Seven Keys to Finding Hidden IT Aptitude in Developing Countries

by David Stone

I think there are seven keys to finding the right people with an aptitude for IT in an underdeveloped country:

  1.           Keep relationships primary
  2.           Share your motivation
  3.           Develop a very close Friend
  4.           Be a close friend to Christian expats and their NGOs
  5.           Know the owners of other local IT companies
  6.           Serve the head of the IT department at local education institutions
  7.           Empower nationals to hire other employees

I co-founded an application software company in the USA in 1991. We’ve been ‘impact sourcing’ programming jobs in Afghanistan since 2007. We currently have six programmers in Kabul helping maintain and customize our application.

My journey to Afghanistan began in 1978 as a college Senior. In August of that year, I felt that God called me to business, missions and Afghanistan. The first two calling unfolded immediately after graduation. I had to wait 24 years for Afghanistan.

When I started going to Afghanistan in 2002, I always stayed and spent time with Christian NGOs. I made a habit of visiting the country two times a year for 10-14 days. My NGO hosts helped me get acquainted with the country. They introduced me to many of their Afghan friends. I became a regular guest and an unofficial part of the family. I shared my dream to bring the blessing of the LORD through business. They shared their mission to disciple the nation through humanitarian work. We became huge fans of each other’s efforts to share the love of Christ with Afghanistan. However, I had no idea what business I would be involved in.

One of the obvious business opportunities was Afghans working remote to our software company in the USA. We could use programmers and computer operators. I looked at the internet infrastructure and IT training. I spoke with dozens of people. After visiting the country four times in two years, I concluded that I would not be able to ‘impact source’ any work from our company in the USA to Afghanistan, yet. So I waited for the IT infrastructure and training to improve while I visited twice a year with the NGOs. They always liked a visit simply because very few people were ever visiting.

During those trips I developed a relationship with an Afghan living with one of the NGO expats. He was very interested in helping me. He introduced me to many of his friends and family. He became a ‘man of peace’ for me, a real ‘Friend’. While he had a great job at one of the foreign embassies, he helped me explore business opportunities as much as he could. Normally, he would sit quietly in my meetings and just listen. Afterwards, he would give me his feelings about the Afghans I met with. Sometimes he would just hold his nose. He helped me see and hear things I didn’t perceive.

In 2007, after five years of visits, I felt the LORD nudge me to earnestly plan on opening a programming shop in Afghanistan. With the help of my ‘Friend’, I began visiting local IT companies and IT training institutes. The infrastructure and training looked favorable. The IT market was developing rapidly. However, we didn’t find any companies offering jobs as software developers. Most IT opportunities were in hardware and networking, not software.

My ‘Friend’ also arranged a visit to the best public university to meet the head of the computer science department. As we got to know each other over tea, I shared my desire to open a software development company. I mentioned my motivation to combine godly business practices with software development as an extension of our software company in the USA. He told me there was not such opportunity currently in Afghanistan. I told him about my journey to Afghanistan under God’s direction. I asked him if he had students that might want to work at a software company that puts God at the center of its business practices. He told me many of his students were very smart and dedicated of God. He insisted we come back the next day to share the same story with his entire faculty. And we did just that.

After the encouragement from the head of the computer science department, my Friend and I began looking for an experienced computer programmer who could also serve as our manager. We interviewed friends and friends of friends. We interviewed from most major ethnic backgrounds. And, we didn’t interview one family member of my Friend. That was very unusual. Another quality of a good ‘Friend’. After some ‘Afghan-style’ background checks, we hired our first employee in August 2007.

We collocated our office in one of the Christian NGO offices. The NGO had all the infrastructure we would need: offices, parking, internet and lunch. In Afghanistan, lunch is part of every job. That would give our employees a chance to meet and mingle at lunchtime with the NGO employees. I was especially eager for them to get to know the Christian expats. We rented the space and helped underwrite most of the expense of the infrastructure.

After five months of training remotely from Afghanistan, our manager was ready to hire four programmers. My ‘Friend’ and I shared our desire to see a multi-ethnic workforce. It was important not to hire only his people. All our candidates were seniors at the university I mentioned earlier. I also had my Friend interview the short list. In January of 2008, we hired four new graduates from the university. One of them is still with us today. He is our senior programmer in Afghanistan. Our first manager has moved on to start his own business, but we are still close friends. Many times, I rely on his insight to support our operation.

The universities are our primary source of good IT candidates. We have added another university in town to recruit our employees. We are drawing quality candidates with godly character from both institutions.

David A. Stone is the Founder and CEO of First Rate, Inc. based in Arlington, TX, USA; and the Founder of First Rate Afghanistan and First Rate Infotech (India). Dave is a regular guest mentor for the Ask a BAM Mentor column.


Picture credit: Kabulaus