I Started A Life As A Driver, Now A Biotechnology – Story Of A Nigerian Man Who Graduated From UNILAG With Second-class Lower Bachelor’s Degree In Mechanical Engineering
In 2017, after graduating from UNILAG with a second-class lower bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, I moved to the US, where I started a new life as a driver for Amazon. For almost a year, I would wake up in the morning to work my 10 to 11 hour shifts driving around the city of LA, delivering packages, avoiding parking tickets, running away from dogs, trying to reach 30 locations an hour, dealing with disgruntled customers, and even once I had the cops called on me when some (probably racist) person thought I was stealing packages in their neighborhood (I know what American handcuffs feel like hahaha).
It was depressing. I had a degree in engineering, but deep down in my heart, I never felt like an engineer. I was nevertheless determined to change my life. At almost every company I delivered packages to, I’d ask for what they did, I’d take a business card, try to see whether I could land some kind of job there – anything I could just put in my resume. And like the fishermen in the story of John 21, there was nothing. For 8 months. Nothing. I didn’t care. I had nothing to lose.
I took the GRE, and on a Saturday, while I had been doing my delivery driving, I came upon a small metal fabrication company in Paramount, and after I delivered this lady’s package, I just shot my shot. “I have an engineering degree, but I have no experience, and I just want to learn”.
At that point, inexperience had been the one thing standing in the way of my engineering dreams, and I was determined to crush it, even if I had to work for free (thank God they didn’t ask me to work for free cos I’d have done it). She gave me an application, and a couple of weeks later I was an intern. I worked both jobs for the next year.
My new job was not funny though, I was picked on, I had my accent made fun of (I like my accent though, I think it’s cute), I learned the American workplace culture of CYA, because I quickly learned that you could very easily be thrown under the bus. I had coworkers yell at me and openly disrespect me, even in the presence of my boss, and watched how nobody did anything. I dealt with unequal treatment, and I could not complain because I was scared of losing my job.
But I persisted. I persisted because I had my sights set on my future. It hurt. But I persisted. I still did my best. When I finally told my boss mid-June 2018, that I had planned to quit my job six weeks later to start my master’s degree. He seemed stunned, and so seemed my coworkers upon hearing the news. They probably never believed that I could advance beyond that point. I didn’t have a lot of life skills, I had little experience, and I honestly wasn’t worth much in the job market.
From the moment I began this program, my life changed. I took a skill-based approach to education. I didn’t care about the degree; I went for the knowledge. I went for the skillset. I focused on building my resume and I made sure I added value. In this journey, I met people who saw a potential and a value in me that I really hadn’t seen before. I met people who encouraged me. I made good friends.
In my first semester, my former boss asked me to come work for him part time. I confided in a wise mentor at my school, and she told me these words “Joseph, you are a bullet… you leave them alone. There are people who will pay you good money to have you in their company with how smart you are”. I promise you; I didn’t see myself as valuable or even smart until she told me that. I took her advice, and one semester in, I landed an internship at an aerospace company.
The next semester I was a manufacturing engineer in a transit company. Today I’m in biotechnology, and I honestly feel like there is nothing I can’t achieve. I have reached a new bus stop, but I am not quite done yet.
I am intensely grateful to God and to all those upon whose shoulders I have stood. My family, my classmates, groupmates, study partners, and most of all, my friends.
It was not easy working fulltime and going to school fulltime, and after all this wahala, after running helter-skelter for 2 years, after spending all my money, on Friday, I graduated. And this time, I feel like a real engineer.
I have learned a lot of lessons, and these are my two cents:
• Ask. Seek. Knock. Someone might just give you an opportunity. Sometimes, you really have nothing to lose. Don’t be proud, and don’t be shy.
• Listen to advice. You don’t have to take it, but you have to listen to it. You have to ask for it.
• Surround yourself with people who see potential in you and encourage you. Do not hesitate to cut people who discourage you out of your life. It doesn’t matter who it is, you have no business with someone who makes you feel small, who puts you down and steps on you when you are down.
• Don’t give in to fear. “Your degree is from Africa so it is not recognized”, “You graduated with 2:2”, “Your GPA is too low”, “You are lazy”, “You cannot work hard”, “They only give opportunities to their people”, “You are not smart”, “You are getting older”, “Your English is not good”, “You can’t keep up with these people”, “You are not exposed to the system”, “You are green” – don’t listen to them. If I can do it, you can do it.
• Remember why you are in the race, and hopefully it will help when you’re dealing with a bad boss, a bad coworker, or a toxic environment.
• For young engineers; look for experience. You are only as valuable as the value you can give. If you can, work while you’re in school. It is better to graduate with an extra year and have work experience than to graduate without experience.
• Learn. Learn as much as you can.
My official name is now Joseph Omole, M.S.