Adora Nwodo discovered her love for computers at a very early age, and now she’s living her dream as a software engineer at Microsoft. In a recent interview with PiggyVest, she shared her tips on getting into the tech industry, as well as how she landed a book deal with the western publishing giant, Wiley. Along the way, she also offers fascinating insights into her life and experiences.
What was it like for you growing up?
I grew up in Lagos. I’m the last born of my family. I have two elder brothers, the youngest of whom is older than me by a lot — not up to 10 years but close. So, I grew up with like four parents. My dad used to work in oil and gas, and my mum was an entrepreneur. My dad had a bunch of certifications; you know how men want to make money fast.
That’s familiar. What did your brothers study?
They studied mechanical engineering and marine biology, but they are not working in either of those industries. They got master’s degrees outside of the country in supply chain management and in finance. That’s what they do now.
That’s quite a driven environment.
My father is a driven human being.
I hear you started tinkering with computers at a young age…
Yeah. My dad felt that the world was moving towards computers.
What year was this?
That’s a lot of foresight.
I guess. He was in oil and gas and must have been exposed to certain people. He probably heard that computers would make sense in the future and, well, he wanted his own children to make sense.
So, he bought a computer at home and sent my brothers to computer school. I used to play with my brothers a lot, and that’s how I started interacting with computers.
How did you go from that to programming?
I like to create things, and I have always been that way. I used to scatter things and put them back together. I wanted to know how they made the games we were playing. I was also on social media, Myspace and Hi5.
I found myself in multiple rabbit holes, and that’s how I stumbled on programming. I must have been 6 or 7 at the time.
So, what language did you first study?
Yes. I don’t know if it was my love for programming that fuelled my love for maths or if it was my love for maths that led to programming. In secondary school, I would code a calculator — because we weren’t allowed to use calculators until later — and use it for assignments. I always used to ace maths.
Hahaha. What school was this?
Corona. But as far back as primary five, I knew that I wanted to be a programmer when I grew up.
So, it was certain even before secondary school?
I wanted to study maths at first. I knew there was programming, but I felt it was learned in outside institutions like Aptech and NIIT.
Wait. How were you learning online? YouTube was in 2007.
[Laughs] There were forums. Coding content existed then and because I wasn’t doing anything complicated, I never ran into bugs that I couldn’t handle.
You have a one in a million Nigerian childhood.
So tell me about wanting to study maths at the university.
Like I said, I knew I wanted to be a programmer, but let’s be honest, having information can change your life. The difference between two sets of people sometimes, or the difference in the lives they can have, is access to information. Some very talented people have not become who they could have been just because they never got the right information.
I wanted to study maths but that’s because I didn’t know much. I told my brother about it and he spoke to one of his friends who was doing a master’s in MIT [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. He then introduced me to that friend who told me that since I like maths and I want to code, that I should study computer science: “There’s maths inside.” That was the first time I heard of that course.
I also spoke to my mother. She had a friend whose daughter was studying computer science. My mum got the information I needed and then I was able to make a decision.
Charmed life. You live a charmed life.
At this stage, did you know other languages besides Visual Basic?
I knew some HTML and CSS. But before then, in my secondary school, we had a computer lab, so I used to be the girl in my set that people with laptop issues would come to. I didn’t like it because that wasn’t the kind of computing I wanted to do. I had already started building static websites in secondary school, so by the time I got into UNILAG, I had played a lot with HTML, CSS and Visual Basic.
So, what did you add?
When did you get your first job?
I was still in school then. I did my IT at a media and advertising agency. But because they liked me, and I was afraid Nigeria would happen, I kept the job. This was between my fourth and fifth year.
How did you juggle that with your school work?
Yo! I tell people not to do it. I also had a shoe business and was a PM at a different establishment. I don’t know who sent me.
I know. You sent you.
[Laughs] I didn’t have to show up for meetings, and they trusted me. Sometimes I would pop into the office, though, just to remind them I still worked there.
What was your salary?
It was shit. ₦15k.
Let it go. You were a student.
[Laughs] I wasn’t even doing it for the money. I just didn’t want to lose the job. At this stage, my father was tired of me. Before the internship, he got me a job in a bank, but I was doing last born. I didn’t want to do IT support. I didn’t want to be doing networking and hardware. I wanted to write code.
He eventually left me alone, and because I was sort of a spoiled brat, he and the rest of my family thought that I wouldn’t find a job. So, when I found the job, I also wanted to prove them wrong because my pride wouldn’t let me go and beg. I needed to keep the job. Besides, my dad was still giving me money, so it’s not like I really needed that job.
So, did holding on to the job after school work?
I told them I would like to work for them during NYSC and maybe even after. I retained the job and they started paying me ₦150k.
A 1,000% percent increase.
