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Adewale Abati

Keeping an Ace up your sleeve

To make a global impact, Adewale shines the spotlight on Nigerian developers and prioritizes accessibility.

Adewale Abati // @acekyd

Hi! My name is Adewale “Ace” Abati, and I’m from Lagos, Nigeria. I’m a software developer and developer advocate—passionate about the web, open source, and community. I’m currently a Senior Developer Advocate at CodeSandbox, tech YouTuber, and gamer. I play a lot of video games, dabble in basketball, love the NBA, and consider myself a professional LeBron James fan.

Lagos, Nigeria

@ace_kyd

https://www.acekyd.com/

Organizations

The ReadME Project amplifies the voices of the open source community: the maintainers, developers, and teams whose contributions move the world forward every day.

When I was 13, my mom figured the future would be more digital and enrolled me in a computer class. The thing is, all I wanted to do was play the “Virtua Cop” video game on PC. My tutor, Mr. Biola, wasn't having it. “If you want to play those games, you have to pay attention to the classes first,” he said. “If you answer these questions correctly, I’ll let you play.” 

Funny enough, if Mr. Biola hadn’t noticed, I might have just played that game without learning anything. For grades, I got A's in most classes but F's in computer studies in junior high school. It didn’t interest me and I just wanted to play football. Thankfully, he saw something in me and changed my entire path. Because of Mr. Biola, I flipped the switch, went back to school and started getting A's in computer studies. It was so magical. 

Because of Mr. Biola, I flipped the switch, went back to school and started getting A's in computers. It was so magical. 

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Drawn into community and code to find his calling

Even though I focused on computer studies in secondary school, I did not know what coding was. I could sit down in front of a Windows desktop and take it apart. I knew desktop publishing and Microsoft Word. But I had no idea how to code. While studying computer science at University of Ilorin, I saw other people building and running applications and it was mind-blowing. In my first year, our department organized an exhibition for the best program of the year and someone from my class had an amazing presentation. 

I was determined to be able to participate the next year. I worked at night to learn how to code with my friends and built a social network for my school called Unilorites.com. I ended up winning that year, and the following year. I went from not knowing how to code, to learning with people, to engaging with the community, and to reaching the “height” for that space. My time in school was very eventful. I went on to run my own startup with a few products and became a Microsoft Student Partner and a Firefox Student Ambassador.

I couldn’t wait to see what happened when I left school. To start, I chose my username. I wanted something that communicated who I was and wanted to be to others, but was also inspiring and aspirational to me. I chose “Ace” because I wanted to be the best. 

At that point I didn’t know anybody in tech. But I discovered @DevCenterco and spent time there every day. I was a budding developer who wanted to talk and learn, so whenever anyone had issues, I’d help them find solutions. People started to tell others “reach out to Ace” if they were having trouble and my name became more well-known. I built side projects on GitHub, shared them on Twitter, and the entire community just blew up. I really did not know what I was getting into, but in doing what I was interested in—and good at—I naturally fell into developer advocacy. 

I really did not know what I was getting into, but in doing what I was interested in—and good at—I naturally fell into developer advocacy.  

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Lifting up and making space for fellow Nigerians

In 2017, I had a community contact who was in talks with Ingressive, a market entry firm, about an advocacy role. I served as their developer-in-residence and advocate for a year and a half. We built a student developer network that spanned across sub-Saharan Africa, with almost 3,000 members in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa learning how to code. Of those, we had 150 “ambassadors” who went on to make a name for themselves and are leading numerous communities globally. 

When I joined the tech community in Lagos in 2015, there was little collaboration and lots of people working in silos. There wasn’t a ton of exposure or role models in the space. There was also this reputation that Nigerians liked to consume tech, but didn’t necessarily build it—even though I knew many Nigerians are building amazing projects. I wanted to help create and work on projects that would allow us all to find each other, and show the world the amazing projects Nigerians have built, like Laravel hackathon starter back then which trended on GitHub, to the likes of Chakra UI today. Built in 2017, Made-in-Nigeria is now a thriving ecosystem of awesome tools and projects built by Nigerian developers and used globally. Communities here thrive on learning in public and leveraging accessible resources to train even more developers and get them into OSS. 

The Made-in-Nigeria project has helped a lot of people start their OSS journeys, from getting inspired through representation to finding an opportunity to also contribute to OSS. For example, I created and still maintain the project but have people that volunteer to be collaborators and co-maintainers. So even when I’m unavailable, they can review PRs and merge where necessary without my input, which is really cool. The more people the merrier. In the beginning, people also volunteered to build the website itself, which was so encouraging and ensured we had the potential to get to this point.

