My Life After Uni shares life hacks from some of Ghana’s brightest business professionals about succeeding in your career after the university.
In this edition, we energize you with the interesting story of a young and ambitious systems analyst, Kwabena Adu Darkwa, a graduate of Ashesi University. He is an intelligent, confident and articulate gentleman who is very passionate about sustainable environmental practices.
Current role: Systems Analyst, Bewsys
University Attended: Ashesi University
Program studied: Management Information Systems
Location: Accra, Ghana
One word to describe your experience of Life after Uni: Eye-Opening
Kwabena Adu-Darkwa is a graduate from Ashesi University, who read Management Information Systems and currently a System Analyst at Bewsys. He was an Ashesi University residential assistant, community engagement personnel and an entrepreneurship faculty intern. He doubles as the co-founder and project coordinator of Ahote Sanitation Project, a social venture. He is also a co-founder, software engineer and graphic UI/UX designer at Disenoplus, a digital media startup
How will you briefly describe your university life and its impact on your life currently?
So my life in university was pretty interesting. I was the kind of person who was very ambitious. I entered places and tried to prove myself. I always appeared confident on the outside but it didn’t mean that I didn’t hesitate when making certain decisions. I explored places that people within my immediate circle will typically not. Hence, right from my first year I started to take advantage of personal and career growth opportunities that came my way.
My first attempt at exploring an extracurricular activity that pushed me out of my comfort zone was in my first year when i participated in a business pitch competition called the A4 Idea. I was very nervous. I was the only first year student to have pitched at the event. While most participants pitched on apps and food businesses, I had identified a problem on campus. Most people found washing a boring and time consuming task. They either took their laundry home or paid janitors to wash them. Therefore I pitched for a laundromat business on campus. I didn’t win anyway but this gave some level of confidence and it was the start of my journey to many wins. Later on, the school adopted a model of a laundry service which was run by a third party. I didn’t act fast. I felt I should have initiated this partnership.
In my second year, I started my own project which was Ahote Sanitation Project. I pitched at a couple of fundraising events. I got funding for the project and my team was able to help Berekuso, the community in which Ashesi University is located, to collect plastic waste and make money by selling it to recycling companies.
It was also around this same time that I co-founded Disenoplus, initially as a graphic design company. I studied graphic design myself through a friend and I thought it’s cool and that I could be making more money from it. So we established this as a startup.
To sum it up, I was very ambitious and in the end Ashesi gave me a good level of exposure. I mingled with the right people from different cultural, economic, psychological, and intellectual backgrounds. This has influenced the way I reason through problems and take decisions.
What influenced your choice of program studied in the university and is the choice still relevant in your career today?
Yeah! It’s very relevant. In high school I studied Business. In the business class everyone wanted to be a chartered accountant. My Dad also took that path so I decided to follow suit. Following this my first choice for a program of study in Ashesi University was Business Administration. Ashesi is a liberal arts university and in your first year you get to explore and study other things beyond your line of study. So we were introduced to computer programming and I enjoyed it. It was something I was willing to explore but I wasn’t sure if that was going to tie into my goal of becoming a chartered accountant.
The decision really came during my mid-semester break when a senior took us through web design. This was during a time we were still learning the fundamentals of programming. This workshop gave me a good understanding of the application of all that I had been learning to build something tangible. I was very excited.
I didn’t want to let go of my entire business background so I decided to do Management Information Systems (MIS). At that time MIS was more like a balance between Computer Science and Business Administration. Hence MIS was my preferred choice.
On the question as to whether MIS has been beneficial to my career today; Yes! It definitely has. Currently as a Systems Analyst, I find many applications of what I studied in my current role. As a Systems Analyst you work with experienced software engineers, gather software requirements and ensure implemented systems are verified and validated. Hence learning on the job was very fast for me.
How was your National Service days, what skills did you learn on the job?
I was very much interested in entrepreneurship. For my final year project I did something on entrepreneurship. So unlike other students who prepared a thesis, my team went through the process of building a business. We initially started with a tech business in the haircare industry and then we pivoted to something else.
So when I was done with Ashesi, the opportunity came for me to be a teaching assistant. With my experience running three ventures, being a teaching assistant for entrepreneurship would help me transfer that knowledge to the students. This happened a couple of months before I graduated so I knew exactly where I was going to be so I wasn’t in any way confused.
Midway into my national service I got an opportunity to interview with Microsoft. I applied for a software engineering role in Redmond, US. I passed my first two interviews and qualified to the finals at their office in Johannesburg . Over there they talked about what they were doing with the company; the push towards machine learning and artificial intelligence. This exposure increased my desire for tech. I failed my interview. I was really disappointed because it was a very big opportunity. Nonetheless, it gave me that kind of desire to enter into the tech space. Until I got to Microsoft I didn’t know software engineering was something I really wanted to do.
While I sat in the class to facilitate the capstone sessions I was learning a lot. I am still in contact with most of the entrepreneurs who were invited as class guests. Some are professionals and experts in their various industries that I can reach out to them anytime I need assistance.
The professors I was working with had high performance expectations. They pushed me to work under pressure without compromising on accuracy. This is a skill I am grateful for.
How did you transition into the work world after school?
My transition into the work world wasn’t a major challenge as I had been schooling in the same environment for four years and I had to do my national service there for another year. So I technically knew the people and I saw the same faces every day. The only difference this time is that I was not a student but now part of faculty.
The major transition happened when I was moving out of Ashesi to another environment where I didn’t know anyone. Although I came to join thirteen other people from Ashesi at my current workplace, I had to make new connections in the new environment. The difference wasn’t that much though. But the challenge was transportation; commuting from one end to the other without a school shuttle.
Through my role as an entrepreneurship capstone teaching assistant I went for a business exhibition. I met the young CEO who was one of the advisors for the class venture teams. I identified him and introduced myself as the teaching assistant for entrepreneurship at Ashesi university. We had a short conversation that led him to ask me what I will be doing next after national service. So I told him I was currently looking for roles in tech and he informed me of a vacant systems analyst role in his company which I applied for. I got an offer.
In Ghana, if you don’t have the right connections, getting jobs can be difficult. Hence I recommend you don’t only take the traditional route to find jobs. Everyone is using job portals. I recommend using non-traditional routes like referrals, events and direct messages on social media.
What are the skills and tools you think matters the most in this current work life?
I think interpersonal, networking and communication skills are very important. If you have ever wondered why some people are growing faster than others in certain career fields, it’s because of their communication skills. The Ghanaian culture of being reserved and always being “slow to speak” is actually hurting us.
A person who is able to communicate with their bosses and colleagues and can have outside of work conversations is able to build trust and stronger bonds. If your relationship with your line manager is always work related he/she wouldn’t know you holistically. These little things make you stand out.
Recently, I have been encouraging a lot of people to use social media for their personal and professional branding. People form perceptions of you from what they see or read about you. So what does your online image look like? Personal branding is key; how you speak, dress, act in public and how you present yourself online is highly essential. So these are the things that I think are important, interpersonal and networking skills, communication skills and personal branding.
What advice do you have for students/fresh graduates about life after university?
Through our conversation I have mentioned a lot but currently what I’m very keen on and I advise people to do is to be known in whatever space or industry they find themselves. Let your online post represent what you want to be known for.
Who will you like to hear their story about life after university?
Bryan Achiampong ( Design Thinking Consultant and Entrepreneurship coach)