My Pivot Journal is a Ventures Africa weekly series documenting people’s career transitions from one industry to another, especially to tech.
Iwalola’s journey shows the power of embracing change, exploring diverse opportunities, and finding one’s strengths in solving real-world problems.
How it started
I had my sights set on becoming a doctor. It was my dream job and I was inspired by medical dramas like Grey’s Anatomy. However, fate had different plans, and a conversation with my parents pointed me toward law as a safer bet. While I did not particularly enjoy the course, I discovered a flair for research and critical thinking, which became the silver lining in my academic journey.
I pursued law at the University of Nottingham and went to law school. Despite my initial reservations, I excelled and graduated with a 2.1. During my NYSC service, I worked in a law firm and interned in the court, gaining firsthand experience in the practical aspects of law. Yet, the advocacy part of the legal profession didn’t resonate with me. The frustration of waiting for hours in court only to find out it wasn’t in session made me question the impact of my work.
Determined to explore other opportunities, I entered the corporate world. My first job after having my first son was at an insurance firm known as Sunu Assurances. Later, I moved to Fidelity Bank, where I worked with the customer experience and product team on their digital banking initiatives. It was during this time that I realized the importance of understanding and solving customer problems to create valuable solutions.
The turning point came with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was faced with uncertainties and the fear of contracting the virus because we were asked to resume work at the office. It made me think about my future job choices, desiring one that matched my skills and offered a safer workplace.
I found a UX design course by UTIVA. I enrolled in the course and found myself immersed in user research and product development. The course exposed me to the entire design thinking process, from research to creating wireframes and high-fidelity designs. It became evident that my strength lay in translating user needs into design requirements—a crucial aspect of product development.
Armed with this newfound skill, I secured a role at Transsion, working in the mobile technology team on a project for their high-end smartphones – Tecno Camon, Phantom X and Infinix. It involved a lot of market research and helped the business understand how Nigerians and Africans prefer certain things.
The pivotal moment that drew me toward tech and user research was while I was at Fidelity Bank. Witnessing users struggle with mobile banking highlighted the need for a deeper understanding of customers. For instance, I would encounter many customers who could not even sign in to the mobile app, they didn’t understand that they had to put in a complex password and not just a PIN.
It became clear that my skills could bridge the gap between businesses and their customers, helping them meet needs, solve problems, and ultimately, drive success. Working with product analytics tools like Mixpanel and Hotjar became a game-changer, allowing me to make more informed decisions based on user interactions.
It all began with introspection and conversations with people in the tech space and tutors at UTIVA. These discussions, coupled with extensive research, led me to identify a set of skills from my legal background that could be seamlessly applied in the tech domain – skills such as research, analysis, and problem-solving. To test the waters, I dipped my toes into UX design and took a product management course with Udacity. I also took some UX research courses on Interaction Design Foundation, one of those courses was UX Research Methodologies and Best Practices.
There is a community known as the UX Research Corner which helped me a lot while I was transitioning. They have sessions where UX researchers and product managers discuss different topics related to product and user research.
However, it was through mentorship and a critical review of my past experiences that I pinpointed my strengths: research and analysis. The joy of solving problems, creating, and improving people’s lives became my driving force.
How it is going
Transitioning into the tech world wasn’t without its challenges. Imposter syndrome haunted my thoughts, questioning whether I was truly competent in this new speciality. The tech industry, made me question if somebody like me (without technical “coding” skills) could truly find a place. It was only when I discovered voices like Marty Cagan and Teresa Torres that I realized the breadth of roles in the tech space. Coding was just one aspect; problem-solving and understanding users were equally crucial.
As I have grown in my role and experience, I have devoted my resources to developing my business analysis skills through an intensive Executive Education programme in Business Strategy and Financial Performance by INSEAD. I am also currently undergoing my Master’s in International Business Management.
Now, as the Head of Product and User Research at Interswitch, my role is a dynamic mix of collaboration and problem-solving. Working closely with product managers, strategists, and various other teams, we aim to design solutions that not only meet customer needs but also contribute to the growth and success of the business. From unblocking my team to conducting cost-effective research studies, every day presents new challenges and opportunities. Interviews and conversations with users provide valuable insights, and my role involves bridging knowledge gaps across teams to ensure informed decision-making.
Always be curious and open to constructive feedback. I have a podcast called The Spotlight Podcast. We dive into the lives of innovators and people in the tech space. From my interactions with them, I realized a majority of them have a curiosity mindset. They always wanted to know more.