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Hafsah El-Yakubu: My Growth Journey as a Student
tech journey

There are two kinds of cake to sell: cake with icing and cake without icing. Which would customers likely buy for an occasion? Cake with icing, of course! It’s the same with entering the job market with your university degree. Except that you are the cake, and there are too many of you to choose from. Either you have your degree (cake) and that’s it, or you have a degree (cake) with experience (icing) and skills (toppings).Yum! Graduating with good grades, skills, and experience would make you a hotcake in the labor market.  In a competitive job market, you want to be the latter—the hotcake everyone desires. But how do you get there?

tech journey

When I first embarked as a student of computer science at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), I had no prior experience or knowledge in tech or entrepreneurship. The years I spent as a student since then have been transformative. I ventured into leadership, volunteering, entrepreneurship, and software development, and even founded a tech-enabled recruitment startup. As I gear up for the next chapter post-graduation, armed with not just a degree but also years of experience and skills, I’m eager to share insights and tips for those about to traverse their university paths and venture into a career in tech.

tech journey

Why a tech career? Check out my motivations in my last blog here.

Insight 1: Self-Discovery: Defining Your Who, Why, and How

A meaningful conversation I had with a mentor was one of the most pivotal moments in my growth journey. He asked me about my aspirations and how I planned to achieve them. My reply: “To be the kind of person whose presence and influence can make a positive difference and make the world better. I planned to achieve that by studying hard.”

His advice: “You’ll need to do more than that to get there… Aim for a prestigious internship and build volunteer experience to showcase management, teamwork, and communication skills to land one.”

As the years went by, I’ve imbibed a bit of reminding myself of who I wanted to be, why I wanted to be that, and how I planned to get there. Knowing who you want to be and your motivations are up to you, but figuring out how to get there can be done through conversations with seniors in the industry, mentors, or even better, Google! If you haven’t done that already, I suggest you do so now. It’s a strategy I’ve found mirrored in the most ambitious individuals: being goal-oriented and purpose-driven. It works with personal pursuits too!

Insight 2: The Power of Community and Network

“Your network is your net worth.”(Porter Gale).

The difference it makes to have the right people in your network as you climb up the ladder cannot be overemphasized. But where do I find them?

That often starts with joining the right communities and platforms and, most importantly, networking. That’s how I’ve met my mentors and supporters and made life-long friendships.

Remember my mentor’s advice about getting volunteer experience? Well, that conversation led me to Enactus ABU—an active student organization solving real-world issues and competing globally. It resonated with my passion for humanitarian projects, a passion that’s brewed from my high school days and evident from times when I participated as a delegate at the Model United Nations and school broadcasting unit.

Upon being successfully recruited as a member, I quickly became surrounded by smart, outspoken, and passionate individuals from different corners of the campus. I loved it! We worked together on projects that gave me first-hand experience in research, public speaking, and problem-solving. It was also a gateway to a network of opportunities outside Enactus, such as competitions, volunteering opportunities, scholarships, and initiatives.

tech journey as a student

Although I was only a member for a year, being an active member allowed me to connect with amazing individuals who have become life-long connections. For example, the STEM Coders Club was founded together with a colleague I worked with at the R&D unit in Enactus. It’s a coding club we started for students to teach each other computer skills and work on meaningful tech-related projects.

There are many other communities one can join to make meaningful connections and get exposure. There are networking events, online and offline communities and volunteer opportunities that you can tap into that align with your interests. Because my interests lie in anything tech or entrepreneurship, I have membership or volunteer experience at Google Developers Group, Zaria, Hult Prize, Google Women Techmakers, Zaria, SHE Code Africa, and the STEM Coders Club.

tech journey

Insight 3: Embracing Challenges: Conquering Self-Doubt

Have you ever heard of impostor syndrome? The voice in your head that makes you doubt yourself? Impostor syndrome is the feeling one has that they are not good enough and that everyone else knows what they are doing except them. As a result, people with imposter syndrome engage in self-sabotage, overworking, and depression. Almost everyone experiences imposter syndrome at one point or another. Don’t let that voice hold you back!

I still remember when I landed my first job teaching Python. I didn’t feel ready for it—I was just in my second year of university and only knew a bit of Java. I thought, “Who am I to teach Python?” And then there was this moment at STEM Coders Club. Ibrahim Bello suggested I could be his vice president (VP), but I wasn’t sure I could handle it. But you know what? I leaped both times. Even though I had doubts, I went for it. And guess what happened? The person who asked me to teach Python was so impressed that he kept me on as a part-time instructor at his company (3logy Ltd.) for three whole years! I even moved up, becoming the training manager for one of their programs, and later on, the program manager. It was the same deal with the STEM Coders Club. I tried my best as the VP, supporting the team, taking initiative, and taking my responsibilities seriously. And then, when I became the club president, it felt like a natural step forward. (NB: Link to club achievements in my year as club president.).

These two moments stand out as my proudest achievements during my time at university. Just think, where would I be if I had listened to those voices saying I couldn’t do it?

Don’t just wait for opportunities to come your way. Apply for them too (Madam C. J. Walker). Here is a site with scholarships, fellowships, competitions, and grants to apply for. www.opportunitiesforafricans.com

tech journey

Insight 4: Strategic Decision-Making: Time, Reputation, and Opportunities

Being goal-oriented and purpose-driven isn’t just about having goals; it’s also about making choices that count.

Although internships, volunteering, and technical skills reign supreme in tech careers, saying ‘yes’ to everything that comes your way can throw you off track. Trust me, as you move ahead, you’ll see tons of opportunities knocking. And that’s when you will have to pause and think, “Does this fit my long-term plans?” Some opportunities are distractions.

