We asked a diverse group of individuals to tell us how they began their career in programming. Over the next few weeks, TechCabal will be featuring stories shared by these various software developers in Nigeria, on how they got started coding. Special thanks to Mark Essien for curating the stories.
Back in 2000, when I was 12 years old and in JSS 2, I heard that my secondary school had got a computer lab. I went to one of those Lagos State public schools where you hardly even got a chair to sit on a regular school day, so a computer lab was a big deal and it was a Mecca of some sort.
The first time I went into the lab, it was because the teacher in-charge of the lab was the person responsible for collecting PTA dues and I went to pay mine. Being a very curious person, I left everyone I came with and went to meet a senior I knew then who was using the computer at the time. Everyone left and I was still there, all through break time. Seeing my interest, the teacher decided that he would teach me how to use the computer.
He didn’t start though until the next session, but not without me continuously visiting and pressuring him to.
This was how Mr Adelugba became my first computer teacher, introducing me to basic computing concepts like desktop computing, office packages and basic programming logic. Most of these things he wasn’t even familiar with, so he lent me the book he was using to study over my JSS 3, 3rd term break.
It was during this period too that I first learnt from Ikemefuna, a cousin of mine, about a university course called Computer Science and he advised that I try studying it.
Fast forward to 2004 and I was done with secondary school. My dad had this policy that his kids must acquire any basic skill set of their choice after secondary school, before they move on to any other thing; so that if the certificate fails, we’d have skills to fall back on. I chose Computer Programming. In 2005, I started my first formal training in computer programming at IMS Computer Training School.
Having gotten into the stuff and understood what programming was about, my biggest drive to become better was because I wanted to create an operating system to rival Windows’ dominance.
Crazy dream! After I discovered that this was a futile quest, I decided that maybe I should create an operating system for small and embedded devices. When Android was announced in December 2007, I saw the immense potential immediately, because I’d been researching that field. I finally gave-up on the operating system quest sometime around 2008.
My first pay from programming was sometime in 2006, being involved in a 55k worth project then. I can’t remember how much I got paid eventually, but I can’t forget the tension I had with my dad & my client as my dad was trying to micro-manage me through the whole thing. Also, I got admission in that year to study for a proper degree in computer science.
At Unilag, I was just this guy who would rather spend most of my time on the computer than go for classes. I had this awkward, terribly slow Pentium 2, which was gifted to me by one of my instructors: 40GB HDD, 750MB RAM and 750MHz clock speed. The PC served me until I got a laptop from a client as a pay for doing his job, at my second year. I never finished that project.
I remember when my classmates realized that I was a badt guy. In our first year, we were given a project to program a GUI calculator using VB6. I visited them at their hostel room when they were trying to figure-out how to even get started with this shit. Then I took one of their laptops, started Netbeans IDE (I didn’t like VB6, I think I actually installed the Netbeans on that computer) and in about 2 or 3 hours, I had built a calculator which actually works, using Java (was a little buggy though). Then I walked out of their room, like Chuck Norris walking away from an explosion in the background ☺.
To get cash in my pocket in school, I did all sort of stuff for people, on their computers: format & install Windows, install programs, fix missing drivers, and general PC repairman stuff. At my first year, I had these flyers I created and pasted around school which read: “Are you experiencing a War of the Worlds on your PC? No Problem! Call Celestine on xxxxxxxxx and I’ll fix it!” (DAMN! I wish I still had this flyer somewhere. If you see what I did there, it was a play on the 2005 movie, “War of the Worlds” starring Tom Cruise)
The campaign was quite successful as I got a number of people coming to me for their PC repairs. I charged around 1,000 Naira then for OS repair/installation and I got a little popular then as a PC repairman. Also at my second year during exam period, I was “arrested & detained” for some hours by the school security for pasting posters of a New Horizons promo without permission, as I served as an unofficial rep for the company then, being a former student.
In my second and third year, I was privileged to take part in the Imagine Cup. My team won the national challenge and represent Nigeria at International Software Design Competitions: 2008 in Paris and 2009 in Cairo. This was the biggest highlight and validation of my chosen career path, as my parent didn’t even understand what I was doing. They still don’t though! But as long as it takes me abroad, “Go on, our son, we’re solidly behind you!”
I program mainly out of curiosity and love for it. This has driven me to learn as many interesting programming languages as I possibly can. However, since I caught the start-up bug, I’ve been programming to try to build one start-up or another. I’ve also done programming on independent projects, for corporations, for competitions and on contract!
Celestine Ezeokoye is a software developer with an aim to build world-class technology companies in Africa. He has worked with Interswitch and was the CEO of TiketMobile. He’s the founder of Ocaman, a platform for ordering and delivery of invitation cards. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Do you have stories of how your love for coding began? Please share in the comments below!