Episode 276: Abimbola Idowu

Abimbola Idowu is a Nigerian software engineer currently in Berlin, Germany.

We're kicking off 2019 in Berlin! Meet Abimbola Idowu, a software engineer for SAP, one of the largest tech companies in Europe. Abimbola may be fairly new to Berlin, but he's already making his mark and spends his spare time cycling and exploring the city with his family.

Our conversation began with a walk through a typical day for Abimbola at SAP, and from there, he shared how he first learned about software development, and how he went to hone his skills through Andela. We also discussed the transition in culture from Lagos to Berlin, and he talked about some of the current opportunities for tech in Nigeria and the goals he has for 2019. Abimbola says that you should never doubt yourself, and I think that's a great mindset to adopt for the year.

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Transcript

Maurice Cherry: All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Abimbola Idowu: Hello. My name is Abimbola, and I'm a software developer here in Berlin. I currently work with SAP. I work as a web developer there. I work with their food services, which is about planning technicians and ensuring that our customers are actually are able to easily plan technicians and respond quickly to customer demands.

Aside that, I also actually love...in my free time, I do a bit of open source. I like to play games sometimes, and I actually enjoy cooking, actually. I think that's me in a very big nutshell.

MC: Okay. I want to get back to the open source stuff, and we'll do that a little bit later on, but walk me through what it's like working at SAP. It's one of the country's biggest tech companies, is that right?

AI: Yeah, definitely. I think it's the biggest software company in Europe. The company has roughly about 1,000, I think, employees.

MC: Wow.

AI: Yeah. It's really big across the world. At SAP, I would say it's really, really great working for them. Especially for a big company, I would actually confess that for someone...for me, because I joined them officially I think two months ago, but for someone like me, coming from a start-up scene, you would feel that change, that bit of shock and the cultural change, because in the start-up scene, you'll always see that things happen a bit spontaneously. But in a big corporation, there are all these processes for everything, you know? Like...I don't know; anything you can think about, there's a process for it.

And one of the things I think that over time, when I've been with them, I've gotten to actually value the advantage of these things and get to realize that some of these things actually required that at the sale at which they operate, these processes are required to make sure that things are not very chaotic. To say, I'm just thinking back and I think one of the things that I was really so shocked about was the data security awareness.

It was something that...I mean, you work everywhere and you know that you have to keep the data safe and everything, but with SAP, after resuming, I had to go for like...I think I've completed three trainings on data security and phishing and spamming and social engineering and everything. I was saying that right now, it makes me so much conscious about okay, what am I logging into? Where am I putting company data? And it's really because of this awareness, and it's something I find very interesting and I think only happens in a big company. So it's really great in general.

MC: Yeah, I feel like certainly here in the States, people have started to become a lot more aware of data security. Not for the reasons you specify, but moreso just because big companies keep getting hacked, and customer data keeps getting released out to the web or wherever it ends up getting released out to. So it's interesting that you said working there is kind of what put that notion in your head about how data security works.

AI: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I think before, like I said, there's no more basic understanding of how to keep your data secure, how to build secure hubs, but for big corporations, I've realized that...you know, for a small company, if...I mean, getting hacked is not good, but what I've noticed is that because of getting hacked, it's really different by company to company. So especially in places like Europe where we now have GDPR laws, the customer data is actually released, it actually will cost the company a big load of money. So it's always much more beneficial for them if they actually act, if they are proactive about it, and they train their developers and their employees to really be conscious about what is it and what is not about the data.

And like you said, when you are big, the hackers out there know actually the level of data you have, and you will always be a target to them. If you are a one-man company, a hacker probably even not find you. You would be very hard to come across a hacker's radar. But for a big company, you would always come across their radar. From the trading and the experiences that I've heard from people, especially with SAP, they really love these people can't be hacked.

The number one hacking is social engineering; it's the most common one now. Someone called me...and you know the Internet now; everyone has everything about you. Someone calls you, "Hey, this is Jason," because they know everything about you, you would think, they would pretend to be who they are not, and they don't need to get something big from you. It's going to be something like, you give them your colleague's middle name, and from there, they're able to call it up based on that and get the person's address from the small, small data. Then they put everything together and they issue their attack.

So this is why, for a big company, especially in Europe, data security is a very big thing.

MC: Yeah, I remember from earlier this year, GDPR was a really big thing. Here in the US, everyone sort of made fun of it because they kept getting emails from all of these places that they forgot they were signed up for or subscribed to, and they were like "oh, by the way, this is how we're using your data." Even now, I see on even more websites these notices that'll be at the bottom of the page about how they use your information and stuff like that.

