Lessons I learned being a full-time software developer and a university student in Nairobi, Kenya by Godwill Barasa

My name is Godwill Barasa, a software developer, writer, and designer based in Nairobi, Kenya. In case you are interested to know how I undertake my daily work, find my previous viral article here.

I write this article at 2 am, with an Operating System exam tomorrow morning at 8 am. Thanks to Ali Abdaal, I finessed my study plan, and I believe am ready for the exams so no need for a last-minute rush.

chillin

Enough of the self-reassurance, I have been writing code for almost most of my life. When I was younger, it was more of a fun-rebellious kind of hobby I adapted from my big brother Nikki. By 16 years, I was writing code for my high school website, in return they let me work late in the computer labs When I turned 18, I got my first job as a System Developer intern in Nairobi, Kenya.

Fast forward, a couple of years later, As I celebrate my 23rd birthday in two weeks, celebrating five-year career experience. I feel old, it feels like the older I get the quicker time passes. Regardless, we have to look back on it so that we can make better choices.

I’ve been a student at JKUAT, Juja, University of Cape Town, and currently JKUAT, CBD Campus. I am also a developer at Legibra Holdings with proficiency in PHP, Javascript, Laravel, React. I’m currently an active community member of the JAMstack movement. Check out my article on the movement.

Here are my lessons:

Let research lead your intuition

Before making major career moves, always consult Google, Google tells us all from why there is a spot on the tip of your nose to regex functions. From salary details to reputable hiring managers, you know, the ones who actually mail back in case you fail an interview.

In an interview, you are not being interviewed by the company. You also interview them. Know as much as possible about the job and the firm before making the deal. This will help you assert self-worth, and help you find work that you enjoy doing. That will in turn bring you a lot of happiness, which is something we all need more of.

Network

Get access to tech events with like-minded people. It’s amazing how smiles and shaking hands can really propel your career. I personally suggest Nairobi Metta, Nairobi Garage, and iHub. I’m considering joining the Nairobi Garage the one on Lower Kabete Road. Ikigai is also nice.

Such hubs have amazing events from a wide array of subjects, from entrepreneurship to personal finance. From career advice to trade fairs. Trust me, your Saturdays will always be booked with events, which lead to connections, which lead to lead generation, which lead to profit.

Set Goals, but don’t be afraid to aim higher.

Two people really inspire me on this. One of them is Bruce Lee, with his legendary quote “Be like water my friend”. Be willing to change, in fact, the most productive decisions are the ones that make you get away from your comfort zone. The second one, is, a dear friend, UX Designer, Genet Wendy. She inspired me to make mood boards. A mood board is a visual tool that communicates our concepts and visual ideas. It is a well-thought-out and planned arrangement of images, materials, pieces of text, etc. that is intended to evoke or project a particular style or concept.

Reasons you might need a mood board:

  • To give us a process to build a clear design story that we want to use in the space.
  • Using a mood board helps you to express the vision you have in mind for the project.
  • Sometimes it is very complicated to express your visual ideas to others. A mood board is a very efficient visual communication tool.
  • A mood board is a good starting point to get things done. It will help you collate and focus your ideas, and help to define the project

As with most design processes. There is a ‘standard’ process that’s useful to follow. But as we are designing, I believe that being creative and not following the rules exactly will always give you the best result.

Creating a mood board will help you to explore and ‘find your own style’ too. The best way to learn about something in design is to do it. This is why I want you to take some time to create a mood board that represents your own style.

Think about your home, your clothes, your office, your holidays, things you dream of. What do they look like? What do these things feel like? What are the common threads? Is it a color? A texture? A pattern? A feeling/emotion?

Collect images that represent these thoughts. These images will tell your story and when they come together will start to show you your style. The collection of images will represent your lifestyle and personal style. You can take your time with this.

Move the images about on the board to create different compositions. Play around with the images until you are happy with the images that you have.

I know that this is hard to do when you’ve not done it before, but we all start at the beginning. My first few mood boards weren’t very impressive but I started learning how they worked while doing it.

This isn’t something you can learn by reading about it. You need to do it.

Another important element to mood boards that can help beginners to convey their message very effectively is to use keywords to help tell your story. 2 or 3 well-selected keywords that help you to describe the abstract message you’re trying to get across.

It’s always better to start earlier, heck, it is better to start now.

Like fitness, mostly progress in your career is done when you practice. When you start working out in the gym, the first weeks might feel very taxing with little or no result. This is why many people who get gym memberships only get to go the first week. After that, they feel they have put in too much yet get very little in return since they don’t have their dream body like Arnold Schwarzenegger

This is further from the truth, The First weeks are important to develop your form, condition your motor skills from normal body movements to unusual body movements such as Deadlifts, Squats, or the Bench press. This is a learning phase, you get to learn so much about how your muscles feel, being sore after a workout, being sore during a workout, shocking muscles on leg day, etc. These basic things form the ultimate conditions for your body to grow.

Similarly, when you start learning that new language, you might not develop advanced algorithms in your first week. You might even write a bad “spaghetti” code. This is important since you don’t know what you don’t know. The only way to know what you don’t know is to attempt.

Otherwise, you will be like a spectator in a football match. You will know all the players in the game, know all the moves, you might even know the jargon, and have strong opinions about the game, you never got in the field.

Be consistent

Consistency is when you become fixated on a particular goal. Like writing a novel. Or losing weight. For the first couple of days, you ride that wave of motivation. You show up, do the work, move on. Another day won.

But then the novelty wears off. You start skipping practice. You stop being consistent. A day here and a day there and before long you haven’t written a word for days or been to the gym this month.

Sounds familiar?

Every year people make new resolutions. Do they follow up on them? Most don’t. Why? They lack consistency. The only thing they are consistent at is starting and stopping.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You need to develop the skill of being consistent.

Grades matter

Your grade only really matters for the traditional path and for a small number of research jobs and careers. What matters a lot more is your approach to life:

  • Do you always try to do your best? (Do you actually try at all?)
  • If you get stuck do you try to solve the problems other ways or just give up? (Also called “grit” which is the current in word.)
  • Are you willing to try things and see if it works out?
  • Are you curious about new things?

The thing is that if these are true then students almost always have fairly good grades. These are the things that matter not grades most of the time.

That being said here are the times that grades matter:

  • Your high school grades matter when applying to university BUT if you wait a few years or even just do a few university subjects then try to transfer (assuming they accept transfer students) then your high school grades don’t matter any more than your entrance exam matters or the grades for the university subject you do.
  • Your university grades matter when you apply for your first job BUT after the first job, everyone cares about your work experience NOT your grades.
  • You need good grades for academic scholarships.
  • For research students your grades matter (a lot) until you publish a research paper then your previous research matters more.

Basically grades matter at a few specific instances in time when transitioning between phases in life. Grades can save you a few years of “catching up” but in the long run, there are other paths to the same thing that take a little bit longer if you are willing to try.

This is why some high school dropouts succeed. At school, they don’t have the correct attitude to life. They fail, hit rock bottom, go through the school of hard knocks and relatively quickly learn and change who they are then succeed without traditional schooling. The grades try (sometimes badly) to reflect what is important.

As I make a mood board for my next five-years, I need to make new habits, know new people, and delve into subjects I have not delved into before. I’m in search of new vibes. You can find me on LinkedIn, ask me about anything, or pitch new ideas or even new vibes.

I won't celebrate my birthday but do wish me a happy birthday in the comments section.

Regards,

Godwill Barasa

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Award-winning Software Developer, Writer and Designer

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Godwill Barasa

Godwill Barasa

Award-winning Software Developer, Writer and Designer

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