“My job as a developer advocate involves being active in the community, sharing knowledge and teaching people, and that was one of the key things I got from Start Innovation Hub”
By Edidiong Udobia
When Edidiong Asikpo first visited Start Innovation Hub in March 2017 for her Industrial Training (IT), she had no practical knowledge of digital technology even as an undergraduate of Computer Science. Like millions of other Nigerian students, her main purpose of the IT programme was probably to fulfil some academic requirements. But by the time she completed her programme, Ms Asikpo had become one of the organisers of Google Developers’ Group (GDG), Uyo, and a community leader for Facebook Developers’ Circle.
Start Innovation Hub is a technology incubation and opportunity centre with head office in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. The hub is a leading source where technical talents and entrepreneurs in the Niger Delta region draw strength and excellence to innovate for global relevance. It is one of the companies leading the digital revolution across the South-South region of Nigeria by serving as an incubation centre for aspiring techies.
Hanson Johnson, a tech expert, is the chief executive officer of Start Innovation Hub. Ms Asikpo, a Facebook Icon of Change in Africa, is one of the many young people who were privileged to have life-changing experience at the hub.
“In Nigeria which you already know, during your third year, you have to do your internship somewhere; that is industrial training. So that was how I discovered Start Innovation Hub. Prior to that time, even though I was studying computer science, a lot of things were not making sense to me because in school they were only writing on the board and expecting us to understand. It was more of the theoretical part of being a software engineer but no practicals around it,” Asikpo told me in an interview.
“So when I got to Start Innovation Hub and met other young people who were either writing web applications, building mobile applications or into IoT, it was just inspiring for me. When they started teaching me how to develop the Android Apps, I was really pleased with the amount of information I was able to know. So within few weeks, I was able to build an android application”.
After building her first android application, Ms Asikpo, who had been a big fan of the technology advancement of Facebook, realised that even Facebook engineers started somewhere. So she made up her mind to go into tech fulltime. Her industrial training was about seven months but that was more than enough time for Start Innovation Hub to empower her into the world of technology.
“I felt like if I could build that thing in that period of time, then if I put in more effort and time into it, someday I should be able to build a Facebook for instance, because at the time, I was really obsessed with the Facebook app. I just loved how the engineers were always adding very interesting features to the application. Then it dawned on me that these same engineers started from somewhere, maybe by building their first application and this is where they are today,” she said. “I decided that it was definitely something I want to do fulltime. It started making sense to me as opposed to when I was just studying it in the university. So that’s why I don’t necessarily tie being in tech to the university, instead I tie it to Start Innovation Hub”.
Ms Asikpo is currently the Developer Advocate for Ambassador Lab, a US-based company, where she is actively involved in the community by sharing knowledge. As a developer advocate, she still leverages the knowledge and experience she gained from Start Innovation Hub. During her internship at the hub, she was involved in many projects as a community leader where she shared knowledge and organisedprogrammes. Prominently, she was one of the organisers of Google Developers’ Group (GDG), Uyo, and also a community leader for Facebook Developers’ Circle. For her, those experiences are key features of what she does today.
“My job as a developer advocate involves being active in the community, sharing knowledge and teaching people, and that was one of the key things I got from Start Innovation Hub,” she said. “Because I had the opportunity to lead developers’ circle from Facebook, I get to travel to different places, meet people and also realised that this was something I love doing. If that didn’t happen at Start Innovation Hub, then probably my career path would have been different by now”.
In 2015, Nsikak Thompson was in search of a place for his industrial training programme when a friend told him about Start Innovation Hub. He was an undergraduate of Computer Engineering, Uyo City Polytechnic. Thompson, whose initial intention was to spend just a year as mandated for the industrial training, eventually spent almost five years at Start Innovation Hub. His goal at Start Innovation Hub had changed from fulfilling an academic requirement to pursuing a career in tech. “My time at Start Innovation Hub will always be remarkable because it gave me the opportunity to discover myself, my talent, build my craft, exercise some level of leadership. It was really good time and I will appreciate that move that I made,” he said.
Mr Thompson, who is presently an android engineer at League, a Canadian company with head office in Toronto, is one of the most sought after Andriod developers in Africa. He doesn’t mince words when giving credit to Start Innovation hub for his success in the tech industry. But more than just giving credit, Thompson recommends the Hub for others who are aspiring to be in tech. “Start Innovation Hub will always be my first recommendation to anyone who is trying to start out in tech. For people who are aspiring, taking the bold step is one thing, and if you can do that, the one good place for you to build your craft and learn the invaluable skills you require in the journey into the tech world is Start Innovation Hub. So I encourage everyone interested in building a tech career to find their way there,” he added.
Sam Esidem was a 400 level student of Computer Science, University of Uyo, when he joined Start Innovation Hub for his industrial training in 2017. Like others, Esidem had no other intention for the training except to fulfil an academic requirement. “When I first started, I didn’t really have anything in mind to do. I didn’t go there with any ambition like android programming or web development. But Mr Hanson showed me everything that was available and what he wanted me to do. That was how I started learning developing android apps at Start Innovation Hub,” he said.
Mr Esidem, a mobile engineer and android application developer, presently manages communities and programmes for renowned organisations. He is the community manager for GameUp Africa, a community of game developers in Africa founded by Maliyo Games. Every knowledge and skill Esidembrings to bare in his current job is what he learnt at Start Innovation Hub. Like Edidiong Asikpo, Esidem admits that the hub was more instrumental to his journey in tech than school.
“To be honest, all I’m doing now are things I learnt from Start Innovation Hub. Of course, we all know the situation in our universities; what they give us is not really what we need. But when I went to Start Innovation Hub, I was actually given what I would need in the future which was developing mobile app that I learnt,” he said. “In the process of learning how to develop mobile app, Hanson Johnson also introduced me to communities. I started getting involved in communities and today, I am a co-organizer of the Goggle Developers’ Group, Uyo. On my own, I didn’t even know what all those things are”.
When I asked him if he would recommend Start Innovation Hub for others aspiring to go into tech, he said: “I have always been doing that. Many times, newbies reach out to us asking us how and where they can start. Start Innovation Hub is always my first recommendation”.
According to the CEO of Start Innovation Hub, Hanson Johnson, while growing up, all the things he needed to support his career growth in tech were in Lagos and he could not afford going to Lagos to acquire the skills. He felt that there were other young and talented people who were being deprived of opportunities because of their geographic location. He decided to create a platform where like-minds can ideate, learn, share and grow faster together.
Today, Start Innovation Hub has directly connected over 400 young people to opportunities in tech and trained over 2,000 technical talents so far. Young people don’t necessarily have to travel to seek opportunities in tech anymore, rather they join Start Innovation Hub and realise their career dreams in tech.
“We are not where we want to be yet as we still strive to provide conducive environment that supports collaboration and resource sharing among talents and early-stage entrepreneurs in our society,” Mr Johnson said. “We have noticed that as we build the capacity of technical talents, we lose them faster to companies abroad, which is a good thing but we need something better,which are locally based companies who can also absorb these talents before they outgrow them and relocate for more challenging tasks.”
So far, the hub has collaborated with organisations like Akwa Ibom State Association of Nigeria (AKISAN) USA Inc, PIND Foundation, Facebook, and Google. At the moment, Start Innovation Hub is working towards having 10,000 technical talents (software developers, designers, technical writers, product managers etc) living and working out of Uyo by 2030.
Mr Johnson sits on the board of Innovation Support Network (ISN) Nigeria as head of Ecosystem Directorate. He consults for corporate and governments nationally and internationally.