AI: Yeah, definitely. I also remember, I was in my company then when they were GDPR, we had to divide the team into two. There was a section of our team that was really working on making our application GDPR-complaint. To be honest, I think it's actually really crazy, because there was these...I don't know, maybe six to five pages of the GDPR summarized, and we had a chief security officer that had to go through each and make sure that we were security-conscious. And the reason is because of the cost. If you look at the big picture, you would see also because we are talking about data transparency, data responsibility, you are dealing with customer data, and GDPR expects you to be responsible when you handle customer data. If you know you are not responsible, then don't deal with customer data, don't collect it from people.

This, I think, is kind of the thing that ensures and forces not just companies to be much more conscious about the way they actually earn the customer data, as to what and everything, and things like this are. GDPR things are really a use case of data leaks, data hacks, because for every person that's accessing the customer data, in GDPR, you are meant to keep a track of the person and notify the customer. If you have a data breach, there's a timeframe where you have to notify the public that hey, I was hacked and this happened. I think things like this actually kind of are the advantage of GDPR.

So it's a big thing generally in Europe, in European companies, they try to...and also if you actually want to serve your app in Europe, so even app companies in the US that want to serve Europe users, you also have to be GDPR compliant. It's a big thing and everybody's...I think now the GDPR phase is over, because that's some few months ago. I think it came into effect in June or so. I'm not sure. I think just before that time, everybody had to be compliant.

There was a lot of emails going out because you had to actually notify the user about that, I have this data on you. It's about data transparency, I think, is one of the main tenets of the GDPR.

MC: Yeah, I mean, the thing is that overall, it's supposed to help make sure that your data is going to be safer. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that it won't get hacked in the future, like, it doesn't take that possibility away, but at least you know that the company is a greater steward of your data because of this particular policy.

AI: Yeah, definitely. Like you said, even if you get hacked ... The things I think also it does is more from the GDPR aspect, at the very big picture, they try to make sure that they minimize the effect of that happening. Even if it happens, this is what you should do, and this is where GDPR speculates that if in case you are hacked, this is what you should do, this is how you should respond, this is what it means. And this thing is really about, like you said, about data transparency, about how you handle customer data.

MC: Yeah. So how did you first get interested in software development? Let's take it back, let's take it all the way back, as far back as you want to go, at least. How did you first get interested in this?

AI: Actually, let me try and collect my thoughts very well. I think it was something that I just figured out for me at some point that I was interested in computers, not really programming. Computers, then for me, it was...I'm not sure if it was particular to me, but I think generally for every kid then, you want to play games on computers, you want to press things. So I noticed at some point I was getting very used with computers, but not actually for programming. I naturally loved to spend time on devices, and I would say...I think I would define myself as a bit of an introvert, not too much. So in my lonely times, I spent most of those times in front of a computer.

After a while, I got used to it. I got to know how to, you know, how to hack my way around things, install OS on computers, root my phone, install Android stuff. So generally, when you talk about finding your way around computers, I actually knew how to...I was able to converse with that.

But programming, per say, I think my main introduction or first experience with programming was, I remember I was in school, and I spoke with a colleague of mine, and the colleague was into this business. We call it bulk SMS in Nigeria, but I think the name would be...I can't remember the name, but it's basically, you send SMS from the Internet to someone's phone. That's the name of the protocol, actually, but I can't remember. But then, the person was doing it, it was a pretty popular thing then because we were in school and there was departments and societies that want to send SMS in bulk to their members, right? So you can't send SMS one by one from your phone, so that was where bulk SMS came into play.

Because of that, people were actually starting this business where you go and sign up with some provider that would give you the API for the bulk SMS and you start to...you install some app, and you start to share with others. So I got this guy that did bulk SMS, and I told him hey, I'm also interested, can you link me up with a guy to actually start up a bulk SMS, that created your website for you, to know how to...you are using to send SMS for the department and everything? And also, I wanted to make money from it.

Then he linked me up with the guy, then I paid the guy. But the thing is, in Nigerian currency, the cost of the whole setup, of the basic setup, was around 25,000. 25,000 Naira in Euros would be about 61 Euros, actually. But it was big money then, when I was a student.

AI: But the interesting thing was that he was charging an extra 15,000 Naira for customization, meaning, if you want your logo here, you want your login page to be this. I told him, you know what, I paid 25,000 for the set-up, I did not pay the extra 15,000 for the customization. I said I was going to customize it myself. And before that, I had dabbled a bit into WordPress, so I knew a bit of what was going on behind WordPress and certain plugins and everything. Before that, after he'd finished setting it up, then I found out that it was Joomla; it was a Joomla app. I said I was going to set it up myself.

