My Life In Tech is putting human faces to some of the innovative startups, investments and policy formations driving the technology sector across Africa.
Olamide Ajah came into tech by chance and has since spent the last decade and more leading teams building software solutions that serve to simplify identification and KYC processes for various organisations. This is her life in tech.
Olamide Ajah, Chief Technology Officer at Seamfix, had wanted to take after her father, a mechanical engineer who was also a publisher. She doesn’t recall which it was, the availability of the course at the university she intended to enroll in or her father’s encouragement to pursue some other area of engineering, but she went for a degree in Computer Engineering instead.
Her long term interests in the field however, was sparked by her husband whom she was dating at the time.
“We were classmates in university and during our internship year, he had gone for a training in Visual Basic and came back to school bubbling with this new knowledge that he had gained,” Ajah says.
He wanted to share that excitement with someone and she easily became his sounding board eventually learning Visual Basic as well.
“I was amazed by how you could think of an idea and create something tangible by tapping a few strokes of your keyboard. That caught my attention and that’s where it all started.”
Back home, she created her first software tool. An inventory system for her father’s publishing company.
“He was excited and proud,” she says, in the way Nigerian parents are proud that their financial commitments towards their children’s education are not in vain.
For her National Youth Service year, Ajah was posted to Seamfix, which she thought at the time was perhaps a fashion-focused firm and had called her dad to ask that he pull some strings to help her secure a more suitable spot in another organisation.
It turned out Seamfix was her match made in heaven.
“Here was this hungry person that wanted to learn more about tech and what it could be used for, how it could impact society, and here was this company that had leaders with so many ideas of the good they could do in society so it was a perfect match,” she says.
Ajah joined Seamfix when the company had only five staff members. That was 11 years ago. Now, the company has a 91-94 workforce.
Ajah says four years in, she was enthralled not only by the work she was doing at the company but the people she was working with so that even when juicier job offers came, she stayed on.
The sacrifices have paid off. Ajah has climbed the ladder over the years taking on even more roles than officially designated and is currently the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Seamfix.
As the company has grown over the last decade, part of her longstanding journey with with it has also been borne out of the responsibility to give back by way of helping lay the foundations and structures for building an environment where people thrive.
“With growth comes chaos,” she says.
What big lessons has she learnt about creating an environment where people thrive?
“I think it is very important that the people you’re working with are intrinsically motivated,” Ajah says.
It is important that they connect with the company’s vision and goals as they evolve, that they connect with it and that they want to really be a part of bringing those goals to fruition. What that means is that the leadership has a clear vision of what they have set out to do, can communicate the same to staff and, earn their trust and commitment to help build that vision.
“So beyond the money you pay them, they are passionate about what you do and want to go on the journey with you,” she says.
The second is about people.
“This sounds obvious but when you look at many companies you’ll realise that it is not that obvious afterall,” Ajah explains.
The recognition that people are the most critical and valuable assets of an organisation is what she refers to.
“Several times, we tend to treat people as just tools to do the work, the work takes preeminence,” Ajah says.
Once companies realise that people are the most important variable in their success equation, then building effective company structures and workforce cultures that provide a conducive work environment will come naturally.
Seamfix is primarily known for its identity management and verification solutions however, there’s also a lot of software solutions it creates around helping organisations manage their processes better as an enterprise software company.
To deploy a product, Ajah says the company often employs a design thinking framework where it either sees a need in the market and creates a product that solves the need. Or finds a suitable market, notices a problem that needs solving and proceeds to create a product that fits the market’s need.
“We analyse the market and the need,” Ajah explains.
“We clarify for ourselves that this problem we think we can solve is not being addressed already by a competitor and if it is, what unique differentiator we could bring to our solution.”
“Once we can certify this, we have an MVP which we trial on our target audience, get feedback and do a launch or make changes depending on the feedback we receive.”
“We tend to adopt design thinking a lot in our processes where we go through the entire ideation process to launch a product.”
There are not many women you will find with Ajah’s job role in the country. Not only are there few women in the industry, even fewer make it into the C-suite executive level at top technology companies in the country.
The causes are mostly a combination of culturally nuanced stereotypes that trail girls from childhood into adulthood and then corporate practices that make the journey even harder.
“I remember when I first joined Seamfix, about a year after and I was always at the office working late and on weekends. I recall one family member told me this is not how I was going to find a husband and that was a recurring thing early on in my career,” Ajah says.
She was supposed to be more concerned about marriage and motherhood, two things she has been able to attain alongside her career.
“I was able to shut my ears to it and said I would find a way to balance both. Currently I am married and I have a three year old daughter.”
Much of the ability to do this has also been the corporate support of her organisation.
“When I first gave birth and had to return to work, I couldn’t leave my baby at a daycare center at three months old so I had to bring her to work and this is another area where the company provided immense support. They had created a nursery.”
If she was not at Seamfix, Ajah believes she would still be creating software solutions that improve processes for individuals in their organisations, perhaps from a people management perspective.
“I am a process person. I would have been building software that makes it easier to build the right culture, recognise employees when they perform well, keep your fingers on the pulse of your company,” she explains.
“I am keen on helping to build processes that bring structure to an activity or sector.”