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No other state in Nigeria has the same high and bubbly energy that Lagos has. On a hot Friday afternoon like the day we interviewed Oluwakemi, you’d think the streets would be quiet, there should be no blaring horns and nobody should be walking at a ridiculously fast pace. But the home of hustle is always busy, and so are the people that live in it.
Oluwakemi’s laughter echoes loudly, releasing an unusual rush of glee that lessens the stress in the atmosphere of Aella’s busy workspace. Being a frontend engineer in one of Africa’s thriving fintech comes with huge responsibilities and from the clutter of work on Kemi’s desks, you can easily tell that it doesn’t get easier even on a Friday. Despite tight deadlines and a heavy workload, she decides to talk to us about her job and inclusivity in the Nigerian tech ecosystem.
In a world where women are told that there is a limit to what they can be or the height they can reach, the theme of UN’s IWD 2023, “DigitALL; Innovation and technology for gender equality”, could not be more perfect. This year’s international women’s day focuses on the role of technology in achieving gender equality. In 2023, women like Oluwakemi Idowu are challenging the stereotype and proving that being a tech sis is just as great and admirable as being a tech bro.
Can we get to know you?
My name is Oluwakemi Idowu and I’m a Frontend Engineer at Aella.
What’s the most interesting fact about you?
I’d say the most interesting fact about me is that I’m always happy. I don’t let anything get to me. My biggest flex is being a naturally happy person and a bearer of joy.
How do you think your coworkers would describe you?
My coworkers would describe me as a friendly person and a good collaborator. They’ll probably say that I’m someone that spreads joy.
If you were to explain in the simplest terms possible, how would you describe what you do at Aoella every day?
My job at Aella involves a lot of technicalities because it isn’t the easiest job in the world. But in simple words, my job is to keep our app and website running smoothly for our users every day.
So have you always wanted to be an engineer or that’s something that happened along the way?
I’ve always wanted to be an engineer. Software engineering was not exactly the goal but I’ve always known that I’ll be an engineer. And because I already knew what I wanted to be early in life, it guided my decision to study computer science at university. I’ve been threading this path for a very long time and it’s been an amazing journey. Definitely not the easiest but it’s been great so far.
How would you describe your experience as a woman in tech and how has the journey been so far?
Being a woman in tech is something I take massive pride in. It’s an experience I’d love every woman to have. As I said earlier, it’s been amazing but sometimes, it can be challenging. The journey of every woman in tech might be identical but it can’t be the same. But if I were to tell my own story, I’ll say that there have been amazing opportunities that have opened up for me irrespective of the fact that I am a woman.
Actually, the fact that I am a woman in tech has made people recommend certain opportunities and it also makes people take a special liking towards me on my first day at any job. I’ve never felt unwelcome in the tech industry, which I’m very grateful for. It might be a little bit difficult for some women because I’m not oblivious to the way the world works. Some women cannot even dare to think of going into tech because they think it’s only for men and that’s a misconception I’m tired of. I’m always trying to convince more women to get into tech because we need more tech sisters in the industry.
Why do you think many women seem so uninterested in tech?
Tech isn’t easy and it takes up a lot of time and energy. You literally have to dedicate an aspect of your life to tech if you’re going to be successful at it. I think that’s a discouraging factor for many women.
It’s hard to see a woman in tech that still has an active social life. Most times, I spend my time with my laptop and it eats deeply into my social life. It gets even worse when you’re working with a tight deadline. The pressure alone is enough reason for anyone to give up on tech. Your problem-solving skills too are usually put to the test on a daily basis.
I guess that might be something that doesn’t seem very appealing to many women that might be interested in picking up a tech skill. But I don’t think that should stop any woman from going into tech because it’s going to be worth it at the end of the day. The tech industry needs more women and I’d definitely love to see more women in my line of work.
Are there certain challenges that are unique to women in the tech industry that your male colleagues might not be able to relate to?
Personally, I haven’t experienced any gender-based challenges since I started working in tech. The men I’ve had the privilege of working with so far, especially at Aella, are amazing people and they make my job easier and more enjoyable. They see me as one of the guys and they’ve never disrespected my work because I am a woman. I'm very comfortable with them and the fact that I’m great at what I do leaves very little room for anyone to disrespect me or project their misogyny on me.
Aella feels like a safe space for me and I think it always will. It’s a friendly environment and we’re all equal. In some workplaces, you’ll meet people that desperately try to put women in a box simply because they are women but those kinds of things don’t happen at Aella. There’s no discrimination and everybody’s opinion is respected.
When you are not working, what do you do for fun?
When I’m not working, I just binge-watch my favourite movies on Netflix and when I get bored of watching movies, I just play Call of Duty. I’m probably the biggest introvert you’ll meet. My only idea of fun is anything that involves me and the cosy feeling of being at home.
What do you love most about working at Aella?
My favourite thing about working at Aella is the fact that my bosses are very invested in my personal growth and they are not the type to celebrate your accomplishments silently. I get commendations often from my bosses and the feeling never gets old.
Can you tell us your proudest moment as a woman in tech?
My proudest moment as a woman in tech was the day the first app I worked on as a programmer was launched. That was the first day I felt like a tech sis.
If you could say something to a 16-year-old girl that wants to be an engineer, what would it be?
My advice to any girl that wants to go into tech would be to just go for it. The world is your oyster, don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it simply because you’re a girl. Learn that tech skill and don’t give up when it gets hard. Just open your mind up to new challenges and go for what you want.
Okay, one last random question, agege bread or sliced bread?
Agege bread all the way abeg (laughs).
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As a young child, you looked forward to adulting. It always looked fun to you. You couldn’t wait to become independent, receive instructions from no one and take ‘charge’ of your life. But it’s not what you expected. You eventually find that the transition to adulthood can be challenging due to financial concerns, family obligations, and the realities of the day-to-day life of a working adult. It’s overwhelming! It hurts even more when you think about the economic status of the country and its influence in making things difficult around us. The rate of inflation makes things very expensive and the little you get to save does not seem to be acquiring enough interest. By the time savings targets are met, the prices of your wants or needs experience a rapid increase.