I appreciate being able to create and start the Made-in-Nigeria project for the world to see that talent exists here, and for Nigerians to also see projects built by people like them. Not just the pretty parts—but usable applications that thousands of people around the world count on. 

I appreciate being able to create and start the Made-in-Nigeria project for the world to see that talent exists here, and for Nigerians to also see projects built by people like them. Not just the pretty parts—but usable applications that thousands of people around the world count on.  

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Leveraging information to make OSS more accessible

Much of the process behind Made-in-Nigeria was about learning and building awareness to encourage more people to get into open source. One of the things that stood out was female participation. The percentage of women that contributed was less than 3%.

The numbers have gone up a little, but there is definitely room for improvement. When I initially realized the disparity, I started putting a spotlight on the issue and encouraging more women to participate, starting with talks at Open Source Community Africa. Luckily, open source sort of naturally encourages a sense of collaboration, and communities like She Code Africa is also focused on empowering female developers and engineers. 

I also worked with Lorna Maria, a data analyst from Uganda, and Adebayo Oluwatosin, who helped me understand which data points I could highlight. Since I had access to that information, I decided I would do as much as possible to get it out there, by speaking with people from Africa, especially women, and encouraging them to participate.

We want more people building amazing projects to share and feel comfortable enough to be part of this community without running into any discrimination or second-guessing. The disparity limits the amount of exposure any certain project gets. If I’m sharing on my network alone, I will only reach my close circle. But when it’s also shared among other circles, we get a whole other group of people and their opinions. We don’t want to miss out on all those perspectives.

We want more people building amazing projects to share and feel comfortable enough to be part of this community without running into any discrimination or second-guessing.

Stepping back for perspective and gratitude

In the beginning of my journey, my personal mantra was, “The hype is temporary.” I was fully aware that even though people were interested in my projects, it was still limited to what I knew at the moment. Now, my mantra is “greatness will come from small beginnings,” which was inspired by a saying in the Uncharted game: Sic Parvis Magna, and means greatness from small beginnings

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This helps me with lots of stuff across my personal and professional life, especially things like starting a new job, or setting daring goals like going to watch LeBron James play basketball live all the way from Lagos, Nigeria and making it to TV. The secret is understanding that it doesn’t have to all fit in a day. I might feel lost in a particular moment, but I know we all have to start somewhere—and that small steps will get us there. Combined with my name, Ace, this helps me find balance. There will be times when you have imposter syndrome. You know you can be this good, but you’re feeling small. It’s about having the confidence to know you can achieve it, but acknowledging it won’t happen overnight.

As a way to share more about my journey, what I’ve learned, and express myself, I love making tech-focused lifestyle YouTube videos. Coding tips are useful, but it’s how people make choices and career decisions around the code itself, and soft skills like talking and networking, that are really helpful. I also do podcasting and tech writing here and there, and give talks, which I record and post on YouTube so those who may not have been able to attend can still watch. 

When I share, I get the opportunity to meet new people. Coming into the industry when I did, free YouTube content and articles drove my education because I didn't have much money. Part of my process is to express myself, learn, and share. But I’m also paying it forward. I wouldn’t have been able to make as much progress as I have without those videos, and all of my mentors along the way, colleagues and people in the community. I also got into Aaron Gustafson’s mentorship program about two years ago (Aaron is a web standards and accessibility advocate at Microsoft). That afforded me a full year to work, talk, share my experience with and learn from Aaron, which was great. 

It’s about having the confidence to know you can achieve it, but acknowledging it won’t happen overnight.

Defining how you want to provide value

For the longest time as a software engineer, I felt like I might not be the best at memorizing syntax. But I now realize that most of the time, what’s most important is the value you provide to the user. My strength lies in translating value for the user, company, or business that needs my services. 

There are times where you might feel like you're not getting a lot of recognition or the reward you think you deserve. For me, though, as long as you always do your best work, it’s going to be OK. At the end of the day, if you finally get whatever recognition or opportunity you’ve been chasing, and the spotlight’s on you, you know you got there via hard work. But if you do shabby work when the spotlight’s not on you—and then it shines on you—it also shines on your shabby work. The secret is in the value of consistency we provide. Even if the spotlight never comes, you know you did rewarding work. The alternative is bitterness. You don’t want to wish you could have done more.

I recently started as a Senior Developer Advocate at CodeSandbox, which is a big opportunity for me to provide value. I passionately believe that regardless of what innovation happens in the next 30 or 40 years there will always be space for the web. Being able to shape how people build on the web, for example, regardless of where they are, is so exciting. Having the opportunity to make an impact on a global scale has always sounded very appealing for me and I’m excited about that.

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