Edidiong Asikpo’s name is familiar to a vast number of workers and followers of the Nigerian tech scene. She has spoken at over 100 tech events worldwide and is super-active in the developer community. But not long ago, she was a student struggling with Computer Science.
In this interview with PiggyVest, she talks about the calculated moves (and happy accidents) that turned her into a Senior Developer Advocate.
Could you talk a bit about your childhood?
I grew up in Ikot Ekpene in Akwa Ibom State. My dad’s a book publisher; my mum was a nurse. My family is a large one — I have 9 siblings.
What did you want to be at the time?
I wanted to be a lawyer. I was — and still am — very argumentative. But when I got to secondary school, someone said that I’d have to be reading all the time, and I never liked reading. I struggled through literature.
In SS2, I had to decide, so I looked at the courses I liked and disliked and chose petrochemical engineering. That was partly because the school had chosen some of its brightest students to visit Total’s offices in Port Harcourt. Everything was just so beautiful. From the people that came to speak with us to the food they gave us, I was like, this is where I want to be!
What did your dad say?
He said that I cannot be an engineer. He didn’t believe there were opportunities in the field. He wanted me to be a doctor. In the end, I got admitted to study microbiology but something happened and it became computer science. The registrar literally had to write me a new offer letter. So, you could say I accidentally fell into tech. Life just happened, and I ended up studying computer science.
Weird and interesting origin story. What was school like?
I was strictly focused on the books because I always wanted to graduate with a first class. But remember that I didn’t like to read. It was a friend of mine who helped changed that. I probably wouldn’t be where I am today without her.
It was always a somewhat friendly competition. I don’t even know if competition is the right word, but she really inspired me. I was like, if she can do this thing, then I can do it too. Anyway, I was just focused on reading my books and passing.
Then a major change happened for me when I went for industrial training.
What exactly happened?
I did my IT at Start Innovation Hub in Uyo, the state’s capital. While I was there, I learned how to develop Android applications. Before this, studying computer science had become hard. I had found our computer classes in secondary school interesting, but in university, it was not simple again.
I was frustrated half the time, and I didn’t really understand what was going on. When they would explain code or something practical, they would just write it on the board. I was literally just cramming.
At this industrial training, I saw so many other young people like me trying to learn how to build apps. They were doing Android development or web development. They also had a strong developer community called GDG (Google Developer Group). I paid to learn how to develop Android applications because I was obsessed with it.
Weren’t you working for them as an IT student?
Technically, I wasn’t even supposed to pay to do the course since I was working for them. But it didn’t matter to me. My goal was different. I wanted to come out of this IT with something tangible.
How long was your IT?
Six months. March to October, if I’m not mistaken. In 2017.
What language did you learn?
Java. They taught something about programming in school, but I didn’t understand it. When it’s time for exams, I’d just give them back what they gave to me. After I came back from this industrial training, things began to make sense.
During IT, I also saw other young people do amazing stuff. So many people came to Uyo for events. You just see people talking about how they’ve been able to change their lives, how they’ve now been able to make it, how they were making good money.
By then though, had you built anything by yourself?
Yes, I built a couple of things. But nothing on Google Play Store. I built a birthday app for my friend to wish her a happy birthday. It was really cute.
After getting back, what was the next big thing to happen to you?
I contributed to Open Source. At the time, it was not even as popular as it is now. The owner of the firm where I did my IT made me give a talk on Android development. After I gave the talk, I joined GDG, Uyo because the owner of the firm was also in charge.
I was helping the organisers to host events and create awareness. This was during the internship. He also recommended me as a co-lead for DevC, Uyo. That is the Facebook Developer Circle in Uyo. I think the man saw something and invested in me.
Nice. What happened after school?
I did my NYSC in Lagos. I think they were paying ₦32,000, but I wanted to work for Interswitch. I got an interview with them, but they were wasting my time. This was in 2019. Eventually they got back to me and the offer was about ₦100k. Which was, like, freaking huge, right?
More than huge, especially for a corper.
Exactly. It was dope. They also gave me health insurance. But one bad thing happened.
I was walking with my laptop to work one day when a bike stopped in front of me and someone came down. He was holding a cutlass and asking me to give him my bag. For some stupid reason, I did not let the bag go. In my head, I was like, ‘I just joined Interswitch one month ago and you want to collect the laptop.’
