What tech skills can you learn, and what does the future of work looks like? Get deep answers to these questions in an exclusive interview with one of Nigeria’s finest software engineer and deep learning practitioner, Steve Gabriel with Mercy Omoregie on BeInspired Show
Tell us about you and what you do exactly?
My name is Steve Gabriel, I like to always state the fact that I am a student, in medical school. But that will end in a month’s time. Major in dental surgery. I am a full-time software engineer, a deep learning practitioner. Basically, I volunteer most times for tech firms. I also serve for an organization that trains mostly ladies in tech. I am the head of product development at Girl Lead. In summary, I do tech. Software development and machinery engineering.
How did you get to this point, doing tech even as a medical student?
That question is very common; anytime people find out I am training to be a medical doctor, they are like, you’re doing something wrong here. *Laughs.. The thing is, I did not discover tech when I got into school. I knew that I love to write programs; I knew that I loved computers before I even applied to medical school. The drive for me was that I wanted to build things in health care. I wanted to interface machines in healthcare. The inspiration for me in tech has always been a long time one. Since I was a child, I loved the idea of building my own things and I love the idea of let’s say, mathematically solving problems. Using physical science to solve problems.
One of the guiding factors for me was the fact that I had people that were older than me that were doing these things when I was growing up. I didn’t have most of my peers doing it. I saw the awesomeness, and I embraced it. As far back as when I was twelve or thirteen, I had computer exposures.
I really can’t answer what inspired me to come into tech because before programming or software development became like a thing and flying around everywhere, I had embraced computers. As far back as 2009, I had written my first HTLM page. There was this resource on the Internet called home and learn; I had just seen it; I didn’t even know that software development was something that a black person was supposed to do. Because I was just a kid in the street just exploring stuff. I didn’t even know that at some point, somebody is going to pay you a thousand dollars to be a software developer.
I didn’t have an inspiration. It developed from self interest on how computers work.
How would you describe the tech ecosystem in Nigeria?
Ok, I will tell you guys about someone I know; It’s a story about a guy called Oke Baluba. Oke Baluba is one of the old tech wiz. he studied at Stanford, he was like a networking wizard then. Like a moving god. Then the tech ecosystem in Nigeria was nothing. People still hung up to cyber cafes.
But then, he said something to me, as far back as 2007, he said “tech is everything,” and that the future of Nigeria lies in tech. Fast forward to now, over a decade, you found out that that term is not fully actualized. I felt that he saw the future. But then the tech industry in Nigeria is like a child that is being nurtured. I wouldn’t use the word booming. Take, for instance, in a huge state like this, one of the populated states in Nigeria has only one or two major hubs. What does that tell you about the tech eco system? I’m not saying that it’s not working, but most times, because of the amount of growth we need to achieve, it’s still not where it should be.
But it’s working, people are getting awareness about technology. It’s even better because right now, you can stay in your house and work for a foreign company. And compared to other Africa countries, we are like big brothers. Countries like Kenya, Uganda, etcetera the tech space here is matured compare to those countries.
Yes, they have better infrastructure, but when you talk of talent. People do cool stuff here. If you heard about the proceedings of the Facebook liberal, it was a Nigerian. He contributed majorly to the project. I’m not saying that other countries are not doing good, but when you consider other things like talent, market, we have very good developers here. The ecosystem here is matured compare to some other Africa countries.
Now, comparing what you saw a few years ago, as you have explained to what you are seeing now, having been in the system for a long time now, how would you describe the future of work?
I will tell you plain blank. There will be a time that people will not come to office spaces anymore in Nigeria because the future of work is living digital. Why do I have to be at the office when I can do this work at home? What you need from me is productivity. Turn in work, being able to deliver. Seeing me is not important.
I can tell you 20 persons that work for companies in Europe and don’t even know what the building look like they are living already in what the future of work will be majorly for most Nigerians. Most companies right now in Nigerians are realising that you don’t need to have a full village for you to employ people. And that’s because the future of work is more about minimalism and more productivity. How do you minimize necessary infrastructure to increase productivity? You need to harness talent. Trying to bring them in one place jeopardized the goal.
The future of work, if you are asking if it will be digital? Yes! And it will be more digital in the sense that if you do not upskill fast, you will be left behind. You know before, there were jobs for typists. What is that now? Nobody does that! Because the recent jobs expect that you should know how to type. So nobody is asking you to be a typist. There was a time that you will see “computer operator wanted” nobody sees that anymore!
So also there will be a time that everybody will expect that you should know how to analyze data, they will remove that as a requirement. So there will not be a job like data analyst.
Understanding how software works will never go away. It is the native thing that drives innovation. That’s why I tell people, learn how to write software. Even if you want to be a data analyst, software, native programming does not change. Because every new tech you want to build, someone has to program it. The future of work is heavily predictable, but the one way to stay in tune with it is to upskill and know what’s happening. Data is the inn thing. Learning how to manipulate it, make it useful, and build actual products out of it is like the current thing we are living in. So the future might wake up and then it’s quantum computing and you don’t even know what’s going on..
