just made more sense. So we had the first meetup at IdeaHub back then”, adds Prosper.
From Nigeria to the rest of the continent
It wasn’t until 2017 when Codebeast and Unicodeveloper went to Kenya for a Microsoft event, that the thought of making it an African affair crossed their minds.
“It was in 2017 when Codebeast and I went to Kenya that we were inspired to start forloop Nairobi. So we pivoted to make it an African Developer community. That way we can cover the whole of Africa”, Prosper said.
The reality is that, the opportunity youths in more developed countries and continents like the US and Europe have are way more than what the average African youth has access to. Hence, the second part of Andela’s popular slogan “brilliance is evenly distributed but opportunity is not”. This explains in part why people targeting widespread economic impact in the world look to Africa because of the sheer impact it could have on the continent. On the other hand, by 2050, Africa will be home to the largest number of young people (1 billion). So, any investment in Africa youth’s is like an investment in the future of the next generation of the world.
Prosper and I were making shirts from our salaries just to keep people who aren't inspired enough, happy. Then, it turned from, "hey let's go to forloop for shirt" to "I went to forloop and learned this cool stuff".
forloop as done well to bring together developers from across Nigeria, spinning offshoots like the forloop pod(cast), and forloop Newsletter led by Solomon Osadolo and now written by Jennifer Onwudiwe. In a 2018 report on the State of forloop Africa, Prosper reported that; they had forloop operational in 10 major capital cities spread across the four geopolitical zones in Nigeria. They have 4,000+ newsletter subscribers with people from African, European and American continents. Cumulatively, the group can boast an average of 3,500 loyalists across the continent from 7 sub-Saharan African countries (Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Tanzania, Sierra-leone, Ghana). You can make the number of countries 8, as they have announced a North Africa expansion starting with Morocco.
Forloop Morocco will be led by a friend of the Nigerian tech ecosystem, Mohammed Ben-hida. Mr Ben-hida travelled all the way from Morocco to attend the Concatenate Conference which held late last year.
The maiden event of forloop Morocco will take place at Water Museum Marrakesh, Marrakech-Safi, Morocco on March 23.
Popular Nigerian developer advocates like Unicodeveloper, Codebeast, and iChuloo are billed to speak at the full-day event alongside other Moroccan developers.
The theme? The Craft of Modern Software Development
With these meetups and new chapters opening, they will now look to consolidate their efforts by introducing a Summit. This first forloop summit is going to be located in Nigeria, where the group started out. And where else, than the commercial and bustling city of Lagos?
forloop Lagos Summit
On Friday, March 8 2019, they will bring together 500 developers across Nigeria to a Summit, based in the bustling city of Lagos. The venue is one already familiar with tech people doing events in Nigeria—Zone Tech Park, Gbagada. The event will feature talks and demos from more experienced Nigerian Software Developers with a central theme of how Developers can hack productivity. The event which is now sold-out still has an option for interested participants to join a waitlist.
Perhaps, the days of spending salaries are over for the founding team. As developer-friendly organisations like Microsoft, Progate, VanHack, RunCloud, Deimos Ltd, Quidax and Cloudinary are sponsors of the #forloopLagosSummit.
In summary, what was supposed to start as a big developer conference, has painstakingly grown from two years of consistent meetups to now holding an eventual Summit and expanding beyond the shores of sub-Saharan Africa. While we are definitely not yet where we want to be as Black people in Tech, the work the team at forloop Africa is doing, is helping to move the needle.