Meet Nmesoma Okonkwo, a self-taught product designer who mentors other women in her free time

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It isn’t often that you find women who set out early in life to become tech bros. Many women in tech find themselves there either accidentally or out of necessity. Nmesoma Precious Okonkwo is one of the very few who had a vision of becoming a tech player and set out very early in life to accomplish her aspirations.

Presently a product designer at the financial technology company, Fundall, Nmesoma began her journey into tech back in Secondary School when she started learning coding. This was as part of the International General Certificate for Secondary Education (IGCSE) exams which her secondary school mandated students to undertake.

In secondary school, we usually take the IGCSE exams along with WAEC and NECO for SS3 students. During the preparation for the IGCSE, for the computer studies exam, we had to code. That was when I developed an interest in coding and tech,” Nmesoma said in a chat with Technext.

No easy roads for Nmesoma Okonkwo

While she may have figured out pretty early that she wanted to go the route of tech, it didn’t make her journey any easier as Nmesoma had to navigate challenges that were peculiar to and directly related to her choice. The first challenge was pressure from parents who wanted their daughter to study medicine and become a medical doctor. 

She applied to the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka to study Medicine. But in a twist of fate, the universe determined that if she didn’t get what she wanted, neither would her parents as the university failed to approve her to study Medicine but instead offered her Applied Microbiology. 

She took the offer believing the choice of Applied Microbiology would afford her the flexibility of studying and coding at the same time. But she quickly discovered the combination wasn’t going to work and being a firm believer in excelling at anything she does, she set aside tech and coding to focus all her attention on her studies. She would eventually resume coding after graduating from the university with a second-class upper division.

“After school, I got back to coding. Before then I already learned graphic design just after school. I had also developed a knack for researching while in the university, so I searched for a direction in tech that would align with those backgrounds. That was how I took the leap into product design which is essentially designing products and features that small businesses could use,” she said.

Internships and tested limits

After deciding to embark on the journey as a product designer, Nmesoma Okonkwo started learning the trade by herself. She scoured the internet for materials on product design to consume. She fell in love with the YouTube content she found and was taking up information and learning as fast as possible. Before long she had enough knowledge about what product designing was about and felt confident enough that she was going to excel in the field. But there was really no way of knowing until you actually tested yourself and started designing products.

This was when she started seeking internship positions. She began with the Zuri internship in early 2021, but it wasn’t until she applied for the HNG internship in August 2021 that she got tested to the very limit. Renowned as one of Nigeria’s most fast-paced tech internships, the HNG internship wasn’t for beginners. But that didn’t deter Nmesoma from throwing her hat in.

The internship was a 10-stage programme and each applicant was expected to complete a task at each stage. The higher you climb, the more difficult the tasks get with people dropping off at every step. At the end of it all, of the 12,000 applicants for that cohort, only 200 finalists were expected to emerge.

Nmesoma made it to Stage 6 where her task was to submit a case study. This meant carrying out intense research even before she got down to design. And she was to achieve this in three days. While she was able to complete the research, she became utterly exhausted at the design point and lost the will to continue. Fortunately for her, she had the support of wonderful friends, one of whom she fondly recalls as having ‘bribed her’ to continue.

“He really encouraged me. He reminded me that I was already at Stage 6, just 4 stages more and I would have completed it. He told me I was going to regret it later if I didn’t complete the program and finally, to sweeten the deal, he bribed me by promising to take me shopping at a popular supermarket if I completed my program. Seeing how far I have come now, I keep asking myself what would have happened if I had quit then,” she said.

Nmesoma did very well enough and scaled to the next level and it appeared to get easier from there. For Level 7, she was tasked with coming up with a new feature for an existing service for which she designed a wallet feature for Bolt which could serve as a payment gateway. She designed a beautiful wallet that even her mentors were proud of. It was hard to believe she was a beginner in the program designed for pros.  

The big break

After the internship, Nmesoma Okonkwo was overjoyed and in her excitement, decided to make a post on LinkedIn. This was going to be her first post on the platform. To her surprise, it got lots of engagements that had CTOs and other tech leaders reaching out to her. Companies were also reaching out to HNG to recruit talents from the program. Nmesoma applied for Flomono and VybeCash and that was how she landed her first paying role in tech.

Nmesoma Okonkwo is presently with Fundall

She has since gone on to work at Passportmonie, a fintech project for which she was poached by an acquaintance who was leading the project, and presently with Fundall. So what exactly does she do as a Product Designer? Nmesoma explained that she works mainly with the engineering team and the POs. 

“I design new features to meet business goals. For example, if there are features that the business would want on their app, maybe something new they need to introduce to enhance their business model or to help achieve a goal, the idea will be shared with the team, we brainstorm on it and then come up with features that would achieve that business goal,” she explained.

Asked what the most critical feature that she built and felt a real sense of fulfilment was, she said it was a dashboard feature at VybeCash.

“For VybeCash it was the dashboard for the people in customer success/customer support. It was the dashboard that I designed because it was really really good that my boss even talked about it. I just joined Fundall three months ago and features have not yet started rolling in so I can’t talk about that. But soon enough I hope to build something even better,” she said.

Mentorship and big sister in tech vibes

Despite just being a newbie in tech herself, Nmesoma is already taking up the arduous but noble task of mentoring other women. Her motivation for this was because, looking at her own journey and how stressful it was going it alone, her solemn wish was that no other woman would have to go through it alone if she could help it.

“When I started out in product design, it was really hard. I needed someone, a female, who was a product designer so that she could walk me through the journey. It was so hard for me to find someone,” she said.

She eventually found someone after she randomly came across a tweet by another woman who was also searching and trying to get references to other women who are product designers, who were new and needed fellow women to be their accountability partners. Nmesoma reached out to her, they became friends and together they decided to help as many women as they could together because their experiences are quite similar. 

Women Techmakers

Nmesoma also applied to Google Women Techmakers Lagos, a non-governmental mentorship organization for women. She was subsequently chosen to mentor women in product design. She is also volunteering with SheCode Africa as a design channel coordinator who assists other women techies and young ladies looking to get into design. She also works with other coordinators to help provide resources and be someone they could reach out to in product design.

She also personalised her mentorship quest such that she now uses her TikTok handle (design_baddie) to reach more women looking to venture into tech and create communities with them. This is just to achieve the same goal of making sure that no woman has to undertake this journey alone.

“For me, it wasn’t easy because I couldn’t find women I could reach out to easily. People I found were top-top and getting access to them was not easy. But I want to make a difference. I want to make it easier. I already started with my Tiktok page, through it, many women have reached out to me for whatever questions they have about design and we have had women say they would have given anything to have access to a woman in product design that they could talk to and get valuable insight. And this is the challenge I want to solve. To be a sister or an elder sister to other women who are coming up in product design,” she said.

In conclusion

Nmesoma has come a very long way in a relatively short amount of time and it all boiled down to an ability to decipher where she wanted to go early enough and following it with hard work, diligence, perseverance, and a lot of goodwill. Now, she is investing all of her experience into helping other women thrive.

“So far I’m really happy with what I have done with my Tiktok account because it grew from 200 plus to 800 plus in 3 weeks and I have been able to build a community with random women on the platform who are looking to become product designers and being that elder sister to them. And I hope to do more,” she said.

See also: How Fundall is helping Nigerians gain financial intelligence and make investments


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