FIRST CLASS: ’Kitan David Rejected One Lucrative 9-5 To Build A World-Class Tech Talent Pipeline

Kitan David believes Africa is a huge market for training tech talents. Illustration: Benjamin Oluwatoyin

 

When ’Kitan got an opportunity to work at tech giant Nokia, he was sorely tempted to take it. But he had a dream, a vision to build a world-class tech talent pipeline for Africans. “I fell sick,” he says. He ended up not taking it, a difficult decision he has come to cherish. In this interview, he talks about why he rejected the offer, the massive opportunity in the African tech scene, why he believes Yahoo boys can’t be reformed into legit tech workers, and how young Nigerians can reform their country.


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.


 

SE: Can you briefly talk about your journey?

’KD: Personally, I’ve been very interested in everything computing. As a child, I used to say I would be an aeronautical engineer or a computer scientist. I grew up to realise aeronautical engineering is not really something you can pursue in Nigeria at the time. So, Computer science was my go-to; I spent a lot of time with computers. Before I got into the university, I was already writing code and building websites. I was doing graphic design for businesses. Then, by virtue of my personality, I am a human capital development person. For example, if I was into music, I won’t just be producing music, I would have people that I am training to make music. While doing all of this, the little I knew then, I would gather my friends and train them. Then I got into FUTA (Federal University of Technology, Akure) and graduated and started Planet Nest. Right now, we’ve transitioned and the name of the organisation is Future Academy Africa. And Planet Nest is just the name of the building. If we ever get to a one-thousand-acre campus, we would call it Planet Nest.

What I do is a talent pipeline, a talent accelerator – we take people, train them in product design, data science, front-end web development, NFTs, and blockchain, and we accelerate them and place them on jobs. We are very popular for our product design phase.

We have an office in Lagos at Nest in Yaba, and also in Akure. But our acceleration program is now virtual. For example, in the product design acceleration program, we have Nigerians, Ghanaians, Cameroonians, Ugandans, and Zimbabweans. People apply every year and then we select. Last year, we had over 2,500 applications from all over Africa. But we had to choose based on how good they were. We had someone from Pakistan. We are accelerating these talents over the phase of one year through a fellowship program called Future Academy Africa fellowship program. And in that acceleration, they are given tasks, mentors are speaking to them, and we are doing physical meetups. I was in Kigali for a physical meetup. This year, we plan to do a physical meetup in Uganda and Cameroon for the fellows that are there. In the course of one year, if an organisation approaches us to help them fill a vacancy, we get the best of the people and they get jobs. And we don’t restrict them to getting jobs from us, yet, because we are still at that growth phase.

How many people have you accelerated?

Right now, they are 160. But people that we’ve trained – it’s not everyone we’ve trained that we accelerate. Some people just end at the training phase. Some we offer them acceleration and they decline. The people who finished last year were 48. So that makes it 208. But the people we’ve trained are 2,860.

What does success mean to you?

I derive joy from seeing people forge ahead in their careers. When we onboard our fellows, I try to have a personal conversation with everybody and understand their dreams and goals. Two product designers can come in and want to build an agency and someone else’s goal might be to work for a big company. Yes, we don’t allow their goals to affect our curriculum – which is to make you market-fit – but I follow up on their personal goals.

For me, success is when one of them hits me up and says, I got a job. I derive great joy from this. We have people that come into the fellowship as a regular person making a bit of money – we take juniors into the fellowship – and accelerate them. Our most recent success story was a guy that got a job of $42, 000 annually from a company in Switzerland. That’s something we celebrate. 

Do you consider yourself successful now?

I used to say I come from a humble background. But where I am going, I am still in a humble background. From where I am coming from, I’m probably a big boy now. But I don’t consider myself successful or not successful. I see myself as someone who has been able to build a solid foundation on which I can grow. I’ve spent the last seven years trying to build a foundation. I’ve done courses on human capital development, I’ve attended Lagos Business School, I’ve trained people, I’ve made mistakes, and now I’m at that point where the foundation is solid, and I can scale from it. I’ve never been under pressure to raise money. Some people call it imposter syndrome. Yes, I had it. I used to tell myself if you raise money now, won’t you be raising money on trash? Are you sure you’ve gotten this thing right? But right now, I’m there. I would say I am on the highway of success, but I’m still very far from where I want to be.

What’s the biggest factor that has helped you get to where you are today?

The fact that I come out plain to people. I’m ready to tell you this is what is going on with the company, with me. And yes, people give advice – some I take, some I discard. But I am very open to talking to people about what I’m doing. I reach out to people that are doing the same thing that I do, to be mentors in our fellowship program. And that could be you leaking your trade secrets, you showing them the structure of your programs and them copying it – but I don’t see it that way. A lot of them don’t respond but I feel 100 Future Academy Africas bearing different names is still not enough to mine the talents in Africa. Why bother?

How big is the talent market?

I don’t think there’s any survey that has actually checked that out. But the biggest market is in incubation. From my own observation, many Africans are prone to peer pressure. If everybody is doing crypto, they want to do crypto. Not because they understand it, they just want to do it. Peer pressure is one of the reasons people succeed. People look at it from the bad side, but it is the reason why some people learn how to code today. So there is unmined talent. A large percentage of our population are young people. And they don’t have jobs. You find someone on the streets and this person has taken a course on digital marketing; this same person has taken a beginner course in data science, started another in product marketing, and didn’t finish; and then is now doing Yahoo (cybercrime).

