Ask Me Anything with Chiamaka
Ask Me Anything are physical mentorship sessions for women who are interested in taking up careers in the tech industry. During this session, they meet industry experts to ask questions and learn from their experiences, best practices and general relevant lessons that will keep them inspired and challenged.
Our guest for today is Chiamaka Nwolisa, Front-End Engineer at mPharma.
Q: What is your personal mantra?
A: Just keep going. Sometimes it feels like things aren’t going the way you want it to go. But just keep going. It will always keep getting better.
Q: Why did you choose to work at mPharma?
A: I wanted to be somewhere that I could solve interesting problems, and we have really interesting problems we are trying solving at mPharma. That was really one of the things that got my attention. At mPharma,we take over the inventory of pharmacies and hospitals and also give them software products that they can use to become more efficient. We also have a new product called Mutti that allows patients to buy and pay for their drugs in installments.
Q: How does one advance in your company?
A: In my company, we set goals at the beginning of the year. It is called the Key Performance Indicator (KPIs). As part of the KPIs, we have personal development goals. You have to write down what you want to achieve the next year as an individual. If you want to become a senior developer next year, you go ahead to write what you need to achieve that. Subsequently when you are reviewed at the end of the year, we get to know whether you have progressed or not. That is how we handle progression at mPharma. Also at the end of the year, we check and make sure that on team level and individual level, you’ve met your goals. Depending on how you performed the previous year, it reflects in your salary.
Q: How did you get started in tech?
A: When I say this thing people normally don’t believe me but at some point in primary school, I was the best student in Science and Computer. So I asked my brother if there was anything like Science Computer or Computer Science. Fast forward to University, I studied Computer Science but I don’t think I learnt how to code in school. I just did the assignments and exams just to pass. It was after I left school that I started learning how to program. Prior to that, it was just exercises, do this, run it, submit your assignments and write the exams. It was after I left school that I really said I wanted to pursue programming so I went to MEST, then after MEST, I joined AF Radio. The second reason is that I like creating and building things. I used to do backend and I realized that’s not me. Then I switch to front-end two years ago. I am doing front-end full time.
Q: People say women go in for front-end engineering is easier, what do you think?
A: It really hurts me when I hear that. That we…. because it is easier? It is not. There are people who come to frontend from backend. I have people at my company who say, front-end developers are full stack developers but back-end developers cannot be front-end developers. It is not at all. It is hard and another thing is you are dealing with users. Users use products in very erratic ways that we sometimes cannot envision. You can build something and say use it like that but the person will use it another way. So you have to cater for edge cases.I don’t say backend is easy and I don’t also say front-end is easy. But I don’t know why people say it is easy: it doesn’t make sense. To each their own.
Q: Apart from solving problems, what connected you to mPharma?
A: Well, I really respect my CTO. I knew him before I got to mPharma. I had spoken to him two years prior to joining mPharma. So when he asked me to apply, I jumped at it.
Q: Considering you were at MEST at a point, why didn’t you go into entrepreneurship?
A: My answer will seem really simple but forgive me. I went into MEST and I had a health start-up as well. But I stopped because at the time I didn’t think I was CTO material. The second reason I quit was that entrepreneurship is hard especially if you don’t have money. Hunger kills! I had to quit. I realised it wasn’t a good mix so I decided to push entrepreneurship back a bit and make myself stable enough then decide whether I want to do entrepreneurship or not.
Q: How would you describe a typical day front-end developer at work?
A: On a typical day, I get to work 9-ish though I get late sometimes. We start the day with stand-ups we share what we worked on the previous day and what you’re going to work on that day. After that, work begins — I mostly live in the browser because I’m a front-end developer. I start to check the tasks that I have to work on the day on the Jira board.
Jira can be used to manage your products and though it works like Trello, it is more complicated. I select the task that I want to work on and I write it down. I always have a pen and a paper. I’m old -fashioned so I write it down and I work in blocks of 25 minutes. Has anyone heard of the Pomodoro technique? You set the timer to work for 25 minutes and have a break of 5 until you have worked four times; then you can take a longer break. This is what I do until I’m done with a task. We go for lunch break ‘cos we have to eat and after that, we work some more and go home.
Q: When you hit the wall, what do you do to get back up?
A: I’m going to speak from my point of view now. It’s hard; it just gets better by the day. There are times when we’re really frustrated because something is not working. You’ve tried several times and it’s still not working. Just go for a walk or do something else for awhile.
To be honest, I don’t like going according to mood or motivation cos they are fleeting. Discipline on the other hand is unyielding. So I have a schedule and I stick to it. Just do it and keep going even if it means taking very tiny steps. It builds up in the long run.
Q: Do you use React for every project?
A: If I’m doing front-end stuff, it’s React. I tried Vue but it didn’t tickle me. I don’t have the motivation to switch so I use React. Use tools that’ll make you comfortable. Whenever you use and produce whatever you’re supposed to produce, it’s okay. For me, I just fell in love with the way React works. I started with React Native and then I switched over to React.
Q: Where do you see yourself in the next two years? Also, when we remove front-end development from your life, what remains of you?
A: In two years, I don’t know. I guess I’d still be coding, I don’t know where, probably still at mPharma. I have plans to code for 10 years then I stop.
Q: Why have you made it a goal that you’ll stop coding after 10 years?
A: I think there’s more to me than coding. I want to find other things I can be good at, and it takes time to be an expert at something. That’s why I’m giving myself 10 years then I stop.
Q: What are some of the learning resources you recommend?
Q: How does one become a Front-end Engineer?
Q: How do I know which programming languages to learn?
A: These days for some reasons, people like specialties: backend developer, frontend developer, etc so specialize in one. If you find that you are good at the two, even better.
There is a lot of hype about programming languages as a beginner, it can get very overwhelming. What I recommend is that you pick one (anyone) and focus on becoming extremely good at it.
Q: How do you ensure security in the apps you build?
A: Backend developers have their own security compliance and have to sanitize everything. Front-end developers also do that. Every part of your app that requires data input by people, you will have to sanitize.
Q: As woman in tech, do you believe that to go far in your profession, you have to sacrifice a lot in terms of your family life?
A: Whoever that person is can you stop listening to them? There is no career path that you would want to be in that you don’t have to sacrifice, whether you’re a man or woman.
If you want to be good at anything, it’s Time and Effort.
Q: Concerning open source, when is the right time to start contributing?
A: If you want to get into open source, there are low hanging fruits and high hanging fruits. People always want to do the higher ones. What of the low ones? If you’re just starting, go for the low ones. Try to clean up the repo. If you see a typo somewhere, make the edit. Even if it is one letter, change that one letter. That, in reality is you contributing to open source.
Q: What do you do to de-stress?
I sleep. Sleep has been my best friend for a while. When I am tired, I sleep. I always tell myself that, whatever I am given, God will give the strength to handle it.
Thank you guys for having me.