I am still on my journey to document the stories, insights, perceptions of the intelligent young women who exude and live out the type of impact that leaves a long-lasting impression on my soul. It is crucial and I do not waver in this vision – It may tarry but it will be done.
Today, SHE Is Ire Aderinokun
Ire Aderinokun is a 27-year old self-taught web designer and founder of Bits Of Code who resides in Lagos, Nigeria. She currently works as a frontend developer at Eyeo, a company that develops open source software. Beyond her day job as a Google Developer Expert in Web Technologies, Ire is a technology educator and an advocate for open-source sharing.
Hello Ire, I’m so thankful you agreed to this interview. I really appreciate you taking time out to do this.
Seems like such a simplistic question but I have to ask why web design? What connects you so much to it? Is there something that intrinsically drives you to create with technology?
I guess it is just something I have been interested in for as long as I can remember. I will say I have always been interested in technology but I guess I got into web design was because when I was younger I used to play a web game and it had an element of web design in it and I was introduced to web design and web development. I got really interested in it and so I just continued at it. I do not think I have a specific why- it has just been a thing that has been with me for a while. But I do know I kept at it because I really like the creating aspect particularly front-end development – you can do so much with it. You can build something from absolutely nothing and you can have an actual product. If there is anything I can think of I can probably just build it.
I know you have a Bachelor’s degree in Experimental Psychology and masters in Law so I’m curious – What was the turning point that made you decide ‘you know what, I’m putting law and psychology aside’? I mean I do know you’ve been coding since your teenage years but I’m curious if there was there a specific occurrence or incidence that made you decide to switch to a career in tech?
I guess it was mainly me realizing that this was something that people did as a career because when I was doing it as a hobby I didn’t know anything about studying computer science. I didn’t know people studied it in university and so it just didn’t occur to me that people did this as a career. I didn’t know about it until I was in university and I met people studying computer science and then it occurred to me that I should have just done this from the beginning. At that point, I was like I might as well just try and see if I can make a career out of I and if it doesn’t work I can always just go back to law. If I can, I might as well try.
What gave you the confidence to follow through with this as a career? Is it because you already felt that you had some skills in it? Do you think that was enough confidence given that a lot of people might have already studied that in school? You might have felt that others already had a head start…
I do not know because most of the people around me said I should not do it; that it was just a hobby and it was not something I should be doing as my job but I don’t know what made me not listen to them and just continue. I guess it’s because I just really enjoyed doing it and I knew that just because people weren’t doing it here in Nigeria did not mean I could not do it. I knew that there were people abroad that were doing this and that gave me the confidence. I guess seeing other people do it is what gave me the confidence.
What do you wish you were told or knew before you ventured into it?
I would say I wish I knew to start blogging earlier because blogging has had a big impact on my career. So if I had started blogging earlier than when I did, I would have been even further ahead than I am.
How many years after you began this career did you start blogging?
Maybe about 2 years.
Do you think blogging is something everyone in the technology field should do or its just personal preference?
I do think so because even if your blog does not become so popular it is still useful for yourself and that is the original reason why I started writing. I started writing for myself. The writing was helpful for me and luckily it was helpful for other people as well. But even if you’re the only one that reads your blog it is still helpful as a way to learn.
You’re now a Google Developer Expert and the only female one in Nigeria at that. Did being selected or chosen as a Google Developer Expert, change the way you viewed yourself… your work? Or your career?
It definitely gave me some validation that I was actually doing stuff that was good and I actually knew what I was talking about. Like you said I didn’t go and study at university so it’s not like I had formal training so it was good to know that even without that I was still able to get to the stage where I was just as good as someone who went to university and got the degree. The validation was probably the biggest thing for me.
The tech world is very fast-paced with something new every time. Do you get to points where you feel so behind in terms of knowledge? How do you keep up with the new evolutions and trends?
Yes, there’s a new thing happening every day but the important thing is that you do not actually have to know everything – it is not feasible to say you have to know everything new that comes up. I think accepting that for me has been good because I feel much less pressure to know every single framework because I just know it’s not possible and there is no benefit in trying to know everything. Obviously, I still try to keep up with things that are relevant and so if something new comes up and it is valuable, I will still try and learn it. I think as a junior developer you think you need to know and keep up with everything and you lose the fundamentals, which is what is really important. There is always a list of the things I want to look into that I just have not. There are so many things I wish I had more time to learn but I realize that those are not the crucial things and the crucial things are the fundamentals and as long as you get that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know X framework or anything like that.
What key moments have you had that advanced your learning or intensified your love for tech or web design? Since your career started
My love for tech is intensified every time I figure out a new thing I can build that kind of opens up some new doors and when I feel like I can do more than I previously thought I could given my current skill set. So for example, as you know, I’m a front-end developer and so if I’m able to do something that requires a database without needing a backend developer. With so many tools I feel like I can do so much more than I initially thought. And I think it’s even more so than a backend developer because I don’t think you can get around having to write HTML or CSS or front-end code. But for a front-end developer, it’s easier to not have to write backend code.
