Interview: IT Careers in Nigeria
Interview: IT Careers in Nigeria
Today, I have with me Mr. Lanre Ojo (Chief Operating Officer at Delon Apps Nigeria – owners of Nigeria’s top job portal, jobs.delon.ng and the leading free ads website in Nigeria, delon.ng) in my interview panel and together, we’ll be speaking with a very important guest and experienced IT professional – Mr. Abimbola Abiodun Ogunjinmi (Senior Rollout Manager, Nokia, Nigeria) about getting IT and software jobs in Nigeria.
As people search for jobs across Nigeria, many have focused a lot in recent times on jobs related to IT, software, telecom and power in Lagos, Abuja, and other cities in Nigeria. We will also be talking about software development companies in Nigeria, and how they can leverage on offshore software development opportunities in the United States. Finally, Mr. Ogunjinmi will also be discussing how students can prepare for their future careers in Nigeria while still in school.
Tell us about your career from your internship till date.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my career experience with young Nigerians. I was a 400L intern DCC Satellite and Networks (an erstwhile subsidiary of CWG) in 2002, and this was where I had my first IT work experience in life. I was exposed to network operations, microwave radio technology and general technical project management. There was ASUU strike that allowed me to spend much longer than six months at DCC, and I returned to same DCC immediately after graduation for Pre-NYSC internship.
I briefly worked for DirectONPC (an internet service provider at that time) after DCC, then moved to A3&O (a fibre optic company providing services to GSM operators like MTN), then GS Telecom (now
Vodacom Business Nigeria). At GS telecom, I was able to broaden my knowledge in teleport and field operation, satellite simulation and IP support. I was part of the team that built their first MPLS network that cut across Nigeria, Ghana, and UK. I left GS telecom to work briefly for Comverse South Africa as a support engineer on a subscriber billing platform project for the defunct Multilinks -Telkom. At Comverse, I got exposed for the first time to Linux/Unix environment and enjoyed the new experience.
I left Comverse for Etisalat in 2008, where I had to learn work politics alongside my GSM technical management work. I left after three years to join Cambridge Broadband Network Limited (a UK-based OEM) as Senior Customer Support Engineer/Ag. Country Technical Manager, where I had to handle technical sales in addition to my technical responsibilities. I left Cambridge to start my own company but didn’t thrive as a CEO. I quickly decided to go back into paid employment and joined Alcatel-Lucent Nigeria as Telecom infrastructure Rollout manager in 2012. Nokia acquired Alcatel-Lucent in 2016, and I have therefore remained with the same company since 2012. It’s been a wonderful experience at Nokia and I thank God for it.
Oh wow, you have moved around a lot. Can you please tell us exactly how you got each of those jobs. I know you won’t tell us names but please tell us how exactly you went about moving from one place to the other so that people can learn from your experience. Before you answer, I like to share a video of how a fresh graduate got an accounting job in Nigeria through a job portal so that people can also learn from this.
Well, first of all, I hope you wouldn’t mind if I say that ultimately, it has always been God’s favour. That said, I would like to emphasize some of the factors that have worked in my favour. First thing is relationship. In order for me to have an internship in Lagos, I first had to worry about where to stay in Lagos. A senior friend at my university (LAUTECH) generously accepted me to live with him without any hesitation. I remember that I was with a former boss discussing possible employment at his new place of work and as his friend passed by, he immediately introduced me to him (the friend) who later helped me secure a job at another company.
To provide some specific examples so that people can learn, I got to Lagos from LAUTECH to find internship placement without any prior company invitation. I was hand delivering my application all around Lagos and kept talking to people about it. I’m sure I visited over twenty-five companies during my search. Fortunately, I entered DCC Satellite and Networks at Ogunlana Drive (former building at Surulere which is now a Tantalizers restaurant) and enquired from the front desk officer how I could apply for internship. She directed me to their Adelabu office (Computer Warehouse Limited) where I was asked to write a test. I wrote the test and did not get a feedback for a long time. I kept following up with the front desk officer and she always politely told me there was no news yet. I lost hope after several weeks and left Lagos since I wasn’t getting any offer. One day I decided to call DCC from a NITEL phone booth and as the front desk lady picked the phone, she screamed that they had been trying to reach me without success. I was overjoyed on the phone and rushed back to Lagos. I resumed work on 27th December 2002 and the first lesson here is that we should always ensure the contact details on our CVs are up-to-date.
My move from DCC to DirectonPC was clearly based on merit. I knew nobody there but did very well in the interview. But joining GS Telecom was based on both merit and connection. Those days, GS Telecom was known for hiring mostly OAU graduates, but during my DCC days, I had met several GS Telecom engineers at different places and bonded well with them. They knew I liked their company and I had given my CV to a few of them to be on the look-out for me. An opportunity emerged and someone submitted my CV. I got invited for interview and my vast DCC experience really helped me do well. The questions were not related to my primary work at DCC but related to several other technologies that I had read up while I interned at DCC. The lesson here is that engineers should do there best to seek knowledge beyond their regular scope of work as it may be very rewarding for them in future.
