Amenawon Esezobor’s remarkable journey to becoming a world-class software engineer

Amenawon Esezobor has worked for some of Africa's most prestigious companies like Flutterwave, Stanbic IBTC, and Kobo360. Today, she’s a software engineer at Gallagher Re, one of the largest global reinsurance brokers.

Amenawon Esezobor’s remarkable journey to becoming a world-class software engineer

“One day he just came to the office and said, ‘I’m not sure you can do software engineering again.’ You’d have to switch to accounting,” Amenawon Esezobor recalls her boss at her first job saying in 2017. 

The suggestion initially stung, but she quickly reframed it as another hurdle to overcome on her path to becoming a software engineer.

Fresh out of University with a computer science degree, the 21-year-old Esezobor landed a job as an intern at a family friend's IT business. However, the role lacked the software development experience Esezobor craved. There was no structure for learning and despite trying to convince her boss of her abilities, it became clear she needed a new environment to flourish.

In pursuit of growth, she left and went on to establish herself as a highly skilled software engineer, working for some of Africa's most prestigious companies like Flutterwave, Stanbic IBTC, and Kobo360. Today, she’s a software engineer at Gallagher Re, one of the largest global reinsurance brokers.

Over a call, we delved into Esezobor's early inspirations, the surprising twist that led her away from a medical career and towards software engineering, and what excites her most about the future.

A Maths Wiz

Many children approach maths with a mix of curiosity and trepidation. The numbers can seem like a foreign language and the equations a bewildering code. But for a young Esezobor, the middle child of three, maths wasn't just another subject – it was her favourite. 

“As far back as I remember I always liked maths because it was logical. I looked forward to classes and doing my assignments,” Esezobor says.

She spent her formative years shuttling between Lagos and Benin City. Early on, she stumbled on computers when her parents bought a desktop computer on which she enjoyed playing games. “I was inquisitive and liked games. I played different games – Soccer, first shorter, adventure – on different devices computers, mobile phones and PlayStation.”

As long as she and her siblings did well in school, her parents didn’t mind that they spent their free time playing games. In her final year in primary school, her mom even promised her a laptop if she came first in her class. She came first and got the Laptop.

Just as Esezobor started secondary school at 11, her life took a sharp turn with the loss of her dad. His death cast a long shadow, leaving everything feeling different. 

“My dad was the main provider so the responsibilities fell on my mom, a businesswoman. We always knew when things weren’t great at business because it affected things at home. But on the bright side, it made us (the children) sit up more.”

Career choices and dealing with failure

As Esezobor approached senior secondary school, she started mulling over different career options. Drawn to math and computers, she initially gravitated towards science classes in senior secondary school. However, the career path remained unclear.

This was also the year she transitioned from a day student to a boarder. Being away from home brought a surge of independence, but also the sting of her first encounter with bullying. This experience forged resilience as she learned to navigate unfamiliar social dynamics.

“I remember then taking some career self-assessments that showed that the most feasible path for me was Industrial Chemistry. But my mom wasn’t too keen on it and when I learned that it involved more organic chemistry and pharmacy, I wasn’t interested.” 

Medicine, a prestigious path, seemed like the closest fit for Esezobor's talents. However, a disappointing JAMB score dashed her hopes of attending a public university. Undeterred, Esezobor and her mother explored the options offered by private universities.

“We decided to check out Babcock. But when we got to the medicine department, they said we came late and the admission slots were filled up.” 

The admissions officer presented two paths: physiotherapy or computer science. Esezobor's mom wasn't keen on physiotherapy. So, they struck a deal: Esezobor would study computer science for a year with the understanding that they'd revisit the possibility of switching to medicine after that year.

What began as a year exploring computer science blossomed into a lifelong passion. Strong first-year results, fueled by her enjoyment of programming, cemented her decision to pursue this path over medicine.

In her second year, Esezobor faced her first academic setback as she failed a C++ course and had to carry it over to her third year. Instead of succumbing to discouragement, Amenawon saw it as a turning point. This setback fueled her determination to confront her fears and emerge stronger. 

"I remember the lecturer for the C++ course, coming to me and saying he knew I could do it. That belief gave me the extra push I needed to completely immerse myself in the course material and ultimately ace the resit. I even got an A!"

Following the C++ hurdle, Amenawon excelled in her computer science courses. 

To avoid staying idle during breaks, Esezobor actively sought out work experience. She spent her summer after the second year and the IT internship during the third year working as an IT helpdesk technician. However, troubleshooting people’s computer issues solidified her realisation that this wasn't the IT path she wanted.

