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Peter Ayeni
Peter Ayeni

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How I got my first UK tech job as an African Immigrant.

I shared this experience in a closed Facebook group and it seemed to inspire a lot of people, so I decided to share it here and hope it encourages more people going through a similar experience.

It’s not news that being black is really hard; it's even harder to be black and a first-generation immigrant.

I went to Flatiron School so broke that I didn’t even have rent for two weeks in London. I started out living in hostels outside London, while my school was in central London in a WeWork facility. That meant long hours on the bus in the morning and long hours on the bus back to the hostel.

First Day at Flatiron

That meant very short nights. To save money for the hostel, I would stay on campus to work overnight. If you know WeWork facilities, they used to have phone booths; sometimes, I slept in the phone booths overnight. I would wake up early to freshen up and get ready for the day.

Because I was on a very low budget, I ate once a day. Coffee, chocolate, and biscuits were always available on campus; that’s what I would take for breakfast. I would buy lunch, part of which I would eat during the day and the remainder at night.

Before moving to the UK, I had been working in Tech in Nigeria. I have an International Diploma in Computing with distinction, a BBA in IT Security, about 5 years of work experience in Nigeria, international fellowships, and more. But all these were not enough to break into the UK tech ecosystem. As a new immigrant, you are cursed with having zero UK experience.

I had heard a lot about how limiting this can be, and no matter how impressive your CV might be, not having UK experience can be a roadblock between you and your first job offers.

I tried all I could to mitigate this, at least to the best of my knowledge. I was volunteering for the British Red Cross and also joined the Amnick Social Enterprise work experience program. Then, I started applying for every position in my line of skills, even the least entry-level jobs. I even applied for the post of a WordPress Content Manager, which is just a fancy name for posting content on a WordPress site and data entry for e-commerce websites. I didn’t even get a callback.

After many applications, I started getting some calls. Sometimes, after the calls, they would ask about my UK experience. There was one that went through, and I was invited to a physical interview for a WordPress Developer position at an agency. It was a great interview, and then they sent me a mock-up to build a complete WordPress theme. I did about 70% of the job within the three-day timeframe, coding everything from scratch. They said it wasn’t enough; I could have used Bootstrap.

In some interviews, I would get feedback like the company serves businesses that have a turnover of millions of pounds, and that I hadn’t worked on a project of that capacity, so they were not moving forward with me. "Million-pound business coming from Nigeria" – that's just a nice way of telling you that you don’t have UK experience.

This is the reason I decided to go to Flatiron School because I had run out of options. I was actually working with Udacity as a technical mentor, but the pay was not stable and largely depended on student turnout. I needed to break into this UK tech ecosystem and wondered what I needed to do differently.

Flatiron School is a reputable school around the globe. From my experience in Nigeria, I know people hire someone they feel connected to, either by recommendations or connections. All my jobs in Nigeria had been through recommendations. Maybe what I needed was to plug myself into an ecosystem where I could be trusted by all these UK HRs. And that’s exactly what I did.

Flatiron School is not cheap, and even living in London for three months is not cheap. As I applied to Flatiron School, I was working in a factory at night and for Udacity during the day. I put money together and bought a new MacBook Pro 2019; my wife also contributed some funds.

I headed to London on Saturday with the hope of conquering the UK job-hunting mountain. I worked my tail off in school, putting in 10 times the effort of anyone in my cohort. In my first two weeks, I was very sick from malnutrition and little sleep. I even failed my first coding challenge. But I didn’t let that hold me back. There was a night I was the only one on campus, and I was hit with a terrible cold. I thought I was going to die. I was crying inside the phone booth, just me. It was a miracle I made it through that nightmare. I tasked myself to create a new project every week. Normally, we would create a project every three weeks; I created an additional two.

As I read ahead of the class, I was creating new projects and applying for new jobs. I got as many rejections as you can imagine, but I never stopped. The more rejections I got, the more I applied to every job platform available in the UK. I had some phone interviews, and some Skype interviews. Some were even promising but ended in endless waiting. But the more disappointments I faced, the more I kept going.

After weeks in and out, living in one hostel after another, my wife was able to raise some funds, and with my salary from Udacity, I got accommodation in East London. With that, I got a little settled and could stay longer at the school, then go home to a comfortable apartment.

In December 2019, about two months into the program, I had a strange issue with my bank, and my salary from Udacity was flagged, and I couldn’t access funds. That’s when I realized London landlords are not smiling. I totally ran out of money and couldn’t sustain myself in London. That December was the worst Christmas of my life. I withdrew from the on-campus program and moved online.

You might be asking why I didn’t do my program online since there was an option. We all know the kind of momentum drop that can come from online courses; I have been there before. And I was really hungry to give it all I got this time, with no excuses. I am glad that I did. Going on campus allowed me to meet amazing people and also proved to myself that I am not a terrible programmer after all. My Flatiron experience was a validation of all I know and that I am good enough.

I learned a lot of things at Flatiron School that I think are worth more than the school fees: how to think like a software engineer and problem-solving skills. The community, the positive environment, the coaches, and the instructors are all amazing. Flatiron School changed my life.

After moving online, I started getting positive responses from some of my applications. One of them landed me my first job offer. Through the darkness, tears, sickness, hunger, late nights, and short sleep, here it comes: my very first job in the UK as a Software Engineer, in an organization working on something I am passionate about with amazing team members.

Previsico Team

Here it comes my very first job in the UK as a Software Engineer, in an organisation working on something I am passionate about with amazing team members.

Even better, I was the first in my cohort to land employment. Even though Flatiron School has amazing support and coaches for job searches, I never had to use them. And I fulfilled the promise I made to myself on the bus to London: I am going to round up this program walking into my new job the next Monday.

There is nowhere in the world that things will be handed over to you. You have to be hungry enough to go for it against all odds. Whether you are in Nigeria or abroad, even when I was home in Nigeria, I didn’t have anything handed to me. I was raised by a single mom who didn’t finish primary school. There was no connection waiting for me anywhere; I had less than a 0.05% chance of success.

Most importantly, we need someone to believe in us, and I am glad for Flatiron School and Previsico for believing in me. 😍✌🏾

Sometimes we just have to say it's either I succeed or die trying. I hope to write more about some specifics, but if you have any questions, I will be glad to answer in the comments.

😊 Keep moving forward… #ChangeThings

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