That was actually what I would say marked my entry into web development, because in the process of setting that thing up, sometimes I had to customize things, and you have to look at the books or Google something. I remember I was always going to the Joomla forum them to find out okay, "how do you install this plugin? I want to do this login page like this, I want to move this from here to here, I want to move this from there to there." And that was really how I got used to "kay, this is what code is, what code is not." I still would say I didn't have a full grasp of what I was doing. I was really copying from the Internet, but it was working for me, and things like that, but that was really how it is then.

As I learned a little bit more about what programming is and I figured out, wow, there are people that are actually making money out of it. It was a pretty popular thing for people that were building websites for people, and they were building websites for low then as 30,000 Naira. It was like, hey, build your website, and everybody was building websites. I was like, I could actually do this. Then I calculated things. I think I was spending more of my time doing this since it pays and there is money in it, and I mean, I also don't like school anyways. I was not the most brilliant student, so I was like, maybe this would actually pay for me.


Programming is not for everybody. But if you think it is for you, it's about doing it properly and you have to keep at it.


Then I started doing that and getting much more familiar with computers and Joomla and websites and everything. I think what actually became a turning point for me was there was a time, I remember when I was in my pre-aught, my year 4, right? And I had to calculate my CGPA, which is the grade you get in the university. I calculated everything and I figured okay, with this calculation, I was going to come out with the third class. A third class is very...In the Nigerian context a third class, and then I was also studying agriculture, actually, also. I figured with a third class, I would never be able to do anything. It's almost not possible.

AI: It was like, I calculated also, I had my fourth year and my fifth year. I'm in my fourth year and my fifth year, I decided, I aced everything, I got A's all through. I still would not have a two, one, a second class upper. I would probably be in the second class lower or something like that. It was not even currency, because I spent three years not having any. From there, I made the decision that, okay, there's this one thing I'm good at, which is programming. It makes money. There's money out of it, and I can actually do something for me life out of it, and I think I will actually focus my energy on that. I would just try to make sure that I did not have any...I did not have any extra year in school.

At that point, I focused all my energy on programming. I would say the journey after then also was not too smooth, because one thing I figured, and it's one of the things that right now I tried to tell people that approached me that "hey, I want to go into programming." I was like, "first of all, it's not going to be easy."

One is that, if you search the Internet for how to learn programming, there's going to be probably millions and millions of results on Google. And every [one] of them were good, would teach you through a different path. But I figured one of the things that helped me was always having a guardian to mentor you through the way you want to go, you know?

MC: Yeah.

AI: I remember when I was in Andela, I had a mentor, and he painted this picture that I always paint everybody that missed me want to go into programming. Programming's like his faith, right, like a circle. There's this big circle ... First of all, there's a small circle, right? Then you think you know everything in that small circle, and ... First, if you've covered everything in that circle, then you pop out of the circle and you figure out there's a bigger circle, right?

MC: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

AI: And you try to learn everything in that circle, and then you pop out again and see there's a bigger circle. From there, you realize that, okay, it's not possible. From there, you want to, you know. It gets overwhelming for you. You are not actually learning things, you are just reading stuff, but you are not improving in yourself. You are not adding value to yourself. And what he told me was that, instead of trying to cover the circle, which most people do, instead, actually cover like, a straight line. Draw a line and just follow a part from the inner circle, then you bust out; the outer circle, then you bust out of the outer circle; but like, follow it out. If you see from the middle of the circle, just go with ten degrees arc, right, and keep going up. Keep going up. Keep going up.

That is really the way he said I should go. From there, I figured that, you can't know everything, right? Nobody can know everything. But if you know the literal ... There's always this literal minimum that you need to know at a particular stage, and once you get to know it at that stage, you can jump to the next level, if you get what I'm saying. And that, for me, was kind of what I think really helped me to find my feet in programming. That, I would say, is really what Andela did. It was more that before, I was doing it on my own, I was reading a lot of books and things like that, but with Andela, it was more like a guided ... There was a curriculum of this is what I need done, what you need to know, this to be valuable and that is to be valuable.

MC: Yeah.

AI: If you follow that, you would later realize that you would be valuable and able to actually complete and do stuff. But if you focus on one part and you're reading a book and before you know you've read four books and you still can't able to go and help. From there it becomes, very much easy to go into programing.

MC: Okay, so you covered a lot there. There's a few things I want to sort of go back to. The first thing that sort of jumped out at me was that you didn't study this is school, you said you studied agriculture. Which I think is pretty interesting.

AI: A lot of people when they find out, especially when I'm in Berlin, and I tell people that I didn't study computer science, I studied agriculture, they are like “Wow. How did you do it?” Like I said, I always believed that drive me, man, and for me it was a function of figured out culture was not it. It had to be something else.

I remember, when I joined Andela. When I go to Andela, even though I've read these type of book I've actually I've never worked one. I never been paid to do web development work, so actually I had zero experience. I read this shit from a book but I would say my knowledge was still here and there. I still could not paint this is what it is.

