Microsoft and Google reinforce commitment to developing African tech talent
Microsoft announced, on 25 March, that it was establishing two new dedicated offices for the African Development Centre (ADC) in Nairobi and Nigeria, after three years of successful operation in both countries. Nairobi will also host a new research institute, the Microsoft Africa Research Institute (MARI), which is the first on the African continent.
After three years of being hosted at Microsoft’s Lagos hub, the ADC has opened its own offices in Ikoyi to house the product engineering, ecosystem development and innovation teams. The new facility is also home to the Microsoft Garage, a new entity launched as part of the ongoing efforts to scale innovation in the tech ecosystem.
ADC West Africa Managing Director Gafar Lawal said: “The facility will continue our efforts towards training, equipping and hiring engineering talent in Nigeria and West Africa as whole to contribute to the development of Microsoft products that are in use by over one billion devices and empowering millions of users and organisations across the world to do more.”
In Kenya, the ADC has relocated to its own facility in Nairobi, which will house the engineering, design, research and innovation teams, as well as the Microsoft Garage, an incubation hub launched as part of the ongoing efforts to scale tech innovation in the continent.
Since its inception in Nairobi in 2019, the ADC has grown to over 450 full-time employees working in areas such as software engineering, machine learning, data science, market research, infrastructure, and much more.
The Garage is structured as a freeform workspace where Microsoft employees, interns, schools, and community groups can find the tools and training they need to launch products and learn skills. It is designed to spread the values of openness and collaboration throughout the Microsoft ADC, where people come to The Garage to work with interdisciplinary teams on passion projects.
Senior Director of – The Garage, EMEA Linda Thackeray, The President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta and
The Microsoft Africa Research Institute (MARI) will conduct research in the fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Systems and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). It will collaborate closely with Microsoft East Africa and the ADC to forge strategic alliances and links with local academia to boost the country’s and region’s research capabilities in the tech sphere, with three focus areas on health, work, and society.
MARI’s founding director Dr Jacki O’Neill said: “Our mission is to understand, build and deploy innovative cloud and AI technologies which not only address core opportunities in Africa and help solve local challenges at scale, but which also contribute to creating a more productive future of work, health and society globally.”
The MARI has already assembled a multidisciplinary team of Nairobi-based researchers, designers, data scientists, and software engineers. This team has completed its first scientific project on the digital transformation of African small and medium-sized businesses, examining how work practices in Africa have changed since COVID, and will soon release the findings.
Looking ahead, the institute is working on several projects, including Swahili and Sheng language technology, exploring how AI can extend healthcare beyond the clinic, and technology innovation to support digital transformation in the Covid era.
Alphabet Inc’s Google also announced, on 19 April, that it is investing in its first ever Africa product development centre in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, as it positions itself to serve a growing base of internet users on the continent.
The US tech giant said the continent will host 800 million internet users by the end of this decade and a third of the world’s youth population, making it an attractive investment destination.
Google is hiring engineers, product managers, user experience designers and researchers to staff the new centre, said Suzanne Frey, vice president for products, and Nitin Gajria, head of Google Africa in a joint blog post.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai said last October that the company would be investing USD1 billion in various projects on the continent over five years to help economies accelerate their digital transformation. It has already opened an artificial intelligence centre in Accra, Ghana, focusing on innovations that can be applied to various challenges.