Students in Nigerian universities have stories to tell, but hardly anyone to tell them to. For our new weekly series, Aluta and Chill, we are putting the spotlight on these students and their various campus experiences.
Our subject for this week is Bakare Emmanuel, who recently wrote his final exams as an Electrical Engineering student of UNILAG. After realising the limitations of the public school educational system in Nigeria, he decided to take matters into his own hand.
When did you start university?
2014. My dad made the decision — school and course, and I was cool with it for the most part. Do you want to know why he decided on UNILAG?
They didn’t want me to go far away from home.
Haha. Of course.
So, I can’t relate when people say they used university as an opportunity to explore and possibly get a break from their parents.
What was your first year like?
I spent most of my first year studying. I had things to prove to myself, and it kind of paid off. I had a 5.0 GPA in my first semester. This was enough to get me the three scholarships I maintained until I finished school. But that was also when I had an epiphany.
Care to talk more about that?
See, I had expectations about what university was supposed to be like. Everything we did in secondary school was pretty hands-on. My teachers were tactful and lovers of practicals. I was used to that mode of learning and thought it would be the same in university.
Spoiler alert: It’s not. I was doing more theoretical work than practicals and stuck in stuffy classes. Don’t even get me started on how boring the classes were. It didn’t feel good to me. It didn’t feel like the routine I would want to stick with for the entire time in school.
Pretty much sums up public university life. So what did you decide to do?
I’ve always loved computers, man. Obsessed with them, actually. I started learning how they worked during my early years in secondary school. I even used to fix the school’s computers. Then I moved to programming. That was the genesis.
Back to my first year at the university, I saw that this academic life might not work out the way I wanted. My CGPA was pretty good and I was certain that it wouldn’t be much of a problem if I wanted to try my hand at programming and find a job. It was a risk, but the worst that could happen was that I would slump to a 2.1.
Did you start applying for jobs?
Yes oh. I started applying for random internships. Oh man, that was my first real experience with how hard this adulting thing is. I was just like “this life is hard oh”. Maybe that was my fault, but you can’t blame me for my positivity. I was applying to Google, Standard Chartered, Microsoft and places like that. The applications all ended in tears. Rejection is a tough pill to swallow.
Sometime later, I saw an ad for software developers in a Google Developers WhatsApp group I was in. I messaged the guy and he asked me to send my CV to an email. I didn’t have an impressive CV, so I didn’t even put much hope into it. They got back to me and I did the first series of interviews, which were not fun at all.
But you got it?
I did. However, the company had this weird payment policy: you get paid based on your output and productivity, not per hour or anything, but by the results of the hours you work. Also, the pay cap was 15k per month, so no matter how much work you put in, you couldn’t earn more than 15k every month.
Wild. How much did you earn on average?
#3,000. With all the work and hours I put in, I usually got 3k, and I worked an average of 160 hours per month. I think I only managed to get all 15k once. It was depressing. I kept thinking I wasn’t doing enough. That’s one of the things that happens when you are short on experience. I was there for a year before I left.
Did you go back to being a full-time student?
You wish. I got another job as a Software Engineering Intern in 300 level. This was definitely a step up. For starters, they provided accommodation and the place was flexible. The workspace culture was pretty good. Actually, I was lucky to get the gig because they didn’t always hire students. I guess they couldn’t refuse my charm.
LMAO. New job and a workspace upgrade. Did that affect your paycheck?
I was earning 25k now. Lol. I should have asked for more, but it felt too good to be true at the time. So, the hustle continued; I was combining school with work and sharing my time between the mainland and island. My workload was considerably less than the previous job, and I knew how much to expect every month.
Speaking of school, how was it going at this point?
I’m not proud to say this, but I wasn’t so crazy about school anymore. Something had happened the semester before I got the internship. During the exams for one of the programming courses I was taking, everyone replicated my code. They all got As, and I got an E. It was my code oh.
That was it. I thought the system was rigged against me, and I wasn’t going to put my hope in it anymore. That course affected my CGPA badly — threw it from 4.87 to 4.51. Graduating with a first-class seemed unlikely, so I decided to plot another course.
I took a remote job as a side gig with an outsourcing software company, which guaranteed extra 50k per month, and everything was going great. As time passed, I took other freelance and remote jobs.
I know what I said about school, but as much as I knew, I wasn’t finishing with a first-class anymore. I also understood how important it was for me to get myself a second-class upper degree. I would lose my scholarships if I slipped to a 2.2.
Yikes. What happened next?
I resigned from my internship job to take an internship with Interswitch — industrial attachment. I was hoping my portfolio would be enough for the people at Interswitch to give me a full-time offer, but they put me on a 40k intern’s salary.
What was your experience with Interswitch
It was a good experience. I got to do stuff for companies like Microsoft and did some other cool work. It was stressful, though. I found it very regimented; it’s a fin-tech company after all. There was only a little creative energy flowing around. I ran away after my IT ended.
Yup. They wanted to keep me and offered me a 300k contract, but I was done with the place. I wanted something new. In the first semester of my final year, I got two job offers almost at the same time. The first one was with the UK division of Goldman Sachs, with an offer of 47,000 pounds per year.
God when! Why does everything sound so good when it’s not in naira?
Lmao! I was still in school, so I wrote them back about the possibility of deferring it till next year. Luckily, they agreed.
That’s huge. What about the second offer?
It was a remote job with Deimos Cloud, a DevOps company operating out of South-Africa and I took it.
How much is this paying?
A whole lot more than the jobs I’d taken. My starting salary was over half a million. It was a good deal.
That’s a lot. Weren’t you overwhelmed with all this?
Not really. This wasn’t my first experience with money or a foreign company. At some point, I was working for a US company and earning $15 per hour. I was calm about all of this.
How did your parents feel about you earning this much so young?
Well, I moved out of the house when I was 18, so there was only so much they knew about what I was doing and how much I was earning.
I see. What were your grades like at this point?
I was still in the second-class upper division. It was very important for me to finish strong, so I took schoolwork more seriously. It was hard to focus, though; a lot of things change when you’ve started earning money.
This is an irony of sorts, but school started to feel like a distraction. I was still trying to balance everything when I went to South-Africa for three weeks on the invitation of the company I am working for. Luckily, we had just finished the first-semester exam, so I didn’t miss out on much.
Mad. Did anything particularly interesting happen in South Africa?
It was fun. I met my boss and the other people I am working with at Deimos for the first time. There is this kind of exhilaration that comes with putting faces to names. Also, I ate a lot and even went paragliding.
Let’s cross the bridge to the #NairaLife side, what does your average monthly expense look like?
What do you do with the rest?
I have some investments I pump money into; that takes a major chunk of what I have left after basic expenses. I can’t really account for what’s left after all these. I guess everyone is guilty of a little lau-lau spending.
You went from earning #3000 naira to over half a million in four years while studying at a Nigerian university. That’s huge. How would you say you struck a balance between work and school?
First, I had my friends. The tutorials they organised for me to catch up on schoolwork I’d missed was key to making sure I finished school. The little time management skills I have helped a lot too.
I had a vision right from my first year at university and that was all I needed to get some sort of balance. People might think this is another “school is a scam’ story, but it’s not. The university paved the way for everything that has happened in the past four years or so.
What are you looking forward to now?
Well, the Goldman Sachs offer is still on the table, so I should be on my way to the UK sometime next year. At the moment, I think I should take it easy and flex a little. I hear travelling is a fun thing to do.
Can’t get enough Aluta and Chill? Check back every Thursday at noon for a new episode. Find other stories in the series here.