Nigerian Tech Scene From The Horses Mouth: (My Experience)
In early December of 2015, I woke up one morning and decided that I was going to spend the next 3 months of my life Travelling first hand around Nigeria to evangelise mobile technology and meet great people doing great stuff with mobile technology.
What was my reason for this decision?
Well, there are multiple reasons why I decided to do this but chief among them was the fact that I was itching to see what was going on in Africa especially in my own country Nigeria. I keep hearing about how new great IT solutions are coming out left and right and I was very keen to get involved in this scene and get a feel myself.
In this post, I will discuss my experiences during this period and highlight a lot of good stuff and not soo good stuff and some Ugly stuff too.
As soon as I decided that I was going to spend 3 months in Nigeria, I took up this mindset of what I call a business sabbatical. It had been almost 4 years since my last trip to Nigeria so a lot had changed. All my old contacts in the IT scene were mostly obsolete and I had no direct links to the new young and fast growing IT scene. To tackle this I took the following steps.
Connect With Professionals
I went on my Linkedin and connected with like minded individuals in my industry. I come from a very much hybrid mobile side of things with Ionic being my forefront and looked for similar individuals and connected with them. Furthermore, I made sure I had direct phone calls with these people and ensured that a meet and greet was in the horizons for when I arrived. It’s sort of like cold calling for friends but it worked and I connected with a lot of great people. Also, my Linkedin served as like a testimonial so when I contacted most of these people, there were already aware of the things I had done and understood what my strengths were.
I also made sure I tried to reach similar professionals on social media, especially on twitter. If there was a guy that I had seen a lot of retweets from people I followed or read an interesting post from him, I connected to them and acquainted myself.
Pitched My Company’s Services
I run a startup called Haibrid based in London and what we do is we create cross-platform mobile solutions with Ionic. We also offer training services to companies on various topics like Ionic, Angular & Phonegap/Cordova. I took time online to search for IT training providers that did not offer our services. As Ionic & Angular developers are very much in short supply, training materials and courses for them are even in shorter supply. This was also sort of like a cold calling opportunity but it worked with great success as a lot of these cold calls actually became conversions or, at least, became part of a great network of professionals which was the main aim. This was how I actually got connected with the guys at Andela which I will talk about in detail in the later parts of this article.
Talent Base/Co-Creation Workplace
In London, I work from home mostly but also go to the Google campus a lot. The google Campus is a co-working space where you can meet a lot of great talents doing some really impressive stuff. I like co-working spaces as it gives the right balance of social and work and was keen to continue this while in Nigeria. For this, I spun up Chrome and did a quickie on google and vuwaaaala, 2 co-working places stood out. They are the CC Hub & Idea Hub. I made attempts contact people in Nigeria about this and it seemed like most people were more favourable towards the CC Hub as it had a bit more people and was more popular amongst people I asked. So I reached out to them and applied for a short term membership. It was not easy by any means but after to and fro emails we got in.
At this point, I had connected with a lot of professionals already, had potential clients lined up and had a workspace to meet even more great people sorted out. It was time to fly down and start my journey.
Considering I lived the first 18 years of my life, there was no culture shock or anything of the sort for me. However, there was a sense of re-adjustment as pretty much all had either changed or looked new to me.
A Young Able Tech Scene
3 days after my arrival, I resumed at the CC-Hub and I was blown away. I say young Nigerian developers all entrepreneurially driven hustling away. Making friends is my strong point so I wasted no time fitting in. Everyone was so nice and eager to help each other. It is this particular fact that I like about my people. We possess a great sense of community and happiness regardless of how dark times can be. The CC Hub was really nice and it had a great work space and there was the constant power supply which was a big deal considering the power issues in Nigeria.
Internet & Power Supply
Internet access and Power supply have hindered the Nigerian IT scene from growing to its full potential for so long and this is still the case. The power supply is pretty much still bad and you’d need to have either a generator or resort to a more renewable source like the one my friend got from Solynta. They are pretty good and cheap solar provider. Internet access is good but not as good as the one I had in England obviously and also more expensive like very much more expensive. In fact, I had 2 mobile modems Smile & Spectranet. When I was doing normal stuff I used the Spectranet for everyday stuff but when I had an important meeting on Skype or something I went with Smile. The one big problem was that Smile was super expensive, #9000 For 10 GIG where I paid #10,000 for 20 Gig on the Spectranet. If you convert that to pounds, that’s around £30 and I pay £25.50 per month in London where I get 100 Mbps unlimited fibre optic. I get it that mobile internet is more expensive than fibre optic but it’s a bit too much in Nigeria, to be honest.
