• Sebastiaan Tan

"We still have a long way to go"

Updated: Feb 28, 2019

Founded last year, Caspar Coding faced a double challenge: Technology & Africa.

We started with only a superficial knowledge of the technology sector but learned only recently how to present ourselves and do business in the unexplored field of Africa. Needless to say it was a challenging year, in which we learned a lot and were at the same time very successful. We managed to make 200.000 USD revenue, we hired talented staff, we climbed Mount Kenya and Mont Blanc, created jobs in Africa, and we managed to ‘pivot’ our business. We achieved all this, operating from our office in Nairobi, Kenya. The BBQ’s and the lunches on the roof terrace were the best: politics, marriage & racism, every topic was open for discussion. I feel fortunate that I can cooperate with such smart people and I find it very exciting that I am doing this in Kenya.

A couple of weeks ago I had a feedback interview with a corporate recruiter from a cool fin-tech startup in Amsterdam. After a nice and easy going meeting, I asked the corporate recruiter if she would like to meet one of the developers to interview him or her. She gave me the most honest answer possible: ‘I doubt if our current tech team is willing to work with an African colleague.’ (Sidenote: their current tech team exists of 8+ nationalities, from Asia, South America, Middle East, and the whole of Europe) Right after the words came out of her mouth, she looked as if she had hit someone with her car… did she say that?

This story was in my mind for a couple of days. What triggered me most was that the girl apologized, felt embarrassed and was more shocked by what she said than I was. This story reminded me of a book I read recently; ‘Thinking Fast & Slow.’ This book is mostly about how prejudice works, how everybody lives with them, and which biases we all have. A very brief summary of the book: there are two ways of thinking. Level 1 thinking: unconsciously, driving a car, going to the toilet and having a casual conversation. Level 2 thinking: conscious thinking, reading about something complicated, doing maths or installing a new television. Racism is a regular topic of debate in Nairobi. Racism, especially on an unconscious level, is a prejudice. Early this year we already started making a distinction between conscious and unconscious racism. Most people are not aware of their own biases towards coloured people. They act indeed from an unconsciousness; can we blame these people for being biased? Aren’t we all biased? What I learned from the book and its research is that those among us that feel that they are not biased, are likely to make the most biased choices.

The book made me realize I can't blame the corporate recruiter, who is actually a very sweet girl; I know a lot of us have these biases. Being aware of your own biases is essential. But what I learned from ‘Thinking Fast & Slow,’ that even if you are aware of your biases, you are not aware of the effect of your biases. Especially during stressful moments, people are likely to ignore their knowledge. Like the corporate recruiter did when I asked her if she wanted to see one of our developers.

There has been a lot of research on ‘making racial decisions.’ Studies found out that a positive correlation exists between participants who declared not to be racist but were still making racist decisions. Conclusion, people who think they are not a racist, tend to make more racist decisions. This phenomenon can be clarified with the lessons from ‘Thinking Fast & Slow,’ most decisions are made on an unconscious (the biased) level.

The problem of (unconscious) racism is the third big challenge Caspar Coding is facing, which is directly linked to an obstacle the company is recently dealing with: the housing problem in Amsterdam and surroundings. Every year, more people move to Amsterdam than the city can accommodate. Rents are extremely high.

The African developers, intelligent, hardworking, and above all friendly people, are having a hard time finding a suitable and affordable place to live. Reason for this is the shortage of houses, but also (unconscious) racism. We, from Caspar Coding, are even guilty of that ourselves; when I am calling real-estate agents I catch myself saying on the phone too often that the developers are friendly, clean and intelligent people. Why am I doing that?

Amos (31), a Java Developer at ING, arrived in the Netherlands five months ago. He has travelled a lot around the world, but people often asked him how he managed to get a good job in the Netherlands. More shocking, Amos did 41 house applications and visited 19 houses without any results. He is currently living in the home of one of the co-founders of Caspar Coding. The first time Amos visited an apartment house in Weesp, the real-estate agent told him over the phone that he was the first (and only) applicant. At the time of the viewing, he called the agent to tell her that he was in the neighbourhood. The real-estate agent told him she wasn't seeing him, while she was clearly looking in his direction. With other words, she didn't expect a coloured person to rent this kind of apartment. Not surprisingly, after the viewing, the agent did not respond and eventually told him the house was let to a different person, which is a bit strange when you are the first and only applicant and have a sufficient income. Nowadays, Amos is setting the expectations early by mentioning his country of origin on every application. This way, stories like the one above can be avoided but still no successful use.

Our society needs people like Amos to sustain our economy, we are a shrinking population. All Western European governments have benefit programs to attract talented people like Amos. The Dutch government introduced a 30% tax advantage for highly skilled migrants working in the Netherlands. The regulation allows employers to offer 30% of an employee’s salary to them tax-free, meaning that the employee only pays tax over 70% of their Dutch gross wage. In case the 30% rule applies, people outside of Europe are even allowed to keep their foreign driving license when they start living here (this usually is not the case). With these facilities in mind, the city of Amsterdam forgets about the essential one: a place to live for expats. An opportunity for its surrounding towns?

Who are we?

We are Caspar Coding. Caspar Coding is a tech-job marketplace. We are on a mission to connect Africa’s best tech talent to the coolest tech companies in Europe. Caspar Coding helps developers in wide range of languages and stacks to find the jobs they love.

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