But one thing I told myself was, I remember when I was going for Andela's bootcamp, was that this was probably my only shot at this. Right. I told myself, this guys coming here, the people who have been interviewed together, trying to get into the Andela program they probably have a higher hedge. They probably have, you know, some bit of advantage more than me. Maybe they've studied a bit of computer science in school or something. But for me? Coming from [agriculture], I think I only remembered...I did a computer science course in my 200 level, which I actually aced, was one of my best results. But I did a computer science course just 3 credits course, in my 200 level and that was it. And since that I actually did not do anything related to that. I was a typical farmer.

When I go there I figured, I always put myself 2 steps behind so I need to put in 2 steps extra effort to what I'm doing, because I need to catch up. These guys know the principles and what's not, they can understand some of these things, but for me, I figured out early that I did not have the advantage that the others have. And because of that I actually do not see that as a disadvantage, but rather as a challenge to make me to put more effort.

I tell people, it's not going to be easy, in the beginning it will look like you are reading gibberish. You would want to give up but if what is driving you is greater than what is pushing you away you would definitely eat a big true of bit. I can't remember but I read several articles about how this programing thing works, and in the beginning, it's all very difficult. You're always looking what system doesn't make sense to me, and it's like learning a new language. After some time, they call it as this point, in article they call it an inflection point. And after that point it stops becoming work for you, it's natural. It's like learning how to drive a car, in the beginning you are looking at side mirrors, and this and that and that, the steering, and you pressing the clutch. After a while you are not conscious of those things you know, then with that you are able to tackle much more difficult challenges. I tell people that, don't give up early.

Programming is not for everybody. But if you think it is for you, it's about doing it properly and you have to keep at it. You have to make a conscious decision that “okay I'm always going to add value and learn this thing daily, til I become a master at it.” And that I think was another thing that helped me and made me to pass the inflection point. And now it's more like I can do anything I want to do in programming.

MC: Well yeah, it certainly sounds like you have, it's not even so much that you have the drive, which I think you certainly do, but that you've kind of methodically thought about "This is the best way that it will work for me in order to learn it.” And one thing that you sort of mention is that you had kind of a mentor or a buddy that helped you out, via Andela. Now can you describe what Andela is? Is it like a bootcamp of sorts?

AI: Just to say I left Andela little while ago, but when I was there, Andela is a company that employs talent, trains them, they have the goal to build world-class developers. After that, they connect them to companies to work for, and that's their business. I remember the CEO in Germany used to say that “There's something about opportunity; it's not really teachable, but talent is” or something like that. The idea of it is that there is talent everywhere, right? It's just only about putting them in an enabling environment and they would flourish.

That is actually what Andela is: it's about, we bring these people together that have the passion and the drive. They really want to learn programing and software development and world-class developers, they want to make something for themselves. Then let's put them in a room, lets enable them, give them the enabling environment, give them resources, the need, the mental shift, the guidance they need and that was it. I think that is really what Andela stands for at the core of it.

MC: Okay. It kinda sounds I guess a little bit like, hmm, if you were in the States it would be similar to say...General Assembly or something like that. In a way. Well, in general they are teaching you, they have different courses and stuff but once you graduate through those courses they do sort of pair you up with companies and things. So it kinda a little bit like that.

AI: Yeah, I don't know much about what General Assembly does, but it's pretty much similar to that. It's that you get into Andela, like I said this was when I was in the company, you get into Andela then you go through the two weeks bootcamp. Then after the two weeks bootcamp, if you get accepted then you join the fellowship, then from the fellowship you go into the training, and the training they teach you the basics of programming.

You start from your HTML, and your CSS and your JavaScript -- the very basics. And you do that for about three months, and then afterwards you are placed on clients' projects. There are clients in the U.S., everywhere around the world, and you work on these things to actually get real-life experience. In all this, it's all parts of the program or the fellowship, so they are training you, mentoring you, giving you hope. Like I said, it's really about giving you an enabling environment to make sure you succeed at what you are doing.

Andela is a 4-year fellowship program, meaning when you come in, the goal is that you are posted there for 4 years and at the end of the 4th year you should be a full-stack developer. And that is what they try to provide with the fellows.

MC: And I'm guessing that companies, I guess use Andela in terms of...they keep it in pretty high regards. You go through Andela and a company knows you went through Andela then they know “Oh this person knows their stuff.” That's sorta what it sounds like.

AI: Yeah definitely. Especially for companies I've worked for here at Andela, it's kind of like a referral thing. More like when you've worked with an Andela fellow, I mean, it's open to any company, and you figure out "okay, the product of this company or the product of this fellowship is good"? Then you'll always want to go back to them, you'll always want to partner with them, or work with them. I would say boldly if you meet and Andell fellow, trust me, the guy is good or the lady is good. Just like that.

