How a microbiology graduate broke into tech through an internship

The fascinating story of how Fiyinfoluwa Akinsiku, a microbiology graduate, transitioned into tech through an internship.

How a microbiology graduate broke into tech through an internship
Fiyinfoluwa Akinsiku, Software Engineer at Flutterwave

While chatting with my friend, Seun on a cool Saturday evening, he casually mentioned how lucky I was to be working in tech. He said, “If only I can get an internship to get my foot in the door”. Seun is a recent graduate who just finished his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and was ready to join the labour force.

The National Youth Service Corps, established in 1973, is a one-year mandatory service for Nigerian graduates to involve in nation-building and the development of the country.

I knew if Seun was seeking an opportunity in tech, there were other numerous graduates and undergraduates seeking the same opportunity. As the idea simmered in my mind, I thought of the best approach to help my friend, Seun, and other people like him. I decided it’s best to talk to someone who has walked the path of using an internship to break into the tech industry.

I began to ask around for people who broke into tech through internships but was unsuccessful for the first few weeks. So I was almost giving up before I thought to ask Benjamin. After a few minutes, he said, “talk to Fiyinfoluwa Akinsiku, she has a spectacular story.”

I did a background check about her online and discovered she did an interview recently. After reading the interview, I understood why Benjamin referred me to her. I was enthused by the story of Fiyinfoluwa Akinsiku, a microbiology graduate from Covenant University, Nigeria, who ended up as a Software Engineer with Flutterwave, a leading Fintech company in the continent.

What's your educational background, and how did you end up a Software Developer?

I wanted to further my education abroad by doing a Masters in the same course, but I couldn't get admission because schools in the USA expect that you have some form of experience before they can admit you.

That was the feedback I got from one of the schools when I sent an email asking what I could do to improve my chances of being admitted the next time. I also tried bio-informatics, but found out that I needed some computer science knowledge or experience.

So, I decided to get some experience on my own before I start applying for bio-informatics. In the course of my research, I found data science through a site called Rosalind. It's a website for practising Bioinformatics challenges. So I started practising the challenges on the site and, at a point, I was posting my updates on Twitter. I joined the 100-day challenge twice.

Most of my friends and my social media followers knew I was trying to get into the tech space, they would usually recommend and send me links to opportunities.

Then towards the end of 2019, somebody sent me a tweet by Benjamin Dada about Devcareers, and he was also doing SantaBen giveaway for December. I applied for it and got my first software development learning opportunity.

Did you do any programming or coding course before your undergraduate program?

I don't think I knew anything about software development or programming till I graduated. The only memory I have is of my secondary school's computer science class, where they taught us, logical operators.

I think I enjoyed that class and I left that class thinking that when I'm applying to the University, one of the courses I would select will be computer science. Apart from that, I didn't know anything about programming languages or software development.

Related Article: Four organisations training African youth in tech skills like coding

How did you get your first internship (before Flutterwave)?

I got my first internship through a link sent by HackSultan [Founder of DevCareer] when a firm named Mylawlegal were recruiting. He told me to email them, sell myself, and attach my GitHub and LinkedIn profiles. He also reviewed my CV before I sent it.

However, he told me that the outcome of the interview will be solely based on my performance. I went through three interview stages — technical assessment, peer review and a call with the Engineering Team Lead of the company.

How did you get your internship at Flutterwave?

I got the internship's application link through a friend on Twitter. She told me they were looking for interns. So we applied since we were both in backend engineering. I think it was about five stages.

There was a technical assessment stage, an interview with my current team lead, which was a peer review session going over my solution to the assessment. Then, I had three more interviews plus one video submission talking about why I wanted to join Flutterwave. I completed all the stages by the middle of February, and I resumed by March 1, 2021.

What were the things that increased your chances of getting the internship?

I'd like to mention my first internship prior to my internship at Flutterwave.

