By Mwaniki Nyaga, KamiLimu Management Committee Member
In March this year, 10 days after he started his new role as a junior full-stack engineer at MediaPal, a programmatic advertising company, Meshack conducted a session on preparing for technical interviews alongside his new employer and MediaPal’s Co-Founder, Eric Wesonga. Impressed by his ease in delivery of technical content to an audience of KamiLimu mentees, I decided to prod him further on his experience applying for the role as well as how he had been coping with the government-mandated lockdown and its repercussions.
Meshack recently completed his coursework towards a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Computer Science at JKUAT. He grew up fascinated by the internal workings of things, and, true to form, has gone on to explore and learn the saxophone and clarinet. Aside from his day job, he is a music tutor and performer.
In this interview, he explores the ease with which his attitude to learning has manifested huge leaps of progress in his life and the achievements he continues to accumulate. Meshack also reflects on the lessons he has gleaned from mentorship while at KamiLimu.
Hi Meshack. Thank you for joining me on this call. Speaking of which, I remember interviewing you for last year’s KamiLimu video, and you talked about your interest in Cybersecurity. I am interested in knowing how you transitioned from Cybersecurity to web development?
Thank you for the opportunity, Mwaniki. I was not sure where I was going to land. Ideally, my aim was to be a Cybersecurity Engineer, but then, again, I was open to any opportunity. So, I used to split my time between Cybersecurity concepts, such as ethical hacking and penetration testing, and web development. In this way, I could take up a job in either field. However, I still apply my cybersecurity skills in my present job, as I can now build secure systems.
I am glad things are working well for you. Did KamiLimu impact your application process?
Yes, pretty much in every way: from creating my CV and cover letter to preparing for the interview. First, one of the peer mentorship tasks during last year’s cohort involved preparing our CVs for job applications. From the exercises, I learned to tailor mine to the current opportunity to which I am applying. Second, my Peer Mentor then, Allan, went through my cover letter, and he corrected me regarding what to include or remove. Additionally, the program helped me to shape my online portfolio, especially LinkedIn, which increased my visibility.
Which of the lessons at KamiLimu did you find most helpful in the application process?
I’d say cover letter writing. Before KamiLimu, I did not even have a cover letter but this changed by the time I was graduating. Also, I revamped my CV significantly, thanks to KamiLimu: Initially, I thought a CV should contain everything that one has done, but I realized this was a wrong approach. Again, the interview preparation sessions helped me a lot as I knew that I had to conduct prior research on a company before an interview, which I did because I looked up MediaPal to learn about what the company does. From this investigation, I learned about digital marketing, which was a completely new concept to me, but with this knowledge, I shone in the interview.
That is great! What else do you think you can improve on based on the lessons you learned during the selection process?
First, I did not have a very impactful online portfolio. So, I first want to work on improving my portfolio to showcase my work.
Aaah! That is ironic as you were telling us about the online portfolio today. Or was that the first task on the job? Haha.
Haha. Actually, my first task on the job was to customize a website the company is working on using HTML and CSS. I was tasked with converting the webpage into an Android app. Presently, I am working on an iOS app. I actually learned Heroku during my first week on the job, so the experience has been an amazing one.
(Heroku is a service that enables developers to build, run, and operate applications entirely in the cloud. Meshack demonstrated how to host a project or portfolio on Heroku during the joint session on preparing for technical interviews.)
Oh, that is amazing! What are you looking forward to doing or learning in your new role?
I look forward to being a full-stack engineer and learning various technologies, such as Laravel which is popular within the company. So I hope to enhance my skills as I progress. I also want to fight my impostor syndrome more, as I realized people actually learn at work. I’ve come to see that one does not have to know everything going in. For example, one does not have to be a master programmer to land a job. What they should have is a strong foundation in the basics and a willingness to learn while at work.
How was your impostor syndrome while starting your new role?
The first three days were tough! I remember chatting with one of my new colleagues regarding what technologies I am confident working in and I listed Python Django and a bit of Java. Then he exclaimed, “I do not know what Eric told you, but we do not use Python here.” That set me back as I was most comfortable using the language. But, over time, I have learned to be confident in my skills. For instance, I converted the website I mentioned earlier from web to Android successfully, which has contributed to diminishing my impostor syndrome.
That is really impressive. Are you using Swift for the iOS app you are currently building?
Yes, which is amazing as I had to learn the language from scratch. Every day we are learning.
Ahaha. Every day seems to be a learning day because, wow, you have been there for less than 10 days.
Yes! And, presently, I actually know a lot more than I did coming in.
What advice would you give people who are afraid of applying for a job based on the conception that they do not meet all the job description requirements?
I would say just be really good in the basics, such as the basics of computer programming for a software development role. Also, know how things work: for example, I moved from PHP to Python to Java, and I found commonalities among them, such as loops, functions, or classes being similar throughout. Also, complete one or two projects to polish your skills, and just apply for that role! People learn every day on the job. So just be really good at the basics and do not be afraid of making that application.
Are you working from home?
Partially. I go to the office on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Okay, Do you perceive any differences between working from home and in the office?
Personally, I prefer working from the office because of fewer distractions: there are children at home. Nonetheless, even while at home, I still manage to deliver on my responsibilities.
Haha. That is an interesting one. Are you done with school?
No. I have not done my final year’s final semester exams.
(Update: Meshack recently completed his undergraduate coursework at JKUAT.)
Okay. How did you feel about school closures following the discovery of instances of the new coronavirus in Kenya?
I looked at it as an opportunity for me to advance my skills, haha. We have had almost four months of free time in which one can work on their side projects without worrying about assignments and CATs. So I viewed it as an opportunity to polish my skills. For example, during the first two months of lockdown, I signed up for some courses on Udemy, which I have been working towards completing.
Would you say that this work during the two months gave you an edge in getting the job?
Definitely. In that time, I understood Python Django deeply, which assisted me during the interview in which I was asked related questions, such as why use the framework?
You also mentioned that Allan was your Peer Mentor. How was your relationship?
Let me talk of my peer mentorship group as a whole, then get back to Allan. We still meet occasionally as a group and we still talk a lot. Allan has also been with us all the way: even today, he is still available in case we need him to review our applications or cover letters. The peer mentorship group turned out really great for me, and I thank KamiLimu for it.
Aah, cool. So a sense of community?
Oh yes! Very much so.
Asante Sana, Meshack. I will let you have your dinner now, haha.
Thank you. All in all, it has been a great experience. I have amazing and supportive colleagues who are always ready to assist. Which reminds me that one should not be afraid of applying for a job as they will find help within their workplaces.
Do you see yourself coming back to KamiLimu or giving back to your community?
Of course. I did not apply to be a Peer Mentor at KamiLimu this year as I wanted to focus on building my technical skills. However, I hope to do so next year to support other students.
Interview transcribed by Allan Wasega.