Developing with a purpose: a conversation with Lemuel Hawkson

Get to know our team! This interview is the first of a series featuring the outstanding team from Chalkboard Education, so stay tuned for more.

Lemuel Hawkson, frontend developer at Chalkboard Education since 2018

I develop the “Frontend”, which is everything our users see and work with: mobile applications, websites, etc. In our case, I develop the mobile application where trainees access their content and quizzes, the “store”, which is another application where students in Ivory Coast can buy courses with mobile money, and the “Dashboard”, where our nonprofit and universities clients can edit and publish their content, manage their trainees, and track attendance and progress. As the Frontend Developer, I am responsible for building all that out and maintaining the codebase of all these products.”

What attracted you to work at Chalkboard Education in the first place?Growing up, I studied a lot from the Internet, I grew up getting used to studying with e-learning platforms, mainly forums, and YouTube.

I noticed a very big gap in formal education, for instance in the university, there are loads of PDFs, slides floating around campus, not well structured. Some books were scanned and you had to zoom in and out which was pretty uncomfortable.

I heard about Chalkboard Education from a friend when I was looking for a job and I checked the company out and felt like what they did makes sense. The solution grabs all this information from the source and then digitises, putting it in a congruent format. When a user is using our app, they can access learning material, track where they are in the curriculum, and can take quizzes, all of which offline. That’s something I wish I had when I was learning.

What did you learn at Chalkboard Education?
Let me start with technology, because Chalkboard is a multilingual company, I had to learn to work with plugins to translate text. Another thing is tests: it is a very big thing at Chalkboard. It involves developing automatic testing of everything we develop so that we spot bugs and errors before the customers do. I’ve written so many tests, I should probably have “unit test guru” on my cv. For the non-technical side, because part of the team is francophone I could pick up a bit of French, I’m still terrible at French but at least now I can offer something. If I was one day kidnapped to a French country, I would probably survive.

Lemuel’s work: developing and maintaining the mobile application used by learners

What have been your highlights working with the team and customers?
It would definitely be the time Opportunity International came to the office. We launched one of their products and it was pretty fun. Additionally, I like the culture at Chalkboard. Everyone is pretty easygoing and it makes bringing up ideas and concerns a lot easier, unlike in some firms where I hear it can be a struggle to voice out opinions. Here there is no yellow tape, I actually enjoy working with my coworkers and hanging out with them after work.

Where did you work before Chalkboard Education?
I have always done front end development, I interned at SoftTribe and at PentiumTech building solutions for other companies. I also worked for an insurance company, which was the only time I worked in backend development -eg. managing database systems for the firm (and not client-facing interfaces).

What do you do after work?
I play a lot of Fortnite but I’m not that good unfortunately. I watch loads of Netflix; I sometimes watch shows while working, it actually helps me focus better on some repetitive tasks. I’ve also recently become a fanboy of electric cars; I keep asking myself why we are using a combustion engine all the time. I also dabble in music production; I enjoy music a lot.

What is the most challenging task you have had to do since joining the team?
Working on the “Store”. It is a feature we had to implement for a customer in Ivory Coast, that we needed to roll out very quickly. We had about two to three days to build out the entire Store and payment platform from scratch, and from another country. That was challenging, but we managed to do it.

The Chalkboard Education team with students in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

What are your objectives with Chalkboard Education, moving forward?
We have very ambitious goals for the interface, notably the Dashboard. In the coming months, we will modernize its look to make it easier to use for customers, improve some key features, and simply make the whole thing more exciting and beautiful. Also, I have learned a lot of new tricks recently that I am eager to integrate into our frontend. Stay tuned.

What advice would you give any front-end developers starting their careers?
Go on of these website inspiration sites like Pinterest, Dribble, Behance. Look at the designs there and try and build them out, because that’s literally what I did: I kept building and building. Now the only thing that is stopping me from creating a design is seeing a design, I can build anything, apart from some animations that are getting really incredible lately, but I’ll catch up.

Front end development is basically building out designs. Don’t get bogged down by all these new fancy technologies, pick one technology, and master it. For example, once you’ve understood HTML and CSS, you can learn JavaScript, and once that’s done you can add React JS or Vue JS. Also, Stack Overflow will be your friend. The more you build, the more problems you will face, but every time you solve a problem, it is no longer a problem in your career.

Eat, Bench, Trash: Fried Plantain, Jollof, Fried Yam
That’s a tough one, I actually like all these three. I would eat fried yam, bench jollof, trash fried plantain.

Thanks, Lemuel !

Educational technology in Africa and emerging markets