Every month we ask one individual in our network a few questions about their way into tech, their motivation and their lessons learned.
Let’s start from the beginning. Tell us about where you’re from!
I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, but I have spent a good amount of my teenage and adult life in the UK as well. I first went to the UK for sixth form, my undergraduate degree in Psychology, and then my masters degree in Law. Even though I never studied programming or Computer Science formally, building websites was something I was always interested in. I made websites as a hobby while I was at university, then when I graduated I decided to pursue it full-time. I got a job working at an agency in Nigeria so I moved back there after my education.
I lived in Lagos for about 5 years – I worked as the Head of Technology for Big Cabal Media (think Buzzfeed but for Africa) then eyeo (the makers of Adblock Plus), before co-founding Helicarrier, a startup building cryptocurrency infrastructure for Africans in 2017.
In 2020, I moved back again to London. Nowadays, I am on a mini sabbatical and am focused more on my independent front-end work.
What valuable advice did you get from your parents?
I would say I learned more from my parents’ actions than any specific piece of advice they gave me. But watching them, watching their work ethic, how they composed themselves, carried themselves. I think I learned a lot from them about that.
How did you become interested in tech?
I have always been interested in technology, from as far back as I can remember, even in primary school. Dexter’s Laboratory was always one of my favorite cartoons, and I was just kind of obsessed with the idea of having a laboratory in my house. Then, I really discovered coding as a teenager when I was playing an online game called Neopets. They would teach you some very basic HTML so that you could really build up your profile page, similar to how MySpace worked. I became obsessed with that, and then I sort of just grew from there.
As a Google Developer Expert in Web Technologies, you are likely working with many emerging web technologies. Which ones do you find particularly exciting or promising for the future of web development?
I am really excited about the progress the web has made over the last ~5 years, which is mostly down to a project codenamed “Project Fugu”. This is basically an alliance between major browsers with the aim of closing the gap between the capabilities of mobile/native applications and the web. In the years since this project was introduced, we have seen a huge transformation in web capabilities. Web applications can now work offline, be installed to your device like any other application, and have a ton of critical features like push notifications.
You have a strong presence in the developer community. Can you share any personal anecdotes or experiences that highlight the power of networking and community engagement for career growth?
Even though networking has never been my strong suit, I have gained a critical network through writing, speaking, and just engaging with the community online. This has had an invaluable impact on my career. Every job I have gotten has been a direct result of that network.
How can companies and organizations foster a more inclusive and diverse environment in tech, and what role can individuals play in driving this change?
This is a huge undertaking and, as just an individual myself, I do not think I necessarily have the right answers. However, the approach I have always tried to take is to do what I can, given the position of power I have gained, to uplift those that come after me. This is why I started my scholarship program providing Udacity scholarships for Nigerian women trying to enter the technology industry. And why I mentor women who want to become GDE’s through the “Road to GDE” program. At Helicarrier, we periodically offer internships for women specifically, in addition to general internship programs.
Have you ever had a role model that inspired you on your path?
I cannot really think of anyone in particular that I can say I have looked up to. Particularly being a technology and being of a particular demographic, being black, being a black woman; there were not many people I saw I could look up to. And to be honest, even when I was getting into programming, I was doing it very much by myself. So, I was not really doing it and seeing other people like me doing it as well. I never even knew this was a job you could do; I was just sort of doing it as a hobby.
But once I entered the field as a career, I began to realize that I was the only black woman in most of the spaces I would be in. Even though I feel like I did not really have a role model to look up to, what has been rewarding for me is being able to be that for other people. I have heard people that say they started doing this or that because they have seen me do it and I am glad I’m able to do that for other people when I did not really have that.
What aspects of your work are you proudest of?
My (public) speaking career in particular is something I am very proud of because if anyone knows me in person, they know that I am quite a shy person. So, the fact that I have been able to speak in front of thousands of people and survive to tell the tale has been like a really big achievement! Even recently, hosting a conference for the first time I never thought I would be able to do that.
What has been your toughest challenge you faced while working in tech?
I would say getting that first real job was a big challenge. The biggest help for me here was having a blog and writing a lot – I do not think I would have gotten any of the jobs I had (from Big Cabal to eyeo) without it.
Also, looking for a job as a Nigerian citizen, especially when you are looking for a job that is outside the country, was very challenging. I had a particularly painful experience with a company I interviewed with about 5 years ago. I got very far in the process, but it all fell through when the issue of my needing a visa came up. It was extremely frustrating to just know that the reason I could not get this role, which would have been ultimately really life-changing, was because I am a Nigerian citizen.
Do you have a favorite book or podcast?
I listen to a ton of different podcasts. Who I will call out are “Cortex”, which is a productivity/tech one…
…and another I just started listening to, “Office Ladies”, a rewatch podcast of the show “The Office”, hosted by two of the characters in the show.
What advice would you give other women in tech?
One of the advantages I had entering the tech industry was that I did it without really knowing that it was such a white male dominated industry and that there may be issues that I would face in terms of sexism or racism and all of that. I think that was ultimately a benefit to me because maybe if I had known of all those things, I may have been more hesitant about entering the industry.
And what advice would you give women not yet working in tech that want to enter the field?
If it is something you are interested in, go for it. The great thing about the tech industry is that it is not just about being a programmer. So, if programming is not your thing, there are plenty of different other roles that you can do. Product Management is great, Design, or even if you are in a more traditional field like accounting or something, you can do that within the tech industry as well. Do not think that tech equals programming – it is much wider than that.