Servant Leadership & Paying it Forward: A Conversation with Kwadwo Busumtwi

Get to know our team! This week: Kwadwo Busumtwi, Backend Engineer. This interview is the sixth of a series featuring the outstanding team from Chalkboard Education. Check out previous interviews from the Developer team with Solomon Sign and Yoofi Brown-Pobee.

What do you do at Chalkboard Education?

I’m a backend developer, working primarily with Nii Apa, Solomon, and Yoofi to maintain the API. My role is to support the backend team with the codebase to make a series of changes for scalability purposes.

How did you get involved with Chalkboard Education?

I’ve known about Chalkboard Education for about five years because Nii Apa is my friend and we went to university together. Additionally, my previous boss is good friends with Adrien, so I’ve known about the firm for a long time. When I was studying in France, I looked for firms back in Ghana where my French would be of use. Chalkboard Education started in France, and I already knew someone who worked there. It was mainly a case of engaging in a conversation with the firm, and luckily, there was an open role, so I got the job.

Have you had to learn new technologies at Chalkboard Education?

I did PHP in Ashesi, but for the most part, for about seven years, I’ve been mostly doing JavaScript, Java, and C++. Since we use Laravel, I’ve had to return to using PHP, and it’s been fun and exciting. You get to take all the aspects of the fundamentals of JavaScript and Java and apply them to the stuff we are doing. Additionally, I enjoy how we follow solid principles; we try to ensure our code is clean, things like that. I’ve worked with Nii Apa before, and he’s always trying to follow best practices and do what is standard, which is great.

What do you like about working with the team?

It reminds me of one of the previous companies I worked with back from 2016 to 2017. We were a small team, young people; everyone was free and open with each other. I enjoyed that camaraderie and openness, and we have that here at Chalkboard Education. From my experience working in France, there’s a line drawn between your friends at work and your friends outside work, and that distinction troubles me, but here, I don’t have to deal with that.

What work did you do prior to Chalkboard Education?

My first job was with Bloom Interactive; I was part of the creative team regarding software development. I then worked for SnooCode as an android developer for one year, and then I did some internships in France and then worked a full-time job as an admin for a FinTech company.

We never had that kind of momentum mentorship would provide, so if we provide mentorship now, it will go a long way

How has your combination of both work and volunteer experiences influenced you?

At Ashesi University, I got introduced to “servant leadership,” and I hugely resonated with it. — I try to apply that in everything I do. When I was working at SnooCode, I volunteered during my weekends. I used to volunteer for Developers in Vogue and Soronko Solutions, helping out with the student sessions. During my time in France, I did some volunteer work for my professors that needed me to develop an Android app. So, in all my professional engagements, I try to factor in servant leadership and participate in volunteer work because it is crucial.

I think it is vital because I remember how it was like not having anyone help understand concepts and work out problems. At one of my previous firms, my work colleagues and I had to figure out things and learn everything ourselves. We never had that kind of momentum mentorship would provide, so if we provide mentorship now, it will go a long way.

How did you become proficient at French? How has it fed into career opportunities for you?

I went to study at Télécom SudParis to do my masters, and while I was there, you had an option to do an internship. My course was in English, but I decided to pick an internship where I had to speak French because I didn’t want to limit myself. The funny thing is that I failed French in high school. I had a friend during my internship, and she taught me, more or less, and that’s what helped me in my bid to grasp the language. We would talk about everything; Game of Thrones, Naruto, amongst several things in French. Her excitement about these conversations helped a lot; initially, I didn’t understand, but I slowly got the language, and that was a great experience. Understanding the language also opened up many doors; I realised when I came back to Ghana, there were lots of opportunities that required someone with some understanding of French.

Considering you’ve worked both in Ghana and France, how different have these experiences been — what are your takeaways from them?

I developed a greater appreciation for the way people work in Ghana in terms of the working culture — it is a big family. There’s a certain level of familiarity with the people you work with. In France, in my experience, work was very corporate, straight to the point, you do your hours, have your days of leave, things like that.

What are your interests outside work?

I’m always trying to pursue side projects; I have several projects I’m playing with, using NodeJS and other languages. I love football and support Arsenal; I like sports in general. I follow the NBA as well, I don’t have a favorite team, but I follow the league and watch the games. I also play video games; I play Apex Legends a lot. Before the pandemic, I used to run and engage in other fitness activities, but I haven’t done much of it during this period.

You’ve worked as a backend, frontend, and full-stack developer. How have these experiences been, and which role do you enjoy the most and why?

I enjoyed working as an Android developer with the team I had before I did my masters because there was so much responsibility on my shoulders. We had 3000 plus active users a month. There were so many changes, and work was fast-paced. At all my jobs, there have been immediate demands, and I’ve gotten used to that. This is why I enjoyed this role so much because I was at the full brunt of the storm working as an Android developer.

A snapshot of the Chalkboard Education Admin Dashboard

What should upcoming college graduates know about pursuing a career in technology within and beyond Ghana?

I think it is necessary to learn algorithms; during my master’s program, we never discussed coding interviews. I learned the importance of understanding algorithms for interviews from talking to my friends who are engineers. I advise the young guys on the importance of algorithms because some of us didn’t know. It should be like a bible; everyone should read up on them. Once you’ve got that on lock, you’ll be able to write code that will process millions of queries, and at the end of the day, that’s what people value.

What advice would you give to people starting their careers in technology in Africa ?

Focus on finding an environment that allows you to grow. Sometimes you find people that are in a space where they’re doing a certain number of tasks, but they are not essentially growing in their job. A work environment where you can constantly look back and say, “oh wow, I didn’t know this before,” or “I’m improving and becoming more efficient.” That is my advice to people starting — have a plan. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a five-year plan; it could be a monthly plan to set goals for stuff you want to achieve. Do that, and bit by bit, the building blocks will fall into place.

Thanks, Kwadwo !

Educational technology in Africa and emerging markets