Interview With Sagar Onwe: The Possibilities of Programming are Limitless

Having gone to Lagos, Abuja and elsewhere in my interviews, I came home to Enugu and had a rich conversation with Sagar. Sagar or Sugar, as his babies call him, is a software programmer, a cryptocurrency monger; he is generally a tech guy, lord of gizmos and expert of gadgets. So we sat down and chatted about everything, from coding to bitcoin to start-ups to thirty billions. The interview is fresh despite the delay in publishing it occasioned by the passing away of my friend, brother and mentor.

#

Hard Voices: I first spoke to you about this interview in December I think. And we are just having it now, seven months later. What has changed between you that I wanted to interview in December and this you I am interviewing right now?

Sagar: Alot man. Ranging from how I see the world, to career and relationships. Let’s say I am like an evolving universe. I have advanced my programming skills and better my view of how I see others.

Hard Voices: You studied software engineering. Software engineering in Nigeria. This is a great thing but also a painful one. Countless schools should be offering the course.

Sagar: Yes, but honestly our institutions have refused to move further with their never changing and rigid curriculum. I use to teach some computer science students in Esut. And you will be marveled at what lecturers teach these students. When they finally graduate, they become unemployable.

Hard Voices: I can imagine what they teach them. Now if we can’t even teach computer science which is more of hardware, any hope for us in the software angle like coding and programming?

Sagar: You got it a little bit wrong. A computer scientist should rightly be better than a software engineer. If taught rightly. Check the curriculum of India and UK…

Hard Voices: But that is not what is obtainable here. I know a department of Computer science which does more mathematics as it was created from the department of mathematics and mathematics lecturer just swapped to teaching it.

Sagar: Here in Nigeria?

Hard Voices:  Yes.

Sagar: You see that’s the problem. Our educational separation of concern is backwards

Hard Voices: I tried learning coding. CSS, HTML and the rest. They bored the hell out of me, I gave up. Everyone cannot be a coder. Not my calling. But for people who aspire to code, what would you advise them? Is there a short-cut?

Sagar: Hahahahahaha. To everything there is that’s worth doing, shortcuts are off limit. My advice though. Go for what you want no matter how long it takes. It’s never easy even with the passion because that’s what keeps you going. But when I have cooled off and come back to try it again.

It eventually works. Another tip. The computer is never wrong but you the programmer. So give it time, it will eventually sink. It was not easy for me as well and still not. I have seen days my code won’t work, for five days or more, and I will want to break my system into pieces.

Hard Voice: I could get grey hair before I get a grasp of it. Now that you mention coding, may I ask, is that one app you or your group of developers have developed or working to develop?

Sagar: Yes we have. For a company in Abuja. Veetu.com.ng. We worked on the windows mobile version. Then we did a portal for a church in Abuja but they have not renewed subscription for the year. Currently we are working on something big. An attendance management system, Okutime.com. We have done some other personal projects but the ones I mentioned here are majors.

Hard Voices: Great, real great. Now, you are the number one advocate of cryptocurrency like bitcoin etc that I know on social media. How would you explain cryptocurrency to a dummy? I am not saying I am a dummy but we are a legion here. You can never tell.

Sagar: Hehehehe. Ok, first, there is a perception which is unique to everybody. I will always tell anyone who wants to know about cryptocurrencies to go Google it because I might just give you an idea that might make you believe it’s not important. But to answer your question.

In a nutshell, CryptoCurrency simple means Internet money or digital money. It runs on the Internet network and allows millions of money transfer across the Internet without a third-party which is the bank within seconds or minutes.

It makes transaction easy and fast without going through protocols of the bank like limit in daily and international transactions. It’s a very large topic which I believe should be a topic for another day. Nevertheless if one wants to know why CryptoCurrency will take over the world. Watch silver and gold on YouTube channel. They have a series of talk about money and it’s history. It’s a good start.

Hard Voices: Is Cryptocurrency the ultimate? Or do we expect anything after it?

Sagar: Well, I can’t predict the future as regards to expecting another but one thing is certain, CryptoCurrency is going to take over the world.

Hard Voices: On Facebook, the other day, I referred, jokingly, to my neighbour whose heart might have been broken and I said I suspected you and two other of my guys as the breaker. Were you surprised that I saw you as a man who might break a lady’s heart?

