2017 In Review: My Journey Into Andela

Finally getting somewhere

Welcome to Andela!

It was around August 2016, when I decided that I will curve out an education for myself, after 2 years of Biomedical Engineering at Kenyatta University.

It had been two wholesome years of learning, which I so much appreciate, as we got to learn a ton of Electrical and Biomedical Engineering — pretty good stuff. Until I felt BME was short of me.

By the way, Biomedical Engineering is just Electrical Engineering but for the hospital. We would do X-ray machines, electro-cardiograms, CRTs, MRIs, all the medical equipments basically. We were engineers on healthcare, or if you like, engineers who are doctors.

In between my first and second year, we did an Introduction to C and C++ Programming(taught by the magnificent Gordon Agutu) and I loved it. It made me realise the potential computers had in transforming our lives. And so this became the pivotal point.

Even so, most of my classmates found programming really hard and not their thing (they were hardware guys?). They would dread programming classes. Let alone firing up Visual Studio Code IDEs at the Digital Lab’s 3 hour-long sessions. I was the complete opposite.

Writing C++ snippets was a horror to many. For me, I found it a breeze, just go to Youtube, search for the problem in question and just follow along! Come on guys, programming is that simple.

The art of Googling is what programmers are paid for.

We were not supposed to, but I am glad our programming lecturer, Mr Agutu, had the future well spelt for him; that he gave us a final semester’s project to design a C++ program that would compute a user’s bank balances, perform withdrawals or deposits and still reflect the correct balances.

The program would also allow a user to sign up and login, and deny login after three wrong attempts.

We got something like an 86/100 for that project. We were a team of four (Miroro, Damaris, Alphonce and I), and I remember after going through the hot seat (Agutu’s office), one of my team members decided to treat us for a special lunch at a three star hotel (BSSC), we had done exemplary work! By the way, thanks Charles!

Mr Agutu would only give such projects to his Computer Science classes, so for us this was going an extra mile. We were the first of his classes to have gone that far in programming, he said.

He told us that we, engineers, should be well conversant with code, and not just leave it to our CS counterparts. He mentioned something like, coding is the future of all work.

I was sold. And it turns out he was right too.

Software Engineering it will be! I decided. But not a formal education. I would endeavour to teach myself how to code.

I was eager to get something outta there quickly also, so I applied to our school’s tech incubation centre, pitched a world-changing idea and boom! I was accepted. Little did I know that tech needs skill, hard core skill.

Me applying to Google Launchpad Accelerator, but missing out :) Look at that Google pen in front, didn’t work like charm though

At this stage, I had tried working on two startup ideas I had, but one thing always put me off— lack of skill. It took me far too long to build something useful, leave alone something sellable.

Nevertheless, I was determined to do it.

Do something that you would be proud to wake up to do daily even when you’re 50.

On my quest for this highly invaluable programming skill, I attended local tech meetups like Nairuby and others; and did I learn a lot and become more embedded into programming because of community. Community gave me a comfortable assurance that even if what I was working on wouldn’t go well, I would still be right with programming.

I have lots to say about community and programming, but that’s for another day.

One tech meetup that really became a turning point to me was one Javascript meetup (NairobiJS) on March 2017. It was held at Andela Kenya’s offices at Kilimani, Yaya Centre.

Everyone I met was simply awesome, from the gateman to the Angular guy explaining how webpack does its thing. That there were far too many young software developers honing their craft in this one place was just too invaluable for me to ignore.

Needless to say, that night wasn’t over before I had submitted my application to Andela.com.

Did I say I met this guy who built an open source m-pesa API that at that point I was learning how to integrate to my online business? This guy Eugene Mutai and his Project Mulla. It really motivated me.

I also learnt a lot from the intro to React tutorial by Joy Wangare and Jackline Kimani. Thanks awesome people.

I knew I needed to become like them, so I decided I would ask how they did it. I fired up my browser and went to LinkedIn, and sent friend requests to all Andelans I could find.

Once they accepted, I sent them this direct message:

Hi <name here>,
I am applying to be an Andelan Fellow for the Andela Kenya Cohort XIX (May 22). Got a word/advice for me so I can secure the offer? Thanks in advance.

I got really great answers. This is one of them

Hi Collins,
Thanks for reaching out, this shows you really have the spirit and will of an Andelan. I would advice you to continue with the same spirit throughout the pre-interview period. I also encourage you to go through the homestudy curriculum and get familiar with tools like Github. You look like a bright chap am certain you will make.
If software development and leadership are your passion then you are on the right track. However if you haven’t decided what your passion is about don’t worry, Andela is a family where we give everyone a chance to find where they belong. I would also encourage you to keep applying even if you don’t make it through this round. But as I said you are a bright chap. Thanks for reaching out. Hope to see you soon at the fellowship.

That was enough motivation to keep burning the midnight oil and get good at Data Structures and Algorithms, preparing for the homestudy test and the grueling bootcamp.

I kept at it and sent more than 50 DMs on LinkedIn. Yes, 50! The responses were just wow, so much helpful.

Special thanks to Jeff Kungu, Joseph Akhenda, Mwaleh Muturi, Lewis Kabui, Jimnah Magira, Nate Martin, Luke Olali, Lavender Ayodi, Edwin Kupara, Penina Wanjiru, Joan Awinja, Shem Ogumbe, Warenga Maina, Maryanne Ng’ang’a, Loice Andia, Stacey Achungo, Tolulope Komolafe, Nadayar, Temitope Fowotade and many more. Thanks guys, remember LinkedIn? Keep helping a brother.

