Under The Hoodie is a weekly series where we talk to people about their journey into tech. It focuses on the intersection between life and career. UTH Week 13.
Ada Nduka Oyom is Ecsosystem Community Manager with Google's Developer's Relations team where she helps build Google’s developers community in Sub Saharan Africa. In this edition of Under The Hoodie, she talks to us about her journey from humble roots and how her love for giving back has defined her career.
In your own words, what do you do?
When you look at it, I really do a lot of things, but I like to group them into three. Interestingly, they are all community-focused activities but I summarize them into different things.
My 9-5 is with Google where I help build the Google Developer community in SubSaharan Africa. Then, I also run She Code Africa, a non-profit dedicated to building an active community of women in tech.
I also run another organisation dedicated to the Open Source Community in Africa (OSCA). It’s similar to She Code Africa but it’s gender-neutral—open to everyone.
I also started something this year for developer relations, which is the field I’m in. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do for a long time because I always find myself wanting to give back to the community wherever I am. It’s called DevRel Lite. For now, it’s just a social community where I share the knowledge I have in developer relations, but I think it’s going to get really huge in the future.
Then on the side, there are the TikTok videos that I make.
That’s a lot… How do you manage all these activities?
To be honest, I still don’t feel like I’m managing everything optimally. On some days, I still feel like there are things I could have done better.
On some level, last year taught me a lot of time management. Before the pandemic, it was much easier. I knew when my 9-5 ended, and could easily schedule a time to do other stuff. Once the pandemic started and we moved to work-from-home, it messed up my schedule.
So, I had to create a routine, and attach a time slot to tasks related to my 9 -5, then I take a break before switching to my tasks for She Code Africa.
Sometimes there are impromptu tasks, but I try to take breaks, so I don’t break down—and I break down quite often. On some days I find myself crying about the workload I have. I also tend to have less time than other people for social activities, but it is what is.
Recently, I have been trying to improve on taking a break from some of my activities, especially at She Code Africa. Thankfully, I have a wonderful team there that can handle tasks in my absence.
For someone who’s so actively engaged in the tech community, it’s impressive that you had a non-tech background. What was your transition like?
I’ve always had a flair for gadgets, but it was until 2014 that I grew an interest in tech. Before then, I was fascinated with phones and laptops but I never really did anything with them. Even the one laptop we had at home was used by my brothers to play games.
In 2014, I came across a developer community in the university. They were called the Google Student Ambassadors but are now known as the Developers Student Club. They hosted an event where people would do a task to become a part of the community. Then I was infatuated with the Google brand and I just wanted to be associated with it.
The event was filled with a lot of people with laptops which I didn’t have. I just went with my Tecno phone and handbag. There were also a lot of guys at the event, so I felt quite out of place. Eventually, I saw some other girls at the venue—they were huddled with some of the guys, but they gave me the confidence to stay.
I felt a bit embarrassed by the device I was using, but I was able to do some of the tasks with it. I made up my mind that I was going to stay to the end.
Towards the end of the event, some of the guys came around to talk to me. Luckily, one of them was from the same state as I was and since we could speak the same language, it created some kind of bond. He would prove instrumental later in my career.
I became friends with the guy and would collect movies from his laptop. One day he recommended a movie to me: The Internship—it was about two guys who went to work at Google. Seeing that movie doubled my motivation to be associated with Google.
Shortly after that, I saw an advert for an opening to lead the GDG community at my school. I applied for it and got selected.
Considering the timeframe, how proficient were your technical skills when you led the GDG community in school?
I picked up the role in my third year in school. I still didn’t have a laptop at the time but I didn’t let it deter me. If I were to rate my proficiency at that time, it was probably a 2/10. Around that time I tried learning Java but it just wasn’t sticking. I was also still contemplating whether I would have a career in microbiology or technology. The good thing is that I had co-leads who were quite proficient.
Did not having technical skills affect your performance in that role?
It was really just a “me thing”. It felt weird that I was leading a technical community but didn’t know how to code.
Externally, though, I don’t think it affected anything. I was really good at organising events and leading the community. When it came to facilitating the technical aspects, I would either get my co-leads or people from the community. On the rare occasion where I had to do it myself, I would take time out to really study the guide.
On the whole, it helped me figure out my strengths and focusing on them while I developed my technical skills.
You’ve obviously done community work to a high level now. Do you think people can achieve a similar level without being technically proficient?
Community work in tech is most times under DevRel, so you don’t need to code to excel at the job. However, it’s a plus. Since you’ll likely be creating developer content, it’s better to know how to code so, you’re better-rounded.
At a junior level, like leading a school community, you can probably do the job without technical skills. But once you get to a higher level where you’re dealing with larger communities, you can’t evade it. Some DevRel/Community jobs also have coding as a requirement.
At what point did you make the decision to become a developer advocate and not pursue microbiology?
There are about two decisions that led to me going into DevRel. The first was me deciding to go into tech. The second was me deciding to specialise in DevRel.
