Victor Akinode, a 25-year-old from Ogun State who graduated with a first-class degree in Computer Engineering at the Federal University, Oye Ekiti, in Ekiti State, tells ALEXANDER OKERE about his academic journey

When did it dawn on you that you were headed for a first-class degree in Computer Engineering?

This happened in my first year at school. During my first year at school, I was determined to graduate with a first-class degree, and this goal became even more realistic after I received my first-year result. However, the result was disappointing as none of the students in my department had a cumulative grade point average of 4.50, though I was the top student with a CGPA of 4.39. Despite this setback, I remained confident that I was on the right track, but I knew I needed to put in more hard work and effort to achieve a CGPA that would surpass the minimum requirement of 4.50 for a first-class grade.

Can you describe how you felt when you saw your official final-year result?

I was overwhelmed with immense joy and gratitude to God because it was a dream that came true. Making my parents proud has always been my ultimate goal, and I am thrilled that I was able to achieve that. I am fully aware that this accomplishment would not have been possible without the blessings and grace of God. It transcended my efforts and preparations; it was truly a gift from God. Therefore, I am profoundly thankful to the one who made it a reality – God.

What was your cumulative grade point average?

Although I had hoped to achieve a higher CGPA, I ultimately finished with a CGPA of 4.69. While I aspired for a better result, I am content with my accomplishment. It may not have been exactly what I desired, but I am proud of it, as it represents my hard work and dedication throughout my academic journey.

How many of your classmates graduated with a first class?

Out of all the students in my department who started in the first level, I was the only one who got a first-class degree. However, two other students who joined the department through direct entry graduated with first-class degrees.

Were you the best-graduating student in your department?

Actually, I was not. One of the direct-entry students who also achieved a first-class degree was. From the very beginning, my goal was to achieve a first-class degree. I distinctly recall sharing this aspiration with my roommate and classmates, expressing my strong desire to graduate with top honours. Through the grace of God, I was able to realise this goal.

Did you feel disappointed that you didn’t get a perfect score?

Yes. I did.

Why?

Indeed, I did have the aim to graduate with a CGPA above 4.90. However, at some point during my academic journey, my GPA dropped, and I had to come to terms with the final result that I achieved. Despite not reaching my initial goal, I accepted and acknowledged the CGPA that I eventually finished with.

Were you intentional about studying Computer Engineering or was it something you had to do as an alternative to the course you initially chose to study?

Yes, indeed. I was determined to pursue a computer-related course, and in my search for the best option, I discovered Computer Engineering which is an integral of Computer Science and Electronics Engineering, and then I decided to choose it. Although I thought it would just be about Physics and Mathematics, it went beyond that.

Were you offered admission to study the course after your first attempt?

After three attempts at the Senior School Certificate Examination, it felt like a miracle when I finally gained admission. Initially, FUOYE was not my first choice of university, but I had to change my institution at some point. I was not sure that the university I initially chose, the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State, would offer me admission for the course I wanted to study, and it seemed like time was running out. However, looking back, I believe it was all part of God’s plan. In fact, I now realise that FUOYE is a better fit for me, especially in terms of its engineering programme. It is way better off. Also, if I had been patient, I would have gotten admission into the school I chose at first. I ran away because of my Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination score but it seemed like I was too fast. As I said, it was the will of God for me.

In the social media post announcing your undergraduate result, you described your academic journey at FUOYE as a “long ride”. What were the different hurdles you had to face and surmount as a student and which of them posed a threat to your education?

Initially, being the son of an onion seller, my parents, especially my mom, made tremendous sacrifices to gather enough money to send me to school. Raising funds for my education was a significant part of my journey. Furthermore, my secondary school education was not as strong as I would have liked, so I had to go the extra mile to compensate for those deficiencies. For instance, subjects like Technical Drawing and Engineering Drawing were completely new to me, but I managed to excel in them despite the challenges. I even sought help from a younger student  (a secondary school pupil) during breaks to teach me basic drawing techniques and construction methods before the semester began. But in the end, I taught those who took some of the courses in secondary school. It was all about being intentional and disciplined.

Moreover, I realised that Computer Engineering was a much more extensive field than I initially anticipated. My original plan was to focus on physics and mathematics, but I soon realised that the scope of the curriculum was much broader. This meant that I had to put in extra effort, including attending ‘night classes’ (reading in a lecture hall at night) and studying extensively for exams. There were times when I didn’t even have the opportunity to go back home to prepare for exams, and I just entered the exam hall straight from ‘night classes’.

One of the biggest challenges I faced was the fear of inadequacies from my secondary school education that I needed to overcome from my first year. However, I am grateful to God for giving me the strength and grace to overcome these challenges and achieve academic success.

Were there things, maybe business, you had to do to support yourself financially?

Yes, I began my entrepreneurial journey by founding my startup while I was in my third year at school. During my time as a student, I successfully established two businesses – a product development and product marketing agency that helps small businesses build digital products and a bill processing, automation, and utility management business. Remarkably, both of these startups have thrived and are still operating successfully to this day. They are both registered under the Corporate Affairs Commission and now working on getting them in Delaware in the US too which will be ready soon.

Considering the challenges you mentioned earlier, were there times you were tempted to dump the idea of graduating with a first class?

The pain, hunger, stress, and struggles that I experienced at various points during my time in school actually fuelled my determination to complete my academic journey with excellence. Instead of discouraging me, these challenges served as guiding compasses, showing me the way forward and directing my actions at each moment. I always questioned myself, “Why will I give up on something good?” These difficulties only strengthened my resolve to persevere and achieve my goals.

