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TheWestTour: Ice, Products, and 2G

TheWestTour: Ice, Products, and 2G

“Do people speak English in Africa?”, “Do high school students have access to smartphones and computers?” These series of challenging questions made me know I was amongst the right crowd and the long hours spent on intercontinental flights were justified.

Late in February 2019, I undertook a journey to the United States for 3 weeks to meet with product builders in the west, meet with communities and share stories from the developer community and ecosystem generally in Africa.

This post has been over a week-long coming, blame Jet lag, telling travel stories with my friends and family and just about any other excuse you can make up yourself lol. However, in this quite lengthy post, I would share my experience on the road, the things I found exciting; talks, amazing people, food, opportunities, tips and finally the opportunity to be part of something striking that I’m excited about!

The Beginning

I’ve always had a passion for people, yeah, that’s what I like, people. I want to talk to them in person, understand them, make jokes and ultimately try to solve their problems. Saying this makes me feel like an alien, or a Raccoon hehe.

Hence, I love to meet people and understand just about anything. It made more sense when I switched from a potential career in Chemical engineering to solving problems with code. I got attracted to talking to people about tech, tools, technologies, communities and just about anything tech, worth sharing.

Past the boring history now, I bought return flight tickets to the US sometime in November 2018 to spend 3 weeks in the US. With zero ideas of what I was going to do, I just wanted to visit my friends in Salt Lake City, Utah, visit Chris in Las Vegas and probably visit an Uncle in Dallas in February 2019. Then I spoke to Silm sometime in December, and he’s like, “hey man, you just have to visit San Francisco as well, how about you visit the tech companies there?”. That was the eureka moment, thank you Silm!

At that point I was clueless concerning how to go about anything, I just started a nice google sheet and threw on places I’d like to visit in Utah, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Dallas. All the required costs, flights, accommodation options, people that could help and all.

I reached out to the ever amazing Sarah Drasner, and she liked the idea, she promised to help sometime in January 2019, which she did by putting out a Tweet, helping to get me a speaking opportunity at SFnode and in numerous other ways. Thank you, Sarah. You’re the best!

Essential Reading: Learn React from Scratch! (2019 Edition)

I set out to DM just anybody I had listed, some responded, some never did till date, some referred me to others which were terrific as well. With these, I secured short tour visits at companies. I also got offers to speak at meetups in certain companies which was great. Flights were bought, Airbnbs booked, the process was tedious, cost a reasonable sum, but it was worth every penny I spent.

The Ice

Fast forward to 19th February 2019, feeling all ecstatic I packed my bags, first stop was Salt Lake City, Utah. Through the airport in Lagos, Nigeria, (zero issues as expected), I was in a connecting flight through Paris, so I made a 4 hours stop at Charles de Gaulle, continued on to SLC. The icy mountains were so beautiful from just a couple thousand feet from the ground. It looked like a winter wonderland.

Nigerians are particularly scared of airport immigration officers in the US because of the famed unnecessary scrutiny and questioning. Surprisingly, I experienced none of this, I spent approximately 1 minute at the immigration counter. That's impressive for a first timer in the US, all I said was “I am here for a couple of business meetings and visits,” and I was handed my passport and bid farewell. This may sound like folklore to my Nigerian brothers and sisters, but it’s true.

Stepped out of the airport and boom! 0 degrees Celsius! My hoodie felt like it was freezing, I felt like I had offended the weather or something. An Iced chicken got nothing on me at that moment! The change from 32 degrees in Lagos to 0 in SLC was mind-boggling. Luckily I had my friend, Eric!!! (you’ll find out about the scream later).

Eric was waiting at the arrival entrance, and I jumped in the car and fired up the heater before anyone could say, Jack Robinson. It was great to meet him. I stayed at Eric’s place with his beautiful family, his kids are my favorite now. He was an amazing host, and I look forward to going back. In Utah, I was scheduled to visit Pluralsight and Lucid. Now to the more serious stuff, hehe.

Lucid

Lucid is a company that built Lucidchart which is intelligibly a visual reasoning platform. You can visualize just about any data using Lucidchart. From product plans to floor design patterns, database interactions, no hype, I was amazed by what I saw. To think they have been around since 2008 but I don't think too many product teams in parts of Africa are aware of how efficient they could make their processes.

Speaking to members of the engineering team, Bryce and Ryan (while having this great sandwich), I got to understand how the product Lucidchart works, including features such as real-time collaboration (my absolute favorite) and data import from just about anywhere. They got over 15 million users currently, I think you could be one more. Check them out here. PS if you’re in Lagos, hit me up to get free swag from Lucid.

