Six Figure is a biweekly PiggyVest series that focuses on how real Nigerians achieved dramatic income growth, making them millionaires.
For this week’s episode of Six Figure, we spoke to a data engineer who went from graduate trainee to earning around ₦1.4m monthly. He shares his motivation for working hard and gives some advice for aspiring data engineers who want to earn six figures.
What was your first job?
In September 2018, I got a graduate trainee job at one of the top banks in Nigeria. I was posted to the data department as an analyst, but the data ecosystem is very vast; it’s nothing like the way people on the outside see it. There are the architects, analysts, engineers, scientists and all that. Somewhere along the line, I immersed myself in the data engineering side of things.
What did you study in school?
Mathematics and Computer Science.
How did you land the role?
I applied. As you know, age was a strong factor in determining your success in landing these kinds of graduate trainee positions. Honestly, it still is. But in this era of endless ASUU strikes, I’m glad I was lucky enough to spend only four years in school. Looking back, that helped a lot.
That’s true. Did your mathematics background help?
Not exactly. But the department was sort of new at the time. Nearly everyone was learning, which turned out to be a good thing for me, because I had no real experience apart from what I learned at the bank’s training school.
I remember the first day I walked into the meeting hall after my posting. I saw python codes and machine learning stuff on the board, and everything seemed like gibberish to me. Some Microsoft consultants were handing over a solution they built to my senior colleagues and showing them the ropes.
I became scared. It was like I was about to start climbing a very tall mountain. But it was also exciting. I appreciate my time with that bank because we were given opportunities to make mistakes and learn. I’ve grown a lot as a result.
What did being a data analyst-slash-engineer entail?
My everyday job was to build data pipelines using different tools, and bring in data that businesses could utilise. A lot of automation, building and deploying machine models. It was a lot of learning.
How long did this last?
Two and a half years.
What was the salary like?
My net pay was about ₦275k. Then somewhere along the line I got promoted and my salary was raised to ₦400k+. But I only earned this new salary for a month, because I got an offer from a thriving Fintech that same month.
Oh wow! A hot cake!
[Laughs.] The salary difference wasn’t that much. My new net salary was ₦550k. But my main reason for leaving the bank was not money. It was because I was starting to get too comfortable at the bank.
Most of the tasking work was being assigned to our very savvy team leads, and I started to feel like I was no longer building proficiency. Even though I was interested, I had no platform to practise. What’s the point of learning if you can’t put any of it to use?
Not working a lot but being paid enough was only fun for a minute. On the flip side, I needed to take ownership of my time and career. And I knew the new company would challenge me and give me the freedom to explore.
What was your new job role?
I was hired as a data engineer in 2021 to assist the Compliance Unit. The Compliance team is in charge of KYC monitoring and transaction monitoring, and they needed a data guy in the mix.
Was that hard?
Not really. What’s interesting is that I’ve been lucky in my career. Every time I join a team, there’s always some restructuring going on that helps take the pressure off. I have time to understand the domain and the environment before my main tasks start to show up.
There were also other data people like me managing other units like finance, settlement, etc. Around the time I joined was when the organisation wanted to consolidate our data team and make us a single, centralised unit, where other business units could send in requests.
Did that finally test your threshold?
Yes. My first main task was to build a system. We needed to go from using Excel sheets, which were not the best for the integrity of data. And compliance is a big deal for companies like ours. This was my chance to showcase my ability to build APIs and web apps since I didn’t get the chance at my last job. It was tough, but I pulled it off and it was a massive win for me.
But as far as my daily tasks go, I prefer to work on projects, stuff like building data infrastructure, warehouses and web apps.
Sounds like you’re having a grand time.
Yes. Working remotely is one of my favourite parts of my new job. It allows me to do other jobs on the side. I also support about three companies abroad as a data engineer. One pays me $500 and others pay $400. On a good month, I make over $1k on the side and on a bad month I make around $600.
How much does all this come to monthly?
My current salary is ₦750k. Then give or take ₦700k from my side hustle. So, ₦1.4m?
When you grow, people notice you. They want to pick your brain about stuff and give you tasks. But it feels natural to me because I’ve found that I’m data-driven. My head is always mapping out ways to analyse and clean data. I love things working seamlessly, and while being able to troubleshoot is a great skill to have, nobody likes to continuously run into these kinds of problems.
What new skills are you learning at the moment?
I’m currently learning DevOps because that’s like the second layer of data engineering. I build and develop solutions, but I don’t deploy them. Once I master this skill, there are so many levels I can unlock.
What inspires your work ethic?
Money. My job is in demand now and I’m earning pretty well, but if that changes, I’ll have no choice but to change. My motivation is to be rich and give my family and future wife and kids the best life. I want to be able to enjoy my life while I’m still alive. [Laughs.]
That’s the dream! Does this mean you are good are you with your money?
Ah. I’m extravagant. [Laughs.] I like gadgets and spending money. My mantra is, “If you like money, work hard to make yours.” You can’t like money and depend on people for it at the same time. I barely get four hours of sleep daily, because I have to contend with my main work and then the difference in time zones at my other gigs.
Any advice for aspiring data engineers who want to earn six figures?
To be honest, I’ve been lucky throughout my career. I didn’t have a career plan right after school, but I’m here and thriving. My advice to aspiring data engineers would be to believe in yourself and stay open-minded.
Be ready to learn and ask questions. Don’t be scared to try. I’ve noticed that many people, even those I support in the US, are afraid to try new things. Errors are also an important part of the job. You read through, find the source and fix it.
Explore. Take your time with the basics. Everything else will fall in line as you advance. Last but not least, pray. Keep your faith in God and speak things into existence.
- Take that leap of faith: You don’t have to have it all figured out before you take the next step.
- Nothing exciting happens in your comfort zone: When you find yourself constantly numb or bored at your job, consider reevaluating your position. Challenge yourself often, and you’ll grow fast.
- Do it afraid: There’ll always be a ‘Day 1’ at that new job. Meet it with a clear head and open mind. You always learn on the job anyway.