Life of a Ghanaian Software Engineer : Where it all Started

On Thursday, 1st September 2016, I woke up at 2:00 am to write what will potentially be my first blog post ever as a software engineer in Ghana.

I have always wanted to write sometime about my experiences as a software engineer. This desire has been burning within me for quite a while now. So let get it over with already.

What do I really want to write about? I have read a couple of posts from very prominent and renowned software engineers here in Ghana, while some have taken the route of “bashing” other developers and upcoming startups, others have drilled down on the tech Eco-system in Ghana. But I think the nature of my blog post would mostly be about me, how I am striving through every day life as a Ghanaian software engineer.

As with every story I hope to start from … well when it all begun.

It has been a child hood dream of mine to one day fly a plane, so with every preparation in place I opted for General Science with Geography Option in my Senior Secondary School (SSS) now Senior High School(SHS).

My dream was on course until when I was in SSS 2 and my school invited a group of “expert” career guiding consultants to help us (adolescents/teenagers) decide what we would want to do with our lives in the future.

So all the classes were invited one after the other to line up in front of our school’s staff common room which served as the consultation room and each student was called in to meet any of the vacant “experts” for a series of interview questions.

When it finally got to my class I was ecstatic, because as I paid attention to the conversations of most of my mates, I noticed they did not have a clue of what they wanted to do with their lives after school. But merhn did I have a grand master plan laid out to the last detail of how I will gain admission to pursue Aerospace Engineering at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology after my SSS and further go into the Ghanaian Air Forces for my aviation training, then through my career path of flying one of the greatest Airlines ( Lufthansa) back then and finally retire be a renowned call to guy to train the next generation of pilots.

In my excitement I did not notice that most of my class mates came out very resolute to pursue certain career paths(I will buttress later on). It finally got to my turn. I entered the room and sat in front of the only lady consultant in the room whose table was free at the time, all the others were engaging other students. This rather tired lady who after talking with a lot of both excited or clueless students and was yearning for a break, tried very hard to look cheerful and started a somewhat boring conversation with me, and when she finally asked “so gentle man what do you want to be in the future?”, boy did I let her have it.

I am the kind of guy who mostly keep to myself (quietly) but when I get excited, I involuntary become loud. And this attracted the attention of all the other consultants and students in the room because of the confidence and precision with which I was rattling on.

After my grand master plan was laid out and I was waiting for an applause or a standing ovation from my supposedly amazed audience, one of the other consultants from another desk who was engaging a student overheard what I was saying and observed that I was wearing glasses so he asked what kind of glasses I was wearing. I told him they were for sight as I could not see clearly from afar.

Then as if they were all disappointed at the result of a very fierce football match all the “experts” unanimously started shaking their heads and the man informed me that he was sorry that people with vision problem were not allowed to fly planes. But the way I was very passionate about this career he would suggest I consider Electrical Engineering instead.

I was very devastated on hearing this so I recoiled into my shell and didn’t realize how the rest of the day went by. Later on as we were all discussing the events of the day, I realize that most of the students were now talking about the traditional career paths in Ghana which every parent wanted their child to pursue because of the job security and luxurious benefits associated with them. These were (Doctors, Engineers) for Science students, (Accountants and Bank Managers) for the Business students and (Lawyers and Surveyors) for the General Arts students and final Painters for Visual Arts students.

Whiles students who really were already advised by their parents to pursue these traditional career paths were excited, almost every other student who had a different career aspiration other than the status quo was disappointed. I had lost hope of ever becoming a pilot and I didn’t see anything extraordinary in pursuing Electrical Engineering as I had an image of becoming an “Electrician”. I must admit, I did not research or read further to confirm what the “expert” career consultant said was true or even the prospects of pursuing electrical engineering.

So why Software Engineering, was there any career path in the field with all the security and luxurious benefits as a role model for me back then in 2003? The answer is a resounding no. But however there was lying there within me a secret desire for computers. Back in 1997, I remember my Dad used to take my junior brother and I to his work place on Sundays and allowed us to play “PAC MAN” on his colleagues machine whiles he worked. So I was always looking up to Sundays with excitement. Then a couple of years later his work gave him a black and white screen bulky laptop. This device was placed on a desk in our living room and we worshiped the area where it was. I remember on several occasion how I was scolded for passing too close to the laptop.

As time went by and my Dad bought his own colored screen Monitor desktop, he allowed us with a rationed time of 30 minutes each to use the laptop after school. Back in the day, we had some of our cousins living with us which made us all 5 in number. So you could just imagine how it was, with the older ones bulling their way into the younger ones time and all that stuff. Those days were fun as you could buy or sell laptop time with a favor.

In SSS 3, from second term, all final year students were allowed to use the school’s only computer lab for a 30 minute period on I think, Wednesdays before break. I remember back then I was among the few students who had previous experiences with a computer. Our lab instructor soon made me his assistant and this came with some responsibilities and privileges.

Some of the responsibilities were to come earlier than the class to switch on all the computers before class started, to be called on weekends to clean up the lab and to be the tools bearer in the event of any computer repair. The privileges were to come to the lab anytime during break and enjoy the computer lab all to myself, and to be the gate-man/cashier on most Saturdays as the computer lab was turned into a gaming center. These were really fun times for me.

One day, while we were busily “operating” on a broken down system and having a discussion, our lab instructor introduced me to the idea of becoming a computer engineer. He further went ahead to explain to me that computer engineering was the work computer repairs do. Once again I did not research further to get an in-depth understanding, but was resolute to pivot my career path from then on to become a Computer Engineer. To me I always thought this career option will give me more time with the computer since from home I had little time with it and at school I enjoyed computer period.

From then on, if ever I was asked what I wanted to become in the future, I will proudly say I wanted to become a Computer Engineer. After school, I applied for Computer Engineering at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (Tech), that year the the applications were so much that they had to adjust the cut off point for admission to aggregate 8. My grade was a bit lower and my Dad was not willing to compromise his values and I too did not want to pursue any other program. So I had to wait to apply the following year.

While at home, with all my mates gaining admission to the various tertiary institution, I decided to enroll in a 6 months hardware training school which has become the order of the day. In those days to study computer hardware (this was mainly how to open a computer and repair it by replacing either a damaged RAM or network card) and the Microsoft Suite (i.e Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Publisher) was an alternative for those who did not gain admission to any of the tertiary institutions. I studied for Six months. Back in the day, it was common for tertiary students to wear their school “La Cost” T-Shirts during vacation, you could just imagine the anguish when I saw my mates wearing their respective schools T-Shirt. After my studies the owner was very pleased with the passion I demonstrated towards the whole program so she employed me to assist in training other students.

One day we had a student who had lived in the states and I was asked to train him to use some of the computer software applications. Unlike most of the students I had trained earlier who had never seen computers before and were very scared to even touch the mouse, this young man was very confident around the computer and he was talking about a lot of things I had never even heard of. It was from him that I heard of the concept of Software Engineering and this time I went and researched further into what it takes to become a Software Engineer.

Though the following year the cut of aggregate to gain admission into the Computer Engineering program was reviewed I had applied for Computer Science at Valley View University and did gain admission to pursue Computer Science. Though I was very confident with the Computer I only had little knowledge about the Science behind the computing system.

Hence I started the most mixed feeling experience of my life’s journey to become a software engineer.

If you have read this far thank you. Your comments are welcomed.

I will update my post with my other experience.