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Teacher, Salesman, Technical Co-founder. Meet Uche Nnadi, Enye’s Executive Director

Graphic photo of conversation with Uche Nnadi
Team Conversations

Teacher, Salesman, Technical Co-founder. Meet Uche Nnadi, Enye’s Executive Director

For our second conversation in this series, our Executive Director reflects on his journey through academics, sales, software enginering and co-founding a company that just raised $1 million in pre-seed funding.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you began your software engineering career?

To be more forgiving and patient with myself. I wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist, but I aim for things to be as perfect as they possibly can. However, with software engineering, you never achieve that. Everything will always be imperfect because the code is written by imperfect people and depends on systems written by potentially smarter and yet still imperfect people. So yeah, being patient when things are not working out is something I wish I’d learned earlier. 

That’s thoughtful.

Yeah. On the other side of that is taking a step back. Many of my “Aha!” moments have happened, not while I’m working on a problem, but when I’ve stepped away from it. Moments when the lightbulb just switches on happened when I was just trying to do something else, like work out, eat, or even sleep. 

So yeah, being a little more forgiving to myself and accepting that the problems I am trying to solve are complex and that sometimes I need to take a break from pure grinding. 

Uche (M) with Enye cofounders Michael (L) and Manny (R) at Enye Demo Day 3

Food for thought. Walk me through the path you’ve taken to get to where you are now.

I studied political science with an emphasis on international relations. When I was younger, I wanted to go into politics because of Obama, but that didn’t work out.

Haha. Tell me about it.

After university, I worked in education at various schools and academies. I wasn’t making a good living. So I transitioned to sales for a while, moved to Silicon Valley and did sales for various tech companies. During that time, I taught myself to program—

Hold on. Why did you transition from Sales to Software Engineering? Money?

Not entirely. I was OK at sales, but it wasn’t something I was passionate about. I loved the aura of freedom exuded by the software engineers I’d met. While I was working in sales in Santa Barbara, I would meet people who had travelled around the world. I would ask them, “Hey, what do you do?” And they would say that they were software engineers and worked remotely. I was inspired.

Transitioning to tech, I knew that there were many unknowns and that I was walking into an ocean of things that I had no idea about. The reason I went into this career is that there is so much to discover.

But yeah, I was also driven by money—

Aha!

Of course, as a young individual,  I wanted to earn more money. But it was crazy. I was sleeping maybe three, four hours daily. In learning to program, I got into a coding boot camp – a super-intensive three-month program. I was sleep-deprived and travelling two to three hours every Sunday, working 14 hours a day. The only day I wasn’t travelling was Sunday. 

Omo!

Yeah, I lost 20 pounds. I had a panic attack at one point. The stress was overwhelming. But I was lucky enough to get a job as a Data Platform Engineer at a fintech called Ernest. From there, I transitioned to working at a company called Marvell, a semiconductor company – the largest I ever worked for. I also tried to CTO a company (currently called JoyUp), but that didn’t work out. I worked for a few other companies before co-founding Payhippo. It’s been two years since, and we’ve been able to raise. 

Truly inspiring Journey. Congratulations on the raise!

Thank you. I’m growing every day as a CTO and co-founder. It’s been great.

Uche at Enye demo Day 5, 2021

What’s one thing you hate doing but you have to do as part of your job?

I have to watch our system end-to-end because, again, the issue with imperfect humans writing imperfect code. Code breaks all the time, and given that I am the only person that has a holistic view of where everything is and how everything should function ideally, I have to constantly keep an eye on everything. There is a way for us to move everything to a centralized place, but I am the monitoring system within our company for now. I hate it sometimes because I have to keep an eye on every little thing from breaking. It distracts me from writing code and doing other co-founder stuff.

What would you say is your favourite productivity hack?

They are very simple things. For example, I love to have things on my list, and I love to remove things from lists. The action of ticking a checkbox is very satisfying to me. Doing so gives me the energy I need to continue working and ticking more and more checkboxes. 

Interesting…

Yeah, also, recently, I‘ve experimented with waking up earlier than most people so that I can have a bit more time to focus on crucial things than I want to get done. I try to do three things: read for an hour, write for an hour, and then think for an hour. I can think about any problem; it could be personal, business, or something stupid or inconsequential. Every time I practice this ritual, I have a day that is like 125% in terms of things I can achieve.

What’s the biggest challenge you face at work?

Having to constantly be on 24/7. There’s no real off.

So even when you’re on a break, you’re still thinking about work.

In the business I’m in (At Payhippo), we have to interface with a ton of customers daily. The most challenging part is juggling writing code, interfacing with customers and managing a team in an ever-changing environment. For example, my priorities for today aren’t the same as for tomorrow. Even when I clearly plan my day, it can go in an entirely different direction.

What’s the most important thing Enye has done for you.

Enye has been fundamental in grounding me as a human being. It’s where my passion is, as I genuinely want to play my part in helping to create employment in Nigeria. For the Enye team, the strategy is simple: “Hey, how do we create jobs around tech?” Tech is where innovation is happening, where products are coming alive, and funds and capital are flowing. It’s been fulfilling to see the impact on the individual level, and It’s been great to build a community of talented, driven people

I look forward to seeing how it continues to evolve and bring value to people who want to participate.

What’s one hill you’re ready to die on that can double as career advice?

Being a software engineer is not glamorous. So, be one hundred percent sure that it is something you really want to do. If you’re trying to do this for any other reason than “I really wanna build things,” if you’re going into it solely focused on the money, you won’t last very long because it is extremely demanding. Physically because you’re always in front of a computer; mentally because you’re constantly having to think through highly nested problems—problems within problems within problems—and trying to troubleshoot effectively. If you’re not patient, resilient, and, to be honest, prepared to suffer for a long time, then this is not the career for you. 

But if you’re patient and passionate about building things, then yeah, anyone can learn to code – it’s not incredibly difficult. And the rest of the things that you don’t learn, you will pick up over time with experience. By then, it’s more intuition, like, “Hey I know i’ve seen this problem before, so I know it’s gonna be in this area.”

Go into it for the right reasons, because if you don’t, it’s going to like any job. It will be terrible for you, and you won’t enjoy it no matter how much you get paid. 

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