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.
Our subject this week is a 22-year old engineer. If you called him a genius, you won’t be lying. But sometimes, even that might not be enough. This is his #NairaLife.
How’s Lagos treating you?
Except for my rough transition from ₦109k per day to ₦109k per month, I’m mostly good.
Slow down, you say what?
Bro. Right after my Masters in Engineering – 1st class by the way – I got an internship in the San Francisco Bay area.
Yep. When the recruiter told me, I thought I heard $30 per hour, I already called my mum to tell her “Mama I made it!” Then I did the math and well, it was actually $38 hahaha. At the time, I was dead broke actually. Had to borrow money to fix up my residence for the internship as per pay rent, buy a new laptop. Borrowed $2k. Paid back after two weeks.
Mad oh! But, how does one end up at an internship that pays $38 per hour?
Engineers are actually valued in America. Probably helped that I was in line for my 2nd first-class degree. Still, the biggest factor though is that the cost of living in the Silicon Valley area is insanely high. I knew undergrads in Facebook, Google and the likes making up to $50 an hour. To be fair though, I interned in the engineering team of one of the biggest companies in the world. That’s far from minimum wage jobs.
What type of engineering makes a person end up interning where you did?
Any type you can think of, to be honest – mechanical, computer, chemical – you name it. I’m an electrical engineer.
Insane. So, one BSc and one Masters degree?
What type of financial stamina do you need to grab two degrees in the US where education is super expensive?
I got my first degree in Turkey actually. I had a scholarship all through my time there. Full ride scholarship in Nigeria for secondary school too.
I sabi book.
Henceforth, this is the flex that I will stan.
My father had to pay for my masters up to a point. There was the final $10k that I paid myself. Internship money.
How much did the entire program cost?
That guy tried for me oo, I just dey gauge am.
Over-try. So back to the internship. How long were you there for?
About seven months. I was working at least 40 hours a week. If you break that down to hours per day, how much does that give you?
$38 per hour multiplied by 8 hours a day. That’s 109,440 in naira. Per day.
Then when you work overtime you get paid 1.5x so $56 an hour for every hour after 40 hours. I was around $5.5k after tax.
I’m assuming they were chasing you home because overtime money is sweet.
Hahaha, when I was there, my company was trying to cut costs, so they limited overtime. My managers made me comply so I did an average maybe 44 hours a week.
I had a friend who did 80-hour weeks regularly though. Get this, from your 40th – 60th hour, you get 1.5x. After the 60th hour, you get paid 2x your base. After that internship, that guy fit buy house for Lekki.
This is the part where I ask what happened when the internship ended?
Bruh, a series of unfortunate events. The U.S. gives you three months after you graduate to find a job to secure a 3-year temporary stay, but I couldn’t find one.
Na where my screw up start.
Trump. It’s expensive filing papers for international workers by companies – Trump. Also, not having a strong network all played a part in not securing a job. There’s the part where I was picky about the kind of industry I wanted to work in.
But the biggest factor was time – three months is not a lot of time.
Anyway after about 150 applications, 20+ interviews I had to leave and come back home.
150 applications in 3 months?
Job application sef was a full-time job that time o.
Tell me about the day you knew you were coming home.
The final week in that three months window, I was in a state of despair. I’d done many things right you know: two first-class degrees, experience in one of the most important companies in the world but still.
The days of that week kept passing, no congratulatory emails. So I just gave up, took my card like three days before the three months elapsed and registered for NYSC.
When was this?
February 2019. I was in camp less than five days after I landed haha.
Mad oh. From one of the most advanced companies in the world to a Bootcamp. Inside life.
The theme song to my life that time was; “This is Super Story, a life of strife and sorrows”.
E be tings kraaa.
When I came back and started preparing for camp, I fell sick, maybe the sickest I’ve ever been, yet the tests showed nothing.
It be your own village people.
I went to the camp and got an exeat the same day. Maybe my village people are welcoming. Or maybe moving from winter to classic dry season Nigerian weather.
Still, I was too Ajebo for camp abeg, and I’m not even ashamed to say it.
I had a bunch of options, but I chose a particular energy investment company, and now I work there as their technical advisor.
So, I’m assuming these are the ₦109k/month people.
Yes. Which, in corper terms, could be a lot worse.
I’ve done a bit of everything since I’ve joined. I worked on getting my office completely solar in my first 3 months, designed systems and awarded the contracts. Fundamentally, I’ve made sure every opportunity my company pursued since I joined is technically sound. Basically, that’s technical due diligence in the investment process. I give them monthly lectures on the engineering aspects of the industry.
I have also – as it is tradition – ordered a lot of lunch.
Hahaha. Whose money?
My CEOs – I basically order food for the entire company. I’ve ordered at least ₦200k worth of lunch since I joined.
It’s a pretty good place though, and getting retained there would be ideal.
I dunno why Nigerians treat interns anyhow compared to where I’m coming from. There, you are treated as an equal, makes sense because you are paid close to what the entry-level engineer makes.
Talking about internships. Tell me about the stark differences between a Nigerian Intern and an SF intern?