What kind of support did you get from your parents?

My mother is a trader, specialising in selling onions, while my father is a furniture maker who also takes on various other jobs to make ends meet. My parents have provided me with significant support, but a mother’s love is unparalleled. In fact, my mother actively participates in a communal contribution system known as ajo in Yoruba, where she sets aside funds to ensure that my school fees were paid on time. Also, this woman can call me 10 times a day to be sure I am fine and to reassure me I can do it and not to give up. Her words live rent-free in my head every time and her prayers at the end of each call have kept me going. Her dedication to her children is evident, as she considers us her greatest investment. I thank God for the parents God gave me. I know if they have more than that, they’d have done more.

Studying at a Nigerian public university required a lot of hard work and less distraction. What were the other things you had to do out of the box to excel in your exams?

I learned to manage my time efficiently by creating a study schedule, prioritising my tasks, and avoiding unnecessary distractions. I allocated specific time slots for studying, reviewing, and taking breaks to optimise my productivity. In addition to attending lectures, I took the initiative to engage in self-directed learning. This involved seeking additional resources, such as textbooks, online materials, and past exam papers, to deepen my understanding of the subject matter.

I formed study groups with like-minded classmates to engage in collaborative learning. We shared notes, discussed challenging concepts, and tested each other’s knowledge, which helped to reinforce our understanding of the material. This happened most especially when I was at the 100 and 200 levels when I took general courses in the faculty.

I actively sought guidance from my lecturers by attending their office hours and seeking clarification on concepts I found challenging. Their insights and feedback were invaluable in enhancing my understanding and exam performance. I never regretted being close to my lecturers because when they saw that I was becoming unserious they informed me and I yielded to corrections. When my CGPA dropped, the corrections and motivations I got from one of them fuelled me to be more serious and achieve what I have today.

Did you devote time to mental and physical health?

 I recognised the importance of self-care in maintaining my mental and physical well-being. I ensured I got enough sleep, engaged in regular exercise, and took breaks to relax and rejuvenate, which helped me stay focused and motivated during exam periods.

I cultivated a growth mindset, which involved maintaining a positive attitude towards challenges and failures, viewing them as opportunities for growth and learning. This mindset helped me stay resilient and motivated, even when facing academic setbacks.

Also, I used to attend late-night classes and I vividly remember preparing for exams by studying for 24 hours without getting any sleep. My friends were aware of my study habits, and my breaks were limited to just eating and taking short walks. I ensured I took enough rest and slept after writing the exams.

I made an impact on others through teaching. I believed that if I could explain concepts to others, I would be better able to retain the information myself. This approach became my greatest secret to success.

What kind of study routine did you have?

I frequently sacrificed sleep to pursue my studies, particularly when I started my business. I engaged in business activities during the day and then dedicated my nights to studying. Instead of studying in the library, I utilised available classrooms and auditoriums to study during late hours. This allowed me to balance my business responsibilities with my academic pursuits and make the most of my available time.

Were you involved in students’ politics?

Although I initially had the desire to do so, upon careful deliberation, I realised that it would have a detrimental impact on my studies and results most especially If I had to serve other students well and effectively. And since I don’t like participating in things that don’t bring out my best, my final decision was to avoid it (politics).

What type of company did you keep and what did you consider before choosing your friends at school?

I surround myself with individuals who are open to learning and personal growth. When choosing my friends, I prioritise intelligence over mere brilliance. In fact, none of my closest friends necessarily graduated with top honours as I value quality beyond academic achievements. Although some of my closest friends were unable to bag a first-class degree, they excelled and obtained a second-class upper division instead.

Did you also avoid romantic relationships as an undergraduate to avoid distractions as some students do?

I had a girlfriend at some point. But it was for a good reason and not based on romance or lust.

Have you taken part in the National Youth Service Corps programme?

Not yet; I should go with the next batch (of graduates).

What do you do for a living?

I am an experienced software engineer with a strong passion for natural language processing, a cutting-edge field within deep learning. Currently, I am actively exploring and delving deeper into the nuances of NLP. In addition to my technical expertise, I am also involved in entrepreneurial endeavours as I co-founded and manage two startups.

As a first-class graduate, is lecturing part of your plans?

Absolutely! Teaching is my true passion, even though I may not earn any monetary compensation from it. It’s my way of giving back to humanity, as I believe that I am a product of the positive impact of education.

You expressed interest in artificial intelligence. Why and how can Nigerian society benefit from it?

My passion for natural language processing stems from my deep desire to prevent African Languages from going extinct. I envision a future where virtual assistants like Siri, Google assistants, Alexa, and others can accurately comprehend and respond in Yoruba, Tiv, Efik, Igbo, Hausa, and other African languages. I am committed to making African Languages accessible to all, regardless of location, and I am eager to seize every opportunity that enables me to contribute to this mission.

What is your long-term goal as a computer engineer?

As a computer engineer, my overarching aspirations are focused on utilising my skills and knowledge to create technology that not only enriches people’s lives but also contributes to positive change in society. I aim to approach my work with a sense of responsibility and empathy, recognising the potential impact of technology on individuals and communities. I am committed to being mindful of the ethical implications of my work and striving to develop technology that upholds principles of human dignity, privacy, and freedom. Ultimately, my long-term vision includes establishing my own globally recognised company that pioneers the development of revolutionary AI products aimed at benefiting humanity as a whole.

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