Stories about Nigerians leaving for other countries are on the rise these days. This week’s subject took the reverse route. Frantz Kati, developer, Udemy tutor, all round techie, is from Cameroon but is now based in Nigeria.
He shares with PiggyVest his fascinating story: leaving his family in Cameroon for Russia and then leaving that country for Nigeria, all the while growing his income exponentially.
What was growing up like for Frantz Kati?
It was quite normal. I grew up in Bamenda, Cameroon with parents who were both teachers. We were middle class. My mum was also a farmer and my dad did several other jobs.
Did you have any idea what you were going to become?
Not really, but I really liked engines. I still do. I knew I wanted to study complicated engines, but I didn’t know what that meant professionally. I was extremely good at physics and mathematics, so it was always going to be science for me.
So what did you want to study at the university when it was time?
Mechanical Engineering, but I didn’t get that. I got Electrical Engineering at the University of Buea instead. But that’s where things get interesting. I was introduced to programming because it was part of the course’s curriculum.
It was very annoying at first. We would write the code on paper…
Yeah. Our teacher looked like a genius because he’d give impossible assignments and then write the right code on paper. This was around 2011.
What language was this?
Mostly C and C++.
Did you get into anything entrepreneurial at school?
No. But I got an opportunity to study what I really liked: engines. After about a year, I moved to Russia to start university again. There I studied the Mechanics of Plane Engines.
How does a person get to study in Russia from Cameroon?
I had help. A classmate of my elder brother told me that Russia would offer me a scholarship because my grades were good. I applied and they did give me a scholarship. Plus, a nice stipend.
You must be God’s favourite.
[Laughs] Spoiler alert: I didn’t stay for the entire five years required.
Interesting. Why was that?
I had to spend a year learning the language. You do that for three hours a day and then you are free. So there was a lot of time spent idling. At some point, my classmates told me they made money building websites.
I was already writing code back in Cameroon, so I figured it wouldn’t be too difficult to learn the technologies I needed for website building, which were HTML and CSS. I learned those but saw that on Upwork and other freelance websites, clients needed MySQL, jQuery and PHP. So I had to go back to YouTube to learn. I started getting jobs when I returned.
How long did this take?
Within the one year required to learn Russian by the school. After my classes, I’d go back to my room and learn how to code. I was highly motivated to make some money!
I can imagine. You were learning both a country’s language and a computer’s language.
Yeah. But I came back home to Cameroon because my mother asked me to. Over there, I met another one of my brother’s friends; he was starting to build startups in Cameroon. That’s how I got my first job.
Had you earned anything at the time?
I had some horror stories, but I had earned some money from a client in Canada. That was about $100.
Was your new employer aware you were a student who needed to go back to Russia for school?
He was, but I wanted the money. It became one of the reasons I dropped out of school. But before all of that, I was going to his office everyday. He had other engineers that I collaborated with.
What did your parents say about this turn of events?
I told my dad that programming is my destiny, but he said I shouldn’t think about it. They had spent a lot of money already because flight costs were crazy. The way he saw it was simple: if I finished what I was in Russia for, I’d be one of the most in-demand graduates in Cameroon.
He wasn’t wrong, I think.
Yeah. So I didn’t think about it. I did a few months at home and then returned to Russia. I kept building stuff, though.
So how did your dalliance with a degree end?
A few years into studying to get the degree, I heard about a company called Andela because Mark Zuckerberg visited Lagos. I had no idea there were other programmers in Africa because it was brand new in Cameroon.
I had built software, and I even had a YouTube channel, but I knew there were a ton of things to learn. It was at that point my plan to escape and move to Nigeria started forming.
Let’s talk about the YouTube channel. How did that begin?
I think one of my greatest talents is teaching, so I decided to do a Udemy course because I was looking for extra income. I started a PHP, Laravel and MySQL course, but it got zero traction.
Then, I learned that a lot of people with Udemy courses had YouTube channels for marketing purposes.
