Monday 22 October 2018

On celebrating a 30-year career in IT

Selling yourself, yourself
After graduation, I had no godfathers who could call their friends to get a job for their boy. I had somewhat passed the age of favours, sympathy or pity. I was almost a pariah to many but a few. Having lost 5 years of post-secondary education to multiple failures and kickstarts of life and career, I found new opportunities.
In fact, they were not opportunities, just a sense of daring. A new pair of shoes my mum had bought for me and a moment of epiphany. One night in early October 1988, I realised, I am the best representative of myself. So, I decided, that was what I was going to do, represent myself.
Walking the talk
I started out in Ikeja, walking the expensive streets one of which was named Cocaine Avenue which somewhat had a reputation for wealth acquired through dubious means. The same street had businesses catering to the moneyed, the influential and the well-connected.
Every few steps I took, led me to the door of another computer services business. I had the choice of pursuing a career in the electrical power end of things which is almost back-breaking work when I worked at the Flour Mills of Nigeria some 3 years before. Our every working day revolved around electrical motors, mostly high-powered drivers of turbines, belts, machines and much else. Those are memories I would rather leave in the past.
Confidence to access
My preference was to work on the electronics side of my Electrical and Electronic Engineering qualification. I immediately knew that it would pay less, but it offered a growing wealth of experience if I was ready for the challenge.
Without invitation or appointment, I walked into every business I could find, greeted the receptionist and politely asked for a job, stating I had just graduated. Everyone seemed to commiserate but had nothing to offer. I did not relent. Yet, I remembered a few years before that I lost a job offer to others who presented predatory opportunities to the gatekeepers of those businesses.
I did my Ikeja run for just over two days and in that time, I honed my introduction and conversation, working harder to present myself in a better light. My accent belied a foreignness, my demeanour some sophistication and my conversation, some uncommon politeness and maybe some confidence too. How do you walk into offices asking for a job and an opportunity to work and learn at the same time?
The sign welcomed
Having achieved no success in Ikeja, I boarded a bus for Lagos Island, when just opposite Baptist Academy on Ikorodu Road, I saw a big sign, IT Systems Ltd on a white building. I got off at the next stop and walked back on myself to this rather imposing building.
At the reception, I introduced myself and stated my purpose. She got up, went into the offices and came back out followed by a manager with whom I had a further conversation about my course, the projects I had done, my exposure to programming and my interest in computers. Then, I had worked with business machines that you programmed with assembler code and Apple 2c and 2e computers at school, programming in BASIC and FORTRAN 77.
The manager’s name was Felix Ogun, it was the 2nd Friday of October and he invited me to start work on Monday. That was the beginning of a career in Information Technology that this month has lasted 30 years.
Privilege and opportunity
I owe my career to the many who were ready to give me opportunities where I had no influence or leverage, just potential and some self-believe. The self-believe is a product of parentage and the early education I received, it trained me never to be fearful of person, personality, office or position. Privilege and opportunity can confer status, it does not make anyone else any more a human being than you are; if you can and you must at the very least treat each other with consideration and respect.
My uncle and aunt, the Soyinkas, who when I was at the time failing even though I wasn’t stupid or incompetent, but in fact, with hindsight, clinically depressed and unproductive. They gave me a home, amazing support, boosted my confidence and gave me the latitude to grow into the person I have become. To them, I would be eternally grateful, for I blossomed, I thrived and I succeeded in their care.
Belief and agreement
Deji Sasegbon was a lawyer, he owned the office block in which IT Systems had their offices on the ground floor and he had his legal publishing practice on the first floor. They sometimes had hardware problems and invited us to help out. For each solution, he offered money, I refused. He gave me my second career opportunity, I became a consultant in desktop publishing with an unusual contract arrangement.
The cost of my flight ticket whenever I decide to leave for the UK and a monthly stipend. This opened doors to many other opportunities. IT Systems was a year of sponging up knowledge of hardware, software, systems, business practices and networks. By October 1989, I had enough knowledge and expertise to branch out as a self-employed consultant and my first month of work paid 10 times my last salary at IT Systems. D-Sash as we used to call him, passed away a few years ago, I never really got to thank him for the doors he opened for my career.
Potential despite threat
Clifton Bissick offered me my first role in the UK. Everywhere I went, I was told I did not have UK-acquired experience, even though the experience I had borne out of curiosity, self-development and eagerness to learn and understand put me well above the skills profile of many who had the acquired experience I was said to not have.
At the BBC, even though I was probably the best-qualified candidate for the role, the manager called me to say I was selling myself short and so he could not offer me the job. I think it was a euphemism for suggesting I was considered a threat to the positions of people who had become entrenched in that system. It hurt, but I looked ahead. Clifton and I are still in contact, he was my manager until August 1994.
Trust beyond capacity
Eoghan Doyle, if there was ever a manager who had more confidence in both my person and my skills long before I knew what I was capable of, he stands tall amongst all those who had that influence in my career. He walked up to my desk one morning and said, ‘Akin, I have something I want you to do for me.’ That is how I started working with Microsoft Systems Management Server from version 1.1 in 1996 and all its various versions and incarnations to date.
Many others in friendships and engagement were part of the extensive support system of my career, Kola Akinola, my best friend from when we were innocent and doe-eyed, Steven Bicknell, my first long-term partner who gave me stability in turbulent times of finding myself, John Coll who I was never qualified enough to work for but always had the time, the space, the advice and the pep-talk to help me along immensely – now of blessed memory.
To all these wonderful people, I can never be thankful enough, for with them I have attained what might have been impossible and beyond reach, I have succeeded where I might have been overwhelmed, I have lived experiences that are the substance of unattainable dreams. I have lived in wonder and beauty and much more. And we are still talking about work that brings new excitement and pleasure, daily.
One other thing I have learnt is, when it is no more fun, walk away from it.

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