One hundred sixty-five students have graduated from a free, nine-month-long course on application development funded by tech giant Apple and run in collaboration with Binus University at BSD City in Banten.
The graduation is not only a milestone for a first generation of Apple-sponsored local iOS developers but also a government triumph in pressuring Apple – among the world’s most valuable brands – to invest in Indonesia's human capital.
Hence, the ceremony was attended by three ministers: Information and Communications Minister Rudiantara, Industry Minister Airlangga Hartarto and Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati.
Seated among the audience, Ricky Christian, 25, a business management graduate, is among the first batch of Binus University students benefiting from the Apple Academy.
“We basically learned three things: basic coding, app design and how to do business,” he told The Jakarta Post after the ceremony.
The business training, he said, included project management, research and app monetization, while the basic coding was limited to Swift – a programming language created exclusively for Apple products.
The students – 30 percent of whom were women – were tasked with identifying and solving four social problems using technology over the course of the program.
Apple vice president Lisa Jackson, who handles the company’s education programs, explained this was what the company called “challenge-based learning”, whereby students are trained to solve problems instead of just receiving knowledge.
Armed with such a problem-solving mindset, Ricky teamed up with five other students to create a job interview training app called Koda, which is available for free on the App Store.
Koda works by asking users standard interview questions, such as: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” (in Indonesian) and then evaluates their confidence level based on loudness and eye contact.
The app is not yet foolproof, but the team is working on expanding its accuracy by measuring articulation, speech speed and, further down the line, content.
“For now, we’re focusing on nonverbal communication, because 88 percent of communication is nonverbal based on our research,” said Ricky.
The team’s next step is figuring out how to monetize Koda, and therefore the academy invited several tech companies, such as e-marketplace Tokopedia and online lender Investree, to see and, perhaps, invest in the 33 apps produced by the students.
The app’s major limitation is that it is exclusive to Apple, whose iPhones control less than 13 percent of Indonesia’s smartphone market, greatly limiting the reach of an app that could otherwise help millions of Indonesian millennials.
The Koda team acknowledged that they were open to making the app available for other smartphone brands, including Samsung, OPPO and Xiaomi.
“The students can keep their apps in iOS or develop them further in other platforms, but what they are really learning is the importance of developing – through collaboration – a product that is world class,” said Apple’s Lisa Jackson.
The Koda developers, who are mostly business management students, are aware that even a basic understanding of coding and app development gives them a greater chance of employment in the Industry 4.0 era.
At least 50 percent of large companies in Indonesia want to become as technologically advanced as start-ups, providing plenty of opportunity for tech-savvy employees, according to an International Data Corporation (IDC) survey.
However, developer salaries are also relatively low in Indonesia, as an average iOS developer could expect Rp 7.7 million ($539) per month in Jakarta, according to Indeed.com, while an experienced software developer earns at least Rp 20.8 million per month, according to recruitment consultancy Robert Walters.
In comparison, an average iOS developer could earn Rp 16.8 million per month in Malaysia, while experienced developers earn Rp 27 million per month in Kuala Lumpur, according to the same sources.
Encouraging the students to stay in Indonesia, Minister Rudiantara told them during his keynote speech that the country still needed 9 million digital talents to achieve its targeted growth.
He was actually referring to a 2012 McKinsey report that estimated Indonesia needed 9 million workers with secondary and tertiary education – not explicitly digital talent – to meet the targeted 7 percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth by 2030.
“I’m glad Apple is adding value to this country, but next I want to see an Apple store [instead of an authorized reseller] in this country,” he said in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
For the minister, the graduation also symbolized the government’s success in making Apple invest in human capital through his ministry’s regulation No. 27/2015 on technical requirements for long-term evolution (LTE) technology.
The regulation requires all LTE-capable internet devices sold in Indonesia to contain at least 30 percent local content and thus pushes tech companies to build factories in Indonesia and expose locals to advanced technology.
Apple instead chose to invest its 30 percent quota, which the government calculated was worth around $44 million, to establish three innovation centers between 2017 and 2019.
The second center, which began operations this year, is located in Surabaya, East Java, (in cooperation with Ciputra University), while the other two are located in Batam, Riau Islands, but it is not known when operations will begin.
Apple’s choice to invest in human capital not only complies with government regulations but also aligns with the government’s plan to prioritize building human capital over the next five years.