“If you surrender to the wind, you can ride it.” –Toni Morrison

Chinwoke F. Hyginus (Chike, for us) joined UP42 as a software engineer only a few months ago but is already making an impact. Not just because of his hard work but because of the story behind his dedication.

Some call it fate. Some call it destiny. For Chike, it was a conscious decision to listen to his voice and find his path–a leap that took him away from home but closer to his purpose.

And that’s how the story goes…

Tell me about yourself and your role at UP42. How did you get there?

I’m originally from Nigeria and moved to Germany this January. My background is in telecommunications engineering, but I switched to software in 2016 when I realized I was more into building applications that help people around the world meet their needs. I started as a full-stack engineer, moved on to develop Android applications with Java, and then went back to JavaScript and to building Web applications with ReactJS. At UP42, I help the data team build our catalog domain to make it the number one platform in our industry for searching and ordering archive geospatial data. It’s been just a few months since I joined, so there’s still a lot to grasp, but we’re really pushing, and I love it so far.

What challenges did you face at the beginning of your journey at UP42?

When a recruiter contacted me, I looked up the website, and at first, it took me a little while to understand that geospatial data is basically information. I realized that UP42 was, in fact, a marketplace where clients search for a product based on certain criteria. Having worked mainly in the insurance sector, I had yet to experience an e-commerce-like environment, so I decided to take on this challenge and see where it would take me.

The first thing I noticed is that, unlike other companies, each team works independently to manage their part of the product. Where I worked before, there was a general team and everyone was just pushing, pushing, pushing. So teams here are more specialized with specific goals. Sure, I had to Google some of the terms here and there, and I needed clarification, but after a while, I was able to grasp the essence of the platform.

And does geospatial excite you now that you understand it a bit more?

Yes! Trust me, who wouldn’t be excited about things like space and satellites? And the fact that the company is owned by Airbus, one of the leading aviation companies in the world, made it even more exciting. I moved to Germany specifically for this opportunity!

How was your experience moving to a new country?

The worst thing about moving to Berlin from Nigeria is that it was super cold. January is the worst time to move to a cold country if you’re not used to it. I was wearing up to five layers of clothes! After a few months, I’m more used to the system and how things work. The language can be a barrier, but I am trying my best to learn it on YouTube and through private courses.

Growing up in Nigeria, how did you get into engineering?

I’ve always been super curious to learn how things work. I remember one time a friend came to me to show me the new phone he’d bought. He was so happy! I was surprised and wanted to know what made my friend smile with joy. That’s what first got me into electronics and computer engineering.

In the beginning, I enjoyed it, but when it came to coding, I literally hated it. Until something happened. If there really is a fine line between love and hate, I think I crossed it. I went straight from hating coding to loving every bit of it. I learned everything on my own, on my phone–you know, HTML, CSS, etc. When I finished school, I had to do a mandatory military year with the National Youth Service Corps before looking for a job. After that, I was assigned to a company that does software development. It was a turning point for me. In less than a month, I had to learn four different types of tools very fast. When I moved to Andela, I was trained in FullStack JavaScript (Node/React), working with local clients and others based in the US.

Why was this a turning point? What changed?

For six months, I lived in Port Harcourt. I did what we call “industrial training” for undergraduates. I felt misplaced working for my first company. This guy, a bus driver, was studying computer science part-time at the University of Port Harcourt. He was into programming and tried to encourage me to learn new languages. I was like, “No, dude, I hate coding. It’s just gibberish, super abstract. Leave me alone.” In my final month, I was walking down the same street, just like every day, to get the bus. Not one day did I raise my head to look up, but I caught myself thinking, “Hey Chike, look up!” and saw this giant billboard saying, “You were born to erase poverty.”

That’s when I realized I was running away from trying to help people or make their lives easier. This was clearly telling me I needed to do something about it. When I went home, I couldn’t sleep for three days straight, ruminating about what I saw and thinking, “What’s the issue? What is it that I need to do?” That’s when I found instant love for what I do. Almost miraculously. From that point, everything just flowed kind of easy for me. Maybe it’s not something to take literally–erasing poverty can mean many things. I found a solution–or my purpose, let’s say–in tech. I reflected on what I was trying to run away from, and that’s where I found my motivation to work every single day, giving it my 100%.

So how is your job at UP42 supporting your purpose?

Something I didn’t mention is how amazing people are. This really struck me during the recruiting process. Other companies were also trying to recruit me at the same time, and I was looking for the most friendly and accommodating. It doesn’t matter how much a company pays me if I can’t have a purpose. You need to be happy. UP42 was also very diverse. I met people from Argentina and Turkey telling me how great UP42 was, and that got me super hooked. I felt it was the right decision for me, so I decided to move.

What do you like the most about your job?

I love the learning process. When you keep applying the same ABC formula over and over, work becomes stagnant. In our kind of job, you learn every single day. It keeps your mind alive. It makes you go read articles and ask questions.

What’s your hope at UP42 for the next few years?

I hope one day to be in a position where I can lead. I’ve always had that spirit and often found myself in a leadership position to coordinate projects and lead people toward the same goal. I hope to stick around and see all the great things we can accomplish together.

In your opinion, what does it take to be a leader?

You need to be able to influence, and to do that, you have to be a step ahead. Wanting to be a leader is not enough to be followed. You need to have more knowledge and be able to influence others to follow you in the direction you think is best for whatever project you are working on. You also have to be approachable and make sure people feel free and comfortable coming to you for advice. And to do that, you have to be a good communicator. The rest is secondary.

Looking back, what would you tell your younger self?

I would tell him that nothing is impossible. If you set your mind on something, you might achieve it. It’s just a matter of mindset. You know, I was very narrow-minded, unwilling to try anything that I just didn’t know much about. If you keep an open mind, you never know what you can reach. I never listened to that voice telling me to be a better person than you currently are. Now I have this mindset to push boundaries, keep doing my best, and make sure that whatever I do is putting a smile somewhere, on someone’s face, like my friend that day.

Viviana Laperchia avatar

Viviana Laperchia

Senior PR and Communications Manager

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