MC: And for people that are listening Andell is located, it's a worldwide company. I know there's an office in Lagos, there's one in Nairobi, there's one in Kampala, there's one in Kigali...but then there are also 4 offices here in the US. No, three...I'm sorry, there's one in New York, one in Austin and one in San Francisco. It's a global company in that way, so I think that's really dope that it puts you through that kind of rigor in order to make sure you come out on the other end ready and prepared to really be out there in the industry.

AI: Yeah, sure, definitely. I mean they also had big companies that were working for them. Facebook is one of their investors, you know that...

MC: The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. They put a ton of money into it, yeah.

AI: ...yeah, they put a ton of money into it because I think they really believe in what they are trying to do, and what it is that people's mission and what they are trying to achieve, especially in Africa.

MC: Nice. So I know that you are originally from Lagos, originally from Nigeria, but you've only been in Berlin now for about two years, is that right?

AI: Yes I moved to Berlin September 2016.

MC: Okay. What are some of the changes you had to get used to going from Lagos to Berlin?

AI: I mean I think for me...I don't know if it's particular to me because before I go to Berlin, I'd never left Nigeria before. So Berlin was kind of my first international, or first country I went to outside of Nigeria, so it was really very shocking for me.

I would say first of all it was a cultural difference. There were things that were happening, that happened in Nigeria that does not happen here, and things that happen here that does not happen in Nigeria. I would say for example the German bureaucracy. You coming as a new immigrant or expat, and before you get into the system they sit you down, get a recommendation and things like that...they are a bit cumbersome.

Before I read online, they were like "Ah, move to Berlin. Berlin is an international city, a lot of foreigners everywhere and they speak English." Then you come here, and you figure, “Hmm, not quite everybody speaks English.” I remember for the first three months...if I'm going to work to the office, I was doing it as a routine. I knew exactly, I'd leave my house then I'd walk to the train station, I take this train, go into this place. From this place I walk down and walk to the office. I was not sure...for example, if I entered the train and perhaps the train decides to change direction, due to maybe the normal parts are faulty or there are repairs going on. I would get lost, and it happened to me before that I got lost. And that was because this was the normal way — ] I enter the train, then I stop at this place then I do this, so I don't think what's going on in the middle. And also because they would give you announcements, but it would be in German, right? And if you can't speak the language you wouldn't know that they are telling you "oh this train is changing due to this that is happening or something."

I think the language was the first initial shock for me. Trying to fit in, trying to understand what is going on. It was really something. I remember when I first came to Berlin, I tried learning German. I signed up for two months, but after a month I just dropped out of the school. I was like "Yeah I can't deal with this." I'll just have to deal with it

MC: Yeah, that's interesting. Sometimes when you do move to a new place you get stuck in that routine. You know how to get to your place and to work and maybe three or four other places. But if the announcements are in a different language? That's a whole other thing that you have to get used to.

AI: For me, the company I joined they were pretty international so meaning that they understood the problems that expats faced. They were also a lot of expats in the company so they knew what was is like registration at the government place, extending your visa, creating bank accounts. They were very familiar with all this so I didn't really have to go through that stress.

But I know some of my colleagues, that if you join a company that maybe you are the first international employee they are having they are not familiar with the issue of how you get accommodation, or this is the struggle to get accommodation or this is the struggle to get your registration at the government. And these things can be very very overwhelming, especially when you go there and for example the government offices they don't speak English. Which is understandable; it's a government office. So you have to go with either a translator or you just make sure you practice beforehand the things your going to say so that you are able to find your way around.

I remember when I first go to Germany the first thing I learned was Mein Deutsch ist nicht gut — the meaning is "My German is no good." Once you start a conversation with that, the person kind of understands. Or you say Entschuldigung, können wir sprechen Englisch ?, meaning "Excuse me, can we speak English?" And once you start with that, for people who can't speak but they try to, they mix the english with the German for you, just make sure you know what is going on. You have the conversation very short and you get your way and get the things you were trying to do.

Like I said, the company I joined when I came from Nigeria they were pretty international, so I didn't really feel it much.

MC: That's good. Has it gotten easier now the longer you've been there.

AI: No, no, no.

MC: Really?

AI: Now I would say ich bin Deutsche. Now I put people through; I have colleagues that come and it's like “this is what you do first, and this is what you do first.” Things like that. I am not sure.

There's a bureaucracy around but it's not difficult as possible. Now I speak the language a bit so I can engage myself, I can read what is going on, I can read the news, read the signboards and things like that. If I go to offices, I can speak the language to them, I would say it's really, right now, I don't think I would complain of the German bureaucracy. It will still be there, sometime you feel so “Oh, why are you guys doing this?” But after 2 years I don't feel that way anymore. I think I pretty much know my way around things.

