Unique school prepares IT graduates for the job market

Moringa School co-founder Audrey Cheng. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG
Moringa School co-founder Audrey Cheng. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG 

Audrey Cheng first came to Kenya from the US seeking to fund IT startups and saw a new opportunity when she discovered that the country lacked a school for software developers.

While Kenya is famous globally as an IT hub Ms Cheng, who worked for Savannah Fund as an investment associate, quickly learnt that many ‘‘tech wizards’’ were self-taught while many IT graduates from tertiary institutions and universities remained unemployed for lack of practical IT experience needed by the job market.

Using her savings, the 23-year-old launched a feasibility study where she sent online questionnaires to corporate firms on IT capacities they were looking for and what the market had to offer.

She also visited several IT schools and companies which helped her prepare a comprehensive programme.

“Many computer science graduates had theoretical skills but lacked practical knowledge on web and mobile software application development which companies now need like never before.

This gave me a leeway to establish Moringa School in Nairobi, where we impart IT graduates with specific skills required by various companies,” she said.

When Digital Business caught up with her at Strathmore University in Nairobi where she was hosting the Second Nairobi Tech Week, the trained broadcast journalist said Kenyan learning institutions need to create a platform where they dialogue with industry players on the kind of skills needed to enable graduates get jobs.

 Ms Cheng together with her friend Savannah Kuvorsky, a Silicon Valley trained software developer, invested about Sh200,000 in the venture.

Their first class, started in January 2015, attracted four students and promised to ‘‘equip students with market-drive technical and soft skills.’’  “I secured some funding from friends and family which helped us register Moringa School while my co-founder oversaw the development of infrastructure,”  Ms Cheng recalled.

She realised that most Kenyan universities hardly made follow ups on their graduates and were only interested in the number of students they enrolled.

This has denied the institutions an opportunity to understand what the industry needs so as to realign their curriculum to the job market.

“In IT the curriculum needs to change with the times otherwise we will churn out highly skilled but unemployable graduates. This we do by inviting IT students from across Kenyan universities, IT hubs and those working in companies to share their knowledge during open forums at the Nairobi Tech Week annually,” she said.

 Last year, independent judges selected four IT startups whose founders were flown to the world’s tech hub in America’s Silicon Valley to learn more on software development.

Promote creation

“We discuss product development with our students where the most successful are those that can be monetised,” she said.

Ms Cheng has since formulated an open source curriculum for secondary students willing to learn about software development.

She has also become a regular figure at local universities where she gives lectures on software engineering.

“It is important to find out what the market wants and then proceed to use education to solve those issues via a commercial way.

‘‘The future is in software applications and our work is to promote creation of Kenyan apps,” she said.