What was your income like on Udemy? Was YouTube monetisable then?
It was, but I think the highest I got from YouTube was $100. But it brought people and money to my Udemy course. It started with $300. Then, some months, I’d get $1,000 to $1,500. I got up to $3000 on occasion.
I haven’t logged into Udemy in about three years and still the course brings in about $1,000 each month. They just keep sending me money.
Sweet! Back to Andela. What was that like?
I had to make a choice. Sometimes, I would miss classes because I was coding for the job I held in Cameroon. Sometimes, I would miss hanging out with my friends because I was filming courses for Udemy over the weekend. Eventually, I decided to leave my degree in Russia and move to Lagos.
Did you tell your parents?
They found out one year later.
[Laughs] So how did you get into Andela?
It was a difficult process at the time. I had to come to Nigeria in person for the third stage of the interview. I decided it was going to be one of two things. If I got accepted, then that would be the beginning of my life in tech seriously. If I didn’t get in, then, I’d go to Cameroon and think of something. I was willing to take the risk.
That’s quite bold.
Yes. This was 2017, I think. I did the interview and waited for a month to hear back from Andela. They said yes.
Where were you staying?
I was at an airbnb. I had Udemy money. Still, my host reduced the cost of the place and that helped me live there for six months.
In retrospect, was Andela a good move?
It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I met developers who were better than I was, which helped me learn that you have to be better than good to stand out.
How long were you at Andela?
I left in 2019. I was there for two years and some months.
What was your remuneration?
It was standard, I think. But there were amazing benefits. The salary was about ₦150k per month and then you got promoted, at which point you earned over ₦300k. My salary when I left was around the ₦400k mark.
By then, had your parents found out where you were?
I had to tell someone at home because they kept asking how Russia was. [Laughs] I told my sister and my sister told them.
They came to Nigeria. That was the first thing. They didn’t scold me, but they needed to know I was okay. They came to the Andela office and came to my house to make sure I wasn’t living under the bridge. My mum was freaking out.
You had the woman worried. You did leave Andela eventually. Why was that?
I had a chance to join Turing, a company based in San Francisco. They pair developers with partners. After some time, I moved up and became an interviewer.
Did you leave Nigeria?
I tried to leave Nigeria, but I had fallen in love.
Aww. How nice.
[Laughs] I visited home a bit, but I became permanently based in Nigeria.
What did the Turing job mean for you financially?
It was amazing. That was the first time I got $70k a year.
From ₦380k naira per month to about $6k. That’s astronomical growth!
Yes, it was. It was amazing, as I said. Andela gave me a great background, so I had the tools I needed to work for Turing.
Where did you go next?
We were thick in the middle of the crypto boom when I left Turing. So I got into crypto. I learned how to write smart contracts. I also traded and did NFTs. I made money. And that was how I found out about Aurory, the company I am currently working with.
What is your salary now?
I’ll give you a range. Between late five figures and early six figures.
This is dollars, right?
Balling! What are your streams of income?
It’s just my salary and Udemy. I’ll be back to crypto when it is time.
From Cameroon to Russia to Nigeria to the US. What is your secret?
I would attribute it to hard work. But I also think knowing the right things to work on was very important. And that is what Andela gave me. That company taught me the right things to do if I wanted to build solutions for world class companies, and then I buried myself in those things. I am extremely grateful for Andela.
What were those important things?
You need to be able to communicate with other teams. There’s observability, continuous deployment, automated tests, system architecture, algorithms. These are all important.
What approach should those looking to get into tech adopt?
The space has changed, so one has to be very hard working. It won’t take you six months or one year to start making $5k, $6k/month. It can take you up to three years.
In that time, you should work for local companies and be happy with that. These companies are high quality. Also, be willing to do open source and be willing to work in a non-profit establishment. You won’t get the salary you are hoping for but your career will move forward. So just build patience while doing something for money on the side.
I’m writing a book to help. You can get it on this website when it’s published.