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My Pivot Journal: How Anthony Agah went from training people on soft skills to being a product manager

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

Anthony Agah’s interest in tech was always simmering in the background. He only realized how much he loved it when he started helping other techies find jobs. Here is Anthony Agah’s pivot journal.

How it started

I was fascinated with flying as a kid. I dreamed of becoming a pilot. At some point, I wanted to be an aero engineer. I ended up choosing to be a doctor, partly because of my parents’ influence and partly because of my interest in medicine. But getting into medical school was not easy. I had to explore other options and find out what I wanted to do. It took a lot to figure it out, but somehow, I ended up in the business management department. In school, I was a leader in AIESEC, a global student leadership organization. I worked as an HR person, hiring and managing people who joined the organization. After graduation, I continued on that path, building a career in HR.

Epiphany

I’ve always been intrigued about tech and computers, to be honest. I grew up near the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where I had some friends whose parents were professors. They had desktop computers at their homes, which I loved to play with and explore. Some of them hardly used their computers, so I had the chance to experiment with them. I also attended a coding camp once, where I learned some basics of programming. I didn’t have a laptop then, so I just took notes and tried to remember everything.

This side interest continued till the university. I would attend Google and Facebook events and development group events in school. I even joined some of these groups. We would share flyers and go to various events together. I may say the turning point for me, when I knew that I had to pursue a tech career was in my final year. I joined a platform called Roar Hub, a university based incubator program where students could access various resources, opportunities and get trained to fund their tech ideas. We participated in a competition and our team won. 

However, I continued with my HR career after school. I was training people on how to get a job, but I felt that it was not fulfilling enough for me. At a point, it felt repetitive. I wanted something more challenging and exciting. I saw that many of my friends from school were already in tech and doing well. I decided that I needed to follow my passion and get into tech as well.

Anthony Agah

Transition

At first, I joined an incubator program to learn product design. It was only at the end of the training after I had applied my skills to a capstone project, that I realized I didn’t know how to combine colours. It was a flaw. And the project that I was working on didn’t have a product manager. It was annoying how they wanted requirements every time. Because I understood interpersonal relationships, communicated well, understood the basics of product design, and had a good knowledge of the business aspect of doing anything, I thought product management would be the best for me. As luck would have it, after the training, which I paid for with all my savings, the first role I got was a leadership role. I was to lead a product. That was my official entry into the tech industry.

Transitioning is not always as easy as most people make it seem. I made a lot of sacrifices. I would leave my house at 6 am and get to the place where I would have access to the internet by 7. By 7:30, or 8 am, I was already seated and browsing, using the free internet and charging my laptop. Then, once it was 5 or 6 pm, I started going home. I was not working, I was training but I took it like a job. There were times when I had assessments to do, and I might not even sleep throughout the night. I still have insomnia. Sometimes, I find myself awake at 2 a.m. one am doing nothing. I’ve been so awake all the years that sometimes it’s hard to switch back. 

When I started transitioning, I was still working in an HR company in Lagos. Sometimes I would sneak out of work to go and meet my friends who were learning in that incubator program daily. Or I would even sneak out to just go to conferences or events happening at CCHub because my office was in the same environment. These were the two sacrifices I had to make. I had to juggle my job and also learn what I was being taught in the product academy I enrolled in.

I attended tech conferences. It’s not like I’m a freak for conferences but the events connected me to people that I needed to get close to. It made me see the future in what I was coming into, realize it was something I wanted to do, and these are people I want to be like. My transition process was intentional and based on my HR background. Since I was 19, I have worked with a global organization in school. This experience exposed me to the whole process of product development. I realized these are the things I need to learn. That was how I would get to these places. Those were what I needed to do to get the resources or get the opportunities I needed. Besides, I was training people on how to get a job. I learned about applying skillsets that employers value and that is something that a lot of techies don’t have. 

I also tried as much as possible to ask a lot of questions. I was honest with myself about my strengths and weaknesses. Because those were the things that I had in my arsenal to transition. It took me about a year to get the role I wanted. When I started the product managerial training, it took me like three or four months. I had sent out more than a thousand applications. I had gotten to that point in my career in my life that I knew there was no going back. I had that at the back of my head every single time I applied. What was the worst that could happen? Now I have grown more confident and selective in my career choices. These days I see a “rejected mail” and I’m okay with it. It just shows that failure is a metric of progress and growth, not a setback.

How it’s going 

I’m the senior product manager of Verify Me, a real-time identity management system. As the senior product manager at Verify Me, an identity management system, I do a lot of product strategy to make our product better for the market. I attend high-level management meetings to give my suggestions and feedback. I also manage a team of people and coordinate with them through product sync meetings, design calls, and stand-ups. I report on our progress and challenges to the C-level executives in the company. My main goal is to push for the execution and implementation of our product vision at a high scale. 

While some people claim passion for their work, I don’t take it lightly. It’s not just a buzzword for me. It’s about waking up excited to create an impact, not just for myself but for others. I want to fall asleep knowing I’ve made a difference. I remember leading a challenging project. It was gruelling, with constant hurdles and crazy situations. Seeing the product’s positive impact on users filled me with pure joy. I barely go to conferences anymore. I feel like I’ve been to a couple of them and have most of the knowledge that would be shared there. Plus, I could probably get some of this information by just interacting with my tech friends over brunch.

Career hack

Be curious enough, communicate properly, and collaborate effectively. Don’t get stuck on something that doesn’t work for you. Find something else that matches your skills or talents. The key thing is to research what you want to do, stay hungry for opportunities to grow, and build a strong network of supportive people.

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