It is common on social media to hear about how transitioning into tech can change a person’s life, and Precious Kolawole’s journey is an inspiring example. A few years ago, she was studying a course in the field of medicine at Obafemi Awolowo University.
What was it like growing up for Precious Kolawole?
I grew up in Abeokuta, Ogun state. My dad is a pastor and runs a block industry. My mum is a trader. I am the penultimate child of four children. We were not well off; I think we were a little below middle class.
Did you always know you’ll get into tech?
Not at all. I always wanted to study medicine. I remember using the first aid box whenever anyone got injured. My dad once suggested that I follow an auxiliary nurse around, but I declined. I tried three different schools and three different JAMB exams to get medicine.
OAU finally gave me Zoology, but I was lucky enough to change my course to Medical Rehabilitation within my first few weeks. So, no, I had no idea I was going to go into tech when I was younger.
How was it at OAU? Did you get a job while there?
I can be very energetic. Even before then, I had a job. When I finished school at 14, I worked at two different places as a salesgirl and then as a personal assistant to a CEO who ran a cement distribution company. That was my third job before university.
What did those jobs pay?
In the first place, I was earning ₦7,000. But if something went wrong, some of that money would be deducted.
It was a very bad experience. I had to find another job. The second place, a pharmacy with a supermarket section, paid ₦8,000 or ₦9,000. I think I was there for a year before taking up the PA job. The owner used to be my teacher in secondary school.
Did you leave these jobs when you got into school?
Yes. But it was then I got into tech. After I changed my course, the school sent everybody home because of covid. That was when I started coding.
What was the initial spark?
My brother is a computer science student. He went to a data science event and met a guy who is an ophthalmologist and an AI engineer. When my brother heard him talk, he came home and told me. I researched the man and found out what he studied. I then drafted a roadmap of what I needed to learn. I joined several communities and learnt a lot in a year.
I learned python on Udacity; it is free there. That was the first thing I learned. I also joined SheCodeAfrica. As a project, I built something that could predict if loan applicants would default. I wrote about it and put it on my blog. That piece led to my first job in tech because a CEO read and got in touch.
Super! How much did he pay?
I thought it was a scam. But it wasn’t. He paid ₦50k. It was big money to me!
Of course. How well did your model work?
Very well. About 92% accuracy. He then extended an internship offer, and I was there till October 2021. That was when I got an offer to join Google. A programme manager reached out to me on LinkedIn and Twitter because I wasn’t responding fast.
How did that go?
The manager referred me, and I had to do an interview. I left my job to prepare for the interview. I had other reasons for leaving, though, but it didn’t work out. I got rejected by Google. I also applied to Microsoft, but they rejected my application at the CV stage.
By then, I was tired of Nigerian education and Medical Rehabilitation. So I was looking for other opportunities to leave Nigeria to study Computer Science. I got rejected a lot. I even tried Microsoft again, got to the final stage, then they said they were no longer hiring.
It was then that I turned to the Dev Degree programme by Shopify. It was a very complex application. When I first saw how complex it was, I left it. After Google rejected me, I came back to the application because I no longer had anything to turn back to. [Laughs]
I applied and it went very well. But shortly after I got the Shopify offer, Microsoft came back to offer me a job at their Lagos office. They had started recruiting again. I weighed both options.
An excellent problem to have.
Yeah. Shopify won.
No suspense there at all. But why Shopify?
Japa! I wanted to leave Nigeria! Also, I would have to continue my degree in OAU if I chose the Microsoft job, and I was no longer interested.
But how were you surviving financially?
I had no income for a while. But at some point, I joined a project that needed some machine learning knowledge.
So how much did the machine learning project pay?
We got $100k . The day the first part of my share landed in my wallet, I was so excited. It was about $3,000. I called everybody. My brother was also part of the team, so two members of my family got paid from the project.
[Laughs] That was the last major thing to happen before I left for Canada.
Give me details of the Shopify Dev Degree programme? How long does it take?
The programme is for four years for students at York and Carleton, the two schools one can take the programme in Canada. You can have transfer credits if you have post-secondary education and that would mean you don’t have to take all the courses.
But you had post-secondary education…
Yes. [Laughs] But I didn’t transfer any credit. I want to go to Med School after getting this Computer Science degree, and it would be too stressful for me to get those credits transferred from Nigeria.
So I am pretty much doing the full Carleton programme. I won’t be spending the full four years, though.
It is possible to accelerate your degree here. I am doing that. I am on the three-year programme timeline.
Sweet. What are the key rewards of getting accepted into the programme?
It gives me a chance to learn programming languages I wasn’t familiar with on my own.
But there are other perks on the Dev Degree official website: vacation and a “competitive salary”. What is the figure?
[Laughs] For the vacation?
Precious, I know that you know that I was asking about the salary…
[Laughs] You have checked the website already, so let me keep that part to myself.
Okay o. I read somewhere that you also got some money from Google…
Yes. [Laughs] I applied and got a Google Scholarship, which was about 5000 CAD. I used that for a part of my accommodation costs.
Things have gone so well for you there. Am I talking to a potential Canadian?
That silence sounds like Naija has lost Precious Kolawole.
I will come back to Nigeria for holidays. [Laughs]
You are in your early 20s. To what would you attribute the speed of your accomplishments?
Many people crave a soft life, but I believe in hard work. So, first, I work very hard. It can be tiring but going beyond has helped me. I got a few wins early in my tech career, which some might say is luck.
Even at OAU, people used to say, “Oil is on your head, Precious”. But I want to believe in grace not luck. The first one could be luck, but for it to be continuous, that cannot be luck. It must mean I am doing something right.
Second, when I see opportunities, I work till it’s done. People procrastinate. I don’t. Lastly, I have a mindset that craves for more. Maybe it is how my parents raised us because my brother went to FUNAAB and is now doing a Ph.D in AI at Carnegie Mellon University. He skipped NYSC. My sister is doing Finance and Economics at the University of Derby. We all believe our background shouldn’t limit us.
Personally, once I get to a milestone, I look for the next one. I am happy to be in Canada and maybe I should relax and depend on the Shopify salary, but that isn’t the end goal for me. I just believe that my own fight is different.