Sagar: Hahahahaha. Most people think that too until you get to really know me. By knowing me, I mean spend time with me then you’d think otherwise. As my zodiac sign happens to be libra. I am 80% what that sign stands for.

Hard Voices: Beyond zodiac signs, is there anything in you that you think make people, from afar, think of you as the kind of man who might break hearts.

Sagar: I love hanging out with cute ladies even though we might not have anything intimate. So people tend to assume a lot of things based on that.

Hard Voices: You live and work in Enugu. Must one be in Lagos to succeed as a start-up?

Sagar: No, no, no. It’s a big no. I for one don’t believe in that. Though it gets really hard here to gain grounds but in no time you will start getting those big jobs that usually go to Lagos on bases of professionalism. I also hail from Enugu. Remember that saying about charity beginning from home?

Hard Voices: Is saying that charity begins from home a way of saying you don’t see your long-term future here?

Sagar: I do. No matter how big we get tomorrow, Enugu will always be our headquarters.

Hard Voices: You also said. ‘it gets really hard to gain grounds’. Have you faced any disadvantage of any sort because you do not live in Lagos?

Sagar: Yes. Most times investors believe that the best hands stay in Lagos. You have to do some convincing.

Hard Voices: If not coding, what art would you have taken to? Photography, like your friend Neec, or writing, like the pretender interviewing you?

Sagar:  I am a man who almost everything about creativity turns on. And I tell you there’s nothing that I’d put my heart to that I can’t learn. I have a long list of other artistic things I’d like to do other than programming. I love music, dancing, street photography, sound engineering, writing etc majorly things that gets me less bored and makes my head tick while my heart pumps blood at high rate.

Hard Voices: How lucrative is coding? Does it put thirty billion for the account?

Sagar: Hehehehe. Let’s be sarcastic for a moment. Do you believe that Davido has 30 billion in his account that’s his personal money? Wait sef, he did not even say if it’s dollar or naira.

Hard Voices: What is Davido?

Sagar: Hehehe. I will pretend for a minute that you are joking.

Hard Voices: Well, if this is your way of not disclosing how lucrative coding is, I must say it is working.

Sagar: Like I said earlier, I needed us to divert a little because I love to play too much. It rejuvenates me

Back to your question. Before I answer you let’s look at a little analysis. This is a list of products and number of years it took each to hit 50 million users…

Hard Voices: I also love to play but not so much when 30 billion is on line. Let’s see the list.

Sagar: Automobile – 62 years; Telephone 50 years; Electricity 46 years;  Television 22 years; ATM 18 years; Internet 7 years; PayPal 5 years; YouTube 4 years; Facebook 3 years; Twitter 2 years.

What does this tell you?

Hard Voices: It tells me that the time frame is getting shorter and shorter. Although I can’t find Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram on the list. But really, do you need fifty million users to blow? I don’t think Glo has fifty million active users, and I don’t think Adenuga is broke.

Sagar: Hahaha. I wouldn’t know as well even though I am a strong advocate for Glo ISP. But what I am driving at is the limitless possibility of programming and it’s coast keeping broadening by the day.

Imagine you sit in your room, come up with an idea of an application, build it and just a click away, put it online and people starts using it then your account starts pressing up. You don’t need to have someone in the military or government. Or even have marketing skills. Or wait at the reception. Just have an awesome idea and the skill to develop. That’s all.

Just a matter of time, 30 billion will be child’s play compared to what you will have but like I said it takes time and awesome idea.

Hard Voices: Now, you are really spelling it out in black and white. Good luck bro.

Now to my favourite question when interviewing eligible bachelors. Bia, when you go marry?

Sagar: This really got me cracked up. About marriage for me, it’s an institution I would prefer to gain admission into when the time is right mentally and financially.

Hard Voices: Are you seriously looking for admission? And have you met the admission officer?

Sagar: None of the above. First things first.

Hard Voices: What are the five to ten indigenous tech startups we should look out, that would help rewrite the history of tech industry in Nigeria? 

Sagar: Well, I know of two basically. Tech point and Okutime. I see this two companies doing something entirely new to the industry. Unlike those firms that go into the normal website building, branding, designs etc

Hard Voices: Thank you, Sagar, for sharing a piece of yourself with us. If, one day, I meet you in Bush Bar or Golden Royale pool side, I will buy you one bottle.

You can find Sagar’s start-up here

 

Advertisements

And the Sun Went Dark Before Noon. And Eben is No More

“What happened to him? Who did this? I said who?” – Arrow of God, Chinua Achebe, 1964.

