The World Needs Her Autobots

autobot_transformers_1440x900An emerging trend I’ve noticed over the last year and half is that entrepreneurs and startup owners are sneering at people seeking paid employment. It’s rather ironic, this turn of events, considering that a few years back, parents and family usually sneered at kids who thought to start businesses, or threatened to disown children who turned down paid employment for the improbable ‘attraction’ of being a business owner.

Entrepreneurship fundamentally is embracing uncertainty, and the average entrepreneur may sneer at the endless routine  of paid employment. The average banker, for example, represents a human bot, doing the same thing over and over again, day after day, week on week, year on year! It is that endless routine that helped make my mind up about going into business – and I was one of the lucky ones who had a pretty interesting job.

Then there’s CCHUB. I remember once going to CCHub to find a developer – my thinking before then was that if there was a  place to find good developers, it would be the hub. Maybe I misunderstood what the hub stood for, or what the hub people thought about paid employment, but after my visit, I felt a little pity for the concept of paid employment and it’s adherents – the bots. The guys at the hub all seemed to mentally spit at the thought of working 9-5 (and more) jobs.

So what’s really wrong about having an autobot job, especially considering the most common flaws of startup entrepreneurs?

  • If we all became entrepreneurs, who will work for our companies?
  • The average entrepreneur often lacks true brick-and-mortar business skills, and needs to be guided or supported by trained managers – where would the managers come from if everyone became a startup owner.
  • Often, the glamorous stories of entrepreneurship conveniently skip those months where there’s no revenue, the zero account balances and the debts to family and friends. Because the market is very volatile, and support systems are lacking, the average entrepreneur needs a family structured in a way which has that support of a regular pay check, when one partner is running a startup.

One of the things I’m very sure about is that the fours years I spent in and out of paid employment help build a foundation for how I currently run my business. If I didn’t learn anything positive in my last job, I did learn how not to run a business, and how not to treat the people who work for me. My last job taught me management, at no cost to myself, and there was no way I would run a team where people are happy (most of the time) to work with me. There are clear differences in the way I run my team, and the way my close friends run theirs, and this is clearly down to our experiences in jobs we had or did not have.

I’m currently sitting here, typing out a blog, deliberately giving the silent treatment to a logistic staff I called up to talk to. I learned that from my former job – say 10 words, and let it sink in with silence, only broken by the sounds of a keyboard.

Steve Jobs was one of the greatest CEOs ever, but he was one of the worst managers who ever lived. It needed autobot managers to keep his team moving and working, because working with Steve made “working in a living hell” the kindergarten of horrible job experience. But he was smart – for the most part of his second coming at Apple, he hired great managers. The best CEOs are probably the ones who are smart enough to hire great staff and managers or who have had experience in autobot jobs.

Recently, I was reviewing the career of Sim Shagaya, founder of Konga.com and DealDey. He’s one of Nigeria’s leading start founders, and one of the few guys Nigeria’s smaller startup CEO would close up shop to go work for. He also has a very impressive CV, don’t let me tell you, check out his LinkedIn. We love SIM because we think he’s cool. But once in his life, the cool Sim was an autobot!

The world is defined by CEOs, but run by managers. A world without it’s autobot managers will be a world full of really angry or depressed people. This is because most startup CEOs are really shitty managers of people. Managing people is a skill that rarely comes naturally, and one of the best ways to gain management is through traditional employment.

It is great that we are beginning to build a startup culture in Nigeria, and young people are aspiring to start and grow businesses, with less protestations by their families. It is also important to note however, that not becoming an entrepreneur is also a very valid career path. I also think every entrepreneur should try working for someone else – the experience is invaluable.

Being an entrepreneur is cool. Very cool. Nothing beats that feeling of seeing something one started from nothing grow into something. That feeling is rather difficult to top. But nothing tops (negatively) that sinking feeling at the end of a month which had no revenue, knowing not where money is going to come from. Startup culture is often a swing between heady highs, and hopeless lows. In the midst of so much uncertainty, of emotional extremes, the world needs her autobots to keep things going smooth and calm like.

And hey, the Autobots, if you really think it through, are the good guys. Life could be much worse, in a world where we also have Decepticons.

When Professors Plagiarise

Yesterday, I was visited by my best mate from university. He had gist, so we had a great time reminiscing, catching up and pretending guys don’t gossip. He also had news. One of our old university teachers, then a PhD, has been made a professor.

There was silence.

The silence was followed by anger – from my friend. A lot of anger. He was angry, not because his longtime romantic interest in this professor’s daughter ultimately came to nothing, but because he wasn’t sure if finding a way to disgrace this professorial fraud was enough punishment for the intellectual crimes we know he is guilty of. He wasn’t sure how far he should go to knock this man down.

My friend, like me, is passionate about education, and equally depressed at the direction Nigeria’s education system is headed. His father graduated first class in mathematics, and his lifelong dream has been to teach in a university, and this professor we were discussing was the worst example of who a man of letters should be.

Money for grades, harassment and sexual exploitation by Nigeria’s university teachers have long since become a staple (and the man we were discussing should have got a second PhD on those subject matters), so that is not what we were fuming at. We’re not numb, but we would better allow the police deal with crimes. Academic fraud however, is a very different kettle of fish.

In our second year in university, we were ‘mandated’ to buy a book written by the good doctor who also happened to be running for Head of Department, so it was a no brainer that buying this book was key to even getting an evaluation for exam papers. So we all bought the book. There couldn’t be much harm in that, right? Except a few of us had bought this fantastic book by an American professor, which was the holy grail for an entire course year, and it turns our huge patches of this book had managed to lift themselves wholesale, smack onto the book ‘authored’ by our dear Dr. At least 70% of the book’s core were from our ‘holy grail’.

At that time, we fumed, but we were powerless students, so we stayed silent. It also happened that the same man published a few more books, which by some weird coincidence, managed to bear word-for-word resemblance to works by foreign authors.

Time flies. But last night, I could not imagine how hundreds of peers in the Nigerian academic community, especially those in those sacred professorial committees, would manage to not have caught this man for the wholesale fraud he had published for years, and made him a professor! It brings one to a painful realisation that this man, for the next decade or more, is going to be paid to teach university students on nothing more than fraudulent, empty publishing records, which by the way, forms a big part of the professorial qualification process. I’m not going to delve into the authenticity, or qualification of those panels.

So this morning, I’m thinking if it wouldn’t be a wise idea to purchase 100 copies of that American text I owned in second year, along with 100 copies of my professor’s book, review and stick notes to them, and mail them to the university senate, the Academic Staff Union of Universities and also publish the review in a national daily. What do I gain – maybe nothing more than potentially losing a man his job, but it would feel good to have one fraud thrown out of our university system.

But then, maybe, nothing would happen. He’s a Nigerian professor after all.