Hello everyone. Welcome to the Insider. Today, we're talking about building accessible and inclusive products for smallholder farmers in Nigeria and we had a Senior Software developer give us his own perspective on the topic.
Please introduce yourself.
Hi guys. My name is Obed Balogun. I function as the lead Software Engineer at Crop2cash. What that means for me is that Crop2cash has a recipe that they follow to meet their objectives. As the lead Software Engineer, I act as the chef of the tech team to transform that recipe into actual cooked technological solutions.
Interesting, I have never heard someone talk about Software Development and food in that way
You know what they say, Software Developers cook beans when they do nonsense. But over here at Crop2Cash we shy away from beans. We are more exotic.
Since your cooking process involves software development, can you define software development in three words?
First of all, I’ll define it by how it makes me feel. So, the first word is interesting. Software development is interesting to me. The second word is dynamic because software development has no static or rigid procedure. There are rules but I prefer to see it as dynamic.
For example, we have the current advent of AI and it is a new paradigm technology is shifting towards. Now, instead of people focusing on core skills, they will eventually have to focus on stuff like utilising AI to achieve goals because if you don't you'll be left behind so that goes to speak for the dynamism of software development. The third is the practicability of software development. It is useful and practical.
Interesting. So, what inspired you to take on this role of leading a team to build products for Farmers specifically?
Do you want the truth or do you want the generic answer?
By all means, tell us the truth as well as the generic answer.
I wasn't employed to lead a team but I found myself doing that now. So I started my career as a software developer and a web developer. After a couple of jobs I decided to try out for this particular job because, well, first of all, I knew the CEO of the company and the idea of combining tech and agriculture, kind of caught my eye.
So, it was interesting to even start out as a software developer trying to see how we can combine these things and possibly come up with solutions. That added a special effect to my longing for work. I thought about it and realised that the overall vision of the company, which is in a nutshell to digitise the agricultural value chain, actually aligned with me and made a lot of sense to me.
Well, how has the journey been so far?
Honestly, it's been very interesting, of course. Everything is sinusoidal, up today and down tomorrow. While it's really exciting to be a part of what's happening here, there are times when it just feels like a routine. You did something amazing this week. The next week, you might not have the same feeling but you still do amazing things since the overall objectives of the company are being achieved. Yeah, the journey has been riveting, not without some downs but there are mostly ups.
It sounds like there are quite a bit of challenges. How have you been able to navigate the challenges?
Being a startup, we’ve had periods where we had to churn out solutions as fast as possible because the market was changing and there was a demand we had to meet. During those periods, it’s like crunch time. This means that you have to be available after work hours some days.
We have had periods where we had to pull some overnights to solve certain problems. Times like that could get overwhelming for anyone but as I said earlier, I understand why I'm here, I like why I'm here. I like the vision of the company so it's easy for me to just say, “Okay, this is what I need to do to achieve my little OKR or KPI.”
That’s quite fascinating. In the spirit of why you’re here, what steps do you take to ensure that your team creates products that meet the vision of the company?
First off, props to our research team at the office. They get in touch with the farmers to know their needs, pain points and how they expect our product to work. This, they do pretty well. Once we have this data, the customer support team supplements the information by adding areas where our application needs to upgrade and improve.
Achieving company goals is easier when you have the required information. The team is always available to execute updates, make the next improvement possible, and even develop new solutions for the end users. We rely on the data from the research team in doing this because while we understand how the software works, they understand how the farmers work more. This necessitates the need for a good communication system. Luckily for us, we have that as a culture here at Crop2cash.
Now that’s a pretty smart way to work. So, how do you get your team members to appreciate what needs to be done in crunch times, the sacrifices to be made, all the while keeping them motivated?
Well, luckily for me I don’t have the most difficult job doing that. Most employees are eager to work and achieve their goals. I've been privileged to be part of a couple of job interviews and from those interviews and the eventual hiring of those people, I could see that these people are interested in what we do at Crop2cash. So when they came on board, it was easy to just say, “This is how we work here, and you know why you are here already so we don't really have to spoon-feed you or anything.”
If there are occasions when that wasn't passed across properly, the entire team gets to learn the goal of the company and have it ingrained in their being. The idea is simply that there is a vibe in the team that even if a person planned to be different, it gets to the point where they eventually find themselves on the same wavelength.