“These experiences, particularly the IT internship during my third year, nudged me towards software engineering. During a visit, my university supervisor picked up on my lack of enthusiasm for IT support and networking. He then suggested I explore software engineering as a potential path.”

Amenawon Esezobor at her university graduation

The desire to become indispensable

After graduation, she interned at a family friend’s tech consulting firm. Few tasks were assigned to her, so she buried her head in reading a book on C# and diligently practising the language.  

“University focused heavily on theory, leaving me hungry for practical application. I devoured coding material every day, even if it felt like wading through unfamiliar territory at first. With the business owner stretched thin, I became self-sufficient in my learning. When I had questions, I tackled them with the help of classmates or by scouring online resources.”

This experience at the tech consulting firm made it clear that Esezobor needed a role that offered more opportunities for growth in software development.  The business owner even suggested a shift towards accounting, highlighting the limited software development opportunities available.

"It's understandable from his perspective. He was paying me, and the workload wasn't a good fit for my skill set. The company primarily focused on maintaining existing products, and there weren't any active new development projects."

Her next opportunity arrived through an unlikely source: an NYSC WhatsApp group.  Sometime in 2017, amidst the usual flurry of messages, Esezobor spotted a job posting for a software developer. Although she usually ignored group messages, a strange intuition compelled her to respond this time.

Her decision to respond to the message proved to be a turning point. Esezobor aced the application and interview process, landing a software developer role at Eminent Technologies with a starting salary of ₦70,000.

At Eminent Technologies, Esezobor honed her skills as a full-stack developer working on projects for multinational clients like Exxon Mobile. However, the role came with a demanding schedule: 11 am to 8 pm due to client time zone differences.

“Eminent Technologies equipped me with a vast knowledge of programming. I focused on front-end development and even had the privilege of learning from a dedicated mentor. It's hard to imagine where I'd be today if I had pursued a career in accounting."

After a year at Eminent Technologies, Esezobor embarked on a journey to broaden her experience. She accepted short-term roles at leading supply chain company Kobo360 and recycling company Hobeei before landing a position at Stanbic IBTC, a leading financial institution.

Amenawon Esezobor at a work event

At Stanbic IBTC, Esezobor thrived as a front-end engineer, working on various applications like the Quick services app, internet banking, credit management system, and the travel platform integration with Wakanow. She eventually rose to the challenge of becoming the team lead for the Internet banking application.

In 2021, after two successful years at Stanbic IBTC, Esezobor craved a new challenge. The opportunity to join Flutterwave's Research and development team, working on innovative products like Disha and Send, perfectly aligned with her ambition.

While working at Flutterwave, a strong urge to pursue a master's degree resurfaced. The feeling wasn't entirely new, but this time, with the experience and savings accumulated since 2018, the timing felt perfect.

What prompted this move? The desire to be indispensable.

“Sometime in 2016, the harsh reality of the economic recession set in. My mom's haulage company, a casualty of the downturn, lost a significant contract. The consequence was a downsize - we moved from our Yaba residence to a smaller one in Surulere. I was also the only child going to a private university and my mum was spending the most amount of money on me. But there wasn’t enough pocket money so I started doing business in school. It forced me to confront the importance of financial security. The idea of being redundant became unacceptable. I knew I needed to build skills and knowledge that would make me an invaluable asset, recession-proof and irreplaceable.”

She gained admission to study computing with a focus on artificial intelligence at the University of Northampton. She initially combined her demanding coursework with her work at Flutterwave before ultimately deciding to focus solely on her studies. 

Following her decision to focus on her studies, Esezobor's dedication paid off. A few months later, she secured a prestigious position at Gallagher Re, a leading global reinsurance company based in the UK.  For her final year project, she tackled a real-world issue by building a fake news detection algorithm. She successfully graduated in February 2024. In her spare time, Esezobor loves to cook and travel.

“Reflecting on my journey feels surreal. The girl who once harboured doubts about computer engineering and coding is now a highly skilled software engineer working at a global company.  My journey has been a testament to personal growth and a willingness to embrace new challenges.”

As Esezobor looks forward, she's passionate about giving back through mentorship, particularly to aspiring female software engineers. She recently joined ADPList, a global community of Mentors and Learners, where she focuses on giving interview reviews and career guidance.  She's also a regular volunteer at SheCode Africa and a contributor to Stack Overflow, where her solutions have helped many developers around the world.

“I want to put myself out there, speak more and give back to my community.”

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