My love for tech is intensified every time I figure out a new thing I can build that kind of opens up some new doors. When I feel like I can do more than I previously thought I could given my current skill set.
What’s your process like when solving a particularly tough issue or a bug? Do you have a system that usually works?
I guess there are two things. The first is just obviously to like keep trying and keep trying. Usually, I will ask a developer friend so we can just brainstorm together. But, if none of that works I usually just leave it alone and pretty much 100% of the time I eventually just come to the answer when I am not thinking about it. There are so many times when I have just gone to sleep and when I wake up I actually just know what the answer is. Very strange but happens to a lot of people. If you just stop thinking about the problem so actively and just let your brain rest, you will probably just come to the solution within like a day or a couple of days after you’ve given yourself some time to not think about it so much.
Is there something that gets you in your zone? Puts you in the mood where you get your best work done?
Sometimes I get stuff done when I am just in a good mood. But I also find that sometimes when I am not in a good mood like if I’m angry or sad, it makes it even easier for me to concentrate because I am trying not to think about whatever is making me angry or sad- It helps with concentration. I don’t think I really have a zone except when I’m working on something really interesting then it is easy to just focus and not think of anything else. Asides that I can work in pretty much any situation. I do not really need to be in a zone.
In recent times, I’ve observed that there’s a lot of knowledge sharing in tech. From the perspective of an observer like me, the industry appears very communal. Do you find that this is very important? Community?
Could you just in a few words explain what open source is? Just for people who don’t know much or anything at all about it.
It is basically just sharing the code you write. When you build an app or website, sharing that with other developers so that they can replicate your code – write the exact same thing or build on it and change it and adapt it to build something new.
And in Nigeria, you’re at the forefront of that knowledge sharing – your blog, contributing on open-source platforms, being a Google Developer Expert. Is that sharing and educating something you’ve always been interested in from the get-go? Not just doing your own work?
Like I mentioned, I know I could not have become the developer I am without other people’s blogs or other people’s open source code. So I felt it was important for me to try and give back seeing as I won’t be where I am today if not for the people who decided to give back as well.
What do you consider your grandest moment as a tech-girl? Highlight? Most important?
I don’t know if this is the most important moment but maybe the moment that might have impacted things the most was when I gave a talk at Frontiers Conference in 2016. That was the first conference where I spoke somewhere outside Nigeria – Amsterdam. It probably made the biggest impact because of all the exposure and publicity that I got was from there. So after people saw me speak at that conference, it led to me being invited to speak at more conferences and it led to people being aware of my work and my blog. I think that is what helped build my career to the extent that I was able to now get a job outside Nigeria because the people who were hiring knew me and knew my blog and they now reached out and said we’ll like to hire you because we’ve seen what you’ve done and we are impressed with it. That was probably the kick-off for the rest of things. I don’t know if it’s the most important because it would have happened through other things like becoming a Google Developer Expert. I will say it had a big impact on me because it was the first time I spoke to a big audience and that gave me the confidence to continue speaking to even bigger audiences in the future.
On living in Nigeria and working for a company abroad, how have you found it?
It’s been alright. It has not been as tough as I had thought. I think when I first joined; I had only worked for Nigerian companies before so I expected the work to be so much more difficult and challenging. I mean it was a bit more difficult and challenging but it wasn’t as much as I thought. I thought I would not be up to the standard of the rest of the developers but I was. It was definitely validation. It also seems these companies are now starting to realize that there are actually a lot of good developers here and so many people have told me that they are actually now seeing many Nigerian developers get hired.
What’s the next project on Ire’s to-do list?
I can share what I’m working on now in addition to my job at Eyeo. I’ve been working with Bitkoin Africa. We are basically a company just trying to build things for Africa using cryptocurrency technologies. At the moment we have a website called bitkoin.africa and this week we should be launching our sister product called BuyCoins (editor’s note: this should be launched by the time this interview is out) which will basically allow the average person who doesn’t want to trade to buy and sell cryptocurrency directly from us. It will be a much more streamlined platform – it is going to be a mobile application. So in under a minute or 30 seconds, you can just buy or sell cryptocurrency without having to deal with another human being at all. We have a bunch of plans for the future but it’s isn’t really stuff I can share right now.
Looking out 3 to 5 years, beyond the obvious, what do you think will be the next big change in your industry?
To be honest I don’t know and I don’t ever really try to speculate. I can kind of see where things are going in terms of machine learning or artificial intelligence but I don’t know for certain. It’s hard to tell whether these things are even going to have an impact at all. Because a couple of years ago virtual reality and augmented reality were emerging and although there are still things happening in that world they are not nearly as big as we thought it was going to be and for all I know it could be the same with machine learning. So I can’t say for certain and I don’t really care to speculate or to really think about it that much – when it comes, it comes. But I can imagine that there will be big changes especially with stuff like self-driving cars. That’s stuff I don’t know if it will come to Nigeria in my lifetime but at least in other places. Asides that, I don’t know what else.
