Growing up as a Nigerian, making future-related decisions hasn't been easy for me. When I was young, my mates, and sometimes elderly ones, would ask me, like any other child, what do you hope to become in the future. Other children were quick to say they would love to become doctors or lawyers, and some would say they want to become engineers. That has almost always been the case with any child of age 7 to 12 at the time. It almost was like the three professions were the only ones that existed for the educated. Another one that managed to gain popularity was pilotry.
But as common as this was then, it never was the case for me. For a long time, I would always say I don't know what I want to become.
When I was about to graduate from elementary school, our class teacher then told us to prepare to discuss with her where we would love to be in ten years. Generally, she wanted us to talk to her about our dreams. I was about 11 then, and of course, any reasonable child should be dreaming of something at that age. So, I had to answer the next day.
I love to be different. It just makes sense to me. If my mates did things this way, I would do it that way. I knew most of my classmates would talk about being on the path to becoming doctors, lawyers, or engineers. So, those three were out of my list. I know the reason is stupid, but it wasn't then. Of course, I didn't have enough knowledge yet to really choose a path, but I had the knowledge needed to foolishly choose one. Why would you expect an 11-year-old child to have already chosen a path for himself (at grade 6)?
The next day, I discussed my answer with my classmates, as children would normally do. They were surprised when I said, "I want to become an astronaut!". It didn't sound familiar to them. Why would I not choose one of the three great professions?
Saying this to our teacher wasn't easy. So, when it was my turn, I just beat around the bush saying that I would love to know more about space and the world and never actually mentioned the word astronaut.
Anyway, the choice of being an astronaut was made overnight, and I wouldn't consider it a choice. It was a foolishly made one. But, I did begin to want to make a real choice from then on.
Things could've been different
I spent my first three years in high school (after elementary school) saying "I don't know" whenever someone asked me what I wanted to study at the university (or anything about my dream at all), and that was the truth. I didn't know. I always want to be different, to do something that makes me feel like I'm special, but I didn't seem to have stumbled across anything like that at all (it's not like there was none).
At 14 (third year in high school), I became interested in football, and this was really coincidental, as I never was the footballing type. My classmates used to play in a local competition among themselves every term. For some reason, they needed one more person to complete one of the squads (usually six squads in total) at that time. The person didn't have to play, his name just has to be on the list.
They searched and searched but could find no interested party. All the footballers in the class were already enlisted, and the non-footballing ones showed no interest. I was friends with most of these people, and I had been offered to join by some of them, but I never accepted. On a Friday though, after a thorough session of persuasion, I decided to join. I would always go to the football field with them, but not play.
After some time, I began to play too, but I wouldn't play for long, before getting substituted. I was an awful footballer. A very bad one. I often get looked down upon, and attackers of the opposite team would always be happy if I was playing, as I was very easy to get past (I was a defender). I decided to work hard and improve my skills.
On days when there was no match, I would go to the football field with one of my friends (after school) and practice sprinting with the ball, dribbling, tackling, e.t.c. Due to this, I would always go home very late, after spending approximately two hours in the field. The hard work paid off and I soon became a midfielder and an important part of the squad.
Although I managed not to let all of these affect my academics negatively, I already got too involved in football, and after about a year, I decided that I would become a professional footballer.
I was about 15 this time, meaning that I didn't foolishly choose it. My classmates, including my best friend, would always laugh at me whenever I said that. Sometimes, I would get annoyed when that happened. And other times, I would just laugh along and silently turn the discussion into a joke.
I was one of the best students in school at the time, so they saw no reason why I would choose football as a career. No one ever took my footballing dream seriously. It was always me and my baseless dream. Another problem I had with football was that my parents hated it, and they still do to this day. I couldn't play football at home. I could only do so at school. Sometimes though, I would sneak out to a house in the neighborhood to play.
I loved football, and I learned so much about it by reading stuff on the internet. I watched lots of videos on YouTube about different aspects of the sport. And I wished I could be one of those professionals I watched on video. I forgot everything I had wanted in a profession that I would specialize in and just wanted to professionally engage in soccer.
The choice was the first one that I made, and that I took seriously. I tried as much as possible to improve my skills. I would watch videos of several football greats before I went to school just to get some inspiration. I developed a real interest in Ronaldinho and his style of play and watched his football again and again. I still never adopted his play style anyway. (I play more like Messi than Ronaldinho.)
After months of me trying to persuade myself that football was a good choice, it soon became clear that it wasn't. For me, as a Nigerian, a Muslim, and one with an appreciated intellectual ability, football just wasn't it. Now, when I think of those days, I would just laugh at myself. (I still play football once in a while though.)
I was already considering that I should sit my parents down and explain my thoughts to them since that looked like the only solution. I didn't care what their reaction would be, but I was sure that it wouldn't be very favorable. But, what else could I have done? If I spoke to them and after some time, they become willing to support me, I could enroll in Pepsi football academy and go from there.
