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. This is UTH Week 3.
Oluwagbenga Osowe is an Supply Team Lead at Eden Life Inc, a tech-enabled concierge service. He has a storied career and has worked at top Nigerian tech companies like Andela, Opay, and Safeboda.
You have a very impressive track record. Andela, Opay, Safeboda, and now Eden.
How did you get into tech?
My trajectory was through education. I started teaching WAEC classes in 2004. We had a break in my university days where I had to teach to earn some money. That was when I discovered I liked teaching.
So, I kept teaching and that led me to attend an event called “Sustainable conversations on education,” in 2014. That was where I met Iyinoluwa Aboyeji. We had a conversation and exchanged contacts.
Iyin’s team was working on a project called Fora which was cofounded by four of Andela’s future founders. Incidentally, I was also exploring an idea in eLearning then as I was receiving more calls for my teaching service than I could attend to. A few weeks after the event, I had a call with Iyin where he asked me to share what I was doing at the time and my interests. That call led to me joining the Fora team in March/April 2014.
Yes, but in between that time, the idea for Andela came up. So, the entire founding team of Fora morphed into Andela.
I was employee number one at Andela apart from the founders.
Wow! That’s bragging rights there.
I ended up staying for five years before I left.
Why did you leave, though?
Before joining Andela, I had made up my mind to leave after five years. The indicator that it was time for me, was that I could find people who could take over from me.
I was Operations Manager for Andela at the time, so I got two people, trained them and saw to it that they could handle things before I left.
I had also done some milestone projects. I played a significant role in setting up Andela in Kenya, Rwanda, and Ghana.
So, where next after Andela?
I had a short stint at Opay and Safeboda after Andela.
Your profile shows that you have worked for all these top tech companies in a non-tech role. That’s impressive.
Thanks. Yes, I work in Operations.
So, what’s it like to be in Operations? What’s the day-to-day like?
Operations fall in that weird space where there’s no typical day-to-day. It is also a dynamic role depending on the kind of company you work in.
Every tech business has a key revenue generating activity. For Andela, that was software engineering—that’s what brings in the money. However, there are a lot of other things which if they’re not done, you can’t get the best value from the software engineers. If you don’t take care of those things, the software engineers will be very frustrated.
Our job in the Operations Team is to build processes and systems that ensure everyone can focus on their jobs without worry about the "other things"
If the software engineer has a problem with their laptop, that’s a problem, and therefore my job. If it affects productivity, that’s part of my job. But it’s not just solving problems, it is building processes, policies, and systems to ensure that things work smoothly.
Operations is a mix of strategy, planning, oversight function, resource control, and cost management while ensuring that the company’s input-output has a balance.
This sounds like a utility role where you do everything in between to make sure the system is ticking.
Yes. The most common symbol for Operations management is The Gear because it’s what makes the system tick.
What’s your most memorable experience as an Operations person?
I’ve had many of them. When you work in several high-growth companies, you’re bound to have many memorable days.
I think one that stands out is my first day in OPay. I had been hired as a Senior Operations Manager, then on my first day, the COO assigned a new product to me - OBus.
You went from Operations Manager to Product Manager on your first day. Was it that you applied for a new role or was it a case of what you ordered vs what you got?
Well, Operations Teams sometimes build products in collaboration with the Engineers & Product folks.
My path to OPay was through Safeboda. I had spent a month at Safeboda but for some reason, I had to leave. That was probably what gave them the confidence to give me the role.
Also, remember I said Operations management is a dynamic role. For companies like OPay and Safeboda, it’s a more hands-on role, where you are involved with the day-to-day running of the business, as opposed to Andela where it’s a support function.
For me, the principles are the same—there are problems to be solved, you can be logical about solving them, and build systems around them.
Hmmm. I’ll take “Solve problems and build systems” as the central work of an Operations person. So, how did you handle the job at OPay?
Yes. “Solve problems and build systems” is a good description of the Operations role.
As for the Opay gig, I’m typically comfortable with venturing into uncharted territory. So, on the day I was given the task, I left the office for a bus park. I found a driver and told him I would pay for all the seats if he drove me around. He drove me along his usual route and we had conversations about everything.
We discussed the average daily take-in, how much they pay to agberos(street thugs), the amount they spend on fuel, how long the trips take, etc. Then I joined another rider on my way back and did the same thing.
The discussions provided a lot of insight for the short pitch deck I had to come up with. I did the route planning for the bus service, and by the following week, we had our first bus on the road.
Although OBus never fully launched, we got to over 1000 riders a day in testing.
So what is your current job at Eden like?
At Eden, the team I lead is called Supply but it’s essentially the same thing as Operations Management.
Our work ties around service definition and service improvement. Service definition is how we define the standards of our offerings and finding partners that can help us meet those standards. Service improvement involves taking and implementing customer feedback to improve our services.
I guess the good thing is that your role is there’s no monotony, but how does one prepare to get into a role in Operations?
A learning mindset is one of the most underrated parts of Operations Management, and there are so many things to learn.
One is customer service. Operations management is like in-house service, so you need to have a passion for serving people—in this case, your other colleagues.
Two is problem-solving. You have to be comfortable with thinking on your feet and proferring solutions. But then, you also need to be comfortable with uncertainty and embracing change. Sometimes the solutions you create will not work.
It also helps to be data-driven as cost efficiency and management will be two of your top concerns as an Operations person.
Finally, you’ll need logical reasoning. You have to be passionate about seeing systems work. Any day systems don’t work, you should have two things at the top of your mind—how do I solve this problem, and how do I prevent this from reoccurring?
Process design is a huge part of the job, so you need to be able to anticipate needs and plan for them. You shouldn’t have to put out the same fires every day.
As for the path into operations management, I think it’s a free role in that there are no defined paths. You need more skills than knowledge for the role, and I’ve outlined the top ones.
What advice do you have for people looking to work in non-tech roles in tech?
Spend a lot of time researching the available roles. Research the kind of company you want to join, and make a pitch on why you should join them. Shoot your shot. Even if there are no open roles, one might be opened for you.
And finally, keep learning. There are no barriers to entry as long as you keep learning.
Thank you for speaking with us Gbenga!