During the one month interview process, I would almost always introduce myself like this, in conclusion “… and I am a technical co-founder at blabla incubation centre”. This is true. But at that point in time, I didn’t know they would want to see the outputs of exactly that, — the work of a technical cofounder.

Well, it turns out that Andela is very keen on smaller details that matter. And especially if you have a technical background, they’re gonna make sure they see your technical claws before you’re approved to join them.

Surely enough, I didn’t make it. You heard me right, I didn’t make it. With all the passion, drive and commitment, I didn’t. I had left school, and I knew I didn’t want to go back. What would I tell my friends? They trusted me and knew I would hit it hard. But here I was, receiving the sad news.

We expected more from you than you performed,” my facilitator told me. “You had stated earlier that you had done programming for some time. And have done Ruby on rails, Django and some Javascript before, right?” I nodded. “I am sorry but unfortunately, the panel has decided that you are not going to proceed…

That was enough to bring an elephant down. I thought I would break down, but I persisted, momma had taught me to stay strong.

But the best thing with Andela is that you always have a second chance.” Continued Martin Mungai. “Go and level up in Python and if you will like, please reapply and come back. We would love to have you.

Go and level up.

I went home.

Le Comeback.

I did exactly what I had been asked to. Level Up. And this time round I had sort of a personal decree that I must go through.

So I drafted another message to my LinkedIn guys and told them this:

Hey <name here>, how’s you
I was thinking of calling this a ‘regret message’ because I didn’t make it into Andela (Man, Andela is a company and a half), but that would not be true at all. The passion, love, determination and energy I saw confirmed my love for tech. It made my ear tickle a bit. I loved the pressure, the boot camp experience, the code and the awesome team. I can’t simply call it all lost because I didn’t receive a letter of acceptance. The learning experience is just enough for me to say “I actually made it”.
We can call this a ‘sequel message’. After all it’s more code-y. So I quickly ran up the stairs but tumbled at the last step. I didn’t do well on my week 2 project. I forgot that the devil was in the details, moved slowly and ended up presenting some half baked work (poorly executed the flask bucketlist challenge).
Anyhow, Andela is too awesome to ignore, so I dusted off and reapplied and I will be in for cohort 20 — I will surely be keen to rectify my past mistakes. Your support has been incredibly awesome, I promise not to let you guys down this time round. I PROMISE.
Yours Kibe

Wow, that message still tickles me when I re-read it. Feel like crying.

So I came back re-energized, sailed through to the Bootcamp stage and at the end, the feedback I got was so refreshing.

Collins, you unblocked others even when you hadn’t finished your work. You collaborated even outside your team. And you worked on feedback aptly! Your UI was awesome, and nothing in your code broke. The panel was impressed about you…”. Angie said.

I smiled all through that time my LFA talked. Indeed, I was finally getting somewhere.

Anyhow, I didn’t have the best work in my cohort. There were the likes of Lemayian who had 100% test coverage (like a bawse?), and Robert Njane who was on challenge 4 when I was just starting challenge 3.

That’s what Andela means when they say they take the top 1 percent.

It was tough getting through the cut, but I am glad I finally made it. And I thank the Almighty for helping me, it’s only by His grace. Thanks to my learning facilitators Sharon Waithira and Angela Mutava too.

I officially joined Andela on August 14th, 2017, under the cohort XX belt (almost a year had gone by, learning and unlearning code).

I am currently in my apprenticeship stage, on a Ruby on Rails track (holla, team VOF!), and can’t wait to get to D1, if you know what I mean.

My team on a recent Google Hangouts video call

Hey, and my StackOverflow reputation has risen tremendously! From less than 100 to 359 as of this writing (And getting a single point on SO is a hard nut, you can get minuses if you mess with people’s code)

+10 for a CSS answer I wrote

And I earlier earned more for actively unblocking engineers on stackoverflow.

+510 and a ‘Yearling’ badge for being an active member for a year

Many guys have more than 2000 points, so I still have a long journey :)

I got a nice giggle from my family when they saw this.

Yummy cake for the XX team!

You know you’re up to something when you see your photo put on a frame and hung on a wall, right?

The journey is still far, young me

And we had an interesting month 1 too, with Jackson Saya leading the sessions.

Cohort 2 Uganda + Cohort 20 Kenya

And when the Andela Executives came…

A grab! L-R: Me, Jeremy Johnson, Christina Sass and Bruce

My goals for 2018 are quite simple:

  • Get something outta there. I have a feeling it’s gonna be on the on demand space.
  • Grow my email list of people who want to learn to code ( I have about 15 already! From my circle of friends)
  • Contribute more to the community(especially in ways that promote the local tech and startup ecosystem)
  • And finally, grow and progress as an Andelan! (This means technical prowess, soft skills, communication and many other attributes that make a great software engineer)
  • And grow my StackOverflow count! This is the best way to reinforce what you have learnt

Finally, I must say I was reluctant to publish this article (it had been lingering in my head for some days!), it is not easy to write about your life, you know. But special thanks to Prosper Otemuyiwa for the inspiration.


Thanks For Reading!

You can find me on Twitter and Linkedin for more.