Pluralsight

Next up was Pluralsight. Both the offices in South Jordan and Farmington were amazing, leave the lots of food aside hehe. With the help of Eric and another amazing friend Benson, I met with just about everyone who works in both offices. From the content team, partnerships, core product team, to marketing and sales. It still is amazing how over 1200 people work across the globe to deliver tech content to anyone anywhere, that's a content-democracy. I spoke to the content team, and they were really excited about the talent in Africa and are open to having talented folks create content on Pluralsight, you can follow the link here to get started. Speaking to the product team, I go to understand how their decoupled product architecture helps with properly building out independent parts which make up a whole. You can check out Pluralsight here and probably start out a course or two. I’ll sure miss the people, food and scenic mountain backdrop.

Asides the product, the kitchen area was great, my oh my! Lots of everything and anything. The people, even more fabulous!

Flenjur

Flenjur is just a slang for “injury level flexing” in Nigeria. That’s the best way to describe the fun experienced in Salt Lake in the following days. I went Skiing (i didn’t die), Ice Skating, visited a bunch of fantastic restaurants, WALMART (don’t blame me, that's how huge it was) and the massive Church of Latter Day Saints, Temple.

That's Eric and I, on the ice.

I got to spend time at Benson's place with his really fun and fantastic family. Went hot tubbing in park city. Another highlight was the Utah Jazz vs. Dallas Mavericks game I saw live, thanks to Eric’s family it was amazing, this is why I screamed Eric’s name. Still the best day of my life - kindly don’t hate on my custom NBA jersey inscribed “Imoh” hehe. PS, Eric’s wife Rachael is an astounding cook! Don’t blame me, I have a thing for good food. I’m definitely going back to Utah even if I have to keep the ice out in 2 shirts and a winter coat! If you do, try out these same activities and a large meal at Cafe Rio.

Next stop, Las Vegas.

Las Vegas

I got to Las Vegas on the 27th of February, I was scheduled to speak at a meetup that same evening organized by Las Vegas UI/UX group and the Code Hearted meetup group. Thanks to Chris Sevilleja the founder of Scotch.io and the awesome Vickie. I could see slot machines everywhere right from the airport, who needs Google maps for location confirmation?

At the meetup of about 30 people in attendance, Chris, who was the first speaker spoke about how he built a 6 figure side hustle. Here, he talked about the process from ideation to launch as well as all the tools he used and the iteration process.

Next up, I spoke about how we are building the next million developers in Africa using the community. You can find the slides here. Everyone was more surprised to see the size of the growing developer community. Meetups grossing over 400 attendees was unheard of in Las Vegas. A lot of the attendees were interested in working with folks from Africa, so brethren, expect those DMs soon.

The rest of my short stay in Vegas was also another “Flenjur.” I saw a hockey game with Chris live, four seats from the ice and it was a breathtaking game that went into overtime. Lots of drinking were involved, well, I wasn’t alone, the Vegas Strip never slept, I did . . . sometimes. A highlight would be meeting Sarah, Nate, and Ado. They are really amazing people and better tour buddies. Fantastic thing, no one talked about TypeScript anytime we hung out with Chris even though we were mostly developers.

Spot the goofy faced Chris.

We went top golfing, and then to downtown Vegas, where all the cool and crazy stuff go down. I petted rays and saw sharks at Mandalay Bay. Chinatown is a must visit if you fancy good fried ducks and ramen too. The food is really good. Overall it was a beautiful experience. I highly recommend these.

No cold this time around, only weather going through some crises of sorts, it gets scorching during the day and really cold at night.

I was there for whichever.

San Francisco

“The holy grail of tech,” as a friend would refer to it. I got to SF on the 3rd of March and this time around, my visit was more for business. I had 4 meetups scheduled in 4 days with 4 more companies to visit on short tours at the same time. I took an Airbnb in Oakland, it’s 30 minutes from San Francisco on a mild traffic day. By Lagos standards, a 30 minutes commute to work is very reasonable. However, the SF-Oakland route through the Bay Bridge had heavier traffic than I expected.

One thing I noticed about where I stayed in Oakland, I saw a lot of young men wearing Air Jordans, graffiti on the wall and people blaring loud music. This reminded me of the “foreign hood” I grew up seeing in movies. What a twist to my journey! But I was there for it all too. The weather was somewhat humid and very cold although not the Salt Lake armageddon standard. This was unlike I expected since it was on the west coast. My first stop on the road in SF was ZeitHQ.

