Before software engineer Hamza Zia secured the job that would serve as his ticket out of Pakistan, he had spent 6 years applying to many software engineering jobs and getting rejected. It seemed no company was willing to hire him, until Microsoft did in 2012, and he relocated to Shanghai, China, to work from their office there.
As Zia advanced in his career and began taking on the responsibility of hiring engineers himself, he came to understand why he had been getting rejected all those years. Now, while time zone differences and language proficiency—Zia’s English wasn’t always great—had been major barriers to his getting a developer job, his biggest obstacle, back then, was that, despite having years of programming experience, he was considered a junior developer by the companies he applied to because he hadn’t yet built any active products—except for the ecommerce platform he had dropped out of secondary school in 2006 to build and run for 2 years before shutting it down due to lack of funding.
So, 7 years after his first international work opportunity, Zia, in 2019, launched a company of his own, GitStart, to address the paradox of businesses bypassing engineers of junior experience without providing them with opportunities to expand their skill. He decided to create a platform where junior software engineers could help top companies build products. The same year, the company got accepted into Y Combinator (YC), the world’s largest accelerator.
A global problem
Globally, companies prefer to hire senior developers or developers that can, using industry lingo, “hit the ground running”. Netflix, for example, has a reputation for hiring only “matured developers”, as its director of engineering, Sergey Federov, puts it. Junior software engineers are thus left unemployed.
Perhaps the best known demonstration of this problem is the Andela case. From 2014, African unicorn startup, Andela, established a system where it trained junior engineers and placed them to work in global companies. Sadly, by 2019, the model became unsustainable as the company could not find jobs for the large pool of junior engineers it had trained; global companies were only interested in hiring senior developers. Andela had to lay off 400 junior engineers and decided to stick to working only with senior talent across the continent.
The conundrum of massively unemployed junior software engineers is one Zia is familiar with. An early employee at Elastic (a $5.36 billion-worth software company providing enterprise search, observability, and security solutions for businesses) once told him of the business’s cardinal rule in scaling one its remote offices: no juniors. “Companies know this thinking contributes to the talent shortage that continues to plague the world. But they would rather wait for someone else to take the first plunge [than] bear the cost of training junior developers.”
Zia admitted his own guilt in this area. He once declined to hire a Ugandan developer because the “culture gap was too wide”. Like Zia, in the early days, the Ugandan’s English had been broken, and he worked really slowly, even though he understood what was required of him in the role. “The culture gap would make integrating him in the team difficult, and working together would have been a nightmare. It would take too much time to explain a lot of things to him, and we don’t have that time,” he said.
Few people would deny the sense in hiring senior developers; they are more likely to quickly understand problems and come up with suitable solutions. But the problem is the imbalance it creates in the talent pipeline: if junior developers aren’t getting jobs, how then can they gain the experience needed to become seniors? And when seniors inevitably move on to pursue other ventures, like retirement or building their own companies, who will replace them?
Winning by providing value for both sides
This is where GitStart comes in. As a pull-requests-as-a-service (PRAAS) platform, GitStart helps Silicon Valley startups build faster by sharing pieces of their task with a host of developers. To use the service, companies activate the GitStart bot and feed it a detailed task request. The bot then gathers the request and notifies developers so they can begin work on it. Once the task is complete, the bot then allows a community peer-to-peer review so that other developers can check that the code is working before the bot returns it to the company.
This means, essentially, that developers can access the codebase of companies they want to work for. Emeka from Lagos, Nigeria, can now build a part of Google, and Diouf from Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, can build a part of Stripe. It also means junior developers and others who come from emerging markets can earn money while building a strong portfolio that would enable them to join GitStart clients or other companies full-time.
Running on community, abstraction and security
The GitStart bot pulls junior engineers from diverse backgrounds—currently, they hail from more than 15 countries—into a community that allows them to connect, bond, and learn from each other.
GitStart uses abstraction by keeping its engineers behind the bot to protect them from discrimination. Zia said that companies do not get to cherry-pick developers who work on their tasks and that leaves no room for them to accept or reject pull requests based on any bias. “It’s 100% about code quality and 0% about accent, cultural background, or CV formatting,” he said.
To ensure security, GitStart has also built a tool called GitSlice that helps companies choose the specific files and folders they want to share with the GitStart bot. According to its website, companies can do this without the bot or the engineer gaining access to more code than they are supposed to work on.
“Majority of our engineers are from Africa”
Zia told TechCabal that since the company launched in beta, it has gotten more of its developers from Africa, with Nigeria and Uganda leading the pack. He also added that the company has processed over 7,000 pull requests from companies like Sourcegraph and even the United Nations.
“The African market is huge, and Nigeria is leading in our developer counts. And we want to double down on helping African developers grow,” he said. Zia told TechCabal that the company is building a team in Lagos, and while GitStart is a remote-first startup, it plans to set up a regional shop in the city later this year so that they can have feet on the ground in their biggest market.
The company already has over 100 engineers on its platform helping Silicon Valley-based startups solve problems. It has 10,000 more engineers on a waitlist, with close to 1,000 people joining the list weekly.
GitStart’s recent funding speaks of its value
GitStart on Thursday announced that it has closed a seed investment of $5 million to continue its mission.
The round was led by Neo alongside Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott, Google VP Parisa Tabriz, Andela co-founder Iyin Aboyeji, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, and former Meta CTO Mike Schroepfer.
Other investors in the round include Airbnb co-founder Nate Blecharczyk, Instagram VP Maria Zhang, Circle CTO Li Fan and VP Yongsheng Wu, Robinhood VP of Engineering Surabhi Gupta, Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo, GitHub technical advisor Omoju Miller, Gigster founder Debo Olaosebikan, BloomTech founder and CEO Austen Allred, and Replit CEO Amjad Masad.
The number and calibre of tech founders and operators backing GitStart validates the problem it is solving, i.e. helping Silicon Valley companies build faster.
“The ultimate value of GitStart, besides, of course, helping senior engineers save time and juniors accelerate their careers, is, it’s changing the lives of junior developers in the world,” Zai said.