Football in Nigeria has never been very good. We've got talents. I mean, exceptional footballers with amazing skills, but they almost always end up doing some mediocre handwork. Some of them even end up as internet fraudsters, for which both they and the jurisdiction of the country are to blame. And I think all of these are what those people who laughed at me (whenever I mentioned football as my career of choice) thought of and considered in my place.
If I hadn't stopped wanting to become a professional footballer, I probably would currently wake up to go to the field every day for training, which is in itself not a bad thing, but would have been a waste of my time and abilities. I may have combined that with computer repairs (which I learned after school), and never would have thought of studying anything at the university. (When I focused on football, I always said I wasn't going to attend a university.) Luckily for me though, this stopped early, and it's good because the story could have been very different. (I was considering football, and it was my first real choice.)
But that meant that I had to go back to my state of confusion. If I was to ditch football, I had to embrace some other stuff. People want me to attend a university and take a fitting course. My parents wanted that. I wanted it too. But I didn't have anything that interests me (at the time). I just focused on studying (generally).
A 16-year-old high school student shouldn't be without a purpose. I won't live under my parents forever, and I won't be fed all my life. Having no plans makes no sense, but I couldn't help it. Although I liked biology, and I was one of the best at the subject in school, I didn't want to study medicine, or anything health related. I have no specific reason for that. (I do hate to see blood.) It was the same for most of what people have suggested for me. 😐
To some people (who know me on a personal level), I'm just a normal guy who likes to joke around. And to others, I'm a very weird human. In my childhood days, I loved to play, a lot. But I would still always take the first position in any school examination. I've got a very good brain, and it makes me want to do abnormal things. I love to be the first to decipher the incomprehensible, and I believe there's nothing I can't learn.
Another weird thing about me (maybe not too weird) is that I like complexity and difficulty. If something is too simple, there's little probability that I'll like it, or in other words, give it much attention. Simplicity is the reason why I never read for examination on civic education, and difficulty/complexity is the reason why Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry remain my best subjects. I like to demystify things, task my brain, and do things that everyday people can't do.
I also like to know how things work, especially the things I use. Not knowing how they work makes me have a feeling that I'm just a fool who depends on others. I know the table I use at home is made by cutting wood of different sizes into appropriate shapes, which are then joined together using nails and hammers (or some other equipment). Other processes like polishing could also go into the making. Knowing this makes me feel less intimidated and more like "I could easily go learn this if I wanted, it's nothing special". I won't feel like I'm depending on the makers of tables to use one.
It's not possible to know everything, and I know that. One can only select a path and go through it. But I want to know as much as I can about things, especially those that I use every day. One such thing is my phone. I hated the fact that too many things have been abstracted from us the end users (which is a good thing). It made me feel like phone manufacturers are some kind of superhuman. They made a device that can write 1 to 1,000,000 in milliseconds. One that allows one person in Nigeria to chat directly with another in a European country. That's not an easy feat.
Seeing through the modern world
Throughout our days in school, we were only taught that computers use hardware and software to operate. They take an input and return an output. They could receive, store, and process data to give out information. That's true. But how exactly do these things happen? I, like many others, never knew. We were told computers only understand binary, and that somehow, the modern world depended on that format to remain what it is.
We learned about the internet, the ages of computing, how life changed from using abaci to count to using modern computers that are way more efficient, parts of the CPU, the ALU (which I never really understood), and some other stuff. This was how far computer studies in elementary and high school brought me, and probably my mates too.
I learned that people who create apps are called developers, and they do so using code. Developers are very special people, they make our modern life possible. They write code, which to ordinary people, looks like gibberish, as they mostly contain random strings of the Latin alphabets, numbers, and some other characters.
I've known this since my early days in high school. But I never saw anyone who was a developer. So, many Nigerians like me were made to believe that coding was for those that are in overseas.
I had learned that coding is difficult (which makes sense for someone like me who loves complexity), and developers are seen as special people. Also, the profession seems to be high-paying (meaning that things could change if I got on the right side). Plus, computing has been integrated into every part of our life these days. So, if I could be in the field of computing, I could indirectly be in many fields at once. How good would that be?
But I did not come across a single person who codes, for several years. All people did here was design stuff with CorelDraw, Adobe Photoshop, etc. Others used the Office Suite for various things too, and they did pretty cool things. But those things aren't for me. I did want to learn to use CorelDraw for designing back in the day, but my feeling of dependence soon kicked in, and I wanted to know how CorelDraw came into existence.
I want to see through as many things as I can and know as much as possible. It's one of the major reasons why I remained undecided for several years.
One should aim to know something about everything, and everything about something.
The adventure begins
In early 2020, I was scrolling through the Google Play Store one day, and came across an app named SoloLearn which had the description "Learn to code for free". Out of curiosity, I downloaded and installed it. That description sounded to me too good to be true. But when I opened it, I was able to choose which technology I wanted to learn and started learning. Luckily, I choose HTML, even without knowing anything about web development at the time. I just wanted to test it out.