GS Telecom was a special place as they always encouraged personal development and provided enormous learning opportunities to dedicated staff. They encouraged staff members to write certification exams and provided reimbursement once you passed the exam. I remembered writing about nine difference Cisco Certification module exams and ITIL foundation exam in a year while I was at the company. They paid for all except the single module that I failed. I must say that my time in GS telecom was best period in the early days of my career.
Crossing from GS Telecom to Comverse South Africa was based on a quick discussion with a former classmate. I never knew anything about the company but when the former classmate hinted me about the company and their salary rates, I was very interested. It was a contract higher-paying job and not the usual full-time jobs that I had done in time past. So the experience was different but I enjoyed the higher salary. My ITIL certification helped me during the interview and on the job.
I had submitted my CV to Etisalat before I joined Comverse, and I got their interview invitation a few months after I joined Comverse. Interestingly, I applied for the role of a senior microwave engineer, but they chose to interview me for the role of a senor satellite transmission engineer because that was the open role and my CV had contents related to satellite transmission. I was surprised when the panel started the interview with satellite transmission questions but still did well because I could defend every content on my CV. I had no internal contact, so this was purely based on merit. The lesson here is that we should be prepared to defend every part of our CV before going for interviews and not narrow our preparations to only topics related to the role we applied for.
After about two years in Etisalat, one of my former colleagues told me about a UK-based OEM (Cambridge Broadband Network) that had just recently started operations in Nigeria. I told him I wouldn’t mind taking a shot at the opportunity and he forwarded my CV to the company. I got interviewed and the company was very impressed with my experience and certifications. A lesson here is that certifications will always complement experience, and young engineers should take them seriously.
Like I mentioned earlier, I ran my own business for a few months after I left Cambridge, so I applied to Alcatel-Lucent at a time I was desperate to get back to paid-employment. And this turned out to be most divine recruitment experience. A friend told me about the job opening on linkedin and encouraged me to apply. I applied and got interview questions through email. I answered the questions to the best of my knowledge, got inputs from a few friends and submitted. The next call I got was from the HR to negotiate salary and I got the job.
For secondary school students thinking about an IT career, how will you advise them?
By IT, I am assuming different areas like telecom, software, networking, etc and they all draw skills from Computer Science and Electrical and Electronics Engineering backgrounds. So you need to pursue any of these two courses or equivalent in a university or polytechnic. But even if you find yourself in any science faculty department like Physics or Mathematics, you can still pursue an IT career. Do your best to learn some programming and networking before you leave secondary school so that you can build upon these at the university. Rather than spend too much time on social media, they can learn from online platforms like couserra, edx.org, udemy, etc. And when you get into a university or polytechnic, write some certifications before you complete your course and before you even begin internships. Seek volunteer jobs during holidays to keep learning before you finally graduate.
What about 300L students in the university currently studying an IT-related course, how would you advise them to spend their last two years in the university preparing for an IT career?
As a 300L student, you have just 1 or 2 years left to complete your program depending on your course. In either case, by 300L you should be planning to go for IT or SIWES program. So it is a time to scout for companies where you can gain relevant experience that will help you in your career after college. It is also good if you can explore working on a final year project that is related to area you desire to specialize in after school. Doing this will give you a good reference on your CV and boost your employment opportunities. Make sure you’re keeping in touch with your seniors that have graduated from school and join professional organizations like the IEEE and perhaps some social ones for networking. If you have funds, try to write some professional certifications before you graduate. They should also start reading newspaper articles on job search in Nigeria even before they graduate.
IT has many areas – which areas are currently hiring a lot in 2020 and will continue to hire well within the next 5 years. Also let us know which areas are not really hiring much so that people won’t prioritize focusing on such areas.
This is another important point to discuss. Categorizing IT is quite difficult, but I will try to list and discuss some areas.
- Computer and Local Area Network
- Server configuration and Administration
- Software development and programming
- IT process and governance
- Telecom Infrastructure Installation and commissioning and configuration
- IT user support
- IP Network and solution (Networking, Security, Service provisioning)
- General IT solutions etc.
- Software development
- Managed IT services
Talking about ease of getting jobs, I would say that telecom infrastructure installation and commissioning still offer highest number of employment, but it may not pay as highly as IP network and solution, managed IT services or software development areas that are currently in vogue.
Telecom infrastructure installation, commissioning and configuration is an area that continues to employ many people despite the fact that telecom as an industry has not been growing in recent years, because operators are expanding and modernizing their network coverage and infrastructure for value added service.
Beyond the areas described above, I can humbly say that most other areas are not hiring a lot in Nigeria. As per the next five years, I believe the software development and managed IT service will likely hire the most amount of IT engineers.
Some people also have also categorized power solutions companies that install UPSs and Inverters under IT within the last decade but I think they are more related to core engineering than IT.