MC: Okay, well that's good. You've been immersed in the culture now, so you're picking it up now at least, so that's good.

AI: Yeah definitely, which is one thing I usually tell my people. When you come, sometimes you want to feel withdrawn because of everything, it's definitely not like home. But also you want to enjoy it, because after a while you actually...I remember when I first came I think in the second month I was planning to go back. It was really too much, I was the only one, I was only going to work, it was the only place — work and the grocery store. It was really really very tough, it was very tough. To be honest, I was saying, in Nigeria I was not doing so bad! I was working with a big company, and I was earning very good, so it was a function of “what am I coming to do?”

Even when I came, I didn't plan to come, it just happened by mistake that there was this German company that was interested in you. When I was coming I was actually come for adventure; I didn't give away my apartment when I was coming. I planned to come for adventure, maybe spend one year and go back to Nigeria. So in the first two months, when it was really really very tough, I wanted to go back. Especially when your family and friends and our loved ones are not around you, you feel very tough, as well as an expat.

But for me, one of the things that really helped was interacting with people, the colleagues at work, Nigerian friends I got to meet. I remember one time I connected with a second roommate that was also studying in Germany, and he came to visit me once or twice. Took me to the grocery stores, because for example the grocery stores are totally different, right. If I wanted the things like tomato paste or something I didn't know what they were called. I didn't know okay they were packaged in this shape or something so he took me to the grocery store, and was like okay “This is what we have in Nigeria and this is the equivalent in Germany.”

MC: Oh nice.

AI: So then with that, I was able to get food you know and cook and be able to eat a bit. Then go out. I don't actually need language for some things it just happens. I just go there and it happens. Then sort of figuring places to really go out and interact with people and I think that's what made it very smooth for me at the end. But in the beginning, if you don't have that support system, I mean, people are wired differently. But for me it was really tough in the beginning.

MC: Is there a big African/expat community there?

AI: No. I mean, now I think its beginning to grow because certainly in tech, a lot of people that are relocating to Europe now and Germany and Berlin to be specific so its growing now. I mean you just have to go until you will find someone in Berlin to reach out to. I guess friends are coming. But one, we don't have that...it's not an official recognized entity kind of thing. But for the tech its really dead. But for the Nigeria thing, I don't know maybe also because its me, maybe because I don't go out and interact with people, but I really can't say I know of any kid of like organized African or Nigerian...like you see Africans here and there and you guys greet each other or something but, in terms of an organized Nigerian setting no. It's when we came...for me...that came from Nigeria predominantly with the tech in the last two to three years, we're organizing ourselves and supporting each other and things like that.

MC: Oh, okay. That's interesting. I know we've had, I think two other people on the podcast who are in Berlin. We had Temi Adeniyi who, at the time, I think she was working at Blinkist. And then we have Lauren Dorman who, uh....she's American, she's from Ohio, but she works for, I think it's called A Color Bright in Berlin. And I remember hearing both of them talk about Berlin and say that its like a very kind of metropolitan city and made me want to visit. I still do want to visit, one day, I wanted to see what its like but, no, that's interesting. I thought there would be a bigger African contingent there for some reason.

AI: I mean, me too. I think that there will be because I meet a lot of people but, sometimes when they do...I think there was this festival, I can't remember the name. I went with a colleague and there was some African country represented and it was like a really big scene, you get to see a lot of Africans and things like that but, really specific to the people and the day. I mean if you don't know people, you won't know people right? So, sometimes its about also, kind of like seeking out and looking for what is it and what not...but in terms of an official or kind of a recognized thing you can just go to somewhere? No, I don't think we have...maybe there is, I don't know. Like I said, I'm not really the going out person or maybe there is, I just know that I know my [inauduble 41:23], I know my people that we came from Nigeria together and we are living and surviving in the city.

MC: Okay. Well who knows, by the time this comes out, I'm sure some folks will be like, "I'm in Berlin, hit me up." So, you never know.

AI: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sure. Definitely. I would definitely, really like to hang out with people who...I mean, like I said there are people regularly sometimes, I know that we try to hang out especially people that we came together like I knew in Lagos or we worked in Andela or worked together in some company in Nigeria. I would say that these are the kind of people I knew, but definitely, when it relates to hang out out with new people, meet new people, see new faces and yeah, spend Christmas together.


"You are always going to be good for somebody, there's always going to be somebody, there's always going to be some company for you."


MC: Alright. Well I have some questions here these are some from our audience here. The first question is from Kojo Boateng who was our guest on our 125th episode back a long time ago. He's curious to know, do you have any plans to go back to the continent?

