One of the biggest online retailers on the globe, Nasdaq-listed Amazon.com, today officially opened a software development centre in Cape Town, and is recruiting top-notch South African software engineers to join its ranks. The centre has been up and running since early this year.
The Cape Town centre is only the third of its kind outside of the USA; the first was launched in Edinburgh, Scotland last year, followed by one in Bangalore, India in March this year.
Chris Pinkham, a Capetonian who co-founded SAâ€™s first Internet service provider (known as Ticsa and then iafrica, which was then sold and became UUNET SA) in 1993, is the managing director of the Cape Town centre. He joined Amazon in Seattle, USA in 2000 as the director for its network-engineering group and then became its vice-president responsible for worldwide IT systems infrastructure.
This is a massive validation of the skills that are in South Africa – yes, we may not have 400 000 engineers per year graduating like India has, but we do have a pool of very skilled people, where WITS university, UCT, RAU and Stellenbosch probably lead the way regards the number of and quality of graduates. I don’t need to mention the skilled people already in SA, as these are the people that Amazon will be after in a big way.
Similarly, there has been a huge number of people originally from South Africa that have left for “greener pastures” taking their skills with them overseas, so I think that this announcement from Amazon may get people both sharpening their CV’s and also packing their bags for Cape Town. Let’s face it, Cape Town has an amazing lifestyle, so if you’re someone with the right skills you’d be crazy not to try. The fact that a Saffa is heading it up is even better, nevermind the chance to work on one of the most innovative ecommerce companies in the world.
Now, this has to send a signal to the government – Amazon probably does more turnover per day than my little brain can possibly even fathom – that there are skills in the country that are internationally recognised and in demand, that there is a need to pick up the pace in deregulating and cheapening the telecoms / broadband market, and that there are probably other major businesses that are looking at South Africa as an option and they need to be won over. Now is the time to act, not in 2 years when they’ve all set up shop in Bangalore because the barrier to entry was too high in ZA, and the Telkom fiasco has been resolved.
This also has to send a message to the techies in SA – stop burying your head in the sand and take a look at the rest of the world. Take part, get involved, tell people about your skills, stop thinking the world ends at the Limpopo.