If you’re familiar with the Nigerian tech ecosystem, then you probably already know Akintude Sultan (AKA HackSultan). Even if you don’t know him personally, chances are you know AltSchool/TalentQL, which he co-founded; DevCareer, which he founded; or NTBTS weekly, his newsletter.
We got to speak to the man himself, and he told us all about how he built his enviable reputation, including how his journey in tech began, his community-building experience and his income growth over the years.
Are you a self-taught engineer, or did you learn in school?
A combination of both.
I studied Computer Science at Oduduwa University, but I started my career in software engineering as far back as secondary school.
So you’ve always wanted to be in tech?
Absolutely. In fact, I transferred to Oduduwa University from Obafemi Awolowo University in 200 Level because I wanted to study Computer Science.
Would you say studying Computer Science gave you an edge?
So the transfer was a waste of time?
I wouldn’t call it a waste of time. I made some meaningful connections in school and got a few opportunities (like a scholarship to business school). That being said, I probably would have been in this same position even if I didn’t study Computer Science.
Why do you think so?
I had already gotten exposed to tech, even before OAU, but connecting with people in the ecosystem started at OAU. There was a place on the campus known as Webometrics, where I interacted with my guys in the Computer Science and engineering departments. There was even a time when companies visited the campus to recruit interns.
Interesting. Is that where your love for community development began?
No. It started before then.
Yeah. I have always been a community builder. Back at Oduduwa University, I trained a lot of developers. Outside the school, I was a facilitator for the National Association of Computer Science Students (NACOS) and Consonance Club, an open community of techies.
Soon, I started DevCareers, a non-profit organisation that initially focused on training 22 upcoming developers in the first year but now has over 14,000 community members.
You’ve come a long way.
How did your talent recruitment and outsourcing company, TalentQL and its sister brand, AltSchool gain prominence quickly?
We do excellent work and constantly evolve. Initially, we focused on providing pre-vetted engineers to companies. Now, we train engineering and non-engineering talent via the AltSchool platform, which leverages community, especially on Twitter.
For instance, whenever a person gets into any of our programs, they usually share it on Twitter, creating more awareness for us.
Amazing! What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from co-running TalentQL and AltSchool?
No person or institution can do it all alone. Everyone has a quota to contribute to the growth of the tech ecosystem. Some institutions only train people, but cannot give them jobs; while others focus on helping those trained talent get jobs. TalentQL is lucky to do both. But even at that, we’re barely scratching the surface. There’s still so much to be done.
Speaking about contribution, why did you start your newsletter, NTBTS weekly from HackSultan?
I just wanted to add value to the tech ecosystem in a fun, relatable manner. And I don’t have the power to do “Welcome to my YouTube Channel.”
[Laughs] And how’s that been going?
Very well, actually. It’s currently the largest tech newsletter in Nigeria, with over 60,000 subscribers. On average, I get about 5,000 new subscribers monthly without any promotion.
What do you think is the reason for this growth?
I believe people just find the newsletter fun and useful. I can’t think of any other reason; I don’t really stress about it. Some subscribers even go as far as always correcting my grammatical mistakes in each edition. That’s how fun the newsletter is.
You mentioned starting your engineering career as far back as secondary school. Tell me more about that journey.
I started my tech journey as far back as 2009. I got interested in website building then and experimented a lot. One of my seniors was also very helpful; he taught me a lot about software in general.
You’ve really been at this for a while.
I have. So when I resumed at OAU, I jumped on the Fiverr train. I was lucky to secure international clients. I promoted my brand aggressively, too. In no time, everyone around me knew me as the tech guy. Then I had a rock-bottom moment.
I lost a folder containing all the projects I had worked on over the years.
I’m so sorry.
Thanks. It was really depressing at the time.
How did you recoup?
I moved more towards frontend development. It was a bit easy getting jobs because I had great referrals. I also helped many final-year computer science students with their projects. Then I briefly worked in-house at a small company in Osun State.
In 2017, however, a change happened. I began to focus more on teaching people how to code. It was around this time I founded DevCareers as well. In the midst of all these, I participated in hackathons (coding competitions) and taught people how to win them. It’s been a decade of hard work.
Impressive. I’m sure your income has grown tremendously too.
Has your taste changed as a result?
Except for the time when I tried to buy a lion, I don’t think my taste has transformed because of my income growth.
Wait. You tried to buy a lion?
Yes [Laughs]. I was still dumb then, though. I had done some international gigs at the time and made mad money. My colleagues were getting cars at the time, and I thought, “What can I buy?”
And you thought a lion?
Absolutely [Laughs]. I thought it would sell for ₦5 million or so, but it was relatively expensive. I didn’t get it eventually, though.
I needed a permit.
But presently, I don’t live above (or even up to) my means. Although I have a couple of nice sneakers, I don’t have any designer ones. My clothes are also quite basic. When I indulge in overspending, it’s mostly for others and not myself.
Why are you this frugal?
I have been broke before [Laughs]. I’m also still broke.
Seriously. Being a startup founder makes you broke. I’m earning less than I would have if I worked at Microsoft or Google. Most of the offers I got before concentrating on TalentQL are currently far more than my take-home salary.
Guess that’s the price you pay for entrepreneurship.
What would you say to anyone starting a software engineering career today?
Start now and be patient. Don’t compare yourself to someone who started the journey a decade ago. Take your time. Your big break will come.