Yeah. 10x. And it was around when I was finishing up with NYSC that I got hired by Microsoft.
You went from this small company to Microsoft? Impressive
I failed a Google interview before then, and that was because I used to be in my shell. Retreating into my shell happened because of a bad interview experience I had while looking for an internship during my IT period. I had an argument with the CEO during the interview. That was 2016.
This is hilarious. How is it possible to argue with a CEO during a job interview?
You know all this Gen Z stuff.
I have heard about it. All of us have. But still…that’s a big one.
He asked a question and when I was responding, he said something. I responded by saying, “You are interrupting me; let me say what I am saying.”
He didn’t like that and tweeted about it later. He didn’t tag me, but I saw the tweet. I felt bad about it and decided to not talk at all rather than talk aggressively. I was afraid to talk to certain people and would freeze whenever conversations became serious.
How did you get over it?
I got over it when I failed the Google interview. My classmates had gotten offers from Microsoft, and I was angry about it. They were supposed to share the opportunities. So I got a Google recruiter’s number and didn’t share it.
How did that happen?
I was supposed to attend an event with Google in Switzerland, but I didn’t get the visa. That was the first time I was applying for a visa without my family, so trust me to mess it up. The team handling it reached out saying they hoped the experience didn’t affect my wish to work at Google, that when I graduate, I could reach out to them.
I got the rejection two days after the interview and realised I needed to work on myself. I needed to get comfortable with speaking in public again, so I started doing public speaking at tech events. That was what led me to start a YouTube channel.
And that was how I got the Microsoft job. One of the recruiters reached out to me on LinkedIn and said they liked my videos. They said Microsoft was coming to Lagos, that they would like me to apply when they come.
That is quite a story. Were you still earning ₦150k at this time?
Yes and no.
The agency was still paying ₦150k, but I also had a job with a company that was paying me in Canadian dollars. So I was already earning seven figures in naira.
Sweet. And then Microsoft came calling.
Yes. But I was already going to leave. It was a startup and things were not adding up for me. I wasn’t there for a long time. I was there for maybe two and a half months. I was running from one money bag to another. If I didn’t get the job at Microsoft, I would have gone for a master’s degree.
Is that still a thing you want to do?
I am currently in business school. I am doing the Stanford GSB.
How did the GSB happen?
It was my brothers, my second parents. They suggested it and you know the pandemic opened an opportunity for remote learning. I didn’t want to quit my job to go to school, especially because of what we are building.
Yes. The metaverse, and I want to be a part of that. I thought about the suggestion and it made sense. I applied, wrote a statement of purpose and got a recommendation from one of my co-workers who’s a Stanford alumnus. They take a small number of people every year, so I feel quite honoured to be a part of the programme. I’m young in a class where a lot of my classmates are in their 40s.
So, you started at ₦15k and then ₦150k then…
To ₦1m plus.
I want to stop there. [Laughs]
A range, please?
[Laughs] Between ₦1m and ₦3m. That’s a bad range, right?
The worst. But I’ll let it go. You tweeted recently about a book with Wiley…
How did it happen?
I have been branding myself as a cloud person for a while now. They reached out to me to see if I could write a book on Azure/DevOps. I work with the cloud and the agreement looked interesting.
That is the incredibly abridged version. Tell me the longer one.
I have self-published a book on the cloud before. At the time I was thinking that it was going to be a YouTube series and then it became a book. That was last year. I sold that book for ₦5,000, and I think I sold over 1,000 copies in the first few months.
A lot of the knowledge came from the people I was working with at Microsoft. There are also multiple learning resources.
So how did that connect to Wiley…
They saw that first book. They saw that it was gaining some traction, so they reached out. Maybe the fact that I work with Microsoft also played a part. As I said, the contract looked interesting. And it is Wiley…
…of course, it’s Wiley.
[Laughs] I was like, “Okay, let’s do it.”
Does this make you the first Nigerian?
I am the first Nigerian to write for Wiley in tech.
What’s the figure for Wiley?
[Laughs] I am not supposed to say.
Advice for people in school in tech?
Join a community and build something.
For non-tech folks looking to get into technical roles?
Learn the fundamentals of computer science. People ask about what language to learn but that is rubbish. That’s like building a house without a solid foundation. If people who don’t have that foundation have to do something besides what they are good at, they tend to struggle a lot. The course to take is Harvard CS50. It is good. Everybody now wants to rush into tech so they can start earning the remote dollars their friends are getting.
Hard to blame them in this economy.
But they need to put in the work.
Alright. You have enjoyed so much success already. What happens next for Adora?
I want to keep giving back, helping people start in tech. I want to write less code so either I am leading teams or product initiatives or the business division. I am yet to decide what that leadership role will be. I will figure that out later.