Companies like Andela and TalentQL, are still raising money, so it shows that there is a market. That’s why I believe 100 of us are still not enough from incubation to acceleration.

Do you believe Yahoo boys can become legit tech workers?

I don’t agree with that school of thought. I’ve dealt with all these boys – good and bad. The brain that does Yahoo is different from the one that does data science and product design. And it’s not in the capacity at which they can do it, it’s in the mindset. What Yahoo does is jump processes. Yes, you can say everyone wants to make money, but at the top of your career in tech, your focus is no longer on money, because money will come. But once you beat survival mode . .  . that guy that just started learning software engineering, he’s looking to get his first website, his first mobile app. Once he gets 50 people to pay him N1 million for a website, he stops thinking about money; he starts thinking about growth. That’s when he stops collecting jobs because he wants to learn Web3 and NFTs. So, he already knows if he learns Web3 and NFTs, jobs will come. So that mindset is what helps him. Meanwhile, in cybercrime, the focus is always money, even if they start stealing a million dollars. So when somebody has gone the cybercrime way, I don’t bother to help the person transition. If the person gets to a point where he wants to transition himself, fine, but since the person has jumped processes . . . one of the things we instill in our fellows is that we are raising global technology leaders out of Africa. And then someone says why are you not raising millionaires? But you can’t be a global technology leader and be broke. I’m not focused on you making money, I’m focused on you being world-class, being able to walk into the room where Chinese product designers are, where German product designers are, and you don’t feel less of yourself. At that stage, money is never going to be a problem. That mindset cannot do fraud. It’s a growth mindset. There is no growth in fraud, just an increase in your bank account.

What’s the grand vision for FAA?

The grand vision is to have a big campus, virtually or physically – I’ll prefer physical but I don’t know what Covid is doing to the world. A campus where we have 5,000 residents and growing to be technology leaders. And we have a strong alumni network, people who have passed through come back to give testimonies. Like a campus of positive energy such that when anyone comes up with an idea in the world and says we need so-so talent, you think Future Academy Africa. When you are coming to FAA, we don’t just want to give you a software engineer, but a leader, somebody that checks the boxes for social ethics, and intelligence; it’s not just about software engineering. It’s about leadership, vision, and growth. 

What’s the best advice someone has ever given you?

Someone once told me a lot of people you look up to, thinking they’ve figured it out, are actually as worried as yourself. You can only connect the dots looking back, not going forward. So, just keep the vision clear and keep working towards it. Even if you make a mistake, it will reroute, as long as your destination does not change.

What’s one hard decision you’ve had to make?

It was not taking a job. There was a time when I was financially down. And I had the opportunity to take a job at Nokia. I didn’t take it because I was very connected to this vision. Different people told me you could take it and still run your company, but the company is human capital development, it’s not an app where people are downloading something. So I didn’t see how I could have a 9 to 5 and have time for my talent on campus. There was nobody that I talked to that advised me not to take it. Everybody advised me to take the job. Me not taking it was rebellious. And then it was painful because I got to that mental stage of if you are not taking this job, you have yourself to blame if everything goes wrong. The day the Nokia job offer ended, I fell sick, with a strong fever. People said I should take drugs or go to the hospital. But I knew it was not a hospital thing. 

Looking back now?

Yes, looking back now it wasn’t that tough after all. Now, I don’t feel like I should have taken it. 

For someone starting out, what’s the best advice you can give?

Picture yourself in the next three to five years, who do you want to be? Look for people that are in that space now and try to be in their circle. If there is someone that looks like they are living the life you want to live, find those people and try to be part of the things they do. Conversations there will help you. Three years from now, you can get there and find out that this is not where you want to be but it will really help you accelerate fast.

Do you ever think of leaving Nigeria?

I’ve never seen myself relocating. But I’ve also never seen myself stay. I see it as when the world began, we were all just one people. Yes, the family expanded into countries, nations, and races. Right now, the world is tending towards global partnerships and the ability to move around – I don’t see it as relocating. For example, I won’t pack my bags today and go to Canada and sit down. I want to be in Canada doing something that affects the talent I’m grooming right in Africa. That’s why I never see myself relocating. I’ll just be jumping around building stuff. For me, Africa, Nigeria is always home.

Are you happy with the way the country is now?

No, I’m not happy. At all. 

How do you think things can change? What can young people do?

As young people, I think the energy everybody is putting into getting a life, getting a skill – a set of people need to drive that energy for young people to get into governance. And the reason is that you cannot do better than the country. When you sit down and understand the constitution and government laws, you will find out that all your years of hard work can be destroyed by one regulation. So who makes the regulation? It’s people that make up the government. So we need like-minded people. While you are thinking of fintech and logistics, we need someone with that kind of energy that is also thinking about governance. 

I read one story recently where some people made a vaccine for cows and they made it into a drug. When they were done, that’s when they realised cows can’t take drugs and drink water. Then they made it into an injection. So that was because they made the vaccine with no cows in the mix. So it was human beings thinking for cows. And that’s what is happening in government in Nigeria – these people can’t think for us. They don’t know what crypto is, what NFTs are, how connected the world is, or how being a TikToker is a profession; so they can’t make laws that help the economy grow, especially with this population and age range. So we need more youthful participation in politics and governance.

Does that mean you are voting in 2023?

Yes, definitely. But I don’t know who I am voting for yet.

Which person fits into a first-class Nigerian?

Iyinoluwa Aboyeji.


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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