Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move the Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be struggle-ish, others will be bougie. All the time, it’ll be revealing.
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After five years in university and over $100k in fees, today’s subject on #NairaLife decided in his final year that he didn’t want to work in architecture again. Clearly, his parents weren’t happy.
But maybe their minds are changed now that he’s making tech money.
Tell me about your earliest memory of money
When I started primary school, I got ₦200 every day, apart from food, to buy snacks. ₦200 could buy me a Capri-Sun, a meat pie and a bunch of other stuff. I couldn’t always spend all of it. So you can imagine my shock when I found out a classmate got ₦2,500 every day. For what?!
I saved the money I couldn’t use in a kolo. One day, my dad asked to borrow everything and didn’t return it. It was like ₦6k, and this was when the dollar was ₦150. That’s technically $40. Today, the dollar is ₦750. That’s like collecting ₦30k from an 8-year-old. It pained me, ehn.
Haha. Why was your dad borrowing money from you?
At the time, things hadn’t gotten good for us. I remember being sent out of school — more than once — for defaulting on fees. And my school wasn’t even an expensive school.
It was when I got to secondary school I knew things had gotten better.
We went to an expensive school where the fees were ₦500k a year. I started secondary school in 2005, so that’s $3,000 a year. My dad’s architecture company was growing. When I turned 13, we went to the US on vacation. We’d never travelled before that. My parents also got big cars, and it was in secondary school we bought the land for the house where we live right now. It was ₦29 million. That’s roughly $200k.
Why do you convert everything to dollars?
It started when I went to the US in 2008. My parents gave all five of us $1k each. I think the dollar was ₦120 then. Whenever I went to a store, I compared everything I wanted to buy to naira and saw that I was getting stuff like video games cheaper there. So when I got back to Nigeria, I just started converting back to dollars on default.
I’ve kept at it as an adult because it just makes sense. The naira terrible currency to think in.
Has that affected the way you think about money?
Yeah. When I convert the charges for stuff like mechanic services in Nigeria to dollars, I’m like, “$20 for a whole day of work? That’s fine.” So I don’t haggle too much.
My first ever job was in my second year at university in the US, so I didn’t have to do any conversions there. I made $12/hour as an intern. In my final year, I had another job where I made $15/hour. With that money, I could pay my $750/month rent, feed myself and even get a PlayStation.
What did you study?
Architectural engineering. As the only male child, I was meant to take over my dad’s architecture company.
When I was in my fourth year, my older sister got a cybersecurity-related internship that paid about $30/hour. I heard her salary and decided I wanted to switch to tech.
Just like that?
Tech was already a big thing in 2016. The billionaires in the world were tech people. I knew there was money there. I’d already been dabbling for a few years and had taken some relevant coursework my school required for all engineers. The fact that my sister was making $30/hour as an intern was what pushed me to make the decision to switch.
I didn’t want to look back at 30 and regret not going into tech. In my head, it was: worst case scenario, I end up with a really high-paying job; best case, I create a product that makes me a billionaire. Win-win.
What did you do?
I had unused credit hours left in school, so I used them to start courses in computer science. Then, I deferred my graduation by a few months so I could complete them. I had to pay for the extension from my own savings. After graduation, I stayed in the US for six months, getting better at coding, and in October 2017, I returned to Nigeria.
Why didn’t you do tech in the US?
As an international student in the US, you can only stay for three years after you graduate if you get and keep a job in the field you graduated in. I didn’t want to get a job in architecture.
Back in Nigeria, I had to pray and fight with my parents over this tech matter. It didn’t make sense to them that they paid $20k a year on tuition for five years and those fees just for me to say I wasn’t going to use the course for anything. For context, $20k was about ₦3m when they started paying, and over ₦10m by the time I was graduating. And I just wanted to switch careers? Who would take over daddy’s company?
How did you sort it out?
I first worked at my dad’s company for almost a year when I got back. They paid ₦100k. Most of the time, I was in the office coding and working on small software projects with friends. Before NYSC in 2018, I built a cleaning service ordering app. It was more for me to learn and practice my skills than to actually make money. Somewhere in my head, I hoped I could blow with it, but realistically, I knew it probably wouldn’t.
For NYSC, I got hired at an agro-tech company to build their crowdfunding platform. They started at ₦50k monthly and increased it to ₦100k three months later. I was just happy I was finally working in tech. I’d finally won the battle with my parents.
