James is one of the best information technology (IT) professionals that I have worked with.
When I was head of technical services at Malswitch from 2009 to 2011, James was a network engineer based at our Lilongwe Branch. He was barely four years out of Chancellor College (Chanco), a constituent college of the University of Malawi, where he studied physics and computer science.
At the time, we had a very unstable broadband network and yet we were the main supplier of connectivity services for nearly all banks and other major economic players in the country. James would react quickly, including numerous trips to Maula and Dedza Mountain where we had major transmission equipment. He worked very hard and long hours!
There was something extra about James. I was based in Blantyre and used to travel to the north to see parents passing through his base Lilongwe for weddings on some weekends. Each time I was in Lilongwe, I would pop by the branch to send e-mails. Each time I went to the office, I would find and leave him behind.
One weekend, as I was leaving the office, I asked James why he was spending so much time in office at weekends. He said that first was because his job required both the knowledge he gained in computer science at Chanco and that from electrical engineering, which is taught at the Polytechnic, where many of his peers trained. To close the knowledge gap, he was pursuing a lot of self-study modules on line.
He told me that the second reason was that as a bachelor he had so much free time!
Later, James applied for a course in Tanzania hosted by Afrinic who are an international organisation that manages Internet protocol (IP) in Africa. As a company, we had suspended the training budget.
But here is a young engineer with huge potential who had served (and saved!) me and the company with all his dedication and loyalty. I couldn’t say NO!
I thought of using the research budget. And so, I asked James that we conduct a rapid research on the network investigating the ‘interfence’ challenges we were facing, combining with my prior research from my postgraduate studies.
Our research paper was accepted by Afrinic and with that we received a lot of fee waivers, including training fees for James. We then used the research budget to buy his air ticket and I bought mine—we both went to Tanzania, presented the paper and James attended the one week training!
About four years later, James competed against many network engineers across Africa and was one of the two engineers picked for this international job at Afrinic. I felt so proud. Especially when James said that the training in Tanzania was pivotal to getting this big opportunity. Indeed luck is when opportunity meets preparedness!
And I remember that in between, I once had an issue in my latter job. We had an application that was faulty for 22 days. I figured out that James would solve it quickly.
I called him and asked if he could find time in the day to come and help. James left instantly and came to help. Within one hour, he solved an issue that had been open for three weeks. Since then, James has remained a loyal friend. We are no longer former workmates but friends.
Last week, I met James for lunch at his base in Mauritius where he has worked for five years. My heart was filled with a profound measure of pride and elation. I shared this story with my Facebook friends and there were glowing comments with many feeling inspired. Musa Honlue, James’s workmate commented: “James still works very late here at Afrinic.”
I hope this story inspires some of the young people that the world is all yours to conquer like James did. He got an international job with only a local first degree.
No master’s degree but only a basic degree plus a lot of self-study. Don’t wait for scholarships only or others to pay for your studies. Do something now so you can also rise and shine! Good luck!