My Pivot Journal: This Ghanaian miner took a one-year career break to focus on his tech transition

My Pivot Journal is a Ventures Africa weekly series Documenting people’s career transitions from one industry to another, especially to tech.

For Jonah Etuaful, becoming a tech bro was not a coincidence. Jonah went from being a novice and being cheated for his work to mentoring tech newbies. Currently, he is a full-stack developer that occasionally wishes he had continued on his mining path. This is his pivot journal.

How it started

Jonah first fell in love with natural resources management when he realized the many opportunities within the course. However, natural resources were not his preferred choice of study. “It was my Dad’s idea,” he says. “I wanted to be a lab technician.” He started natural resources management as his first choice and laboratory technician as his second, at the University of energy and natural resource, Ghana, and a technical institute, respectively. “The natural management admission came first. So I went for it. By the time I got my second admission, I had become interested in natural resources. So, I let it go,” he says.

While in school, Jonah realized he needed to make some money. Like most young people, he needed a side hustle. So in his third year at the university, he dabbled in graphic design. “I went on YouTube, and the first video I saw was from PixelPerfect, a graphics design YouTube tutor,” he recalls. Eventually, he learned about photoshop. He also came across databases, visual basics and programming languages, and HTML and CSS. This would be his first brush with tech. And even though the tech was experiencing a boom in Africa, it was not enough to ignite the tech spark. He focused on graphics designing as his side hustle.

In 2018, Jonah graduated with honors and set out for a career in natural resource management.

Jonah Etuaful

Epiphany

Upon graduation, he enlisted for a one-year national service. Ironically, he got posted to work at Plant Genetics Resource Research Institute, Bunso to work as a lab technician. After four months of working as a lab tech, he got a new role. “There was no IT personnel available,” he recalls. But in typical internship fashion, the responsibilities of an IT personnel became part of his duties. Although it was not the original plan, this was where he came to love tech. “It was natural. It felt like a divine path,” he says.

Jonah’s last six months at the institution were focused on IT, troubleshooting, and support. “I had to study web programming. I started with WordPress, drag and drop CMS WordPress sites. Then HTML5 with CMS and Javascript. And finally, PHB and Java language. I was at the beginner’s stage and there wasn’t much I could do with it. I also didn’t have the intention of going into it full-time. So I was fine with the basics,” he says.

When his service year ended, the institution offered him the role of both lab technician and IT personnel, with the corresponding remuneration. “But one of my supervisors advised me not to take it. She told me to pursue IT instead, that I would do good there,” he recalls. A piece of unexpected but good advice, Jonah took it.

Transition

Although he had briefly researched programming, it was only after his former supervisor’s advice that he decided to transition. Jonah’s next steps were as intentional as his current job. He took a one-year career break to intensify his programming skill. During this one year, he focused on Web Programming.

He started following Traversy Media, a software developer who gives web development and programming tutorials on YouTube. “That was my first contact. I’m a tactile learner. So it was hands-on work for me. I dedicated my time and everything, and I became good at PHP and python,” he says.

He proceeded to build two software on his own. “There were people who wanted to monetize what I had done. But I wasn’t sure. To me, I was building for experience,” he says. Jonah might not have been interested in monetizing his software. But one of his friends was. Jonah’s friend would go on to sell his software(with his knowledge) and make some money from it.

It was after his friend gave him a part of the money he had gotten from the sales that Jonah began to realize his capabilities. So in October 2020, almost at the end of his one-year break, Jonah casually sends out job applications. He signed up for LinkedIn. “Although I had done a few gigs, I’m not sure how I had been surviving. I knew it was time to get a job,” he says.

Fortunately, the first three applications all came through with interviews. The first job got to the technical test stage. It was an algorithm test problem. “That was when I realized that there was much to learn. Even though I had been using algorithms, I did not know what I was doing,” he recalls. Algorithms exposed him; he ended up not getting the job.

It would become one of his challenges as he realized he had not done enough research on the broad field that was programming and web development. “When you go for interviews and hear the stack of languages ​​other people know, you realize you don’t know anything,” he says.

The third interview came through. He got hired as a junior developer. The third time’s the charm, or so he thought. Jonah had just joined Twitter. He was getting acquainted with people with the same skill set. “They were talking about their salaries. I realized my salary was not equivalent to my worth,” he recalls. They were earning three times more than him. “At that point, I remembered that during the interview, my employer had expressed surprise when I accepted his first offer. They even added a little money to it. But it still did not occur to me that I had negotiated for less than my worth. I was a novice. I was just happy to get the job with better pay,” he says. He left the job five days to complete a month. “I had built 80 per cent of the advertising software for them at that point. But I didn’t want any issues, so I left it. At least, I learned the security aspect of web development,” he says.

A week after, he had an offer from another company with three times the remuneration. He further learned how to use the open-source library, React. Jonah was now an intermediate-level programmer.

How it is going

Jonah is currently the head software engineer at Hashcom tech, a company that provides broadcasting-related software solutions, and web-system solutions for organizations. He works from 9am to 5pm on weekdays. “The official closing time is five. But sometimes I have to do overtime,” he says. “My day usually starts with an hour of programming. Then I review the codes of my subordinates. Then I have to make sure everything is running smoothly, and there are no security issues.”

It’s been two years since he took the tech turn. “I sometimes get jealous of my former coursemates that towed the mining industry. Their pay is huge, and they don’t do as much as I do,” he says. “But in tech, there is always room for improvement and salary advancements. So I take solace in that,” he says. Jonah’s brief stints of jealousy do not deter his decision to stay in tech for the long haul. “I would eventually stand on my own. I am thinking of reviewing my old software. I have also started learning Hybrid app development,” he says

Career hack.

Focus. Get all the information and mentorship you need.

“Focus on what you want. That way it is easy to navigate any confusion. Also, get the necessary information. I was ignorant of a lot of things during my transition. I wish I had a mentor. A mentor will be able to put you through because they have been through it,” he says.

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