The future of work in Nigeria and Africa is promising.
What would you advise young people to do to stay relevant in the ‘near’ future?
Why I like this question is because, there is this guy, St Jose Maria escriver, one of his thought was that “be useful, don’t be barren”. What was he trying to say? We will make the world a better place if you have a skill useful to me and I have a skill useful to you. The point is, I am on the proponent for people being nurturable, but the problem is that we are not in a system yet, where people are groomed into it. That’s why you see a lot of organizations trying to create awareness about tech. And that’s why I love working with Girl Lead.
Basically, what we do at Girl Lead, we bring in entirely teachable young girls from age 17 to 26, and then we train them on digital skills, programming, digital marketing and the rest. Imagine the multiply effect that we are creating. They never stay the same.
And then most times, I have been there, it’s very hard to choose a career in tech. Especially when you know nothing about it. You could get lost in, learn business, learn that, learn this and the rest of that, you don’t even know at what point whether what you are learning is useful.
What I usually tell people is that the one place to start is to ask yourself; “What normal interest would I have?” for instance, I embraced tech with healthcare basically because I wanted to interfaced medicine and technology. I found what I needed in my niche. We are humans, we are allowed to falter and lose interest and motivation and all that, but I needed that motivation, so I found that balance. Most times, most people jump into tech without having a clue of the direction they want to go. Not everybody understands that it’s lucrative to be a mobile app developer. When you come to technology, you ask yourself; “What are my interest?” My interest is probably makeup, is there anyway that I can improve the makeup industry with technology? That question might look stupid, but when you start thinking, you become creative. Oh, wow, you can create a product where people can fashion and see what they look like before they can actually do the makeup in real life. “So what skills do I need to learn to do this?” Because you need to have a track or you will lose interest. There are so many things to learn. As you are learning a thing, you might discover that you don’t want to even do that. There is something else you are interested in. That’s fine! But you have a goal. You say, I want to build this, what do I need to learn to be able to do this. I want to be a doctor, using technology to solve medical problems; That’s why I’m learning these things being a doctor. That’s how you create a learning plan or syllables. You say you want to learn how to build apps, which app?? What problem do you want to solve with it? And that’s why people will learn, learn, learn, they won’t build anything. But you see, I want to build something that would create a better market for makeup artists. So I have to learn mobile development or web development. I want to learn design. After you do that, the next thing is that you start asking specific questions. It helps you when you are specific. When you come to me with specific questions, “I want to build this, what do I need to learn to be able to build this?” it helps me to help you. Coming to meet me and say you want to be a developer, by all means, consume everything on the internet then. *Laughs. Just have a traction. Have like an end point. Yes, it might change, but have an end point first. It helps a lot.
What opportunity out there you think young people can lay hands on to up skill and scale?
First and quickly, be reliable. If you say you want to be a graphics designer, go find the best graphics designers on earth, model yourself towards them. Because when you see, what’s out there, tech is so wide that if you decide to be a copywriter, you still make money. What makes money in tech most time is how good you are. If you are good, I will pay for your service because it’s talent. Nobody takes that away from you. But to answer the question directly, I can tell somebody that there is a huge demand right now for front end developers. Especially in a place like Lagos, because it’s a skill that requires creativity and skills. People will pay you to produce something. When you can produce, they will give you money. And then the good thing about tech is that you never earn less. Once you get your first job that probably paid you a 150,000, once you leave that job, you will never earn that amount anymore, you always end up earning higher. The growth is progressive.
For me right now, the current market in Nigeria without mincing words is bordering on web development, back end engineers, front end engineers, and mobile development. And also there is now a huge demand for data analysts, data scientists, most companies are trying to understand what data can tell them and how they can be able to use it to build better products for their customers. There is also an aspect of data engineering that most people are not embracing yet, but it’s also becoming a market for young people. We can never ever do away with things like graphics design. It never gets old. And it’s not about being able to use tools and do drag and drop. You need that creativity. People just do something different and you are like wow. This is not tooling. This person has put in mental work to this. The point is that, the current things from graphic design, URL engineer, mobile development, machine learning engineering, they are all opportunities out there, you can just choose an area. Also, you are allowed to jump, you may haul around the different areas. But have an interest, have a traction, know what you want to do, then focus! And then, be very very deliberate with growth. Make sure you are very deliberate in implemental growth. Make one percent good choice every day. Making conscious effort and say, I want to do this, and then do it! That’s deliberate growth.
This has been super valuable and an eye opener. Indeed, the future is tech and the future is here. Top up your game! It’s Mercy Omoregie on BeInspired Show, see you next week Monday!
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