Developer stories - Yetunde Sanni from Lagos 🇳🇬

Welcome to our latest Developer Story, this week we’re learning about Yetty from Lagos, Nigeria. If you’ve missed our previous conversations, this is the motivation:

Software Development is such an interesting career - from working remotely to working in a large tech hub to checking in from the beach - each person works in a wildly different way and that’s why we love it!

We wanted to know what gets devs started, what keeps them dreaming and how they work - so we asked some of our users!

Yetty's Workshape

Introduce yourself

I was born and bred in Lagos, Nigeria.

I have a degree in computer science, the very first time I was put in front of a computer I was 10, in my grandmother's house where I lived at that time. I started exploring the web at the age of 11, when having access to a computer and the internet wasn't as wide-spread around here as it is now.

Picture of Lagos

Since that age I've been interested in computing, but even by the time I started university I didn't have much technical knowledge of how things work (servers, DBs, etc..) though I had enough for the topic to go and study Computer Science. I realised it would be a big field and I wanted to streamline my knowledge, and I ended up falling in love with programming.

The main reason I loved programming was the ability to solve complex problems, I like to think of myself as a tech freak, as every time I'm put in front of a problem I have a natural desire to go learn and find a solution, so I became really involved with technology, and especially Artificial Intelligence, which became my primary personal interest.

The first time I came across the concept of AI was watching the TV show "Person of Interest" (a series in which a wealthy programmer uses complex surveillance AI to pevent crimes about to happen). I found the idea incredibly interesting and it was enough to spark my interest in the subject.

Frame from Person of Interest TV show

Upon completing my studies I wanted to develop my career towards programming, so I spent some time learning and refining my skills and ended up joining Andela, which supported me with a additional 3 months training on how to build web applications, when I brought to completion my first end-to-end project, an app that helps solving traffic problems in Lagos, supporting the user with real-time insights and providing with itineraries on how to get from one location to another while avoiding traffic.

After my first project I started working with Andela partners. My first partner was a North-American company, which I supported by building endpoints for the Ruby on Rails API used by their Android & iOS apps.

Andela

Following, I got involved in helping to build a marketplace application for a photo-sharing community, and took part of numerous other projects for Andela partners.

While doing that I kept pursuing my own personal interest by studying Machine Learning, followed several online courses in my spare time and got a Nano Degree on Udacity by developing a product that would use ML to predict and prevent fraudulent credit card transactions.

What's the very first you thought programming could be something for you?

The first time I felt satisfaction writing a bit of code was during a bootcamp at Andela. I already knew enough HTML and CSS, but that's where I got the hang of how to implement functionality using Javascript.

There's a bit of a learning curve I had to go through, I had to Google for my answers, look through documentations, understand how to interact with the DOM and how it works, spend some time on CodeAcademy, and it really quite amazed me how at the end of the day I had an understanding of how it all fit together and I was able to break down my project in very manageable pieces.

Uni, Udemy, CodeAcademy, where did you learn the most practical skills?

Online platforms worked really well for me – I don't know how the education system works over there [in Europe], but here, most of what I learned in university were languages such as Fortran, Pascal, Assembly and a bit of Java, which are not really the most useful skills on today's market.

When did you decide you were going to pursue a programming career?

After watching that TV series [Person of Interest], I was so intrigued by the idea of getting into AI but I knew I first had to train myself as a programmer and learn to build intelligent systems before making the jump.

But yeah, the show is definitely what made me first decide to get into it.

Sounds like a tough transition, do you find there's a good availability of resources to get started with AI and Machine Learning?

As soon as I decided what I was going to learn I got on Twitter and gave a shout out to people already in the industry, looking for someone that would be up for mentoring.

I had a pretty good response and started talking to people straight away that would give me good advice on how to become a Machine Learning expert, and I've been pointed to courses on Udacity, then I had to consolidate my Mathematics skills which are very important in ML (Computer Science gave me good knowledge to start with but I needed a refresh on topics like Linear Algebra, Calculus, Differential Equations, ..) so I found plenty of useful resources for that on Khan Academy.

Using these platforms, along with some advice from the mentors I found, was enough to get started working on some projects on my own.

On the job, what tech stack do you usually work with?

When working with Andela I'm mostly using Ruby on Rails, and I'm mostly back-end focused, though I also work with a variety of Javascript frameworks and libraries on the front-end (such as Ember.js, Backbone.js, ..).
For machine learning I'll be more likely to work with Python.

Tell us more about Andela and their mission.

Andela is a Technology Company that provides training to talented Software Developers from Africa in order to make them into world class programmers, then connects them with top tech companies in Europe, US and rest of the world.

