As a young Nigerian, career paths can often seem linear and predetermined. Taiwo's journey is evident in the incredible resilience and drive that can lead people to forge their unique paths. From studying law to becoming a software developer, this 26-year-old’s story is one of unwavering determination.
As a child, Taiwo Famakinde was naturally drawn to the mechanics of things. She would often disassemble television remote controls, curious as to what made these devices tick. This curiosity extended beyond hardware, leading her to explore a wide array of activities, including watching movies or cartoons, spending time with friends, knitting fabrics, and even sketching building layouts as she had a keen interest in design. To her, hobbies were not commitments; instead, she would simply open the door to new experiences, gaining a sense of each one, and this open-mindedness and willingness to embrace different options foreshadowed her future in the world of tech.
The Journey Begins
In the Nigerian Senior Secondary school system, students are confronted with a pivotal decision: to choose between two paths, "Arts" or "Science." This restrictive structure often confines students within narrow educational boundaries. It limits their exposure to subjects considered exclusive to the other side; for instance, art students typically don't study physics, while science students seldom delve into literature or history. As a result, students have limited imaginations regarding their university studies and future career paths. Among art students, a common aspiration is to pursue a degree in law, often regarded as the pinnacle of achievement. Taiwo, an art student herself, aimed for this lofty goal and successfully secured admission to study law at the University of Lagos.
However, as she progressed through the faculty, Taiwo began to feel disconnected from her studies and came to the realisation that being a lawyer wasn't her true calling. This prompted her to explore alternative career paths, allowing her mind to wander much like she did during her childhood when exploring various hobbies. One day, while scrolling through Twitter, she came across a tweet from a mutual discussing a tech project they were “building.” Taiwo's curiosity was piqued, and she decided to act on this interest by contacting the tweet’s author for more information. This conversation ended with her friend encouraging her to visit FreeCodeCamp, a coding platform where she embarked on a journey to build a simple cat photo website.
Reflecting on that experience, she recalls, 'I felt a huge sense of achievement, a feeling I will cherish forever.' In that moment of accomplishment, a passion ignited within her, becoming the driving force behind her burgeoning tech career.
Resilience in the Face of Challenges
Taiwo's transition from law to tech was not without its challenges, especially considering that transitioning careers, particularly into tech, wasn't common in her immediate community back then. The doubt about making such a major career switch was a huge cloud over her head. She constantly questioned if she was making the right choice and if committing to this new path was a sensible choice. Overcoming these doubts was a significant challenge in itself.
Supported by her elder sister, who is also a software developer, her family encouraged her to pursue her newfound passion. This level of support, which is very rare in typical Nigerian families, played a vital role in boosting her confidence and determination. Career switches weren't popular in her circle, which explains her friends’ shock at her decision as the path Taiwo was taking was uncharted territory for many.
Women’s Techsters Fellowship and Microsoft Hackathon Success
Taiwo's journey in the tech industry has been marked by notable achievements and continuous growth. Two significant milestones stand out in her career: The Women Techsters Fellowship, a year-long program consisting of six months of intensive training followed by six months of internship, and a Microsoft Hackathon in 2022.
For Taiwo, the Women Techsters Fellowship program was a life-changing experience. After receiving a link to the program from her friend, she decided to apply despite being in law school at the time. “Let's see what happens", she said. She got accepted into the program, and the orientation and training that followed were for her, mind-blowing.
"It exceeded my expectations by far. I had previously applied to several training programs, but this one was different. It was comprehensive, well-structured, and detailed," Taiwo recounted.
The program covered both front-end and back-end development, and it was intense. Taiwo spoke about aspects of the program such as constant guidance and feedback, which she found particularly beneficial and significant to her and other fellows. They were held accountable, and the organisers went all out to ensure they gained as much as possible from the program while equipping them with essential soft skills.
Upon graduating from the year-long Fellowship, Taiwo was presented with an opportunity to participate in a continent-wide hackathon organised by Microsoft. She embraced the challenge, guided by one of the key takeaways from the fellowship: facing challenges head-on, even when they seem daunting.
The hackathon was an intense two-day experience, where Taiwo’s team was tasked to create an online virtual education platform aimed at empowering women in rural areas to enter STEM fields. They were required to build a minimum viable product (MVP) that was not only presentable but also functional.
"When the results were announced, we came second," Taiwo recalled with pride. The experience of marathon coding, pouring everything into making the project the best it could be, was truly unforgettable. We aimed to stand out, and we succeeded. It was a life-changing experience."
Empowering Women in Tech
As someone who has benefited from the help and guidance of her community, Taiwo is passionately committed to paying it forward by empowering women in the tech industry. Her dedication shines through in her active involvement in organising, moderating, and promoting women-focused events and initiatives within her community in Lagos, Nigeria. She has also been a notable driving force behind Google's Women Techmakers program in her locality.
Through her experience and network, Taiwo extended her support to the Women Techsters Fellowship, where she spoke at the orientation of the incoming 2023 cohort, sharing her inspiring journey through the program. Her continuous dedication to empowering women in tech has not only provided a platform for women to thrive but also garnered support from companies and attendees alike. The impact of these programs has been intangible, with attendees reporting personal and professional growth inspired by Taiwo's determination.
Taiwo expressed her satisfaction with these outcomes, saying, "The feedback is incredibly encouraging. Being part of a passionate tech community dedicated to empowering women in tech, speaking at meetups, moderating panel sessions, creating content geared toward women, and mentoring them—all of these efforts are rewarding."
A Vision for the Future
Looking ahead, Taiwo envisions a future centred on developer relations and community building, with a specific emphasis on empowering women and promoting gender equity in the tech industry.
Sharing her vision, she says: "I want to continue building for now. I genuinely enjoy the process of creating meaningful products that people can use and appreciate, so I want to keep following that path for a while. However, when I think about the long term, I see myself focusing on community building. In the future, I envision myself continuing to work in developer relations, with a primary focus on empowering women, uniting people, and nurturing a sense of community."
Taiwo's remarkable journey, from law to tech reminds us that the course of our lives can pivot in unexpected directions, and in those shifts, we can discover the most extraordinary opportunities.