blurry image The AFEX Tech Stars Diary: How the Mentors tell the story of building a Techhub that works in Ibadan.

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The AFEX Tech Stars Diary: How the Mentors tell the story of building a Techhub that works in Ibadan.

Precious OkoroMarch 4, 2024

I want this story told; we are making great things happen here – Ridwan, Senior Software Engineer and AFEX Tech Stars mentor.

The AFEX Tech Stars program impacted not just the lives of the participants but also the mentors. In this episode, we spoke to three of the mentors - Yusuf Oguntola, Chief Technology officer; Yusuf Raheem, VP, Technology & Innovation; and Ridwan Olarenwaju, Senior Software Engineer to view the program through their lens and better understand the ATS program through their unique stories.

The Genesis: Days of Ideation

According to Raheem, conversations started mid-year 2021, precisely June and it was 2 weeks after speaking to Yusuf about this idea to train/mentor newbie techies in-house by mirroring the famous Silicon Valley style and easing them early on into the AFEX way.

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We needed more engineers on deck, we had launched products that required more hands to steer and 3 backend developers were leaving the country. This fueled the need for a hiring season. This was a period when being a tech bro was in vogue, and almost everyone around you wanted to do tech, both technical and otherwise. So, we had loads of applications, but many lacked what we needed.” Raheem.

Between January and June 2021, more than 50 interviews were conducted, and we got two backend developers, one of them eventually left in December. We needed hands and we needed them immediately and we also wanted people who had a bit of background with the type of tech stack we operated.” -Ridwan.

Considering this need, they revisited the previous conversation of developing in-house talents, who can learn the broader specs of technology while learning about the company’s values, existing business model and how to build technological innovations to help Africa’s food system. The mentors had to then spend the next few months making presentations, developing concept notes, and running ideas over and over. They also invited the opinions of other teams across the organization to design and launch the program.

We had a broad target “Tech enthusiasts” but how do we slim it into achievable bands, almost everyone is enthusiastic, so what forms the yardstick to measure enthusiasm fairly? We thought to scale up the career scale of recent graduates interested in IT, product management, front-end development, backend development, and mobile app development. We arrived at some simple inclusion criteria for the 1st iteration - recent graduates with less than 2 years of career experience, who were less than 30 years old." – Raheem.

The Journey: Iterations

“The first days were electric, meeting passionate, young people who were excited about the journey.” - Raheem

For the mentors, it was surreal, unreal even. The reactions were quite unexpected, Ridwan tells us they were both amazed by the impact they were about to make on the lives of these people. It was their first Eureka moment and the participants' accelerator to the tech space.

Over 1000 submissions were received, and after the screening, we admitted the first-ever batch of the AFEX Tech Stars, a total of 30 participants- 19 males and 11 females. There was a comprehensive syllabus at hand for the 4 program tracks we planned to take on, but we had to revise it because most had just basic computer skills. We introduced a bit of background in tech and its innovation, so this meant teaching foundational courses. This was to be wrapped into a 6-month schedule bearing in mind that our mentors were in-house and still had their business objectives to meet. We also did not want to overload the tech stars since this was new territory for most of them, what they all had however was a burning passion to excel in tech. We needed quality and warp speed wasn’t the end goal. ATS 1.0 laid the groundwork, and ATS 2.0 refined it. The first cohort presented some of the challenges we needed to tackle going forward. By ATS 2.0, we knew we needed to close the gender gap, a defined elaborate timeframe, and a grading system to check the performance of participants monthly. This Cohort welcomed 21 participants at induction and as of the last day, 11 females and 9 males were awarded merits for successful completion of the AFEX TECH STARS 2.0 program.”- Raheem

The Extra: Soft Skills and Culture

Execution, excellence, and empathy are the Xpert’s value system and we needed the tech stars to also embody them at the end of the day. In addition to providing immediate training in technical and practical IT skills for the AFEX workforce, there was also the recognition of the importance of preparing them (participants) for the broader world with soft skills like critical thinking, creativity enhancement, and problem-solving abilities. Beyond just tech proficiency, we sought individuals who are not only savvy in technology but also capable of excelling in various career paths. Here, we value helping people grow and succeed, so we also measured success by looking at skills like being proactive, thinking critically, communicating well, paying close attention to details, and solving problems effectively. The payoff for this investment is making a positive impact and shaping their personal and professional growth.

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