Hiring tech interns? Go Babcock!

*Note: This blog post is NOT sponsored by ANYONE.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve happened to interview a few bright young men and women for an intern position at the company. At first, it was a frustrating process. We had set up an online test, which allows applying interns solve a puzzle, which tells them how to apply for the position – this was a pre-application tree shaking process, to ensure the people who apply have the basics of what we need. Unfortunately, we had applications from Kenya, Ghana and Uganda, and ONE solitary application from Nigeria.

Safe to say we were floored by despair.

However, our head of admin heard of this career fair at Babcock University, which promised recruiters a rich pool of ready-to-go interns and employable graduates. He attended, but not with a lot of hope. The experiences from the last couple of weeks did not help his faith. However, when he returned, there was a great news. He said that Babcock University is the Nigerian equivalent of Canaan, and he, had returned to tell us that the campus is indeed crawling with code milk and tech honey.

He had a couple of applications in the following days and called a few in for interviews. I met two of them, but in the combined one hour I spent with these two graduating students, I felt a little bit of hope.

The first candidate, a six-foot-0ne lady in heels, was the first university undergrad who told me she learned C++, Java and AJAX in university. Her resume read like someone who really should work for us, and she had built real life things, which fitted into our worldview – build things. When I looked at her final year project, I saw a bit of myself there. I had built a ridiculously complex project in my final year (actually, I spent three years building it, and merely presented it as my project, since I didn’t want to bother with a boring theoretical thesis) – and when I was done, no teacher agreed to ‘supervise’ because for one, I was not a computer major, and two, they could not wrap their heads around what I was doing.

Anyway, I was so impressed by the *can’t mention name* project this lady was developing, decided it was worth putting money on. So we offered her the job immediately. I was impressed with the passion she showed, and her love for coding, but even more impressed that she was a lady (I had not met a female core developer in Nigeria before now).

When I met the second candidate, a smart talking guy (and by now, I’d raised my expectations for Babcock students), I was not disappointed. He was sharp, knew what he was talking about and had built some experience as well, despite only having learned programming in school.

So I thought,  maybe there’s something in that Babcock. I don’t know about how they run other faculties, and may have to go there so see for myself, but for the guys in that Computer Science Faculty, there’s something being done right.

They could do more – for example, they could give the students more exposure; they could setup space for tech companies to come wokr with their students,to transfer knowledge, and maybe hire their students as interns; they could offer courses around product design and development – but in this difficult environment, I have met students who’s aptitude suggests that Babcock University is building the right foundations.

So if you are hiring interns for tech, Go Babcock!

Are you building capacity? You could start with your house boy

Image credits: http://calabarboy.com

As I write this, my driver is sitting in the office chill room, reading www.ventures-africa.com and he’s doing quite well. He’s told me a few times this morning how interesting it is, and I believe him.

About a week ago, I noticed the two drivers we have do nothing during their off hours, but sleep. That in itself is not a bad thing, when there’s nothing else to do and your job does not require for you to think, but I was struck by how much time they are wasting sleeping, and wondered if that much time could not be used positively.

I had an idea – make them read.

Know it’s funny, what do drivers know? But I thought about it. These guys can read ok. They never have issues when I send notes to them about things that need to be done, or bank runs. So if they can read the notes, why not newspapers, or finance, or entrepreneurship? I do not want these drivers to be drivers in two years. I want them to be more useful to everyone, including myself.

My mind was made up. I called them in and told them they would have to start reading. Their first responses were classic. Speechless, they stared at me for a moment, wondering what I as up to. I told them again, that I want them to begin reading. They laughed again, but I told them I was serious. I explained to them quickly why I thought it would be good for them, and how it would work.

Simply, the plan was they would read – anything but sports, entertainment or romance. All soft sell stuff was inadmissible. Only real reading would count. At the end of the week, we would do a review of what they had learned over the week. I knew I would likely be too busy to do weekly reviews, so I added a caveat that I could ask for a review at anytime, so they had to keep on writing.

Last week passed and we did no review. Then we had a power problem this morning and a small window opened. I walked into the chill room and called them up. I asked about the reading they had done, and was greeted with muffled laughter. No they had not read anything. On impulse, I handed my iPad to my driver, without asking if he knew how to use one. There was a news piece on Dangote I was reading, so I handed that to him and asked him to read it too, and review.

An hour later, my driver had not returned.

The next time I passed by the chill room, he was hunched over the tablet, reading! I felt a touch of joy when he looked up and I noticed he was reading another article, one on entrepreneurship. He quickly volunteered his response to my unasked question: he thoroughly enjoyed the Dangote news and will unload to me later on.

I asked his driver colleague why he wasn’t reading, and he said he had no time, that there were too many things on his mind. Ok, I thought, I’ll give you what is on my own mind. I explained to him how reading could be the difference between the kinds of problems he had now, and having my kinds of problems. I told him that while my problems are big, I bet he would rather have my kinds of problems than the ones he currently has. He agreed. Again, I went through the conversation of what the difference is, between those rich people and the poor ones – education, knowledge. When I handed him a newspaper editorial to read, he did not refuse.

My own driver at this time ventured to explain what he had read, but I told him to write it down instead. A quick, to the point review. He returned in 20 minutes.

This was his first review:

Dangote want(s) to expand his business and take it to the [next] level, by listing his company on to London Stock Exchange.
By my own understanding, by listing his business to London Stock Exchange he will get more money to expand his business but loss his chairmanship of the dangote groups.
In real sense, it is good for his businesses and his income, because more money will come into the business.

Yes, I was impressed.

I was so impressed, I let him keep the iPad for a few more hours, digesting all he could. When we met again, shortly before I left office, he was ready with all sorts of insights, and conversational topics. He also had questions. For example, what is the meaning of “only you can sell you?” I realized too that my driver could write better than he could speak – so I encouraged him to write his thoughts, as these would help him better organize his thoughts. Since he had a bit of time before we left office, he quickly wrote me another review of three topics. These were even better than the previous one – I am currently thinking of opening up a section on my blog to post his thoughts on.

So what have I learned – I have learned again, that every human has the capacity to be great. Greatness is something everyone is born with – only time and opportunity nurtures some to be greater than others.

Today, I remembered once again, a story I had heard about Neil Blackburn, a former MD of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (now ExxonMobil). Neil had joined the company as a roustabout, but was so smart and hardworking, when he retired, he was heading one of the most lucrative regions of the global energy company.

My driver is obviously smart. He could be the next *insert big title of choice here*, so the question for me is, how can I help him reach into himself and discover his potentials? Can I be the mentor he needs to become the person he could be?

A passage from his second review read:

(To gain) Self-confidence, you need to have a mentor, and follow his footsteps to achieve your goals.

So if he is ready to take that step, will I be ready to help him? Equally important, if that domestic staff you have is showing crazy promise, would you be ready to help him or her?

One of the things we do in our office is to ensure that our ‘domestic’ staff understand our business. We hold quarterly retreats, where we discuss quarter trends, progress, insights, profits and (God forbid) losses. Our office assistants and drivers attend those sessions too. When we had our recent knowledge event, thy attended too, and we were lucky we had them around, because they made the big money lunch at Eko Hotel justifiable.

If you can’t do anything else, be a mentor. Even if it’s to your gate man, or house boy.