Even though there is a wide-spread local community of Developers here, not all local talent may have adopted practices like Agile, TDD, .. and Andela bridges that gap by preparing them to work with companies in which those are implemented.

Andela

It's a platform that provides a more affordable way for organisation to hire skilled and talented remote developers and a way for local talent to access great opportunities with companies worldwide that would otherwise be unavailable.

Does Andela also hire people from abroad?

There's a bit of a mix, from example we have a Developer from another African Country, one from Cameroon, but also Andela has a branch in Kenya and we're trying to establish one in Uganda, so the idea is to grow and expand to new territories.

How's life and work in Lagos?

Lagos is one of the largest and busiest cities in Nigeria, and I'd say it's the largest tech hub in the country. It's rare to have a week-end go by without a tech meetup.

There's also a good number of incubators empowering entrepreneurs and startups, frequent hackatons, conferences and a solid community of talented people.

A very high percentage of the Software Engineering talent in and around Nigeria ends up converging in Lagos, it's an exciting place to work and grow.

Picture of Lagos Picture of Lagos Picture of Lagos

How did the environment contribute to your career?

I can say that my growth in the last years has been exponential, the major and most important thing was being exposed to the fact that anything you want can be learned as long as you have the resources at your disposal.
And what really made the difference for me was to be able to just find the resources I needed to be self taught online.

Other than that, being around people in interesting careers (not just technical people, also entrepreneurs, product people) was an important factor.

It was key, of course, that from the age of 10 I had access to my grandmother desktop computer at home, and I was able to approach the machine and learn basic things like typing early on. Without that I would have probably not have ended up taking the same decisions.

Do you plan to leave Nigeria at any point?

So, Andela is a four years fellowship, I've currently spent 2 years year and have another 2 to go.

My end goal is to be able, one day, to set up my own AI company in Nigeria. To do that, I plan to get a Master's Degree while working in an established company in the field, possibly somewhere like the UK, Germany or the US, in order to gain enough experience and inside knowledge in the industry.

If one day the internet and computers were to stop working, what would you get up to?

I think I would like to be a radio personality. I would want to talk about music, I love music and used to play the guitar, I sing and love singing, too.

What's the tech community like in Lagos, and how do you get involved?

We have a very active Slack community, Devcenter Square, filled with Developers, Data Scientists, UX/UI Designers, Project Managers, .. from all over Nigeria, it's split in different channels for specific niches and that's a great place to get updates on meetups and events around the country.

For example, I'm participating to a channel that brings together all Devs passionate about Python, and even within that channels there's different groups organising a variety of more specific meetups.

I'm also helping TechInPink, an initiative of Gertrude Nyenyeshi, an Andela fellow based in Kenya. We go to Universities and teach young women how to code and e mentor them.

Tech in Pink logo

We are planning to expand this project to marginalised areas around the countries and introduce boys and girls in the slums to digital literacy and basic programming.
People in some of these places are very poor and cannot afford the fees for public education.

While keeping busy with all this I've managed to participate in a number of open-source projects and, in several occasions, give talks at conferences and events.

TechInPink also offers a number of tech tutorials authored by us.

What do you think is the main cause for the gender gap in tech?

Even in Andela where we actively try to attract more women into tech, the discrepancy is huge, and if you look at people's experience, in the case of most of the guys they have been working as programmers for 4-5 years, while many of the girls have 2 or even less years of experience in the field.

Very few women go and study Computer Science, and generally they don't consider tech at all, in my opinion due to the fact that parents will be more likely to allow or encourage boys to use computers while growing up, and it's very natural for a kid that's given access to technology early on to become attracted by computing and pursue it as a passion.

Also, I've never been surrounded by examples of ladies who can code, in University there was only one girl in my class that was actually able to write code and most of the boys could.

When I asked some of the boys in my class about where they've learned and how they could know that stuff, they would often tell me they've been taught by their uncle, father, or someone in their family who had programming skills.

Someone that has that knowledge will usually go and teach it to a male child, rather than a female child, so I think the problem is in the roots of education.

We sure need more female role models in the industry - and you seem to be one - thanks for your time, Yetty!

Yetty, working

If you’ve scrolled this far…

…thank you! We hope you enjoyed reading about Yetty's work and drive and learned more about how Lagos is transforming and innovating the African tech landscape - in that case, you should follow Yetty on Twitter and check out her GitHub profile

And of course, stay tuned as we’ll be back soon with more Developer Stories from the Workshape.io team!

The Workshape.io team