The Nigerian nascent tech ecosystem has lifted more people out of poverty than any government policy in the last decade.

Since 2001, when GSM was introduced in Nigeria, the information and communication technology (ICT) sector has contributed to the economy by creating employment opportunities and increasing outputs of other sectors.

Last year, the ICT sector contributed more to Nigeria's real GDP than the mainstay of the economy—oil. The ICT sector accounted for 13.04% of Nigeria's N19.53 trillion GDP, while the oil industry contributed 8.78%.

"The fact that the ICT sector is now contributing more to the GDP than oil shows that there are more productive activities in the ICT sector compared to what is happening in the oil [and gas] sector", Chike Agu, a professor of economics, explained.

In the midst of the current coronavirus crisis, also, the Nigerian tech ecosystem has been a relatively stable employer. Most tech companies are still a going concern. According to Stutern's Nigerian Graduate Report, the tech community is among the top employing industries.

Unfortunately, Nigerian tertiary institutions, including universities and polytechnics, have been dropping the ball on their role in the tech ecosystem: to produce graduates equipped with skills to create, launch and manage world-class innovative solutions.

Tertiary institutions and Nigerian tech ecosystem

As the name implies, a tech ecosystem has many interdependent parts building, enabling and deploying tech solutions in the society.

In addition to tertiary institutions, tech ecosystems comprise of startups and investors, hubs and accelerators, research institutes, and techpreneurs. Emeka Okoye, the CEO of CYMANTIKS, stated this four years ago. However, since that time, all the pillars of Nigerian tech community have become stronger except research institutes and tertiary institutions.

According to the joint report by Briter Bridges and GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator programme, the number of tech hubs in Nigeria increased from less than 40 in 2016 to 85 in 2019. Also, Nigerian startups have continued to receive more funding. In 2019, per Partech report, Nigeria received $747 million out of the $2.02 billion raised by African startups.

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  • The failure of universities and polytechnics to produce skilled graduates is why majority of Nigerian tech talents are self-taught. While most of Nigerian tech talents learn online, some go to training centres such as Univelcity, Utiva, Andela and Decagon.

    We did a poll on Twitter, and the result shows that most Nigerian tech talents are self-taught. Some of them even wished they skipped university altogether. "That time I used in Uni [sic], I'd have started learning to code earlier," Ugonna Thelma, a frontend engineer, said. "I'm not saying people should not finish Uni [sic]. (But you get my point) You can learn everything you'd have learnt in school on your own".

    To properly play their role in the Nigerian tech ecosystem, tertiary institutions must streamline their ICT courses to internationally accepted definitions, review their curriculum, supplement programmes with short certification courses, and collaborate with key players in the sector to give students real-world experience even while in school.

    The government must also increase its budgetary allocation to education to provide the necessary infrastructure.

    A roadmap to becoming a techie—tech bro or tech lady

    Seeing that most Nigerian tech talents are self-taught, we decided to provide a roadmap to becoming a from a pool of other people's experiences.

    So, we had a chat with some young tech professionals to find out how they became a techie—if it was something they wanted to do or decided along the way, and if the course they studied (or currently studying) was (is) helpful to their career in tech. Their responses are fascinating:

    Amaka, 20.

    Even though I had inclination for tech, I wanted to study medicine in the university. But I was given admission to study Microbiology. In my second year, after realizing how useless Microbiology is in Nigeria, I decided to change my career path.

    So I applied to learn web development in an eHub. I'd read a lot about tech jobs, the average salary, the ratings of different countries and opportunities available. I learnt HTML, CSS and Javascript with a plan to further into Python. I'm also currently learning UI/UX design on my own (since it fits into front end development).

    I'm almost done with school now, but I'm just waiting to get my certificate. I currently freelance with my brand—ammiedesigns—working as a contractor and partnering with companies that require my service.

    Anonymous, 22.

    I’m an architect who currently works with a tech company in Lagos as a digital marketing lead.

    Earlier on in my career, I was more focused on architecture, seeing as I spent up to five years studying it. And frankly, I loved it as a course. Although, over time, I was disillusioned with it for the lack of opportunities the course provided for a fresh graduate.

    Subsequently, I saw the tech sector as a great way to make money; the more I studied, the more I fell in love with it. I had to learn almost everything on my own as I didn’t have a background in any tech-related course. I took online courses and an HNG internship to learn and improve my skills.

    Looking back now, I would have preferred to do a tech-related course in university so I would be much more prepared to enter the tech sector.

    Anonymous, 24.

    I’m a civil engineer currently working with a Lagos-based fintech startup as an intern.

    I made the switch to tech not long after graduation. Why? Well, the idea of spending long days in construction sites and running various calculations did not appeal to me at all. Sadly, I realized too late; so, I had to start from scratch and learn how to code seeing as I had no previous knowledge on it.

    I used w3schools to learn HTML and CSS, and gradually built up my portfolio from there. I wish I'd studied a tech-related course in the university. I doubt it would have helped much though, because most of the people I work with are all self-taught anyway.

    Osita, 23

    I work at Filerskeepers—a legal tech startup based in the Netherlands. It wasn’t my original plan to work in tech. But because I unsuccessfully tried to get a university admission a few times, I enrolled in the CISCO networking academy at the University of Jos. It was there that I picked up some skills and learned how to write web applications. After the programme, I became more tech-inclined and decided to apply for computer science.

    I was being tutored by a friend post-CISCO academy. But as you know, you never get all the knowledge you need. So, I went on a self-learning spree and tried various ideas on my own. Although it didn't seem like it was heading anywhere, it all got clearer when I was assigned tasks on different projects in an organization I worked for.

    I learned the basics of frontend design (HTML, CSS, and Javascript), moved on to database structure (MySQL) and finally a programming language (PHP). By the time I started my first degree in computer science, I was already qualified as a junior developer.

    In school, we aren’t really taught the important things that will help you in the field, you have to learn on your own. I am currently a senior developer.