This article was submitted to TechCabal by Dare Tunmise. Dare Tunmise is a writer interested in both poetry and technology.
It had been three days since the lights went out on the off campus streets of the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA). Exams were approaching, and students trooped out of their lodgings to find public places—barbing salons, electronics and grocery stores, eateries—to charge their phones and laptops. In a corner, at one such place, John*, a 100 level student of computer engineering, sat by a plugged Android phone, shuffling between two apps, a code editor and a browser; and in his lap sat a book titled, Introduction to Algorithms.
John had recently met a group of tech enthusiasts like himself on Nairaland where they had been lucky to be mentored by an experienced developer who kept them updated with assignments attached to strict deadlines. This explains why, after a three-day power cut on campus, with a dead phone and an important task that would judge his progress, John left the comfort of his hostel to sit in a noisy shop filled with noise and mosquitoes to complete his coding tasks. But John’s story is just one of many accounts of the grit and passion of Nigerian youths from the lower class, who are determined to break into tech.
The rise in technology advocacy and youth unemployment
In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of young people beating a path to the doors of Nigeria’s tech ecosystem. Many factors are responsible for this. With social media bringing diverse people together and creating a sort of boundary collapse, there has been a rapid rise in tech advocacy among young people including those with no technological background. Another factor to consider is the high unemployment rate in the country. In a report on its website, the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics recorded the youth unemployment rate at 42.5% in the last quarter of 2020. These, in addition to individual interest, are two of many factors driving a lot of people into learning digital skills—programming especially—in order to explore its many possibilities.
But learning computer programming—even with the availability of free online resources, YouTube tutorials and mentorship from developer communities online—does not make coding an easy subject for most beginners whose computer knowledge is limited to MS Word and Mavis Beacon; many quit the course after only a few weeks of learning.
For Nigerian tech newbies, the reasons for quitting are not far-fetched. With no bootcamps, healthy tools, power outage which is sure to last for days, enabling environments and with little resources for internet connections, constraints soon become glaring to our aspiring developer. This is the situation with Bolaji, an economics undergraduate at the University of ibadan, who after every school day tiredly sit in the dorm room he shares with six others, waiting for power supply, a cheap internet connection that is active only on a midnight plan, of which as he opens the tutorial on the youtube channel, even with his heavy use of coffee or redbull, he soon doze off, dreaming of assignments and school works, a pattern that soon becomes repetitive, engulfing him to finally postpone his 100 days of code.
Instances are not scarce since the struggle is common and understandable, and the harsh pattern of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps has been found peculiar to many of such people who went from zero tech knowledge to gaining a skill set that allowed them to build amazing products or work for corporate bodies. Speaking about his experience, Kay*, who works as an engineer for a tech startup in Nigeria, recalled how, six years ago, he had struggled with the lack of personal tools, internet connection, and epilectic power supply, and how these factors had stalled his learning, and almost sent him into depression. He recalled too how he’d secretly downloaded a code editor on his mother’s laptop to learn coding while she was in bed.
But it is not a triumph everywhere, at least not for the many indigent tech enthusiasts who await the miracle of laptops acquired from giveaways, or others who started out learning coding on their mobile smartphones, but quit due to the technical limitations of phones.
In a now pinned tweet he made on July 7, Thomas Burkhart, founder of DevsHelsDevs, a charity organisation founded out of the need to help indigent Africans interested in coding with laptops and other requirements, wrote about how handling the streams of requests he receives through his direct messages have been heavy on his mental health and how he needs to pause a bit on the donations. Looking through the organisation’s website where donations and requests are tracked, with a budget deficit and an endless number of requests, one is left to wonder about the number of developers whose learning would be stalled and who would have no choice but to look into something else outside of coding.
The absence of infrastructure and resources in Nigeria’s technology ecosystem
Programming is highly demanding work. It requires finance, time, passion and dedication. For Nigerian tech enthusiasts, however, the problem is not passion; it is not the absence of grit or hunger. The problem is the absence of the materials—in communities where power supply is a rare gift; where internet connection is a luxury; where these dreamers are not afforded the opportunity to sit all day with laptops because, who would provide your daily bread? These dreamers live in a less industrialised state where government apathy towards youth empowerment is glaring; where policies are designed to stifle dreams; where, for many, the goal of being a software engineer will eventually become a dream too far to reach.
Everyday, there is a spread of technological awareness among young people, with many considering a career in tech, and while the journey might be an easy ride for those that are privileged and have all the resources needed at their reach, especially in industrialised nations where existing structures make the industry accessible for all sorts of people, for the Nigerian lower class, breaking into tech is an experience fraught with travail and all sort of bootstrapping—an exodus that has witnessed many potential techstars quit out of frustration and the psychological discouragement of not meeting a world class status, while a few earned their stripes by walking like a camel through the eye of a needle.