Software engineer Omotayo Madein created a path for herself where none existed. Now her circuitous, five-year journey is eventually starting to pay off.

It was tinkering with apps and websites on her family’s desktop computer as a child that first spurred Omotayo Madein’s fascination for software. At secondary school, computer science was one of the subjects she preferred. But it was only when she began applying to university that the Lagos-based computer engineer considered channelling her love for all things computer into a career.

The journey there was neither smooth nor straight forward.

It was her parents’ advice to choose a course aligned to her long-term interests that pushed her to choose computer engineering. “I was always in front of a desktop or laptop,” explained Madein. Her only worry was that the course might pigeonhole her. “I thought it was going to be a lot of programming, writing code, and mathematics. Technical stuff,” she says. “But we explored much more like project management and user exploration. I realised I could work anywhere with these skills.”

Today, she’s a technical designer at Microsoft so it’s not as if she’s on a drastically different career path. Even so, she says, the journey there was neither smooth nor straight forward.

In the last five years, Madein has worked for six different companies, moves she credits to her drive for self-improvement. But Nigeria is a country where tradition trumps unorthodoxy; she worried about coming off as unserious to potential employers, in spite of the fact that Nigeria’s nascent tech sector offered limited career options and graduate trainee opportunities for software engineers starting out.

Madein was forced to carve out her own space, first by developing websites and games for friends. In addition, she began managing the social-media accounts of two small businesses. This was at a time when it was uncommon for firms to communicate directly with customers online.

Soon, she moved on to work for a start-up in logistics and then a software-development company. However both roles offered little structure and feedback, which were things Madein craved.

“The growth opportunities [for software engineers] were limited to banking so we were all trying to create new career paths outside of established networking and Industrial Technology roles that existed 20 years ago,” she says. “I wanted a career that enabled a blend of research and technology, which didn’t seem feasible at the time.”

Eventually, she secured the role of a senior software engineer at Andela, a training and talent network firm for software engineers backed by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. It not only provided the structure and security associated with established companies but also the typical start-up aptitude for research and experimentation. Madein also found the company’s constructive feedback boosted her performance and confidence.

I realised that all those experiences got me to my current point.

However, she was the sole female voice on her team. This is still a common occurrence in male-dominated industries such as technology but Madein remains positive. She believes it can be solved by consciously seeking out women via targeted hiring and referrals.

These days, Madein’s role at Microsoft sees her making decisions on both software and design, a career dream she had had since completing her master’s degree in human-computer interaction. But more importantly, she better appreciates the benefits of taking a circuitous route and hopes others would be inspired to formulate a career plan that works for them.

“I was still insecure about [my resume] until recently when I realised that all those experiences got me to my current point. I’ve worked on different products and in different industries which I wouldn’t have been able to do had I been working on one product or company those five years,” said Madein. “That flexibility allowed me to reinvent myself.”

With thanks to Africa No Filter who made the #Limitless series possible.