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.
I first saw a computer system in 1997. My elder sister would take me to her office to play with it every evening when she was about closing. I’d sit there endlessly looking at this beautiful piece of technology.
After she stopped working there, I didn’t get to use another computer again until ‘03. JAMB had just introduced their on-line result collection system. I went to a CyberCafe to check my result — and I barely knew what the internet was and how to use it — and the cafe attendant gave me the biggest embarrassment of my life at the time! I swore to know and learn about this thing called “a computer”.
I later found out that a family friend had a Windows XP PC, and I would from then on go to his house every evening, and sit and use his PC all through the night. I had no money, so would have to walk there daily. The distance was similar to walking from Jibowu to MM2.
My family friend introduced me to HTML and a video series called Professor Teaches. That was where they whole thing started from. My very first and proudest effect was the almighty <marquee></marquee>. From there, I quickly grew restless and wanted to own my own machine. So I went out and bought a Keyboard and a mouse. I had faith that one day, I’d get the rest — the actual PC and the monitor! For the next 6 months, all I had was that keyboard and mouse! For those 6 month, I practiced how to type on a virtual monitor and I’ll in my minds eye, correct typos and all :-). Until I was finally able to afford the system unit and monitor.
I learnt how to code before the days of Coursera, Udacity, CodeAcademy. Stack overflow didn’t exist then. The first language I tried my hands on was Visual Basic 6.0. I then moved on to Java, but left almost immediately, because it was slow, and moved on to PHP. I did really enjoy PHP, I still do, you almost get a feeling that you’re making progress and doing something useful just playing with it in about an hour.
The first thing I ever built was a phone book, I progressed to building a mini library management software. I was very fortunate to have stumbled on a Lynda.com PHP Essential and also a book from Kevin Yank — “Build your own Database driven software using PHP & MySQL”. These materials became really invaluable and they set the tone for what I’m doing today.
Back then, circa ‘05/’06 Internet wasn’t as wide-spread as it is today, at least not in the city which I resided at the time. In other to make up for this, I’d take my system unit to a cyber cafe, plug in the LAN cable and pay N1,000 for the night. I’d rip websites with offline site rippers, take them home and read as much as I can. I did this almost every Friday night. If I ever ran into problems, I would note them down in an Excel sheet I maintained at the time and pummeled Google with the questions the following Friday.
My first freelance gig paid N40,000. I saved up this cash for a while, parents supported and was eventually able to come up with enough money for a laptop. This was after I had added my 3rd year school fees to make up the lump sum. The laptop was a HP530. It set me back by N105,000. I still have it to this day.
This laptop became my single biggest and best investment at the time. First I could still work/read for about an hour or two after NEPA/PHCN would have done their thing (electrical power went off). To supplement for my power outage, I would walk into any fast food place, buy a pie/drink and use their electricity for a while (well not really, they always had to come and chase me out when they want to close shop).
Any day I had extra cash, I would go to cybercafes, buy 3hrs on the internet and would end up staying for 10 or so hours. The last 7 hrs was just so I could charge my laptop for when I went home. I was so engrossed in tech that I lost interest in actual class work. Don’t blame me, we were doing GW-Basic, Pascal and Fortran 77 at the time in the university. I’d spend every waking moment of my life at Cybercafes and fast food places (so I’d have power). These stunts had consequences. It left me with a 1.54CGPA.
I finished school and got a job at a law firm. I and two other colleagues built a Law Office Management system for them. It was built on XOOPs, we self hosted it on an Intel Xeon server with a public IP from MTN.
Then my boss left the firm to become the Commissioner for Justice in Akwa Ibom State. Moved with him too. Lasted there for about 8 months. Then moved on to Konga. I have been here ever since.
Celestine Omin is currently a Software Engineer at Konga. He’s also the convenor of the Lagos GitHub Meetup and the lead engineer and maintainer of the NSEFinance project an un-official API for the Nigerian Stock Exchange. You can find him on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Do you have stories of how your love for coding began? Please share in the comments below!