Okoronkwo Kanno (p.k.a Roncho) lives a protean lifestyle. He’s a writer, photographer, and mixologist “in training” who enjoys cooking. He became all these things through relatively simple exploration. But his primary opus — product management — has a different, more complex backstory. Here is Roncho’s pivot journal.
How it started
In high school, I was the high-achieving, honours-roll kind of guy. You know, the spend-more-time-in-the-library-than-on-the-field kind of guy. I’ve also always been a gamer, and I used to enjoy putting my toys apart to see what was in there. So between my post-high school and pre-university period, I was on the path to engineering. I was sure that engineering was for me.
But while I went through the prospects of the university I wanted to attend, I stumbled on a course — “I.T. Management for Business” — it looked so interesting. It immediately ruined engineering for me. I realised that every bit of engineering needs a software layer to work. And that was way more exciting to me. I wanted to be at that intersection between I.T. and business, and it looked perfect.
Back then, the product manager role wasn’t as structured as it is today. Most big organisations didn’t have it. And then people saw I.T. as a whole as an enabler/support function rather than a key business driver. So, when I was looking for opportunities, I found that you had to be a techy or commercial person or a business analyst. There was no intersection. That’s how I found myself working as a business analyst for a small financial service firm in Yaba and later for KPMG. While this experience was valuable, I realised that it wasn’t what I had envisioned for myself. I wanted to be working on big data and machine learning, but instead, I was focused on tech-assisted compliance and auditing.
I decided to take on a new challenge. First, Filmhouse was working on a VOD platform with a partner, and somehow, I got to have that conversation where I was going to manage the operations of the VOD platform. But for higher-up reasons, that project didn’t work out. So, I moved to food and beverages (full commercial). I had a lead role in the retail department of Flilmhouse. It was the company’s cash cow. I found out then that the popcorn and drinks are worth more to the cinema than the movie tickets.
But then, 2020 happened, and the company had to shut down. It made me realise how vulnerable that sector was. One pandemic and we all had to sit at home. That was when I knew I had to switch careers.
The experience gave me a lot of time to reflect on my career and future. It made me realise that I didn’t want to be tied to a specific industry and that I wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to be adaptable and flexible in the face of any challenge. I wanted to be a part of a field that would continue to grow and evolve. And tech was the only answer that came to mind.
I have known Blessing (Abeng) for a while — since the days of Startup Grind. So when I heard about Ingressive for Good, I initially joined to support her. I didn’t know how much it would change my life. Since I had a lot of free time on my hands, I enrolled in their programs, like the DataCamp program, and went pretty far.
Then one day, they sent an email of an incredible opportunity — free access to everything on Coursera for a period. Me wey like book. I was excited and jumped on it. That was when I picked up product management, DevOps and data analysis courses. For several months, all I did was: eat, sleep and take these courses.
But while taking product management courses, I kept noticing how similar it was to what I did back in Uni. This same thing that people did not have roles for back then was now a big deal. So it just seemed like I was ready before the time. I only didn’t have the mentorship or opportunity.
I started applying for jobs while taking these courses. Then I kept putting the word out to people working in tech. Eventually, a friend of mine put me in touch with someone that worked at Kuda, and the rest is history.
How it’s going
A lot has changed since I pivoted to product management. But primarily, I have more clarity about who I am. Every role I have taken up to date is one I haven’t done before. I have just been listening to one tiny voice in my head, and today, that voice has led me to product management, the career I always wanted but didn’t know about. And I’m grateful for that.
I’ve spoken to several of my peers and many others, and I realise it’s quite hard to figure out that very thing you’re meant to be doing. It took me seven years since I graduated to get this, so it can actually take time.
Another thing that has changed is that I’ve become more entrepreneurial, which, in turn, makes me more accountable. I’ve grown into ownership, so I have to be able to defend my decisions, unlike before when I always had to seek approval for every step.
I sometimes wish I found this path earlier, but I have no regrets. As I said before, product management became the vantage point of all my interests and experiences across business and tech.
Understand that it is not enough to be good at what you do. You have to be visible, both within and outside your organisation. Also, own all your wins and losses — both the positives and negatives — to the fullest. And, very importantly, make your line manager look good. Help them succeed. If they do, they’ll carry you along. You will become more visible in your organisation when they can trust you with more responsibility.