I soon found out more and more resources about coding, particularly on YouTube. It looked to me like the side of the platform that had to do with coding had been shielded away from me earlier, because, for some reason, I never stumbled (not even mistakenly) upon any coding tutorial on the platform, even with the fact that there were many (and I mean many) of them there. Maybe it's even more appropriate to say the whole of the internet (not just YouTube) that had to do with coding was shielded away from me. There is so much stuff about it everywhere on the internet, and I never found one until 2020, even though I was almost always on my phone.
Anyway, I soon found out about Traversy Media and many other channels on YouTube and used their videos. I also found out that my random pick of HTML was good, so I just stuck to it. I later learned CSS, JS, PHP, and JQuery on SoloLearn. (I still the use app sometimes these days. 😀)
Everyone knew then that I had something I was focused on and that it was coding. But then I was just a beginner and didn't know much, so I couldn't refer to myself as a dev.
file:/// URL (which they could copy from their chat with me on WhatsApp) in the browser, and the game would run.
(If you want, you can access the games using the links. Note though, that they are guaranteed to look good only on a small-width screen. Then, I had only my phone to code.)
Learning to code hasn't been the best it could be for me. I had nothing but my phone to code for over 18 months, and that could've been a hindrance. But thankfully, it wasn't. It instead geared me up for what was about to be. I would often code until around 11:30 pm-midnight every day, and feel like I shouldn't stop. I enjoyed doing it. I recently wrote a standalone article about my coding journey, you can read it here.
Don't get bogged down by your current situation. You don't know what the future holds. If you want it, then go for it.
If I were asked why exactly I chose to be a developer, I would say it is because of the complexity involved, and the beauty attached to that complexity. It pretty much checks all of my requirement boxes. You get to think to do stuff and build stuff. And it's not like you're doing it all for nothing. You also get to pay your bills (at least if you know what you're doing).
Maybe I should not be the one saying these. I've not made any substantial amount of money as a dev. But I know what is possible, and I look forward to it.
Just being passionate is not always enough to keep one going (in a path). You must have goals you aim for in doing things, and you must have plans for how you want to achieve those goals. You know the popular saying; if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.
More things to do
Of course, I'm interested in anything computer, so I'm not staying in web development. There's a long way to go, and I'm determined to master at least seven different programming languages (which is funny). I would learn all languages if I could. It's the kind of person I am.
Learning multiple languages like this is normally not a good thing. The more time you spend using a language, the more proficient you get at it. So, if possible, stick to just one or two languages.
I have to come up with a good learning framework so I can keep up with all the languages I want to learn.
I plan to dive into many other aspects of programming including data science, app development, ML / AI e.t.c. But for now, I remain a web developer, although I prefer to be called a computer scientist (will study and do enough to be called one).
The world is ever growing, and technology is ever evolving, I don't like to be in the dark concerning whatever new comes out any time, any day. We're in this together.
Being a coder/developer doesn't necessarily mean one knows computers, and I know that. So, I'm still on the quest to know about everything that has been abstracted about computers, be it hardware or software related. The long-told story about computers only understanding binary is something I'll never forget too.
If you're like me, you might want to read Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software by Charles Petzold. The book is about how computers work, but wait, as the author said, and as I would say too, Code is not like other how-computers-work-books. It doesn't have big color illustrations of disk drives with arrows showing how the data sweep into the computer. Code has no drawings of trains carrying a cargo of zeros and ones. The book makes you understand things, in a fun and interesting way.
As I said earlier, I like to task my brain a lot. I don't like going easy on it. Why should I do that anyway? There are lots of things I could do that require huge mental effort, but programming is the one I find very suitable. The quality of one's code is almost directly dependent on the level of one's brain. Plus, programming/coding is interesting, owing to its complexity, and that's something I enjoy. 😎
I still hope too, that one day, I'll get to see with my own eyes how some things are made. The environment here could almost make one believe that you can't ever get to know (or see) some stuff (which isn't true), and that doesn't make sense. If chips are made by humans like me, then I want to see them being made. I don't care what that takes. You learn about these things, see lots of drawings, videos, e.t.c but you never get to see them with your own eyes. This is something I don't like. One day, I'll walk up to one of the factories where computer chips are made, and see for myself what they do there. ☹
Anyway, I like software and computer science in general. It's cool, and it's fun. But of course, I've got to make my addition to what's already on the ground. I hope to create a programming language. I don't think that's too much to dream of. I owe that to my weird way of thinking. I would also like to have a startup of my own. I really would love to. (In another article (after this one), I'll discuss this better. You might want to follow me @abdulramonjemil to get notified.)
Although I'm not much of an experienced developer yet, I certainly have done some things I'm proud of. With my mediocre skills, I've managed to bring some people into the field, and I've taught people several times who were very satisfied with my method of teaching. It makes sense to me, and I enjoy it.
Here you have it. How I went from being the little boy who foolishly wanted to be an astronaut, to the aspiring footballer who wanted to live off the sport and finally to a careful young guy who now inspires others to write code; one who likes complexity and difficulty, and still wants to have fun.
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Thanks for reading!!! 😊