But what happens when a team member is not ‘catching the vibe’? What strategies do you employ then?
The number one thing to do is to talk to the person. This way, you can find out if the person has any problems. If the issue has something to do with the way that person is, then that’s okay as long as they do their job well. What you can do is try to bring the person in on the same wavelength as other people. If the said person still refuses, there is little or nothing you can do about it. Especially when they're getting the job done. It’s just that they don't “vibe”, so to speak, the same way everyone is doing now. Yeah, like I said, luckily for us most of the people that we have been privileged to work with are people that are open to being on the same wavelength.
Awesome! How do you encourage collaboration between your team and all the Departments?
Let me now take the scope from what I said about my team being on the same wavelength and everything to the entire company. The vibe at Crop2cash, I mean the synergy, is something that I'm really happy to be a part of. Thankfully, the synergy also transmits to our work routine. The customer support team has a direct link with the tech team. The tech team is directly with Management and Management directly with Customer Support so it is a full chain of communication within our teams. So, having to properly structure this communication line is what everyone actively works on.
There is no hard and fast rule on how to communicate but to communicate is the barest minimum. There's no need to write a letter to talk to someone. You can simply walk up to them to talk about a problem and if they can’t help, you can ask to be directed to someone who can help with that particular aspect of the job.
Customer support has its channels to communicate across teams and if those channels are not enough, there are other channels you can try but the bottom line is that communication is established. For example, the office right now. Watch this, (Customer Support Team Lead walks in to communicate with the Product Manager). There's no gap in communication. Communication is properly bridged.
Way to go! So, we know that Tech is constantly evolving. There are new technologies every day, today you can create an app and tomorrow the same technology is obsolete. So how do you ensure that your team is constantly building relevant and quality products in that evolving scope?
I’ll tie my answer to communication. Everyone wants to be at the top of their game so if I stumble on something that would make something that we did yesterday better. Once I find out it works, I’ll ask my colleagues what they think about it. I don’t just go ahead and change the entire scope of things just because I think it is going to get better. There is communication that takes place.
I have junior colleagues that I actually talk to first because they tend to know a whole lot more about stuff that I don’t. Most of us are keeping abreast with technology and how it can affect what we do. For example, a couple of weeks ago one of my colleagues came up to me and told me he saw something that he thinks will help with the performance of our queries. Of course, I was open to hearing it and that is what we are using today.
I mentioned earlier that software engineering is dynamic, it is always changing. So, it's something we are aware of as developers. The code I write today will have improvements tomorrow. So, I should put myself in a position to be aware of that. And once I’m aware of that, why would I keep maintaining code that uses what I know is obsolete?
You should welcome these new innovations and knowing full well that you have other developers on the team helps. I usually ask their opinions about what they think about changing something. They let me know their pros and cons, or what they see from where they stand.
Wow, that’s admirable. Can you share what happens when there is a change and your team needs to probably learn a new skill or build up on existing skills? How do you help in that situation? For example, using NextJs for a project when the team knows ReactJs only
It depends on the urgency of things. It's my responsibility to first test out the waters. This means that I would work with NextJs for a while. See how different it is from what we currently do and determine if there is a need to change. If I see a need to change from our current code base, then I’ll speak with the team to explain how and why we would be using this new tech.
Especially since I’ve gone through it, it will be easy for me to say, “Heads up: learn on your own and if you have questions, reach me.” If I don't know the answers to those questions, I’ll keep learning and find out more. I can ask people that can help me or I’ll do my own research as well. Before I ask the team to take it on I’ll make sure I do most of my research and assignments on that particular topic or feature.
Alright then. So, what do you think sets Crop2Cash apart from every other Agritech company?
Honestly, I haven't witnessed a whole lot of agritech companies, or their company cultures but something that stands out to me at Crop2Cash is the company culture. I've been at a couple of companies where you can't just walk up to the CEO and have a conversation with him without having to go through some unnecessary protocol. Well, here at Crop2Cash, you can have a conversation with the CEO right in the corridor and if he is available, he'll speak with you at length. Even if you have a concern bordering on the direction the company is headed in, or you just want to understand why we do what we do, you can just walk up to him and ask.