AI: No concrete plans for now. I could go back, I mean I would never rule that out. I could go back, but currently there are no concrete plans to go back. There's a couple of things that could make me go back. First of all, if I decide it's the right time to go start up something, and that is one of the things that will make me go back, or it's actually possible that maybe there's work that would make me go back. You know, maybe my company decides to deploy say "Hey, go back to Nigeria." I wouldn't say no to that, you know? So those are the things but, top of my head, in that time frame of "Hey, I plan to go back in two or three years so something"? I don't have any concrete plan, for that.

MC: And the second question actually is related to that. What opportunities do you see for technology in Nigeria?

AI: I think the opportunities in Nigeria, as a whole, are really massive. There are a lot of things that can be capitalized on. I say from...there's really massive things you know? From like fintech, that's just some companies. We have some companies that are pushing the boundaries, but this is something that I think that we still need to do more. Right? It's really banks and everything, we really need to drive down the banks and I think this will help improve fintech. We are able to get much more Nigerians to use more cashless methods of payment and things like that. And I think this is going to be much more effortless for society.

One of the things also, it's a big area is e-commerce. E-commerce, it's not yet there. There's just challenges trying to strive in the system but I think it's very big, big, massive opportunity. There's a massive opportunity in Nigeria in e-commerce. We just need to find the right people with the right skills that understand the markets. I know the markets, and I think it's one of the things that, if I was to go back, it's one of those things that I would really love to dive into.

And I think with transportation, we really have a lot of transportation issues. I mean we have things like Uber and what have you. Companies like that. But transportation is something that's really big and I think its one of the things that I see as a big opportunity in Nigeria but...yeah, in the Nigeria tech space actually.

MC: Okay. Fintech, e-commerce and transportation.

AI: Yeah, those are the things I would bet on.

MC: Yeah, I mean it sounded like earlier you were mentioning, that sort of Internet SMS kind of app, I forget what you said it was called.

AI: Bulk SMS.

MC: Yeah. Is that something that's still used there?

AI: No, I think what happened was it reigned, and then everyone started doing it, and now, everyone doesn't do it anymore actually. Also it was good for me when I was a student, but right now, it's not probably something I would go back into. There are people who are doing it and are doing it well and in fact, at least the last time I read about it, like there are big companies also entering the space like MTN entered into the space also, so if you want to go into that space now, you won't make any money out of it actually.

MC: Oh okay. Now this interview is airing at the beginning of 2019 or right near the beginning of it, so I'm curious to know what is it that you want to accomplish this year? What do you want to accomplish in 2019?

AI: For 2019? I think one of the things I want to be able to do is have some help. I'm planning to [inaudible] and I really hope that I'm able to finally to start it off, so its kind of like a small startup on my own here in Germany. I hope that I'm able to gather my thoughts together very well and start it off. Then also, I actually plan to...one of the things I majorly want to do is I want to be able to take more computer science courses I really want get myself grounded. If possible, start...it's either I do kinda like computer science courses or maybe Coursera and get more grounded in that line or I actually go and actually do an online Masters in something. I mean we just started that in 2019. I think it would be really good career wise for me. So those are the things I think I would...I would focus on personal aside, the family, or maybe other social goals.

MC: Okay. When you look back at your career starting out the way that you started out in Nigeria and now moving here to Berlin, what do you wish you would have known when you first started?

AI: You mean when I started when I got to Berlin or started like...?

MC: Well I just, I guess when you started just working in general, like working in this industry.

AI: Oh, working in this industry. I think one of the things I would tell my younger self is never doubt yourself. You are always going to be good for somebody, there's always going to be somebody, there's always going to be some company for you. So, never think you're never good enough, you are good in your own place. And this is one thing right now, I tell people I have roughly about four to five years experience in programming. One of the things that really gives me some joy was that for every company I have worked, the remarks even when I am leaving has always been great, has always been pleasant.

In the midst of this you will see replies like I remember when I was trying to...before I got to this company, I was applying to companies and I send my CVs out and there were people who actually reply to me that, "Hey, you really look so genial; we can only hire you as a junior developer." I was like "No way." And like in the company I was coming from, I was a team lead, I was leading in an open-source project, so you know, for a recruiter to get back to me...actually it was not a recruiter, it was a CTO, because it was the CTO of the company that got back to me and said "You seem to be a junior developer." And I mean, I don't know what the best thing is, and that is his opinion, but one of the things I figured now is that you don't let things like that get to you.

Right now, I'm working in a place that is where I'm valued and my work is being valued. I am seen. My work is bringing millions for the company that I'm working for. And it's more like ten year ago, if you told me I was...you rejected me because if I had probably worked for you, you'd probably see me like a junior developer and you wouldn't appreciate my effort, and things like that. And this is something that I would have told my younger self is that "Hey, go for it. Don't doubt yourself." Companies know what they are looking for and as far as being able to prove to them that this is once...I can't do it. This is what I have done. I didn't let them decide whether you have good enough for them or not. I mean you can't be fit for everybody, there's always going to be some size, some show size for you. You can't fit into all shoes.

