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Figure out your future career in tech

Recently, I had the honor and pleasure of speaking at a Paystack event. The Women at Paystack wanted to demystify approaching a career in tech whilst discussing the realities of working in technology. I was asked to give the keynote on what future roles in tech would look like.

The question is a little bit of a doozie. Maybe even more than a little bit. Looking back over my career, I definitely couldn’t predict where I am now because that would also mean predicting what country I would be in, the state of my personal life, world events, etc. I mean, you can ‘try’ to predict the future and enjoy the exercise of your imagination but ultimately, you’ll probably only be half right, even if you’re some kind of professional futurist.

‘Women at Paystack’ event video stream, I would recommend watching the whole thing but I start at around 1:03

So here’s my timeline:

— 2000. Graduated with a degree in Electronic and Electrical Engineering and thus began my adulting

— 2001. Got my first job as a Radio Frequency Engineer at a mobile operator where I was responsible for deploying and maintaining cell sites across several states in midwestern US. After a few years and multiple technology changes, I needed a new problem to solve because essentially the core task remained the same but technology advancements made the toys to solve them better

— 2004. Went to business school (where by the way, in my application I said I would own and operate a telco in Nigeria), and took a swath of classes that cut across the spectrum of business so that I could solve as many problems as were thrown at me in the future.

—2007. I became a management consultant.

— 2009. The global economic crisis affected a lot of people, I was one of them. So after a couple of years solving different problems for different telecom companies, I headed to Nigeria.

— 2010. Got a job at EMTS (formerly Etisalat Nigeria, now 9 Mobile), first as the Head of Strategy (this story starts with me sitting in a bar wearing a red dress, but that’s a tale for another post). After tackling various issues across departments in the company, it was time for something else

— 2013. Next was a move to what is now called the Digital Business unit at EMTS, where we diversified our product portfolio from our core products (voice, data, peer-to-peer SMS) to include value added service, digital content, financial services, mobile advertising, APIs and much more

Now, rewind to me as an RF Engineer in Des Moines, Iowa in 2001 and ask me to hazard a guess as to what would happen to me 15 years later and I would have been completely and utterly wrong. As you can see above, many expectations that I had for myself or future roles have since changed — I do not own a mobile telco :). Put in a different way, in the time that’s passed since my first job, the iPhone has happened to the world and companies like Netflix, Google, Paypal and Facebook have grown to prominence. Imagine trying to hazard a guess what the next 15 years would look like with trends in IoT, AR/VR, self-driving cars, messaging and cryptocurrency lifting off.

But having said all of this, I don’t mean to say you can’t look forward. Did you spot the trend across the jobs ? — through all my roles, I had the opportunity to solve technology-based problems within the telecom industry. The industry remained the same, but the problems changed over time. I just followed my interests and gathered knowledge along the way and as opportunities came up, I made myself available.

So next, the lovely audience at Paystack and I did a little exercise in futurism.

We started with an important statistic. Nigeria’s population is expected to double to around 400 million by 2050, and will be one of 9 countries in which half of the world’s 10 billion people will reside. Put another way, Nigeria is roughly the size of the US state of Texas, and we will fit our entire population, which will be larger than the US by then, into that single state.

This prompts a few questions around what state of society we desire in Nigeria. For a peaceful one, we would need to consider how to satisfactorily feed, educate, employ, house, and entertain this massive populace at a greater scale than we are currently doing right now. So the question becomes how can tech drive scale and efficiency in solving these massive problems across the value chains of agriculture, education, job creation (or entrepreneurship which I believe needs to be a focus of our educational system) real estate, and entertainment, to name a few.

Let’s dive a little deeper:

As populous as it is, Nigeria really a country of many large towns, and one mega-city — Lagos. Sorry, Abuja! Since I’m a pragmatist, I’m going to assume that urban migration will grow faster than the state can keep up with it. So Lagos will lead the way in creating the next tier of city above megacity.

This raises the following questions for me:

— how will we feed the population? Will we grow more food or will food production have to get more efficient? At the moment, I gather than almost half the food grown in Nigeria rots before it gets to the processing plant? Can technology cut back this waste by connecting Nigerian farmers to Nigerian food producers?

— the ports already seem to be heaving, and food imports are likely a massive contributor, so will we have to build a new one or manage port traffic more efficiently? Better still, can we start growing what we currently import?

— how will people buy food? Are there enough markets? Will the increased traffic encourage people to visit markets? What are the shopping alternatives?

— what are the factors that affect the price of food?

— who has recently entered the food value chain?

I’m sure there are a ton more questions to ask but I will leave that to experts, and I’m sure you get my drift. Basically, these questions should point to the opportunities that existing and future companies will be trying to solve, which means opportunities for you!

Here’s non-exhaustive and rough formula that would apply to any industry:

— at what rate are the customers growing?

— who are the players between the raw material and the customer? Are they efficient or profitable? If not, why aren’t they profitable today?

— What is the motivation to use the product and how do customers get it?

— what external conditions affect industry profitability?

Use these questions to figure out if a company or opportunity is big enough or important enough and resonates with you. The bigger it is, the more likely you can have a long and fruitful career within that industry.

So, bottom line, prepare by staying sharp on the latest business and tech trends in your favorite industries, opportunities will show up, and the future will figure itself out!