Tell us one thing you’ve told yourself that keeps you going during your darkest hours
There’s this article that I read that really pushed me to keep doing things. It’s called: ‘You’re Not Doing The Thing’. When I was just getting started I used to read this article a lot because it really helped and the way I interpreted this article is that if there is something I want to do or something I want to say, I need to go out and actually make sure I am doing the thing. It’s a reminder that I need to complete the thing if I want to say this is what I am. It pushes me to do the thing I’m supposed to be doing and not just like saying it or going halfway.
How has womanhood played a role in your work? Negatively or positively
I guess the only thing I will say is I don’t know if it’s about womanhood or personal to me but I feel that as women we are more likely to kind of underrate ourselves and not be as confident as men can be. So there was this statistic about that if men and women see the same job posting and a woman has about 80% of the skills required she probably won’t apply and a man will apply for the same job even if he has only 50% of the skills required for the job. So it’s just being aware of what your skills are, what you have to offer and putting yourself out there a bit more. That’s something I try to be really conscious of – just going for it. Because in the beginning, that’s exactly what I needed to do – I would see a job posting and I didn’t think I had 100% of the requirements that they listed, I just wouldn’t apply but now that I’m more conscious that people don’t expect you to have 100% of it and the worst that can happen is that you’ll be rejected. I think maybe men are more used to just going for things and accepting rejection but as women, we were never really taught to put ourselves out there and so maybe we just are not as used to dealing with rejection and we don’t want to deal with that. I will say that’s a mindset that I’ve hard to un-train myself from. But in the other sense, it’s also been good because it’s made me a bit more cautious about some things because men can be a bit more reckless I guess but I don’t know that’s just a generalization – is it myself or is it women? That’s just why I can’t put anything to ‘womanhood’. It might just be me personally. I don’t particularly like those kinds of generalizations.
I think maybe men are more used to just going for things and accepting rejection but as women, we were never really taught to put ourselves out there and so maybe we just are not as used to dealing with rejection and we don’t want to deal with that.
What’s one very important thing you believe a woman should know in 2018?
So many things, well maybe the most important thing is to unlearn any patriarchal rules. I think a lot of women don’t realize that the reason they uphold such patriarchal values is conditioning and not because women being subservient to their husbands is the way the world should actually be. I will say the most important thing is to check yourself and make sure you realize any thoughts you have that are actually working against you. This is not just to do with patriarchy but in general.
What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered?
It’s not something I’ve consciously thought about. I don’t think I care much about being remembered personally but that the things I want to do, be remembered for what they are. So for instance, my dad started a school here in Nigeria and one of the main reasons he started the school was to give underprivileged children a chance to get a proper education and so there are a certain percentage of children who are taken in each year under a scholarship program – thinking of that maybe I’ll like to be remembered for a thing like that. But I don’t really care much for it to be me personally that is remembered, but the thing I created being remembered and referenced. I’ll like to set things in place that have a good impact in the world and if people remember that it’s me that did it that’s cool – I mean I will be dead so it won’t matter to me *laughs* I’ll just like to have a lasting positive impact in the world.
What are 3 things that make you, you?
I can just name one thing – the way I think and the fact that I think a lot. I’m quite a quiet person for the most part. I’m always consuming what’s happening around me. I think that’s what makes me, me – my ability to just observe the world.
You’re a new addition to the crayon box, what colour will you be and why?
Maybe white or black because those aren’t really colours
If you had a personal flag, what would be on it?
Something plain – black & white stripes maybe.
If your life story was a book, what would be the title of the current chapter of your life?
Maybe just ‘career’ because that’s like the biggest thing in my life I’m trying to move forward with now.
What are the top three activities you indulge in to recharge?
- Lying down and watching a TV show
A day in the life of Ire… Tell us, what’s a typical day for you like?
- Wake up around 7am
- Do yoga for like half an hour
- Take a shower
- Have breakfast
- Settle down in my home office, do some work
- Around midday ill break for lunch
- Usually, in the afternoon I’ll try and work from somewhere different so I’ll either go to a friend’s house or a cafe or so to get a change of scenery
- In the evenings, I’ll hang out with a friend, go watch a movie, or go have drinks
- When I come home I’ll probably watch a few episodes of a TV show
- Read a bit
- Hangout with my sister
- Go to bed
Tell us your list of best-kept secrets. Activities, Books, Places, etc.
There is this book I read last year called ‘Letters to My Little Sister’ by Anna Akanna and ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’
What’s the best place for our readers to find and connect with you and your work online and offline?
Twitter is the best place – @ireaderinokun
I’ll take a cue from Ire and ‘Do The Thing’, will you?