IBM turns to US varsities for top talent


IBM vice-president Research Robert Morris with Information PS Bitange Ndemo (left) at a Press conference to announce plans to put up the IBM lab in Kenya last year. File

US tech giant IBM has opened a fresh search for highly skilled techies to drive innovation programmes at its only African research lab in Nairobi.

The New York-based firm is seeking IT experts finishing their doctorate degrees in fields such as computer science, electrical engineering, mathematics or physics to be employed as mobile apps developers or data scientists.

The skill threshold required by IBM technically locks out young and inexperienced Kenyan techies who are mostly first degree holders or self-taught tech enthusiasts.

IBM has set a Master’s Degree and at least five years professional experience as the basic minimum to apply for the positions, tilting the balance in favour of specialist techies mostly working or studying overseas.

This is the second recruitment call after the American corporation in November last year began the hunt for African techies working abroad to be deployed as research scientists at its Nairobi hub.

“We are aiming to hire world-class scientific talent with expertise in mobile technologies, statistical analysis, data mining, human-computer interaction and other domains,” says IBM in a memo copied to Stanford University and seen by the Business Daily.

The move to engage the elite American university founded in 1891 signals that IBM is seeking exceptional talent with a mix of academic qualifications, hands-on training and relevant experience to develop innovative tech solutions.

IBM’s decision to cherry-pick high-class candidates vindicates a 2011 study by the Kenya ICT Board that revealed locally trained IT graduates lacked the necessary skills and did not meet practical job requirements and market demands.

The tech giant has copied the memo to other top US universities in an effort to tap the best brains to craft novel tech solutions such as smart energy grids, water management systems and apps to ease traffic congestion.

“We are seeking to fill several positions for software engineers with a background in mobile apps, backend enablement through API’s, web services, and networking,” it says in the memo.

Applicants are further required to demonstrated their track record through publications, patents, highly rated blogs or publicly available technology contributions.

Developers will be tasked with developing cutting edge mobile apps for both feature and smart phones in diverse areas such as agribusiness, public health, mobile money and commerce.

IBM declined to disclose the response it has received so far from the earlier call for applications, the number of candidates it is seeking and when successful applicants are likely to begin work. The positions have been marked as ‘full-time regular.’

“It is IBM policy not to disclose our recruitment numbers, the nature of staff contracts nor how much we pay our staff,” the firm said in a stock statement.

The Africa research hub, IBM’s 12th global laboratory, was unveiled in August last year and is hosted at the Catholic University of East Africa (CUEA) main campus in Nairobi.

(Read: IBM signs training deal with three varsities)

The Kenya government will invest $2 million (Sh170 million) for the next five years, while IBM will provide the hardware, software and high-end scientific expertise from its global $6.5 billion (Sh552 billion) research and development budget.

IBM laboratories have been credited with many IT innovations, including the floppy disks, hard disk drive, magnetic stripe card, universal product code (bar codes) and the SABRE airline reservation system.

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