There are 2.3 billion gamers in the world – that's 35 percent of the planet's population. In short, games are a pretty good way to reach people. This formed part of the thinking for 21-year-old South African student Mvelo Hlophe, whose brainchild Zaio provides people with a free platform to learn coding skills.
"Both my parents are educators, so I've always been fascinated with education," says Hlophe, a final year Politics, Philosophy & Economics student at the University of Cape Town. "My previous venture was a low-cost printing medium that delivered learning material to under-resourced schools. I've also been involved in other entrepreneurial projects throughout the course of my degree. Through trial and error with other less successful ventures, I picked up most of the skills I'm now using to lead Zaio."
Leading a venture at 21 is impressive, but what exactly has Hlophe created? In simple terms, Zaio gamifies the professional journey that developers must take to build a career. The platform provides users with the opportunity to build their developing skills via gamified coding challenges, before granting access to real-life internships and industry events. The user gradually builds-up their profile – which is visible to recruiters – and can generate job offers.
"Zaio was conceived during a conversation with a friend of mine," Hlophe recounts. "He needed practical experience to apply for an internship at a big tech company, but didn't have it, despite good academic grades. We saw the need to teach students relevant coding skills on top of the ones they learned in college. With the growing need for everyone to equip themselves for future jobs and some people not being able to access necessary content, we decided to focus on democratising access to learning this skill."
The impact this democratisation could have is unprecedented. By 2030, Africa is expected to have the world's largest potential workforce and will have a key presence in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). As Hlophe outlines, Zaio can help young Africans "make a better living for themselves through coding and prepare themselves for the 4IR," which will cause professional turbulence in Africa.
Zaio certainly isn't just a game-like tool used to supplement your studies. It offers the invaluable experience of working in real-life coding environments, working with professionals on project teams to learn relevant, practical skills. As well as receiving a fee for their work (invaluable for any student), the user can then demonstrate these skills on their Zaio profile, with the golden nugget of professional experience to back it up.
Zaio is already working with three university campuses in Cape Town and hopes to expand this to eight by the end of the year. At this point, recruiters will be able to hire developers for full-time recruitment. For Hlophe however, there are more logistical challenges that stand in his way.
"There are currently five of us on the team and we're all doing our final year of university,” he explains. “As we're leaving university this year, we're looking for a place to call home for Zaio. We could stay in Cape Town or move to a place where we'll have a greater impact on helping grow the tech ecosystem by increasing the pool of skilled talent."
It's not only Hlophe's time management skills that impress, his ambition is equally strong. "In the future, we want Zaio to teach people how to code for free throughout the entire continent of Africa," he dreams. "Our vision is to have Africa as the number one place of technical innovation globally. We're cultivating leaders that will drive this."