FIRST CLASS: Adora Nwodo Is the DJ And Maths Whiz Creating New Worlds At Microsoft

Adora Nwodo believes Nigerians will have to work for the country they want. Illustration: Benjamin Oluwatoyin

 

Adora Nwodo isn’t shy about how good she was at calculus and statistics as a student. She shouldn’t be. A first-class graduate of Computer Science from the University of Lagos, she is now a Software Engineer at Microsoft working on creating mixed reality applications. But she isn’t your typical nerd hiding behind lit-up screens in dark rooms. She loves the outdoors and meeting people. Her alternative career is music production. And she disc-jockeys at parties when she’s not writing code or books or encouraging more people – read women – to get into tech, or studying for a degree at one of the world’s topmost business schools.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

Do you know someone who fits the bill? Recommend a name here.

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This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.


 

SE: What was growing up like for you?

AN: Growing up for me was okay, I guess. I’m the last born, the only girl. I have a bunch of elder brothers. Everyone always wanted me to do well. I won’t say I was spoilt, but I didn’t lack anything. I started with computers quite early, maybe eight or seven. I was really fascinated by it. My siblings were my best friends; and then they were in JSS3 or so when my dad sent them to computer school and bought them computers. So my brothers went from playing with me when bored in the house to working on their computers. And obviously, because I didn’t have anyone to play with anymore, I joined them in using the computers. So I got drawn into it. I was fascinated by what I could do on a computer. That was how I fell in love with computers and decided to build a life around them.

That’s interesting.

I was a very expressive child – a parrot – and my parents thought I’d be a lawyer. But even if I didn’t go into Computer Science, I wouldn’t have become a lawyer. I would have been a music producer. That’s another thing that I really like to do. Even now, I’m a DJ. I can’t be that DJ that is also a Producer on the side because I have a full Computer Science career. But making music has always been a hobby for me. So, I would have studied Sound Engineering, interned at one of these record labels and, at some point, started my producer career. It was a backup career that I’ve always had. As early as 100 level, I used to say if tech didn’t work out for me, I would do a Masters in Sound Engineering and become a Producer.

How do you balance these different aspects of your personality?

I don’t balance it. At this point, I think I’m running on vibes. But I don’t like to see them as two personalities. Because everything is still one person. I don’t see myself as someone that has multiple alter egos or personalities. I don’t compartmentalise it. Everything is one person. The engineer is also a music enthusiast. When I am writing code, I am listening to music, and discovering new music. Even when I was in university, I am studying and listening to music. When I have a gig to go play for, there is a science to the preparation. And I’m a science person, but I’m also a creative because I’m a content creator. I tend to apply different parts of myself to every single thing I do. I just make sure I’m enjoying myself. 

Would you describe yourself as an obsessive planner?

Yes, I plan my whole life. I’m a planner. Even up to my dates. Recently, a friend wanted to take me out. But I told him I had a romantic date with someone that could be a partner that same weekend, and there was no slot for him. So everything I do is on my calendar. Even my sleeping is a routine. I don’t control exactly when I sleep, but every day at 5:45 am I am awake by default. Even if, according to my calendar, the last thing I have to do for the day is by 9 pm, I try to go to sleep by 9:30 pm; if I can’t, then I hop on Twitter until I finally drift off. But I must be awake at 5:45 am.

So I plan my life, but also I leave small room for that flexibility because we are in Lagos and things can just happen. And your plans can get disrupted if you don’t have backup plans.

How did you get into Microsoft?

I applied and they hired me. (Laughs)

One thing I tell people is that there are so many talented people and opportunities but what makes people single you out is if they see a clear value that you can add. So, I don’t know if I would have gotten the interview if I had just applied when the opening came up. Because a lot of people would have also applied. But I was doing a lot of things within the community at the time and I was very vocal about the kind of technology I wanted to work on; so I had said I wanted to work on technology that was powered by AI; I wanted to help build mobile or other device experiences. And I was talking about it on LinkedIn and Twitter, volunteering at communities, speaking, organising events, writing, and making YouTube content. So people were noticing me, I guess. And a Microsoft recruiter reached out to me and said they wanted to hire me for a role in Nigeria, blah, blah, blah. So I applied and got back to the recruiter. So, that got me the interview. Getting myself to get the recruiter to notice me personally was what got me the interview. But that wasn’t what got me the job, because I still had to make sure I learned every single thing I needed to learn. I had to make sure I practiced for the interview, did mock interviews with my friends, prayed, practiced some questions, brushed up on some engineering concepts I probably didn’t remember from school; and then I went for the interview and passed and got the job.

You initially worked at a Nigerian ad agency? How’s does that experience differ from your current role?

I spent only my service year at the agency. I passed out of NYSC in June 2019 and started working for Microsoft in August 2019. So it was almost straight out of school. How has the experience been? I like my job at Microsoft because out of all the other things people say – the money is great – I tend to optimise for peace of mind more than money. I want to have job satisfaction and have the liberty to do what I have to do; this is also the freedom I had while working at the ad agency – they encouraged people to focus on their side hustles. So that was basically how I was brought up professionally – I’m always going to do other things.

So, apart from the fact that I love the kind of work that I am doing, because it is me really creating something new, something that doesn’t yet exist in its full form in the world right now, and I am learning a lot – apart from that – there’s also the peace of mind because of the culture; everyone always willing to help each other and being welcoming, and being able to do all I do and my managers providing support in any way they can.

You are involved in several tech communities – unStack Africa, Open Source Community Africa – what drives your passion for community engagement?