ZeitHQ

I met with Tootallnate (Too tall Nate) at the Zeit office on the 4th of March and my God, he is really tall. We spoke about Zeit. Zeit has a ton of products with the most notable being Now for handling serverless deployments and Next.js, the popular React framework for building scalable applications.

Zeit also powers numerous open source projects and the open source culture is huge, that's why I like what they do. We talked about the history of Zeit, diversity and the remote working culture of the team. Zeit is hiring too, check here for open positions.

Nate got me lunch, and its something called Sushirrito, it’s a sushi burrito. That should be the best thing I ate while in SF. You definitely have to try them when you can. Thanks to Nate and Zeit for having me, it was a pleasure stopping by. Next stop on the rather cold evening was Netlify for the NetlifySF meetup.

Netlify

Thanks to the awesome Jessica, I was scheduled to give a talk at the NetlifySF meetup on the 4th of March. On arriving I took a short tour of the office, it really has this homely feel. I had excellent conversations with everyone in the kitchen area (kitchen area again, wheww) just before the meetup attendees started coming in.

I’ve always been a fan of Netlify since they make life easier for everyone as well by providing super simple deployment options for your applications.

At the meetup, I gave a talk titled “Building the web for all”, basically this is just talking about the issues faced by product users in Africa as well as other remote regions, the notion that 3G shouldn’t be the base and how builders in other parts of the world can mitigate these performance and product adoption bottlenecks. You can find the slides here.

It was a great event, and as usual, everyone is astonished by the current growth of developer communities and product builders in Africa. You can check out Netlify here, and also they are hiring.

Cloudinary

The next day, the 5th of March was going to be a busy day. The first stop on the road for the day was Cloudinary in Santa Clara. Cloudinary provides effective and efficient media solutions. From storage, transformation, and delivery through a CDN, Cloudinary does all that and more.

Also, Cloudinary has been a great supporter of the African tech ecosystem for a while now, and it was my utmost pleasure to visit and speak about “International Developers and Developing - Building for next billion users.”

Similarly, the talk was on mitigating performance issues and product usage in regions like Africa including the importance of efficient media delivery. You can find the slides here. Thanks to Mickey for putting these together. You can check out Cloudinary, the free tier is just right for developers to get started with efficient media handling.

If you’re around Lagos as well, hit me up for some free premium Cloudinary stickers and swag. I love collecting em swags. So far most people think the internet speed is at 3G in most parts of Africa. I laugh in ISP frustrated customers (can’t call names, so someone doesn’t end up in jail lol).

GitHub

The same day, I rushed across town to Github in SF. The home of most developers felt quite like home. One will be quick to notice the elegant fully fitted bar in the office. That's highly cool. I hope you got that pun. Thanks for Omoju for giving me a tour of the office. We all see GitHub, repos, gist, trends e.t.c. I saw a fully fledged company with sales teams and business development teams, that was amazing, and I began to appreciate more, the work done there.

The famous GitHub Octocat.

GitHub should have the best office space I had visited so far, including a library, hammock fitted nap rooms, a beautiful rooftop, and lovely art pieces around. It was also good to meet Nigerians for the first time on my trip. The Nigerian famous "how far, how you dey"? Meaning “hi, how are you?“ was understood, comic relief!

Nat, the CEO of GitHub recently announced he’ll be going to Ghana and Nigeria, hopefully, he gets to feel the tech ecosystem in Nigeria. If you’re ever in SF GitHub would be the right place to visit, quite inspiring. I got a premium GitHub T-shirt to giveaway too, hit me up for that. There are tons of stickers available as well. Thanks to Omoju. Last stop for the day, AdobeSF.

AdobeSF

I walked into the Adobe office complex in the evening of March 5th to deliver a talk on “Developing Internationally - Building Stuff that Works Across the World.” This talk in a comparable fashion was themed around building and maintaining products plus its users in remote regions of the world including Africa. Jeff Chasin, the organizer of the event wrote an awesome post about the event. Also, there’s a youtube video for the talk and slides for the talk.

My! It was an amazing event and the room, university lecture style, did feel warm and welcoming. Mind I say the first talk of the evening was actually on “Modeling Continuous Localization’ by Tarre Egbert and it was an amazing one. We had snacks afterward, met a lot of wondrous people as well, and bid everyone farewell for the night. San Francisco mainly looked more beautiful that night, maybe the chilly winds got in my eyes or something.

Facebook

The following day was a big one, the 6th of March. I was scheduled to visit Facebook in Menlo Park, thanks to Chimdindu Aneke for putting that together. Morning came, and it was quite a chilled one as expected, cloudy skies left hints of rain possibly later in the day. I took a taxi to Menlo Park that morning to meet with Joe Darko, who turned out to be one of the best unofficial tour guides.