While I was dragging the bag, I slipped and fell. The person took the bag and ran away. They didn’t get to collect my phone, though, thankfully. I think I had to call my manager. Everybody said, “Welcome to Lagos.” Interswitch gave me a new laptop, but I was very traumatised. I couldn’t really walk alone. I felt like someone was always coming at my back.
Thanks. I finished my NYSC, did another interview and got a job at Interswitch. My salary moved to around ₦200k.
Life was good.
Life was really good. I was staying far from the office but had now moved to Yaba. I didn’t have to wake up at 5am.
When did you leave them?
I left in 2020. July, I think. The pandemic happened and everybody was working remotely. A company called Hashnode reached out to me. I think this was because I was always really active in the community. I was hosting events and speaking at events.
I wasn’t really active in the Uyo community anymore. It was now more like Lagos and social media. I joined Shecode Africa as well. I was very, very active on social media at the time, teaching all what I was learning and writing technical articles. I was also into web development at the time.
I think I wrote the most in 2020. But you know one interesting thing that happened in 2019?
In 2019, I wrote this article on my blog titled, “2019 – The Best Year in the Last Decade.” It was one of the best years of my life. I applied for a program called Google Season of Docs, where a technical writer gets connected to an open-source organisation. It’s a three-month program where you apply to Google, an organisation chooses you and they pay you $3,000 to be in the program. Three months, $3,000. It was insane. Do you know VLC?
For context, I have loved VLC since I was in secondary school. I got to work with VLC because they were part of the programme. It was insane; I got to speak with the person who created it. Like, I was talking with the president and the engineers.
Sweet! But wait, were you still a software engineer? Or you added technical writing to your portfolio?
I just liked sharing my experience, trying to teach people. I was writing about what I was learning and developing. So Hashnode reached out to me to join as a developer advocate. That’s a role that’s like a middleman between your company and the developer community.
What were you earning at this time?
It was in dollars.
It was a crazy jump. $2,000.
Sweet! Are you still with them?
No. I left them in July 2021 and joined my current company, Ambassador Labs.
How did that happen? Did you apply?
They reached out to me on LinkedIn. When I looked at it, I was like, well, this is a Kubernetes-focused company. It wasn’t something that I was involved in. There’s no need to even respond to this person. Then later, their head of DevRel reached out to me via email. And I was like, okay, something’s going on here. Is this God giving me a sign?
For context, when I used to work at Interswitch, I used to sit down close to this guy who was a DevOps engineer. His name is Abdul. And whenever something goes down everybody would be shouting for him. I mean, I didn’t know what he was doing but it was absolutely fascinating for me.
I decided to go for it and got a call with this person who had sent me an email. It was literally the best interview I’ve ever had in my entire life. It flowed really well. I got the job!
Belated congratulations. So how much did your income jump by?
[Laughs] I’m still with the company.
Give us a hint. Double? Triple? Quadruple?
Hahaha. Not the first one. My lips are sealed.
That’s superb growth in any case. From getting offered 32k to going to heavy dollars.
Yeah. I agree.
What three tips for 10x growth can you give?
It seems like it!
Okay o. But yes, one thing for me would always be that people should put themselves out there. If you’re not talking about what you’re doing, then the truth is that nobody really knows what you’re doing. If I wasn’t active in the community, if I wasn’t putting myself out there, these people would have not reached out to me to join their company. I learned this from the CEO of my IT firm. He was always very conscious about enabling me to put myself out there.
The other thing would always be to try to improve yourself. I’ve never been one to reach a certain point and be, like, I have arrived. I just feel like no matter how much you think you have, there’s someone who has a lot more. I’m not saying don’t feel relaxed, I’m not saying put yourself under unnecessary pressure, but it’s very important to not feel complacent.
The third one would be: Chop life before life chop you. Working is great, making money is great. Doing all these things is fantastic but let’s not forget to live life. Let’s not forget to be with our family. Let’s not forget to build good relationships because at the end of the day, it really matters.
Nobody’s going to say, oh, this person died Best In Work. If you die today, your company is going to replace you tomorrow.