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Remote Changes Everything for South African Tech Talent

18 March 2022 , by Philip Joubert

This article has been reposted from Philip’s personal blog with permission.

Narrative violation: The number of South African developers looking to move abroad is actually decreasing. It’s down 14% in the last three years and I wouldn’t be surprised if it drops further.

Bear at desk with Slack, Zoom and South African flags around him

Here’s my theory about how remote work is reversing the brain drain

The world was a different place in 2019. Most of us were still waking up early to beat traffic on the way to the office (lol).

Even back then the majority of devs wanted remote work, but companies weren't having it. They could still attract top talent IRL, so why bother?

Then Covid happened. The lockdowns forced everyone into a global remote experiment. Two years later the results are in for developers: Remote work has made them happier, more productive and lets them spend more time with friends, family and pets.

Of course, not all companies got the memo. Some decided to return to the office, but to their dismay (and nobody in tech's surprise) their developers did not want to go back. Developers now know they can get a remote job and aren't willing to compromise anymore.

It also happens that Covid coincided with the highest demand for tech talent in history. Across the board, companies are struggling to hire tech talent and developers are leveraging this power.

Remote went from niche to table stakes for building a world-class tech team real quick.

9 out of 10 South African developers are now in some kind of remote setup:

  • 51% are working fully remotely
  • 41% are doing hybrid work (office & remote)

That leaves only 8% in a traditional office job!

It’s not just developers benefiting from this shift: companies that embrace remote also get big advantages. Instead of just sourcing talent in their local city, they are now able to hire talent anywhere in their timezone. And, there's no longer a burden to relocate people!

South African tech talent and the brain drain

South Africa has a big pool of talented, English-speaking developers all working in the same timezone as Europe. It's no surprise then that many European companies want to hire South African developers. These companies get a nice salary arbitrage and avoid the bloody fight over European talent.

Wait a minute...wouldn't European companies hiring South African developers cause more of them to leave the country? It turns out the opposite is true, it’s causing them to stay! Let me explain.

Back in 2019, 21.5% of South African devs were looking to move abroad.

The top 5 reasons for wanting to do so were:

  1. Personal safety
  2. Growth opportunities
  3. Earning more
  4. Political reasons
  5. Better companies

Notice that growth opportunities, earning more and better companies all relate to the kinds of jobs that were available in South Africa. Now that jobs at international companies are available remotely, 3 of the 5 reasons for moving have disappeared!

South African developers can now take jobs at international companies, get paid more and have the career growth they want…all without having to relocate. They no longer have to choose between their home and their career. Amazing SA weather, beaches, mountains and family all the way!

What are the numbers of South African developers looking to move abroad?

That's a 14% decrease in three years! And, we might expect this to decrease even more.

This shift is great for the South African tech ecosystem. Developers are learning skills from the best in the world; skills which they'll be able to apply if they start companies here in the future. Malan Joubert and I did exactly that when starting OfferZen in South Africa after living in Silicon Valley.

Now you may be wondering, isn't this making it much more difficult for South African companies to hire developers? In short, yes. Companies no longer just compete for talent with other local companies. They now compete with every company in the world that's willing to hire remotely.

Fortunately, it’s not all grim for local companies. Remote also opens the door for South African companies to hire from the rest of Africa. I expect that we'll see a massive rise in South African companies hiring from Kenya and Nigeria over the next few years.

Get OfferZen's guide to crafting a remote work policy that attracts developers:

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