After completing my training with DevCareer, we had a LinkedIn review session and a CV review session. One of the tutors gave us tips to make our LinkedIn profile look more professional by highlighting our experiences, certifications and achievements.

People initially judge you not according to the skills you possess, but based on your CV and profile, especially as a beginner.

Another thing is getting relevant experience. For the first internship I got, I was told to build an API and the same thing with the Flutterwave interview. So I'd say know how to build a project from start to finish. It doesn't have to be anything major, can be as simple as a to-do list app.

I had already done something like that when I was at DevCareer. We built an API to basically let people know about Africa, its countries, their food, culture, and heritage. So I already had API building experience.

Also, upload your projects on GitHub or any other popular hosting service.

These four things helped me greatly—my presentable LinkedIn profile, GitHub profile, CV and relevant experience.

What do you enjoy most about working in Tech?

What I enjoy most is being able to solve problems.

I don't mean solving world hunger or anything massive, but as simple as creating a calculator. The ability to find solutions to such challenges thrills me. Being able to write a program that solves a problem.

Did you feel impostor syndrome due to your non-tech background? If yes, how did you deal with it?

Yes, I felt like an impostor a lot of the time because I was conscious of the fact that I was lacking some foundational knowledge despite being able to build stuff. So I periodically felt that feeling of not belonging. But what helped me to overcome it is doing good work.

So I would challenge myself mostly through sites that have coding challenges like Rosalind and Codewars. These sites give you challenges, and you have to solve them before you can move to the next level. When I solve a challenge, I feel fulfilled and excited because it means I have some knowledge.

Another way I overcome this feeling is by speaking with my manager.

It's easy to forget the work you have done, and it will take someone else that knows about what you've done to remind you of the great stuff you've done.

So find people that are familiar with your work and who can give you external validation.

Overcoming impostor syndrome has to be a conscious effort. Remember the efforts you've put in to get to where you are. Sometimes impostor syndrome comes from undermining your own efforts and comparing yourself to people who have gone far ahead of you.

Meanwhile, you've also put in some work. You are not an impostor, you just need to keep working hard to get to a higher level. Recognise the efforts you've put in to get where you are and know that even though you haven't gotten to where other people have gotten to, it doesn't mean you haven't done the work to get to where you currently are.

Fiyinfoluwa Akinsiku, Software Engineer at Flutterwave

How did your manager give you external validation when you felt like an impostor?

I can remember two clearly. In 2021, there was a lot of gender-based recruitment. A lot of startups were trying to get more women into tech, and that sort of made me begin to doubt myself. I felt that was the reason Flutterwave employed me, even though no one said anything like that.

It was me overthinking the situation. I mentioned it once to my Team Lead, and he assured me that that was not the reason I was recruited. He showed me my score compared to the cut-off mark. He also said I was selected based on my performance before he knew that I was a lady. So that encouraged me.

Another instance was during one of our one-on-one appraisals. I was supposed to give a review of how I thought I had performed during the year. I was unconsciously downplaying my contributions, but my Team Lead reminded me of the important work I had done. This bolstered my confidence.

What challenges did you face while applying for and during your internship at Flutterwave, and how did you overcome them?

The challenge I faced while applying for the internship was solving the assessment questions. We were given a week to complete and submit, but it took me two days to understand what they wanted us to do.

So I spent a lot of time reading and trying to understand the question. Because they gave us sample inputs and outputs, I spent time trying to figure out what to do with the input, so I can get the desired output.

The major challenge I had during the internship was getting familiar with the codebase. This was because a lot of people had worked on it, and I joined after several lines of code have been added.

So it was a little difficult to understand how the codebase is set up and understand the interaction between all the services in the codebase. My senior, the person I was working with, made it easy for me, though. We had some courses, he would go over the codebase and explain what each service was doing.

Generally, having helpful and readily available teammates made it much easier to overcome my challenges.

Related Article: 20 top tech skills that require no coding

Get weekly insights on tech startups and VC in Africa