Since you have worked in a few African countries and with engineers across the world, how will you compare the IT profession in Nigeria to other African countries?
Nigerian IT professionals are typically more versatile when compared to their contemporaries in other Africa countries. While many non-Nigerian engineers I have met focus a lot on their specialties, most of my colleagues and I have delved into several IT areas in the past five to ten years of our career.
There has been a lot of fake news about 5G telecom being the course of COVID-19. Is this really fake news or there is some truth in it?
We need to put things in the right perspective. First, 5G is still under deployment and global standardization is still not fully ready. However, some countries already have operational 5G networks, out of which a significant percentage is still using the same frequency band with the existing 2G, 3G, and 4G. So today some 5G network are still operating at 600MHZ, 2.4GHz, 24GHz and 60GHz. I therefore don’t understand how 5G suddenly becomes linked to COVID-19 when the virus didn’t even originate from the first countries that deployed the technology.
When you screen CVs of prospective trainee engineers, what are you always looking out for?
Honestly, I look out for grade, certification and most importantly internship and professional experience. Any of the first two combined with quality experience is good for me. If I see a CV that indicates idleness for about two to three years, I will be hesitant to interview such persons because I expect everyone to try to get busy even with volunteer or small jobs. There must be a small job you can do while you’re waiting to secure a suitable job. Even if you don’t get a job, find something small to sell online in Nigeria through the popular classified ads websites to keep yourself busy.
To the best of your knowledge, what industries aside IT do you think will be hiring a lot in Nigeria for the next five years?
Apart from IT, I expect to see agriculture and power sectors hire a lot of people in the next five years. This is because it is evidently clear that Nigeria needs both industries to fix its economy and most state governments and the federal government are active in both industries. I am also expecting massive growth in the petrochemical industry as soon as Dangote refinery becomes operational. Engineering students and professionals thinking about the future should start acquiring knowledge and skills related to these industries so that they are adequately prepared for the emerging opportunities. As they prepare, they should continue to learn from free platforms that help people get the right job vacancies and careers in Nigeria.
How do IT jobs today compare with IT jobs when you started your career about fifteen years ago?
There is a big difference in the industry today. Those days, there were much fewer IT jobs than there are today. Also, IT jobs were mostly for smart people with high grades from college, but today, once you’re skillful and passionate, you stand a great chance of getting jobs irrespective of the college you attended or your grade.
Now let’s talk about software development in Nigeria, and why Nigeria is not competing well with India, Philippines and Pakistan in offshore software development for companies in the United States and Europe
To the best of my knowledge, the first challenge for Nigerian software developers is that they find it to charge similar fees as the Indians, Philippines and the Pakistanis. There are many more software developer talents in these three countries than Nigeria, so they’re able to charge less because of competition. The higher the supply the less the price. The talents in Nigeria are already in high demand in Nigeria and are paid quite well. So there is no motivation to try to outcompete people in those countries with price. I also believe many of our software developers need more complicated development work opportunities in order to gain the types of experience that many developers in India, Pakistan and Philippines have. And that can only happen if big companies and government in Nigeria are patronizing local software companies instead of outsourcing to foreign companies or buying off-the-shelf software products.
I also believe our software developers should become more aggressive in pushing for offshore development opportunities and try to compete more with their counterparts in Asia. This is very different from telecom where Nigerian engineers are doing well in many countries in Africa, the United States and Europe.
Tell us about Online Jobs in Nigeria. Are online jobs really available in the IT industry?
There are online jobs within Nigeria but they are very uncommon. There are Nigerians working in Nigeria remotely for companies outside Nigeria and I see that more in the digital marketing, ecommerce, managed IT service and software development industries.
Finally, besides our IT discussions today, what other professional advice do you have for young Nigerians looking for jobs in terms of searching for jobs, preparing for interviews and writing CVs?
When writing your CV as a young graduate, you may not have any significant work experience to reference, but you must ensure that your CV fully captures your strengths, leadership experience and strong interests. If you belonged to a group in college or held a position, you must highlight it on your CV. Include volunteer opportunities, group projects and roles you played, certifications, etc.
When actively searching for jobs, you can have multiple CVs that are tailored towards different categories of companies. You should use Linkedin to find jobs and learn about career development. Link up with your school alumni through whatsapp and linkedin groups and stay in touch with your seniors and former classmates.
Seek pre-NYSC, NYSC or even post-NYSC volunteer or internship positions while you keep working hard to get a proper job. Learn about interview preparations and practice a lot. Always hold your CV with you and on your phone and be prepared to share it anytime you get a chance at any location. Develop an elevator pitch for yourself so you can sell yourself well anytime you get an impromptu opportunity.
Thank you very much for your time. I really enjoyed talking to you and believe that our viewers must have learnt a lot from this interview.
Thank you for having me.
PS: Check out our #1 IT recruitment service in Nigeria