There’s a gap. I have seen people do a lot of things to try and help this community grow. My own approach to that isn’t necessarily being the community manager, because that’s a lot of work. I lead a few communities and I’m not necessarily focused on the day-to-day. I’m more focused on advocacy and inspiration. Advocacy for the tech ecosystem in general, not just about developers. And this is me trying to inspire people to come to join the ecosystem. And there’s a gap, especially in terms of gender diversity. I’m very bullish on women in tech. And I talk about it every single time I get. And I always share resources with communities that are trying to empower women in tech, to help them grow in a way. There’s also the part of training more developers to get opportunities globally; because there are a lot of global opportunities and there are not a lot of people to take on these opportunities. So why don’t you have more Africans so they can get these opportunities and make their lives better? 

Some mistakes you’ve made in your career?

I can’t think of any on the spot. I haven’t made a bunch of decisions on my own. Most of my decisions are always collective decisions with my family. As I said, I’m the last born so I have a lot of elder siblings who give me advice. I have mentors as well that I reach out to; I also have peers who are doing well. So it’s never oh this thing just pops into my head and I’m going to make that career, life-changing decision. So there are always back and forth conversations with people, going to God in prayer, before I finally make a decision.

What’s the hardest decision you’ve ever had to make?

One that comes to mind is recently I started going to Business School. One of my elders brought it up and I said I wasn’t doing it; because I felt like I still wanted to be in engineering for a while and was not ready to move into something else. And going to Business school, I might have to quit my job. And because of the kind of schools I wanted to go to. There were a bunch of different routes I could have taken. Was I going to sacrifice my time, my job or the quality of school I wanted to go to, or my social life? So it was a very hard decision. I ended up sacrificing myself. Because I found a program in a top school that required me to not be full time and I would also keep my job. So now I’m going to school, to work, and I’m still doing all the community things I was doing in the first place. I don’t regret the decision so far, but I guess we’ll see in a couple of months; maybe when I get tired, I’ll come on social media to rant. 

You live in Nigeria. Do you ever think of relocating?

Who wouldn’t? It has definitely crossed my mind once or twice. But I’m not actually doing anything about it for personal reasons. 

Are you hopeful about the country’s future?

I don’t have a direct answer to that question. I think Nigeria’s future depends a lot on all of us doing the work. Because hope without action is a very stupid thing. So I’m not going to say I’m very hopeful and all we have is hope or prayers and nobody is doing anything; nothing will happen. So, if we really want Nigerians to be the home that we want, everybody needs to be a part of making that happen. It will take a very long time, possibly more than 50 years but everybody needs to participate in that process and not just complain on social media. 

How do we get to that point where everybody comes together?

I’m not talking about everybody coming out. Not everybody is going to be involved in politics. But in your own little way, what are you doing for your immediate country, in your house, apart from sitting down and complaining. To be honest, I don’t blame anyone who decides to pack their bags and leave Nigeria. I’m not going to guilt-trip you. But if you are one of those people who complain, my first question would be, what have you tried to do about it? I’m not saying what you do will change the country in 24 hours, but what you do might change somebody’s life, or mindset, or be the reason why somebody gets to live an extra day. The point is, have you actually done anything to influence your immediate society? Because if we are promoting that mindset of doing things for each other to influence ourselves, you will see the whole pyramid effect. You will influence some people who will influence other people, and those people will go ahead to influence more people. And from there, something will change. These things take a very long time, but there’s that possibility. I don’t want to talk about hope for Nigeria, because there are some people that are doing a bunch of things, there are people that are not doing anything at all, and there are a lot of people that are complaining. The Nigeria we want, we will have to work for it. If you don’t put in the work, nothing is going to change. And 20 years down the line, we will be having the same conversations. We’ve been having these same conversations since I was born, and I am going to be 26 this year.

How does your faith affect your outlook on life?

I’m a Christian, a Catholic. And one thing that we preach at Church is love. And that’s what I’ve been hearing all my life. From going to Church, to catechism classes, to having conversations with friends who share the same faith. And the constant thing is always love. Jesus Christ came to preach love. God is love. And that has just made me always want to give love. I’m one of those people that believe we are born with multiple gifts and we should give everything we have and die empty. You should leave the world better than you left it. And that makes me want to show love to people around me in different ways. And I guess that has, in some ways, been a huge part of who I am and has had an effect on how I interact with people. I’m a human being and there will be small anger, and drama, but there’s that thing of calling yourself to order and asking for forgiveness and being better. I believe love will change the world; if we all had love in our hearts, the world will be a much better place.

If you had to recommend a book, what would it be?

I would definitely recommend my book. People that have read it have come back to give me feedback. A girl took it before she took an Amazon exam and she passed. So I’m very happy about the impact the book is making and I get excited about it. 

But if you are not trying to get into Cloud Engineering, another book I’ll recommend is Atomic Habits by James Clear. I think it’s a behavioural book and it can help you build fantastic habits and break away from habits that are not so good.

Who would you recommend as a First-Class Nigerian?

Easy. Jude Dike. I find what GetEquity is building interesting. Also coupled with the fact that he’s young (26) and the company isn’t up to a year old.


First Class is a column about extraordinary Nigerians aged 35 years and below. It collects their thoughts on what it takes to thrive as a young person in Nigeria. 

Do you know someone who fits the bill? Recommend a name here.

Sign up to receive the latest installment of exclusive First Class interviews in your email.

Solomon Elusoji

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