Then there’s that “synergy”, that “vibe”, that “company culture”. For me, it is just top-notch. I enjoy my time here at Crop2Cash mainly because of the company culture. It is something that encourages personal growth and professional growth because you can always ask questions and get great answers. For personal growth, I have a couple of people that I hang out with outside work - my colleagues. Well, I have a good number of people I hang out with outside work. We don't necessarily talk about work stuff, but if it comes up, then we talk about it.
So, there's the culture within the company and then I am happy that that culture extends outside the company as well. That's something I'm really grateful for - the company culture, the vibe and the synergy.
Sounds exciting. Tell us why would you recommend the services of Crop2Cash to smallholder farmers.
Who doesn't want money? There is a massive bridge between funding, agricultural services and the actual people that needed the funding and access to these services. One of the reasons why smallholder farmers can’t access funding and other services is because they don’t know how to. Just imagine that a farmer can afford to sponsor his children through school because he is able to get a bountiful harvest. That would be because he had money to plant more, he had access to mechanisation and he had a financial footprint that could qualify you to get access to credit services with a bank. Now, all that and more are what smallholder farmers stand to benefit from as a result of what Crop2Cash is providing for them.
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You sure sound like you are passionate about what you do and what is being done at Crop2Cash. Can you provide some guidance for individuals, people reading or listening who want to penetrate the Tech field, become a Tech Bro or even a Software Developer like Mr. Balogun?
Thank you very much for that question. My advice to those that are just coming into the tech space is to apply yourself. Apply yourself to getting knowledge and getting better. It is easy to ask you not to give up, but it's more important to ask you to apply yourself because at the end of the day, no matter what route you take, you are going to end up doing just that. You are going to have to persevere.
For example, my personal experience was that I read a particular book on Python, a programming language, for three years. I finished the same book every year in those three years and made zero progress in my career. I decided to say, “Okay, let me try something.” I was trying different stuff back then. I would develop a couple of easy applications, a calculator here, a to-do list there but I kept doing that for three years, hoping that it was going to stick. I thought I had to memorise the programming syntax and all those things.
The moment I started thinking about solving problems, the game changed. I said to myself, “I have some tasks that are repetitive, why not just find a way to make them easy?” I started to build solutions for these tasks.
I think I’m lazy. I always find the easiest way to do things. For example, I might want to have a to-do list now. I don’t like writing much so why not build something that can write a to-do list for me so that I can have more time to be lazy? Now, I don’t know if that makes sense to you.
One of the projects I worked on was a music website. I couldn't find communities that had the same musical taste as I did nor was there any platform where one could share one’s musical taste. So what did I do? I built a small application that allowed people to share their playlists with others. You could view your friend's playlist, comment on it and comment on your friend's most liked song and most played song. It was really interesting that people were buying into the idea.
Although that did not fly for too long because of the cost of maintenance, I applied myself to building applications that made my life easier. Hence, I took the opportunity to apply myself to programming, and before I knew it, I started enjoying what I was doing with code.
When I wake up at night and can't sleep, what do I do? I pick up my computer. I look at something I worked on before and find new ways to do it. I code myself to sleep. That's not advisable because it is going to become a habit. But yeah, apply yourself. Don't give up. It is not going to be easy when you get those rejection emails. It is not going to be easy but if you have an ambition, you know where you are going. The alternative of just sitting on your hands is not obtainable. Don't make it an option.
Perseverance, as I said, is not easy. It takes a strong mental capacity to apply oneself but for me, I didn't see an alternative and I hope that is what you guys, my fellow listeners and readers, people in school, people doing internships, I hope you guys feel that way as well. No one is going to come to you and say, “I like you. So, I'm going to make you the best Programmer there is out there.” Why not be the person that looks at yourself and says, “I like you and I'll make you the best?”
Hmm, hmm, Senior Dev. Thank you for your time Mr. Obed Balogun.
There you have it, everyone. I present to you Mr. Obed Balogun, Engineering lead. Crop2Cash.
Thank you very much. I enjoyed myself during this interview. Thank you. And yes, thank you Miss. Tamara Elayelagha for playing host to me on this. I'm looking forward to the next one.