That was Ezeulu when the corpse of Obika was brought into his obi. I read this in 2005 or 2006 and I couldn’t keep the tears from falling. I loved Obika and he was a mere fictional character.

On Sunday, 9th July 2017, a phone call brought the news about Ebenezer. Eben is dead. One phone call, one sentence, less than ten seconds, and a man full of life, fun, wit, intelligence, fairness, humility, respect and optimism was reduced to a man who was now gone from this life, a man who would now be addressed in the past tense. I can’t keep the tears from flowing. I loved Eben and he was a great man.

I am crying.

I met Eben in 2010. He was in 300 level, Literature. I was in 100 level, same department.  He became my coach and mentor; and my friend, despite the disparity in age and level; and my brother, despite the difference in tongue and tone; and I called him baba na–my father.

I am devastated.

Eben was a guru, a legend. We would argue among our study group and defend our point with Eben said this, but Eben didn’t exactly mean that. I would block him in front of the dean’s car park, in the library, in front of the Senate, in the Social Centre, before the Main Gate, anywhere. I would block him and ask him about a novel, a critical theory, an era, an author, a lecturer’s temperament, anything. And he would answer me in his analytical, witty manner with laughter in the edge of his mouth. He was never too busy for me.

I am confused.

Eben was Zaria-based. So when he left the university he remained on the campus. Like a small tree planted near the base of a mighty tree, I grew up under the wings of Eben, my raw academic ability shedded by Eben’s magnanimity and refined by his intellect, experience and nuanced worldview. In my final year, Eben got admission for his master’s degree in the department. His presence on the campus was solidified. I was in ABU Zaria for four years and Eben was the constant. His presence assured me, challenged me and favoured me. When he graduated I inherited his reading materials. I was his heir. Now he’s gone.

I feel cheated.

ebenrip

It didn’t end there. Ebengbasky, as he’s also called, fondly, remained my friend. On Twitter, on Facebook we fought, argued, shared jokes, swapped sarcasm and banters. We agreed on plenty fronts and disagreed in many. He was an Arsenal fan, like me, he was a wailer, like me, he lived online, like me. But I am irritated with the antics and personality of Trump while he enjoyed the drama of Trump, telling me to focus more on “Change” happening in Nigeria. I wanted Wenger fired but he preffered a gradual transition for Wenger. We disagreed and in the midst of our disagreement, our comradeship prospered.

I am heartbroken.

My friend is gone! Just three weeks back I was teasing him to go and get married. I said I must eat his wedding rice. He would ask me not to let the devil use me and we would start series of funny back and forth exchanges that, I believe, entertained our mutual friends. Suddenly Eben died. Just like that, mid-life, mid-wit, mid-school, mid-banter.

I mourn.

And the entire staff of English and literary studies mourns with me.

English and literary class of 2007 mourns you.

English and literary class of 2008 mourns you.

English and literary class of 2009 mourns you.

English and literary class of 2010 mourns you.

Federal College of Education Zaria mourns you.

Charity and Faith Church mourns you.

Federal Government Girls College Zaria mourns you.

Edo State mourns you.

Arsenal fans mourn you.

Wailers on Twitter mourn you.

Eben, where are you?

Your friends on Facebook are crying. Your family is lamenting. Your sons and daughters are lost, shocked, like breastfeeding kids forcefully taken from their mother’s bosom mid-suckling. Your paddies are calling one another on phone, to confirm you are really dead, willing someone to deny it, willing the whole story to become a joke, fatal, expensive, but a joke we’re willing to accept with a heavy sigh of relief.

I remember earlier this year, I said, half-jokingly, that if Nnamdi Kanu’s extreme agitations lead us to another war I would be unable to resist fighting but I would be killed in the war,  and Eben would, one day, write a book Don’t Let Kingsley Okechukwu Die, like Achebe wrote for Christopher Okigbo. Eben was going to write my memoir, keep my memory alive. But today, in a sunless morning, I sit on my desktop to type “Rest in Peace Ebenezer”. I can’t believe I’m doing this. No, I never saw it this way. Not in my weirdest nightmare. We had an unspoken pact Eben and you didn’t keep it.

One day, God’s words being true, we would meet again and I would approach you and ask one question, just one question. I would say, “Eben, why did you leave us without saying goodbyes? Just like that.”

ebeng