My Pivot Journal is a Ventures Africa weekly series documenting people’s career transitions from one industry to another, especially to tech.
Chuka Ofili’s life has always revolved around technology, and it started with an infantile passion for gaming. Now a software and full stack engineer with a robust experience of over two decades, Ofili takes us on his journey of becoming.
How it started.
My mother was a programmer who used to bring her computer home while growing up. Games were the highlight of my evening during this time. I would often pester her to help me load the games, and at one point, she got tired and decided to teach me how to initiate the commands myself. She emphasised it would be the first and last time, so quick learning was imperative for me.
After showing me, I started using the help menu to load the commands. Through it, I got acquainted with the use of MS-DOS. In secondary school, I started learning basic symbolic instruction code, and in JSS2, I wrote a small calculator programme. Since we had a computer at home, I would break it down, re-install applications, format the computer, and I learnt a lot in this process. Before gaining admission, I ran a business centre where I helped people process documents and taught them how to use a word processor and build their website.
In my first year at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), I joined a computer community to continue learning new things. I wanted to study Computer science but did not get it, so I opted for Math. After a year, I got bored of it. I tried switching to architecture, but I got urban and regional planning.
In my second year, I incorporated my first business and was already getting contracts and doing software outsourcing and development for other companies. Did quite a lot of projects from my second year through graduation.
Early in my second semester during my second year, I was introduced to a gentleman by an older friend who ran the cyber cafe where I worked after school hours. The gentleman also wanted to set up a cyber cafe and because of my experience, I was offered the project and he became my first client. That was my aha moment, as it made me realize I could make money and a career out of this!
And even though I was on the verge of quitting school, my mother kept encouraging me to finish my degree, as she felt was necessary. After school, I had the whole time to continue to pursue my dreams and business.
I realised the forums gave me just enough to understand that programming languages are powerful. So, I often visited their websites to read their documentation. Understanding how a language framework operates saves you time and stress because you might be writing 10,000 lines of code for one problem. Meanwhile, you can write two lines of code to do the same with the documentation. For PHP, I visited php.net and read the documentation. Afterwards, I told a friend to get me related books from O’Reilly Books. These books help advance and formalise my knowledge.
When Youtube became a thing, I used it extensively to get things going. My biggest challenges at the time of learning in the very early days were constant access to a computer and the unavailability of books. e-books were not available, and getting documented materials was usually difficult. I would often have to wait for someone to come back from the US, which didn’t happen often.
How it’s going
I am a professional cloud architect, a DevOps Engineer, and a full-stack engineer, amongst other things. Until a few weeks ago, I was the engineering Lead – new product experimentation at Meta.
I had founded Interstellar labs when Mark Zuckerberg alongside Ime Archibong who I got a chance to meet first came to the country. On Ime’s second visit, he met up with leaders in the tech ecosystem and I was in the room as one of the thought leaders. He asked what we would do if we had Meta’s support to help build the ecosystem in the region.
That was where he first hinted about Meta coming into Nigeria. When they would eventually come, Emeka Okafor who was charged with building a local team while seeking to hire an engineering lead asked around for capable hands and my name was floated to him. After about 3-4 months of talking, I eventually said yes and took the step to join Meta.
Meta is a big company, and we have different organisations in it like NPE, Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, and Reality labs which is responsible for the Oculus. New Product Experimentation (NPE) is a community of entrepreneurial builders at Meta. The goal is to challenge the status quo through high-velocity experiments designed to help people improve their lives. With engineering offices in all the regions, including Lagos. These offices provide a launchpad to build applications that can provide value for each host market.
I was the tech lead for the Ikenga team within the New Product Experimentation Org (NPE). As a tech lead, I was responsible for the engineering execution of our product experiments and ideas.
Right now, I am exploring a startup opportunity with Interstellar Labs while also playing in the content space with The Studiopedia Collective. I am also the author of Newbie to Techie, which demystifies the purported difficulty of switching to a Tech career, especially for readers who lack the technical experience. It gives the reader a practical starting point and several options to begin their transition to the career of their dreams in tech.
Curiosity! Technology evolves every day, so it is easy to become a relic and a dinosaur at a young age in technology. To stay relevant, you should keep up with the trends, and stay curious, because that would be your drive to learn new things. Humans are constantly building things, so that means we should constantly learn. Also, keep your head down, and be humble.