1. You don’t have to buy food as an SF intern.
2. More money.
3. In the Bay Area, people treat you like your equals.
4. Disposable income.
I know I have it good, I’m basically working at a place with good company culture. Still, Nigerians have this way of treating people who are beneath them anyhow and that translates in my office. The lack of workload and responsibility would have been a thing, but I have a lot of workload in my current place.
I would say this though, Silicon Valley was nice, good people, fast-paced, outdoors, hikes, a large variety of food. Good party scene too.
Now you know what city doesn’t have nice people, has no outdoors to speak of, and food is mostly 1 of 4 dishes?
I want to fight about the food, but that’s not why I’m here.
I mean, Lagos has a club scene, but you no fit club on ₦109k per month.
What does a drop from ₦109k per day to ₦109k per month do to a person’s mind?
I was prepared for it though so it wasn’t sudden. I know what other corpers earn. I’ve always been responsible when it comes to finances too, so now I budget hard and I stick to it. If I were making 3 million a month today I know exactly how I would spend it on because I have already lived that life.
But yes, once you’ve earned what I earned, you spend all your time constantly thinking of how long it would take you to earn that level again.
What are your expenses like these days?
NYSC finishes soon. What’s it looking like as per retention? How much is it looking like you’ll start with?
I know how much I would ask anybody for though. ₦500k for a local company, $60k per annum if it’s a foreign company, as per this life you gotta shoot for the stars.
Currently speaking to a couple of people, nothing is sure yet. I recently snagged a side hustle teaching, but it’s not consistent. ₦10k per session/day so whatever happens I would fall back on that.
What. Are. You. Teaching?
Maths. GRE/GMAT as per Japa season, me too I dey gain from am. Thank God for the useless economy making everybody want to Japa. And of course Trudeau, a good man.
You know, it would be nice to know what the going rate for tutoring GRE/GMAT is so I know whether or not to up my price. Please sneak it inside the post so I go read the replies.
What’s the future looking like though, say within the next 3-5 years?
Bro, one thing is I need to make money somehow. I’m pretty high performing, I get good feedback from people I work with, I just need that to reflect in my earnings.
I’m also passionate about the industry I’m currently working in so I hope to stick to it. Still, the industry is not as lucrative and I need it to be so I may have to change career path.
At the end of the day, I need at least a ₦500k per month pay by 2022. If not I’m off to Canada or wherever else. I learnt from my USA mistakes — my Japa will be final this time.
What you’re saying is, there are circumstances that can keep you here. By choice.
Yeah for sure. I want to be here. I am oddly patriotic. “Part of the change you want to see” kind of person. But, just what kind of change can you make if you’re hungry?
I work in the off-grid industry, providing electricity to the unelectrified. You can only do that in Africa and Nigeria has one the largest unelectrified population in the world.
Random – well, not really – but when was the last time you felt really broke?
I’m never actually that broke in that sense. I stick to my budget, I have savings. Maybe when I was at this Detty December event and it was so hard making a decision to get a 4k cocktail and I felt like, how I can be agonizing so much over what $12. I just felt bad, man.
That tradeoff goes through my head all the time – if I spend this X naira, what would I not be able to spend this X naira on, is that alternative not more valuable to me.
What’s something you honestly wish you were better at?
I’d say investing I guess. I’m currently in a money market fund but that’s about it. 10% returns. Most of my money just lies in a bank somewhere and I need to fix that.
Do you have an emergency plan for if anything goes south?
My father. Haha.
I have a solid amount in savings from my internship shortfall. About $7k only to be touched in emergencies but we pray against them sha.
Do you honestly have any financial regrets?
Other than knowing that I’d be making $80k+ a year in the USA if I’d stayed? None.
Let’s paint a picture of what this life would have looked like if you stayed.
Let’s see. Winter, so I’d be wearing a Patagonia $400 dollar jacket. Young man, 22 so no responsibilities.
Go to work – nine hours maybe. Leave work at 5pm, get home at 5.25pm – no traffic.
Have Thai for dinner because it costs about $13. Probably would be less financially responsible. Go for Happy Hour with my friends after work, buy 1 or 2 rounds – maybe $100. Buy 1 or 2 drinks for a cute girl, $50.
Go clubbing every other weekend cause I can afford it. Travel a lot. You only start to stress as a young guy in the USA once you have dependents, or paying off a mortgage or maybe paying off loans.
And you have none of those.
I’m just a 22-year-old baby boy.
How would you rate your happiness levels though, on a scale of 1-10?
5, man. A meagre 5. Someone once told me that contentment is never experiencing better. I felt that in my soul.
That’s one way to look at it. Is there something you think I should have asked you but didn’t?
There’s this “how did you make money the first time” question I see on the series.
Go for it.
Not really relevant, but I used to be a day student where most of my classmates were boarders.
I was moving stuff – contrabands like chewing gum, Agbalumo – at insane margins, as per entrepreneur.
I’d make ₦500 from a ₦100 stash, then I started making friends, giving out stuff for free till my margins were wiped out.
And so, I learned at a young age that there is no friendship in business.
Check back every Monday at 9 am (WAT) for a peek into the Naira Life of everyday people.
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Every story in this series can be found here.