Chisom Nwokwu is a tech sis who believes in giving back. After attending an event by Women Who Code during the lockdown, she found her path in tech. Now armed with a job at Microsoft, 22K Twitter followers and a large network, Nwokwu believes other people can do the same. She is determined to help young people kickstart their tech careers, one job opportunity at a time. In the past year, the 21-year-old software developer has built a community around sharing tech opportunities, hosting free masterclasses, and coaching other young people looking to break into the tech space. 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Chisom Nwokwu. I’m currently a software engineer based in Lagos, Nigeria. I currently work with the sustainability team at Microsoft, where we’re creating technologies that help reduce carbon emissions from our operating system. The goal is to make the company carbon negative by 2030. 

Asides from engineering, I also invest a lot of my time into helping job seekers in tech land their first roles and build successful careers. I recently graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where I studied computer science. After my graduation last year, I interned with the Bank of America for three months, where I worked as a technology analyst for the robotics team, after which I moved to Microsoft.

Can you tell us about your journey into Microsoft?

I would describe my journey as intentional and direct. From the time I was a child, I enjoyed playing with computers and would always tell my dad that my dream was to work with a company that built computers. When I went to university, I opted to study computer science and in my third year, I became really interested in the tech space.

During the lockdown, I attended an online event with engineers from global tech companies and was inspired by seeing other Nigerians who graduated from regular universities in Nigeria work at such big companies. After the event, I reached out to one of the panellists who worked at Google and she agreed to coach me. This helped me secure my BoA internship and eventually my Microsoft job.

What does it feel like to work for a global company like Microsoft? What’s different between working there and working for a small startup?

One difference is the level of structure and organisation. There’s a great culture of handholding here and you get ample space to settle into your role, grow and learn from your superiors. That was really helpful for me and eased off the pressure to perform immediately. Unlike smaller startups, bigger companies can afford to provide you with time to adapt to the environment and get your foundation right.

Do you sometimes wish you worked at a smaller startup before transitioning to a larger company?

Sometimes. I wholeheartedly appreciate that my path led me straight to my current role but I speak to people who have worked at smaller startups and there’s a certain well-roundedness to them. This is because roles at startups are not typically as well-defined and so they get to wear different hats and do different things. 

So, while it would be nice to experience some of that and the pressure associated with working at a fast-paced organisation, I found it easier to transition from student to software engineer thanks to Microsoft, and I won’t change that for anything.

You’re very interested in giving back and helping other people climb up the career ladder. Can you tell us what fuels you?

My personal journey is a testament to the importance of having people further up the ladder to help you figure stuff out. The people I met at the online event in 2020 convinced me that opportunities abound everywhere and all you need to do is plug into them. This is what I try to replicate for others. I post opportunities on my social media and teach people how to work on their skills, branding, visibility, etc. The last Twitter space I organised saw over 5000 people join in, and I made sure to invite Nigerians working at global companies like Meta, Google, Spotify, Amazon etc. to share their journeys. This goes a long way to motivating people and giving them a framework to kickstart their dreams.

What are some of the most remarkable success stories you’ve recorded from this?

Two people reached out to me for help preparing for interviews with Bank of America. After mock interviews and teaching them what to prepare for, what interviewers will be looking for, and how to respond to questions, they reached out to me again to say that they both got the offers. Another person reached out to me to help her prepare for a product management interview and I shared all the PM resources I could find. She sent me a message a short while back to say that she passed and will be starting a PM role at Google soon.

What are some important tips you’d give to someone starting out on their tech journeys?

The first tip I typically give is to increase visibility online. One thing that stands out to me while reviewing CVs is that a lot of people have great skills and experience, but just do not talk about it or have any social media presence. Be active on social platforms, especially LinkedIn. Connect with recruiters and people who work at companies you admire. Recruiters are always scouring the internet for fresh talent and you want to be where they can find you. Another tip is self-branding. Work on your skills and portfolio, and showcase them.

What are some popular misconceptions people have about entering the tech space?

There are a lot of misconceptions and the first one I’d like to highlight is that you do not need to code to go into tech. Tech involves technical and non-technical roles, and while the technical roles require knowledge of programming, non-technical roles do not. Non-technical roles include growth and marketing, UI/UX, product design, project management etc. There’s space for everyone in tech, regardless of your interests and whether you know how to code or not.

What can we expect from Chisom Nwoku in the future?

I see myself always working in the tech industry. However, I would love to explore the management side of tech as well. I enjoy collaborating and building tools, so I’d love to pivot from being a developer to management. I want to explore different roles and gain as much knowledge and experience as possible.

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