In my final year, when I finally got a laptop, I started practicing a lot. Being part of the community also exposed me to a lot of things. I saw young people doing amazing things in tech, and I knew there was no future for me in microbiology. The only reason I followed microbiology to the end was to please my parents.
After my final year, I fully pivoted into tech. It started with a software development internship, then full-time software development, then project management. Then I realised that I liked doing a couple of other things that were not software engineering. I love technical writing, speaking at events, community building, and all those other skills I had built up in school.
So, one year after I made the transition into tech was when I decided I was going to start looking out for DevRel opportunities.
What was your journey into Google like?
Right after school, I got a recommendation to fill the role I currently work in, but I didn’t get it. I think the reason was that I knew very little about job applications. I was applying and getting rejected at an incredible rate. It’s a really funny story that makes me laugh every time I remember.
The first time I sent over my CV to Google, I sent it in a word document. I used Ubuntu back then as my OS, so what I sent was a very different format from what they were going to get. They asked me to resend it as a PDF. I didn’t even try to edit it, I just downloaded and sent as a PDF.
I imagine that at that point they were losing their patience, but they went ahead to schedule an interview. Unfortunately, I went back to school for my convocation in that period. A combination of the stress of convocation and bad network made me look quite unprepared for the interview. Eventually, I didn’t get the role, and that was devastating. At the point, I thought I was genuinely qualified for the role and had even begun to calculate my salary and how my life would change.
I eventually moved on, went to a software bootcamp, and then into a community role. A few years later the opportunity presented itself again. My manager at the time reached out to me to recommend someone for the position, so I recommended myself. I went through the whole process and got it.
I was no longer the novice who just finished school. I was a lot more prepared for the interviews this time.
Recommending yourself? That’s a boss move. Didn’t it feel awkward?
Honestly, it did. I had to do a lot of contemplation. I didn’t know if I should wait to see if they would reach out to me for the role because they thought I was a good fit. I had to consult with a number of my friends and everyone I told said I should go for it, so I did.
That was great advice that paid off. What’s your day to day with Google like now?
Since my role is more community focused, it involves working with different community leaders across SubSaharan Africa to ensure that the different initiatives and campaigns that Google is running are being done within the region.
It also involves working with different product teams within the company. At Google, we have different product teams like Android, Chrome, Flutter, etc. Some of these teams have developer communities and events. So, when it comes to SubSaharan Africa, my team and I focus on helping amplify these campaigns.
Other times, I work on helping other community leaders be more effective at their work. We have “Office hour calls” where we call in with other community leaders to check in on them.
At the core of everything, my role is people-focused. I do a lot of interaction and documentation.
What would you say are the most important qualities for anyone looking to come into Developer’s Relations?
It really depends on the role, but one of the generally required things is People Management—which is important because you are a bridge between the developers and the product/dev team.
Advocacy is another skill that has to be learned. You need to be able to speak up on behalf of the developers, whether to the product team, dev team or the company.
Some roles may also require public speaking, technical writing, content creation, program management, or marketing.
Interesting. Let’s talk about your work at She Code Africa. What inspired it?
I started She Code Africa a month after I left school. My role as a community leader in school had exposed me to a lot of amazing women developers in SubSaharan Africa.
However, during World Programmer’s Day 2016, a very popular software company only spotlighted one woman from Africa. I felt it was a kind of injustice because there were a lot of women who were doing amazing stuff but didn’t get featured.
So, I reached out to all my female friends who were doing interesting things and told them I’d like to feature them for the month. I created a poster for it, sent them a couple of questions, and posted it on my Facebook page. I didn’t even have a medium account them.
People were very receptive to the stories and that was amazing, so I decided to expand it. I created social media accounts for She Code Africa, moved the stories to medium and the reception grew even more.
Interestingly, people began to ask to meet with some of the interviewees, so I sort of became a bridge between them. I noticed that besides just following, people wanted more, they wanted to learn and connect with these people who were doing so well. I could keep telling the stories of these women, but that alone wouldn’t have the impact I was hoping to.
From there, I started planning programs and physical activities that could bring these women together.
Another thing I realised was that not everyone had the level of finance that was required to pay for courses and other learning resources. I do not come from a privileged background. It was until my final year in school that I got a hand-me-down laptop. I wanted to do something for these women who were eager to get into tech but didn’t have the resources.
That’s how She Code Africa started all of the things that we do. We’re committed to making everything we do free so all the amazing female talents in Africa can benefit.
Incredible. How many people have passed through She Code Africa so far?
We typically track the numbers at the end of every year. As of 2020, we had trained 2000 ladies. We also recently clocked 7000 community members.
What’s it like managing the community?
It can get stressful, but it’s also amazing. We’re constantly evaluating program impact and reach. Because the community is growing at an exponential rate, we have to keep rethinking all our initiatives to ensure we reach as many women as possible.
We try to ensure that the women in the community get as much as they would if it was a paid service. We don’t plan on charging members for anything any time soon. The community is run fully by volunteers who also have 9 - 5 jobs.