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Here at Asana, we’re focused on driving growth and impact for our employees and our customers. Recently, we had the chance to connect with one of our Asana for Nonprofit customers, Kinshasa Digital Academy, and they’re doing just that for their students.
We chatted with Jean-Louis Mbaka, who is the Co-Founder & Director of the Academy, about why he started their software engineering program, the training their students go through, and how they use Asana to manage it all. Here’s what he had to say.
Let’s start at the beginning. What inspired you and your co-founders to start Kinshasa Digital Academy?
We launched Kinshasa Digital Academy two years ago. It was an initiative born out of a software development company I launched three years ago with my co-founders, Nicolas and Thomas, called Kinshasa Digital. In trying to become the best software development company in central Africa, we realized we were having trouble finding people with the right skills. This inspired us to launch Kinshasa Digital Academy, where we train people to become software developers mainly in web and mobile development.
The training program lasts a year. The first nine months are spent in the Academy. Then afterwards, the students do an internship for three months at companies that have expressed an interest in recruiting developers or to our agency. The students don’t have to pay any fees. Their tuition is either paid for by the companies that recruit them or by our partners.
For the program, we don’t just teach students the latest technology. We co-create the program with the companies that have expressed interest in recruiting developers, so that our students are learning the real skills they’ll need to succeed in a professional setting.
We’ve found that teaching soft skills is just as important as learning to code. People might have the correct technical skills, but they might not know how to transmit them or how to communicate effectively, either written or orally. They need to know how to use collaboration tools and manage projects. So our program is a complete training, where we define being competent as having the correct technical skills and the correct sets of soft skills.
How do you select students for the program?
We started with 40 students our first year. Of the first class students, 39 have found a job which we’re very proud of. For our second year, we decided to keep the class to 40 students again, as we want to focus more on quality versus quantity. That’s why we are very selective in who we admit to the program. We make sure that they are highly motivated, since it’s free to students. In the first year, we received around 1,500 applications. And through our selection process, we arrived at 40 students.
In addition to being highly motivated, they need to have a proven passion for digital. They don’t necessarily have to have coded before, but they need something tangible that they did to pursue that interest. When we begin promoting the program, usually three to four months before it starts, we send out some learning resources. Even if you’ve never coded before, you have the opportunity to learn some basics if you’re passionate about it before the interview process.
We focus on this because being a software developer can be really tough and you need to have a lot of grit. You are faced with challenges all the time, and you have to be someone that doesn’t give up easily. So that’s something that we look for in our applicants: that grit and passion for digital.
How do you use Asana at Kinshasa Digital Academy?
We use Asana to manage all of our work, both with our team and with our students. A key workflow for us is managing our student application process. We manage every step in Asana so that we know what to do next and can easily coordinate with all the teams involved: first to select the students, then promotion and communication, then onboarding them all, training them, and ultimately finding a job for them upon completion of our program.
Asana gives us the visibility we need to ensure that our work is aligned to our goals and that we can achieve them. We especially like that you can communicate directly on tasks with comments and attach files so everything is in one place.
Another way we use Asana is with our students. Project management is a soft skill we teach at the academy, and we want them to be comfortable working in platforms like Asana since they’ll use them for their jobs. They manage their personal and group projects in Asana to get practical experience.
The past year and a half has been filled with so much uncertainty. Has managing your work in Asana helped the team more easily adjust or change plans quickly?
It has, definitely. To be honest, it was a bit difficult at the start of COVID-19 because the importance of digital tools wasn’t as strong as it is now. Part of the changes that arrived with the pandemic is that everyone was obliged to use digital tools like Asana more frequently than before. It has pushed us to be better because we’re all working in different places and we need to make sure that everything is captured and up to date. And we use Asana for that—it’s our single source of truth.
Many of us experienced the rapid digital transformation you mentioned. We were used to being able to turn around and talk to our coworkers. Now, to your point, everyone is working in different places but we still need to be connected.
Exactly. That’s where tools like Asana help us stay connected and still work in sync. One thing that I love with Asana is that it integrates with the other tools we use, like Slack. While chatting with my colleague in Slack, I can create a task in Asana right from the message or receive updates on tasks right in Slack. I also try to automate tasks as much as I can. For example, I also use the Asana and Gmail integration. When I have an email, instead of copy and pasting or sending it to the Asana email, I create a task with the Gmail plugin so I don’t even need to leave my inbox.
The work your academy is doing is so incredible. What traits do people need to be a successful software engineer?
You need to be very patient and practice. And I always go back to grit. You need to be very resilient because a lot of times things do not work, so you need to look for alternative solutions. Being a problem solver and not giving up is key.
We’re inspired by our nonprofit customers like Kinshasa Digital Academy, who are using Asana to achieve their goals. Learn more about what teams around the world are doing with Asana.