Codecademy partners with Black and Brilliant for AI accelerator in Africa

Applications for the mentorship program open March 1.
Written by Jonathan Greig, Contributor

Codecademy announced that it will be partnering with the Black and Brilliant advocacy group on a new mentorship program and accelerator in Africa. 

The two organizations joined forces last year for their first accelerator and are now eager to expand the program to help create a new pipeline of tech talent across the African continent. 

Husband-and wife-team Tony Effik and Perky Noah-Effik created Black and Brilliant last year as a way to diversify the tech workforce and increase access for BIPOC communities. The two met Codecademy's CEO Zach Sims at an event last year and decided to partner on the effort. 

"Growing up in the UK and Nigeria, and even now, I continue to meet brilliant Africans with the potential to play a role in the global digital economy," said Effik, who also works as a managing director at Google. 

"We decided with Codecademy to coalesce around the idea of helping a foundational group leapfrog to the most current technology. Our hope is that this group helps the next cohort, and so on. We are grateful for Codecademy and how its platform democratizes learning and makes this all possible."

The 10-week program will focus on upskilling and mentorship within a variety of tech fields including data science, data engineering, and programming. The program will use Codecademy's self-guided, hands-on learning platform for the courses. 

There will also be a team of coaches and mentors from Google, Fujitsu, and Shopify that will delve into topics like user experience, ethics and bias, and the business of AI.

"As AI becomes more powerful, it's imperative that people of all backgrounds, nationalities, races, and genders have the opportunity to leverage that power -- so that they can make an impact on their communities and the world at large," Sims said. "Through education and mentorship, our goal is to empower a new generation of global leaders in AI, equipping them with the skills they need to solve problems and incite change through technology."

Applications for the Codecademy and Black and Brilliant Applied Artificial Intelligence program open March 1. Those interested in the program need to have some foundational knowledge of coding or have some kind of tech experience. 

Effik told ZDNet that their first raft of learners are now making career transitions and noted that both coaches and participants benefited from the first Black and Brilliant program. Almost all of the coaches that participated in the first program are back for this next round, Effik said. 

"Our coaches are more impassioned than ever. We believe we 'lucked out' in our original conception of the program. So we are only making some small tactical changes and a thematic change linking to Africa, but the fundamentals of the program remain the same," Effik said. 

"There are some minor changes in how we execute the program but the biggest change is that some of our former Learners are joining to become Coaches. This reflects our philosophy of Passing It Forward. We hope a small vanguard of people can create a domino effect that will impact many others. This year our coaches include Siphu Langeni, Audrey Deyawe Kongmeneck, and Leonard Paul-Kamara, who were Learners last year."

Effik explained that they decided to focus on Africa for this round because they were overwhelmed with applications from the continent in the last round. He noted that Africa has a population of 1.2 billion and is still at the early stages of its tech revolution, which will be centered on the smartphone rather than the PC.

A raft of start-ups, especially in sectors like fintech, have reached unicorn-level valuations, such as Nigeria's Flutterwave. Entrepreneurs with African origins are becoming successful in the tech industry, Effik said, pointing to examples like Calendly founder Tope Awotona, Meta executive Ime Archibong, and Alphabet's James Manyika.

"All of the major technology companies have invested there in recent years. Google has opened its first Africa Artificial Intelligence lab in Ghana. Microsoft opened the first Africa Development Center in Kenya and Nigeria," Effik said, noting that China and India have become key sources of talent in tech and have become vibrant tech hubs. 

"Facebook's Mobile App is hugely popular in Africa for many day-to-day activities, so it isn't surprising that Meta has partnered with others in a project called The 2Africa project to expand internet access by building a submarine cable that will completely circle Africa and double Internet capacity. We also see M-Pesa, the Kenyan mobile-money platform, which has turned into a marketplace for many basic day-to-day transactions." 

Another reason they decided to expand the program is because many people reached out to try and help. Effik explained that it is hard for people of color to break into industries without the help of someone already on the inside, and part of the program's goal is to connect the global diaspora with progressives thinkers within the tech industry. 

There is also a need for artificial intelligence capacity building across Africa, Effik added, telling ZDNet that talented young African technologists need to be better supported.

"We want to upskill people who have potential to be the next generation -- regardless of their backgrounds or educational attainment. This ranges from people that did not graduate High School but acquired coding skills along the way, to those with advanced STEM degrees looking to change lanes. We believe in human potential. We believe people with aptitude and drive can achieve great things when given this kind of opportunity," Effik said. 

"In the future, we want to play a more active role in developing key technology projects that are rooted in the Black Experience and close what we call the Black Data Gap. We know there are problems in facial recognition because of incomplete data on Black faces, or voice systems not being able to pronounce non Judeo-Christian names that are common in the Black community. 

"Or in Africa, we want to help tackle issues in public health, good governance, agriculture, and help improve data transparency for both public policy and private sector. investment. There are many problems we feel our network could collaborate around to solve. We are really pleased with the program and the impact we've created. At its core, we believe a few people with passion and expertise can drive change in tech when paired with people with ambition, intellect and grit."

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