Poor Time Culture/Efficiency & Knowledge Sharing
To be blunt, Nigerians are great people but we are not so great with time. Living in London, I got used to keeping with time as if someone said 5 pm they meant 5 pm so you better get there 10–15 mins early. This Is the opposite in Nigeria. 5 pm mostly meant we’d start to leave our location to come to you at 5 pm and I found myself very early to meetings and waiting for people for ages. Also, people tend to think it’s ok to be late and not even make efforts to send a text saying this is why I am late and I need x amount of time to get there. Efficiency is also not our biggest strength. Like it is evident in every nook and cranny of the day to day life. Like if you ever need to go to the bank for example, just be prepared to write of that day. It’s even worse in Lagos where traffic compounds everything.
Knowledge sharing, especially in the tech world, is very poor. I met a lot of great developers but I met double the amount of unskilled developers. The problem is these developers that were unskilled always think they were world class. For me, the worst type of “I don’t Know” is when you have no idea that “you don’t know what you doing”. Like people learn something very minute and feel that they are king and won’t want to share. But sharing is what makes everyone grow better and bigger. I guess the dog eat dog nature of Nigeria makes this possible but still I believe developers need to really learn to share and gain from each other.
Regardless of the good bad and ugly, I saw in my first few days back, I did meet more positivity which I am dedicating this section for.
Real Talents Exist
Oh yes, there are real people doing real stuff. As a big Ionic lover, I met a lot of great people. From my tour of the Andela campus, this was very evident. Andela is one startup that I am very proud of and have high hopes for. I mean people like Co-Founder Iyinoluwa and my main man at Andela Prosper are just legends. Really cool people trying to change the world and are succeeding.
I also ran an Ionic meetup/hackathon, the first of its kind in Nigeria and wow such talent did I meet. The female participation is growing and this particular fact makes me very very happy. In fact,
I met a young lady at my meetup by the name of Ola. Now Ola was still at university but had gotten herself an internship and she was already doing Native Android dev and had used Ionic too. I can’t begin to tell you how impressed I was with her but she was not alone as there were loads of people with similar stories. Nigeria is weaning itself off its ugly reputation as an internet fraud country to a haven for young bright talents that have a role to play in making the nation a greater one.
Nigerians are some of the most entrepreneurial people and this is evident in the IT startup world. From my time at the CC-HUB I have seen a lot of great ideas. From Go My Way, a startup that aims to be the Uber for inter-city travel to Life Bank that aims to be the Uber for blood banks. I have also seen great ideas like Stutern whose founders I just so happen to have met in London before they moved back to Nigeria to Jovago which is my first stop when I need a hotel.
Then you have more established startups like Andela, Jumia, Konga to name a few. E-Commerce seems to be the main are that gets a lot of attention in Lagos at least but I can’t help but feel like there are even more areas that need innovative minds beyond E-Commerce.
To round up my post, I will talk about some stuff I think we can improve on to even get the tech scene in Nigeria to an even better place than what it currently is.
Direct Educational Participation
There is a global shortfall of talents in tech and this is because the educational system has failed to catch up. The educational boards need to be a bit more proactive in raising more tech engineers to be ready for the world. I think there is a big gap and both Private and Public parties need to invest in the future where tech is at the centre.
Localised Solutions / Participation Of Other Cities
Nigeria is very culture-centric and what works in one city is most likely foreign in another. Lagos is at the centre of this tech leapfrog but the other parts of Nigeria are just dormant. For example, I was invited to the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka for a mobile development workshop with Ionic and wow, I met some bright individuals. These guys made apps that could actually have real world applications in hours.
But it seems everyone is on their way to Lagos. This reminds me of the Silicon valley boom where everyone on tech wanted to go to San Francisco. However this is not necessarily true, the Nigerian government and people should aim at growing their own cities in tech and create localised solutions. What about investing in the other cities like Kano, Kaduna, PH, Calabar, Benin to name a few. These cities have a lot of universities and the young talent is there so why not diversify to that angle.
On a final note, we need to look at technology in Nigeria same way we look as Oil. We need to look at it as an industry, an export commodity and also a Job creation factor. We have all the ingredients and the spark is there but we can go a long way in making it even better suited for our citizens. This post is based on my own experience and as much as I missed out on a lot of things, I hope you have an idea of what the tech scene is like. It is young it is hungry it is great, it is motivated. With a bit more investment and effort from all parties, it will be amongst the world’s leading and I aim to be a part of it, I hope you aim to be a part of it too.