So that is what I would tell myself is that, don't let the things you hear or things happen around you really bother you. If you think you want to go for something go for it and you never can tell.

MC: Do you see yourself staying in Berlin for a while and putting down roots?

AI: Yeah, definitely. Definitely, I mean I've got things to love it here. I've gotten to love the cold and everything. The only variable for me, it's really my family. If they get to Berlin and they decided that they...yeah, maybe it's not working or something...then we have to figure out what to do then but for me, personally, I think I kind of love the Berlin scene and one the things I kind of...like I've seen popping out is the tech space. Like this is booming very, very big. And like I said, I'm actually one of the things I want to do was this app I kind of want to start and I want to do it and its because its booming and the government is actually kind of promoting and aiding these things actually. Like, if you tell the government like yeah, you want to go into startup, they suddenly like ... they are very supportive and everything for my guys that I know that are into entrepreneurship here so its generally something is something I love.

Just the part of the old German culture and something that I still don't figure out yet but then I don't have to figure everything out, so I see myself here for the next four to five years then we decided whether we want to remain here or not. The only thing that would make me leave is probably my family decides that yeah, maybe its too cold here or there is no sun...something yeah. Definitely, those are the kind of things that can make me think, okay maybe we need to relocate again or go back to Nigeria or something like that. But, aside from that, yeah.

MC: Okay.

AI: Berlin is lovely.

MC: Yeah, sounds like it. I mean, Just from how you're describing it as well from what I've heard from other people, it really sound like Berlin is kind of a good spot in Europe right now where a lot of things are going on in tech and in design too. So that's good to hear.

AI: Yeah, definitely. There are really lots of...especially for the tech stuff. I think I would maybe do my research more to find out why but like this tech startup company, Ernesto. Like it's everywhere, everybody is doing things and like companies are not dying, you know? Like companies are thriving. They are doing good and...I haven't really studied what is going on, so, what I think is there needs to be something good that is happening for startups to be thriving so much. Like we have companies that are beginning to...correctly now. Like we have Google that's planning to come to Berlin to open a big campus here. More companies coming. Amazon came recently, opened an office in Berlin and we have companies that are coming to Berlin now. And I think for this tech boom, it's really at the early stage. I think the next five to ten years will be well saturated and its actually going to be the next big company, that's what I believe.

MC: Okay. I'm going to take your word for it. I believe it too.

AI: Yeah, yeah sure.

MC: Well just to kind of wrap things up here, Where can our audience find more about you and about your work online?

AI: I'm on Twitter and @hisabimbola, so my name is Abimbola and it's h-i-s in front. You see me on Twitter. Disclaimer: I'm into politics, and currently it's an election period in Nigeria, so if you follow me now you will see more election things. Yeah, but sometimes I try to debug coding and you can reach out to me there, then also hisabimbola.com, which is my website. Disclaimer: it's pretty old, but I'm a developer so it's acceptable in the tech scene. Then also, I'm on Medium. Medium.com/hisabimbola or you can find me on GitHub. I do a bit of open-source things there also github.com/hisabimbola, so basically hisabimbola on any social media.

MC: As you mentioned open source. I remember we didn't really talk about that but I guess we can get into it now. What kind of open source work are you doing at the moment?

AI: Currently I'm not actively contributing to open source, but I think a few days ago I contributed to the Knock software, the Knock library, for me I was once active into open source. I've been active. I've done a bit into Express some years back then FrequentConf was one of things I've contributed to, but right I do more on kind of like need-basis. Then also...I see many people still use it but I have this NPM module I wrote which is Slack History Export which allows you to export your history from Slack. If you have a Slack app, just transport it to CSV or JSON [inaudible] and people actually really use that, and I guess people are really contributing to that so that is really kind of part of the many things I do in the open source.

MC: Okay, alright. Sounds good. Well, Abimbola Idowu, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you for really kind of sharing your perspective. I think it's really, really interesting how, when we have other people on the show, they will often start from a non-traditional kind of background, like maybe they just had it as a hobby, and they got into technology or design or what have you. And it sounds like its very similar with you, you kind of were used to kind of hacking things together, rooting phones. You studied something different but now you've worked your way up now to being a developer and to one of the biggest software companies in Europe, which I think is really kind of an inspiring thing for anyone to know that, there's not just one way to get into this industry and certainty you're a success story that shows that so, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

AI: Thank you so much. Pleased to be here to share my story, talk about Berlin, talking about Nigeria. It's really my pleasure to actually talk more about things, so I'm equally happy to be on the show.