The Facebook complex was massive, I almost got lost just by thinking of it. Anyway, Joe came to the rescue minutes after I checked in the front desk at Building 44. We took a “Fuber” (Facebook’s Uber) across the complex to the cafeteria area. If only I could get lost there too, because, my, there was just about a place selling anything from confectionaries to a barbecue house, Asian cuisine place, vegetarian? You’re most welcome.

We walked in the swag store too, it had really nice things from custom FB tees to projected keyboards. The pricing, however, wasn’t as lovely so, Chuloo had to leave the items behind. We took a walk to the rooftop, supposedly in the same building as Zuck. The surprising thing about the roof is that it looked like a savannah. With trees and actual paths with natural sand. Glass windows from the building underneath looked somewhat like the hobbit buildings in the Shire, forming domes half buried in the sand every now and then.

Joe and I spent about an hour more talking about the diversity of the company, while we walked back to the security building. The difference was clearly evident as just about anyone from anywhere in the world could be seen. In all, the tour was terrific and the offices, simple, yet beautiful. My only wish was that I met a technical team, particularly the team working on React.js. Next, I moved across town to see the Golden gate bridge. I wasn’t going to miss that amid the talks and fancy buildings.

The Golden Gate Bridge

While the Bay Bridge linking Oakland to San Francisco may be beautiful and with the lights matching the white rods and wire harnesses, the Golden Gate bridge is majestic. At the height of 227m, the bright red mass of steel can be seen from an observation area on the Bay Area entrance.

The area scouring with tourists like me watching the bridge, the sound from the flowing stream of cars at 5 pm could only leave you this feeling of being a small part of something big which is humanity, and the power that lies in the coordinated and collective effort of a group of people towards achieving a set goal. The best time to see the bridge I'd recommend is at sunrise or sunset.

It started to drizzle a bit, so the number of tourists reduced, and the temperature dropped drastically. I spent a bit more time strolling through the ridge-like watch area in my huge savior winter jacket.

If you are to visit the Golden Gate bridge, be sure to go with a thick coat, a nice camera, maybe a cup of coffee and bright eyes for the spectacle you’ll witness. Next, I had to attend a meetup, not the kind I was used to in Nigeria, but one in a food truck place, with doughnuts and beer, it was, Waffle.js.

Waffle.js

You could wonder why it’s called Waffle.js, on-the-event-venue, over-a-couple-of-drinks. Legend has it that buying Waffles used to be a form of a ticket to the meetup until a feud happened between a food truck which sells Waffles and the meetup, so the meetup organizers switched to shiny doughnuts, but the name Waffle.js already stuck, how true could that be? Maybe we’ll find out someday.

I was allowed in the meetup at Soma Street Food Park even though I hadn’t known I was to buy a doughnut as ticket online. I had been invited by Tootallnate, remember him? The meetup proceeded significantly anyways, sitting at a table with 6 other people, mostly guys talking about different things felt quite sociable until I noticed the conversation was mostly about TypeScript and “... so what do you do?” The conversation spoilers for me. I settled for listening to the talks properly.

You can find the schedules of the talks here. My favorite was “Learning from Machines” by Ashi Krishnan, I sincerely aspire to create and give presentations like that, it was simply enthralling. After the meetup, everyone headed to a bar (I loved that), but me, I had to head home, been a long day of Fuber, red steel and looking at shiny doughnuts. If you’re ever in SF, WaffleJS should be top on your list to attend, that's if you’re into meetups too.

The next day was huge too, I needed all the sleep as I was going to meet my hero, only maybe not in a flowing cape.

Twilio

Next day, 7th March, I woke to clear skies this time around and after preparations, I made my way to Twilio. Twilio takes communication to a whole new level with services including voice, messaging and a whole engagement cloud suite. It was one of the companies I was scheduled to take a tour of, thanks to Lizzie for putting this together. I set out for Twilio, this time, using the Bart (train system in SF), it's pretty fast too and very organized. Clean too.

Getting off 1 kilometer from the Twilio office which is on Beale Street, I walked the way, savoring the shiny high rise building surrounding me with a crane and construction platforms in sight. I also couldn’t resist the roasted chicken with similarly fixed potatoes with herbs I saw on the way. Shortly, I arrived at the Twilio office and met with Lizzie after signing in.

Lizzie introduced me to Sade and Nana, a Nigerian and Ghanaian respectively, who work at Twilio. Another feel-at-home aura. I also met with other people who work at Twilio and we sat at the (guess where?) Lunch area. They had so many questions about the ecosystem in Africa, product penetration, life in Nigeria, as well as ways they can support in growing the community in Africa. These I took and answered with all enthusiasm. It was a fun period.