How were you doing financially?
₦100k wasn’t a lot of money to survive on when I factored in transportation and some feeding. But thankfully, I’ve always lived with my parents, so I had food at home. When my dad heard my salary was ₦50k, he burst into laughter because I was earning less than his driver.
In 2019, he decided to let go of his anger at me. Things had been tense at home, and he’d reached a point where he was willing to let me do what I wanted to do. He didn’t want a situation where I made it in life and said, “My father never supported me.”
How did he support you?
He gave me $10k and a tipper.
The $10k was a grant. I was to use it to survive and buy whatever I wanted to, so I didn’t ask him for money. The tipper — he owns multiple tippers he uses for construction work. He assigned one to me. I was to discuss with its driver and agree on a monthly remission to me regardless of how much he made. I got ₦350k monthly from that until 2020 when lockdown happened.
So I was making ₦100k from my salary, but I had money to fall back on. When NYSC finished, I felt like I’d learnt enough at the job, so I left. The next month, I got a job that paid ₦400k a month.
A senior software engineer had visited the company where I did my NYSC, and we’d spoken, so he liked me. He reached out when I was done with NYSC and gave me the job.
How long were you there for?
One month. I quit. Toxic environment. I wasn’t worried about survival because I still had money from my tipper, the $10k, and I was expecting some money from an investment I’d done.
An agro investment. Those ones where you put in money to fund a farm and get returns in seven to eight months. But I didn’t use my money as capital. My dad gave me $40k to kep for my sister’s fees. He didn’t want a situation where it was time to pay it, and he didn’t have it. I threw in about $10k and made a few thousand back in profit.
So you weren’t looking for a job anymore?
I left the ₦400k job in November 2019. In January 2020, I visited the US because my two younger sisters were going to school, and my older sister was having a baby. Then I got stuck and had to stay there for eight months because of COVID.
What did you use those eight months for?
Coding, man. I just coded. I did the agro-investment thing again. This time, my dad sent $80k — for my two sisters’ fees —and I used about 30% of it to make some thousands of dollars that kept me afloat through the year. Thankfully, none of the companies crashed with the school fees money in them.
When I returned in September, I still didn’t get a job in tech. I just worked on and pushed one of my big product ideas.
2021 was when I got my first remote job in tech. A friend referred me to his company, and they interviewed and hired me as a senior software engineer.
How much did they pay?
$28/hour. I was averaging $4,800 a month. I did that throughout 2021, and I can’t lie, it felt great to be making consistent money. I was finally able to budget how much I paid for what monthly. I increased the money I gave my mum and the money I dropped at home for groceries. It was great.
Then this year (2022), I decided to take on more work. My guy in the UK does it, so I decided to give it a try. I switched jobs, got side gigs at different points, and it was stressful. I made money o. I even did $14k in one month. But the stress was too much. I tried to subcontract some of the jobs, but it’s difficult to find really good developers willing to take on those kinds of jobs, so I kept getting disappointed and having to do double work and push deadlines. I just decided to stop trying to do more than one job. I was kuku saving 80% of the money I was making while working two jobs. I didn’t think it was worth it for me.
How much do you earn now?
My $7k-a-month contract with the last company I worked for just ended, so I’m not making any money right now. Rather than applying for new gigs, I’m living on savings and focusing on launching another product.
So are you optimising for high-paying job or billionaire founder?
As someone that works in tech, it’s always in the back of my mind that no matter how fickle the industry gets, with layoffs happening left and centre, the surest way to have security is to have my own successful thing. I’m working towards that. However, if I’m getting another job, I don’t want one where I get paid based on the number of hours I work. Those are the types of jobs I’ve got throughout my remote job tech career, and I don’t like them. I want a fixed salary with paid time off without having to japa because I don’t want to japa.
I’ve had my fill of living abroad. I prefer it here because it’s home.
How do you spend your money in a month?
There’s also subscriptions and random gifts to friends on birthdays.
Do you want something you currently can’t afford?
Many things. Top of the list should be building my own house. I know it’ll cost me up to $100k. From my next big gig, I’ll start heavily investing in this project.
Let me see what you have saved and invested
I put some money in crypto but I don’t think about it anymore since I got wrecked.
What’s the last you bought that required a lot of planning?
This year, I’ve spent $15k on a vehicle and $6k on a US trip.
How happy are you financially? The scale is 1-10
I know I can do a lot more, so I’ll say 7.5.
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