3 min read

Remote changes everything for South African tech talent

Narrative violation: The number of SA devs 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.

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 devs: 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 devs did not want to go back. Devs 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 devs are leveraging this power.

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

9 out of 10 SA devs 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 also not just the devs 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!

Here’s where we get back to South Africa tech talent and the brain drain…

SA 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 SA devs. These companies get a nice salary arbitrage and avoid the bloody fight over European talent.

Wait a minute...wouldn't European companies hiring SA devs 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 SA 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!

SA devs 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! ☀️ 🌴  🌊

How does this look in the numbers? 📉

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

This shift is great for the SA tech ecosystem. Devs 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 SA after living in Silicon Valley

Now you may be wondering, isn't this making it much more difficult for SA companies to hire devs? 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 SA companies to hire from the rest of Africa. I expect that we'll see a massive rise in SA companies hiring from Kenya and Nigeria over the next few years.