We took a tour around the Twilio office, an interesting thing to see were the shoes hanging on the walls around the office. All kinds of shoes. Lizzie explained that they are customer shoes, Twilio takes the customer shoes and gives them custom Twilio shoes. These shoes on the walls remind everyone of the customers and clients.

I spent a bit more time there doing some work, in the lunch area, had some snacks and drinks while I prepare for the talk at SFnode in the evening. You should definitely check out Twilio, plus they could be hiring for a role near you.

SFnode

This meetup was held at Scalable Press in SF. I was scheduled to speak on “Your Shit Doesn’t Work in Africa - It should.” Rude title eh? Basically, this was the highlight of the talks on the trip, and it was still around the theme of why product builders do not consider low internet regions, the potential in these regions, ways they can build stuff that works there, as well as an entry strategy into the market with the products. You can find the slides here.

I finally met Sarah Drasner at the event, she is currently one of my chief heroes. There you have it.

That's Sarah and I.

I met other amazing people too at the event, Bryan, Chris Oyler, Dan Shaw, Joe Doyle, Eric and others. Just after the talk, someone walked to me as asked if he can ask me a series of questions about tech in Africa as the discussion had informed him greatly. Thus came, “Do people speak English in Africa?”, “Do high school students have access to smartphones and computers?” and a series of other similar questions. I found them hilarious and answered them as well. At least, we have one more convert who no longer thinks Africa is someplace in Saturn without modern civilization.

The other talk of the night was by Francesca Guiducci on “GraphQL for Backend Developers.” It was excellent as well and shed more light on when to use GraphQL and when not to, as well as the basics of the popular query language.

The night continued with drinks at a nearby bar and talks about Africa, family, code, Brazil and weather conditions of different places. It was generally a great evening with great people. Putting this here too, Chris Oyler the MC’d the meetup and was fantastic. I’ll bet my money on him smashing any tech conference, just give him a chance to do that, which he loves doing.

Next day, I stopped by at the Oakland city Centre to meet with Nick. Nick works in the partnerships team at Udacity. We talked about education in Africa and projects we worked on together over a cup of coffee he got me. Thanks for the coffee, Nick! Next stop on the same day was the airport as I was heading to Dallas, my final stop.

Dallas

Getting to the Dallas Love Field airport at 10:30 pm local time and greeted with warm air was a good feeling I missed much. I had my uncle come get me from the airport. We drove about 20km while I talked about my experience so far, especially the weather.

I spent the rest of the time in Dallas with family, eating Nigerian food, meeting even my friend Stanley who’s a Nigerian. About the tour, a visit to a co-working space in Dallas got canceled last minute, so I spent that time with my little cousins, talking about the other 6ft 5”+ cousins they’ll meet when they come to Nigeria, probably in the summer.

I spent 4 days in Dallas, and on the 12th of March, 2019, I started my series of connecting flights to Lagos beginning with one to the JFK airport in very cold New York.

The Ninjas

All through this post, I mentioned almost everyone who helped in one way other the other. There are more I most likely unintentionally omitted too, these are people I call the Ninjas, they could choose not to support, but they did, and I am really grateful for that.

This would probably make it into a memoir of myself maybe later, and I am grateful to have all of you in it. Thanks for all the help and I look forward to meeting everyone and more, next time.

I wrote this to document and share my experience, as well to inspire someone out there to make that move and share more, it won’t be as difficult as you imagine once you start and ask for help along the way.

The Movement

Moving forward, I finally found a passion which is to meet people and talk about tech, solve problems with JavaScript and talk to people about these solutions. If you feel like I could work with you or your team on this, shoot me a DM. You can check out technical posts and code challenges i write on Scotch.io as well.

Also, on these trips, I’ll be planning them occasionally as I’ve always done so if you would like to go on them with me or potentially us, shoot me a DM on Twitter as well. You can follow me to keep up with any updates I have to share.

I’ve been working on a community of people learning to code or aspiring to learn about any technology, or just about anyone in tech looking to have fun, learn and even teach. It’s community driven and just about anyone interested in anything technology can join as well. Looking to mentor, learn, looking for opportunities, switching careers? It doesn’t hurt anyone, you could join us, while we have fun at it. A sane, humble and open mind is all we ask.

Yes, the fun part is very very very important. You can show interest using this light Google form and we'll reach you first, once it's all set!

We will keep at it with building and talking about technology for now.

Gracias y hasta luego!

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