Terragon’s tech hub in Ife is bridging the skills gap between school and the data science industry

by | Dec 4, 2018

As a computer science undergraduate at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in Ife, Osun State, Nigeria, Morife Jebutu wrote endless lines of code and used plenty Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

But there was a problem; he was not sure how most of these code translated to real life usage and practical scenarios.

He is not alone.

Even though this problem of one-sided theoretical learning is predominant in engineering, his case is typical for the average Nigerian student studying any course.

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From hundreds of reasons Nigerian graduates are unemployed, and sometimes unemployable, an archaic curriculum is somewhere on top of the list. But one of the most pertinent, and ironically not well addressed issues after it is the gulf between this outdated curriculum and actual skills required for the 21st century workplace.

In Nigeria, the Terragon Group is looking to help select OAU students get practicable real life work skills and applications of school work.

Terragon is an African data company. Description on its website describes it as “a data and marketing technology business that unlocks value for businesses using insight to reach the mobile audience in Africa.”

Even though its head office is in Lagos, the Terragon Ife Tech Hub, as it is called, works with students and fresh graduates in coding and data engineering while exposing them to industry trends and standards.

Strategically located in Ife town in Osun State, close to the University, the hub is the company’s data science and engineering workshop, specifically dedicated to these areas of operations.

Techpoint Tours Terragon Ife Tech Hub 2

Cross section of students and staff at the tech hub

The office is a cramped apartment with barely enough space to fit everyone and move around.

Techpoint Tours Terragon Ife Tech Hub 3

A strategy session at the office

Oluwasegun Adetimeyin, Data & Engineering Manager at Terragon; who also doubles as head of the Ife office said plans are being finalised to move to a more conducive space.

Why Ife?

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As expected, the motives are not purely altruistic. According to Segun,

“OAU has had and still have a legendary pool of technology talents over the years. It has produced a lot of greats.”

Techpoint Tours Terragon Ife Tech Hub 6

Oluwasegun Adetimeyin, Data & Engineering Manager at Terragon

The strategic position of the company is to tap into this talent pool and also help the students grow professionally; the perfect symbiotic relationship.

Segun is a computer science graduate of OAU.

“After school, I did a hands-on internship with Terragon and from there rose through the ranks.”

He said going through this system and understanding the pain points is his biggest driving force  and he wants to give other students the opportunity to grow and learn more skills.

The Terragon Hub in Ife has been up and running for  2 years and 6 months now. Morife mentioned earlier joined Terragon immediately after school and has remained ever since. What has his experience been like?

“Coming here after school has been an awesome career defining experience for me. I learnt how to use real life data tools. It was the bridge I needed between academics and the industry I loved.”

After Olajide Abdulrask won a machine learning hackathon on OAU campus, he was recruited into the Terragon fold.

Abdulrasak who is a final year student of Computer Science with Economics at OAU also talked about seeing real life application of subjects learned.

Techpoint Tours Terragon Ife Tech Hub 1

Second from left, Olajide Abdulrask

One year and a few months of staying as a trainee staff has widened his scope considerably.

“We could all code and build great stuff, I myself have been coding with Python and doing bits of machine learning for 4 years now. But most of us did not know how these tools and skills translated in today’s workplace.”

“No matter how much of these skills you have, it is important to know how to apply them in real life situations. Concepts like scalability, user adoption and product market fit are very important knowledge,” he said.

A lot of the students and graduates talked about a flexibility they enjoy at the company. Segun even ensures me that students get lighter or zero work loads during examination and testing periods.

How do curriculum and work activities work without a clash?

“We structure work around the students to accommodate them.You don’t have to be in the hub to get things done, people work remotely, technology has allowed this, but once in a while we come together to share knowledge and discuss,”  Segun said.

Considering the mass exodus of tech talents from some states in the South West to Lagos, will Terragon move its data operations back to Lagos? Segun says no.

Most of the engineering heavy lifting is done in the Ife office, this means the engineers need to be away from the distractions and bustle of an urban Lagos.

Regardless of its upsides, an operation like Terragon in Ife could easily become a sweatshop capitalising on cheap student labour. Segun assures Techpoint this is very far from the case but declined answering specifically how the students are remunerated.

“For now, the pay structure is dynamic and very much unstable. We consider many things like skill level, knowledge, commitment, experience and an in-house appraisal system. It doesn’t matter if they’re students or not, their pay is determined by all these things,” he explains.

It can’t be easy

Segun said challenges of working out of Ife include general issues around remote work.

“Sometimes, you want to see members of your team face to face to convey certain messages to them but have to resort to video conferencing and voice calls.”

On working with students, he said time and availability are two of the biggest issues.

“During exam period, they [the students] are all focused on preparing and making good grades, which is a good thing that we encourage. And even reduce work for them. But who then does the work?”

“The last challenge is a general problem with youths and young people in tech nowadays.

They all want to move fast and gain success without doing the necessary grunt work and getting knowledge,” he said.

Apart from these, Segun said the student trainees at Terragon in Ife are hyper focused, hardworking and talented.

Should more companies come to Ife?

Segun jokingly said this might pose a serious competition around talent grab for them.

But joking  apart, the Terragon solution may be a large fix for unemployability for young Nigerian graduates especially in the engineering and tech space while plugging the talent leak for companies; a super win win.

Victor Ekwealor
Victor Ekwealor

tech. media. startups. africa. vc | Twitter: @victor_ekwealor

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