Sorting out which’s a good opportunity and which isn’t is a skill in itself. But here’s a trick: ask for advice. I remember being torn about an ambassador role I got offered just before my final year. I’d already done similar roles before. So, I asked a mentor for his take. He dropped a gem.

“If this won’t make a difference in the next five years, it’s not worth your time now.”

Time is a big player too. You want to do things well, right? If you half-heartedly jump into something, it messes up your reputation. If you sign up as a web developer but give it only half your energy, your reputation and future chances take a hit. According to a recent survey by LinkedIn, approximately 85% of all jobs are filled through networking. Building a strong network and maintaining a good reputation can significantly impact career opportunities.

tech journey

Insight 5: Balancing Act: Juggling Academics and Life

“How do you handle so much?”

Balancing academics and extracurriculars isn’t easy for everyone. It depends on your strengths, course load, commitments, and time. But achieving work-life balance is crucial—it shapes your future and well-being. For me, it’s an ongoing learning process to find that equilibrium.

There were moments back in school when a project would consume me, and I would habitually skip meals and neglect having quality time. It strained my relationships and my health. With time, I’ve learned to practice ways to manage my time and priorities. I made sure to be intentional about taking breaks, spending more time with loved ones, and indulging in my passion for creating art collages. However, my final year of school was a whole new ballgame—starting a company (Maha Technologies), transitioning from leading the STEM Coders Club, managing programs, and handling my final year project (an augmented reality mobile game application). It was a whirlwind, toggling between lectures and external commitments. Recognizing when to prioritize and when to pause made a difference. Skills I learned from past experiences in time and priority management proved invaluable.

https://www.primerafrica.com/2024/01/meet-hafsah-el-yakubu-young-nigerian.html?m=1

Prioritizing self-care and setting limits on work hours were pivotal in maintaining a healthy balance. Also, making sure to put my academics first and foremost was always at the back of my mind.

tech journey

Insight 6: Technical skills beyond the classroom

To complete the story I earlier mentioned in the advice my mentor shared about scoring a prestigious internship, he emphasized volunteer and leadership experiences as crucial for growth. But a critical revelation dawned later—especially in tech—that mastering technical skills is more important. The volunteer and leadership experiences are, although important, secondary.

My eligibility for a prestigious internship didn’t pan out initially. However, I was fortunate to have a solid SIWES placement in my penultimate year at Lexington Technologies. During this time, I already had some skills in coding, so I used the time to further learn more by crafting seven personal software projects and working in the R &D department. Additionally, an internship I later landed as a software developer at Right Click IT Solutions, Abuja, enhanced my skills greatly. I also took courses online and participated in numerous hackathons, including ARVR Africa and the WomenTechmakers Nigeria Security Challenge, where my team emerged in 2nd place.

Key takeaway: Classroom education isn’t the sole path to mastery. Enroll in courses, dive into projects, engage in hackathons, and take control. Your field of study or institution doesn’t define your potential. Excelling in both technical and soft skills, tailored to your tech niche, is the gateway to success.

tech journey

Fun fact: Over 60% of employers value practical skills more than a traditional degree.

Though the first-class honor narrowly escaped my grasp with a 4.0/5.0 CGPA, the invaluable experiences and connections garnered during this journey matter most. It’s not just about what you learn; it’s about what you can do with that knowledge. And, with this revelation, my sights are set on the exciting prospects of landing that dream tech opportunity soon.

tech journey

Final Thought…

The challenges I’ve faced, the opportunities I’ve seized, the ones I’ve missed, and every experience have sculpted the person I am today. I could have turned down Enactus, shied away from opportunities out of fear, or even graduated at the top of my class without experience. Yet embracing those chances shaped my journey. You might wonder how I managed so much in a 4-year program. Well, academic setbacks stretched our studies by 2 years due to ASUU strikes. Amidst those interruptions, like the 9-month break in 2022, I found my greatest strides.

Life’s about turning lemons into lemonade. My pillar of strength? A support system and mentorship from seniors I’ve met along the way are priceless assets in any growth journey. A heartfelt shoutout to my family, friends, and mentors for being guiding lights. And most importantly, Alhamdulilah!  Though I may not be the ‘hotcake’ I aspire to be, I hope my story inspires others to become their version of ‘hotcakes.’ Here’s to your journey—may it be filled with success and growth. Best of luck!

10 Comments

  1. Abubakar Maryam Nafisa

    Masha Allah

    Reply
    • Hafsah El-Yakubu

      Thank you 😊🙏

      Reply
  2. ibrahim sunusi

    Incredible, the journey is not easy.
    With U all the best in your future carrier

    Reply
    • Hafsah El-Yakubu

      Absolutely! Challenges and mistakes are good though. What matters is learning and persevering everytime. Thank you Ibrahim.

      Reply
  3. Kumba-Banna Tekanyi

    This is so motivating, thank you for sharing your story. Greater opportunities ahead for us to grow In Sha Allah.

    Reply
    • Hafsah El-Yakubu

      Thank you for reading. Greater opportunities for all of us Insha Allah! See you at the top, Kumba 😎❤

      Reply
    • Hafsah El-Yakubu

      Thank you for reading 🙏

      Reply
  4. Inuwa Adamu Lawan

    Impressive recap of years dedicated to learning and making a difference! Congratulations on your achievements, and I wish you continued success in your future endeavors.

    Reply
  5. Emmanuel Daramola

    You are such a super Amazing woman… You are definitely a Hot Cake… Keep at it with such great resilience as you are already a step closer to the top😁😁

    Reply

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