Sofware developer Yetunde Sanni has always been drawn to technology. Like many kids who grew up in Nigeria in the 90s, she had her first interaction with a computer at the age of 10 when her family got a Windows 98 desktop. This sparked an interest in her that influenced a career decision at an age and time where most of her peers were drawn to “conventional” careers like law and medicine. In her words, “I was always drawn to any computational devices generally. This led me to open my first email at the age of 12 at a cyber cafe near our house.”
Choosing to study Computer Science for her undergraduate studies seemed like a natural thing to her. Yetunde had chosen her future career based on her passion but that was only half the work done. The rest of it had to do with overcoming impostor syndrome and believing in herself. “The start of the journey was very frustrating as I felt super dumb many times, but I never gave up. I kept going all the same, even though it was at a slow pace,” she says.
On working hard and staying relevant
Shortly after Yetunde joined Andela, a tech company, in February 2015, she was placed on probation. According to her, “It’s related to me thinking I wasn’t smart enough to understand the programming logic and concepts. I wasn’t catching up at the regular pace that I should have.” It was at this point she knew she had to do some soul-searching to remind herself of why she chose to embark on the journey to be a developer. And it worked. In no time, she was back on track.
“In the space of two weeks with several sleepless nights, I worked with a mentor who helped and guided me through the technical challenges I was going through and this helped me to catch up,” she says.
Software development is a fast-paced, ever-evolving field. It’s easy for a lot of developers to get left behind. But not Yetunde. A bit of an autodidact, she stays relevant by following online tutorials and other forms of personal studies. She’s also a fan of tech meetups. To her, these meet-ups are important because “[They] engage the community in the different things that are evolving. Also, being surrounded with many engineers everyday allows you catch up with the rest of the world.”
On what motivates her
“Money,” she laughs. “I think money motivates me to embrace self-development, else one will find out that a skill they have is no longer recognized or has been upgraded over time, which can land one in an unemployed state. Sounds awkward, but money is also a good extrinsic motivation to self-development.”
On being a woman in tech (in Nigeria)
It’s no secret a “bro culture” exists in tech spaces all over the world. Instances of sexism and sexual harassment are rife in software/startup companies. The Uber sexual harassment fiasco from last year, and the sexist internal memo distributed by a now former Google staff are but a few examples of what women face in these spaces. Thankfully, no such stories have come out of the Nigerian tech space.
“I haven’t faced sexism at work,” Yetunde says. I can only say I always get that expression from outsiders when I tell them I’m a software engineer. I get that sort of weird unbelievable look, which I know will change over time.”
Not that she cares much about the words of naysayers. To her, being a woman doesn’t matter when it comes to getting the work done. In her words, “I care more about what needs to be done than sulking over the fact that I’m a woman in tech. Like I always say to my mentees, ‘Grind your skill to the last granule because your skills will speak louder than your gender.’”
On giving back
Yetunde is involved in two women-focused projects: TechInPink and Komplete Woman Slum Empowerment. The former for young women interested in learning programming, and the latter for teenage mothers living in urban slums. TechInPink was founded in 2016 by Yetunde and Gertrude Nyenyeshi, a fellow developer from Kenya.
“We wanted to increase the number of code tutorials written by women of color in tech,” Yetunde explains. “Overall, to get and encourage more women to embrace tech. We do this by organizing programming bootcamps in universities and also mentoring some of these young women.”
On the other hand, Komplete Woman is about empowering young mothers in disadvantaged communities. “[It} is an initiative dedicated to instructing women out of the treasure of God’s word to live a life of purpose. Our keywords are God, Purpose and Passion,” Yetunde says. “In the first empowerment project, we trained 5 young teenage mothers in the Ajegunle slum in a professional handwork that will further help their livelihood and help set them up as entrepreneurs.”
Both projects speak to Yetunde’s desire to improve the standard of living for women in Nigeria, a topic she is passionate about.
Advice for aspiring female developers
Yetunde believes more young women should venture into the tech space. However, she fears some might be doing it for the wrong reasons. “Don’t get into tech because it’s the buzzword happening all around,” she warns. “Get into tech because you have a simple motivation and genuine reason for the change you want to bring into tech.” Based on her own life experiences, Yetunde has these final words of wisdom, “Your motivation is one of the several things that will keep you going during the tough days to come.”
Fun fact about Yetunde: Google Calendar is one app she can’t do without. “I check it every morning when my day is about to start so as to know my plans for the day. It really helps me to be more productive and organized,” she says.