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What It Takes to Succeed as a Software Engineer: Spotlight on Solomon Kebede, 2022 ALX SE Challenge Winner

ALX SE Challenge Winner, Solomon Kebede on what it takes to succeed as a Software Engineer

What does it really take to make it as a software engineer? Beyond the bright lights of success in this fast-growing field, it takes a huge amount of grit and determination. As a winner of the 2022 ALX Software Engineering Challenge, Ethiopia-born Solomon Kebede is no stranger to this, having overcome multiple barriers to get to where he is today. In this candid interview, he shares lessons from his journey in the ALX Software Engineering programme, tips for tackling imposter syndrome, and how he managed to become a certified Fullstack Developer and Fellow of The ROOM.

What motivated you to join the ALX Software Engineering Programme?

I have a BSc in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. While waiting to receive my transcripts, two friends showed me a poster of the ALX programme on the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology campus. I had previously been looking for a way to further certify my degree through Software Engineering, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I thought it would be fun and also provide me with a good learning opportunity, so I gave it a shot, and here we are today.

What role did collaboration play in your learning experience?

It played a very significant role. I really appreciated the peer learning days (PLDs), when we were able to have them. They were highly beneficial in that they provided an opportunity to collaborate, communicate and discuss projects with other learners who were enthusiastic and committed to their work.

What were the biggest highlights and lessons from your training?

On a daily basis, I was happy to meet and work with the other ALX learners. I also really enjoyed learning about technologies such as NGINX and SSL, and the latest programming languages in use today.

Everyday at ALX is an opportunity to better yourself.

Winning the SE challenge was another remarkable experience. Getting to visit Rwanda and meet members of the ALX team like the founder, Fred Swaniker; Chief Product Officer, Julien Barbier; and SE Operations Associate Lynn Nungari, as well as the other ALX challenge winners, was really exciting. On that trip, we also met with the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of ICT and Innovation in Rwanda. I’m really honoured to have gotten that opportunity to meet all the brilliant minds connected to the ALX community, and I thank God for it.

What the entire programme taught me was that everyday at ALX is an opportunity to better yourself. You have the potential to learn and discover new things, and solving each task leaves you with an overwhelming sense of motivation that fuels you for the next day. So in actual fact, the biggest highlights of my ALX journey were the sum of all the little wins and experiences. 

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced, and how were you able to overcome them?

The peer pressure, coupled with the pressure of deadlines, can lure one into thinking that the only way to survive the programme is to cheat and cut corners, but I always knew that I didn’t need to do that. It’s easy to deceive yourself and justify your actions by saying, for example, “Shell basics are easy, and it’s okay if I cheat”, but the only thing you’ll pick up from doing that is a nasty cheating habit.

Personally, I was new to low level programming and C and most of my results on those projects were in the 60 to 90 range – some were higher and even lower than that. But what was most important to me was that I could say I learned something and did my best.

Solomon with two other SE challenge winners
Solomon with two other SE challenge winners, Abdul-Muizz Hamzat (left) and Joseph Adebayo (right)

There are times when you’ll experience imposter syndrome, but if you persist till the end, you’ll either be successful, or at the very least, learn what success requires of you.

Another challenge was finding people who were willing to work or learn alongside me. Whether we were working on PLDs or individual projects, I found that people learned on their own schedules, and some, if not most, have jobs, families and other obligations. I was able to get around this by going through the list of people who were able to complete their tasks in the learners portal. A few names came up multiple times, and I reached out to some of them on Slack to ask for help. Many people were really helpful and provided me with answers.

Based on my experience, I would advise current and potential learners to find someone to work with, because going through the programme alone can be very hard. I had friends who started the ALX programme with me, but due to other obligations, they were not able to continue. The projects can be quite overwhelming, and there are times when you’ll experience imposter syndrome, but if you persist till the end, you’ll either be successful, or at the very least, learn what success requires of you.

What is your dream career and what are your expectations for the future of technology?

My dream is to be a Software Engineer. I believe through technology we can make a significant impact on the world’s most persistent problems. A small discovery can change the paradigm of how we think and can have a big impact on our individual lives. I hope to be able to contribute to new discoveries by identifying problems and providing solutions to them.

What impact has ALX had on your future goals?

Solomon Kebede, ALX SE graduate

ALX has helped me realise that the most important things require you to do the hardest things.

ALX has helped me realise that the most important things require you to do the hardest things. I now feel I can learn new things and achieve new heights if I put my mind to it. Previously, I struggled with imposter syndrome, like many others, without knowing what it actually was. Now I know that there’s no need to compare myself to others, because the context of our lives are different. What matters is that I continue to strive to be better than the previous versions of myself. 

Any parting words?

I was not the most brilliant student, and I had a hard time when I was at school at a younger age. Medically, I had challenges and faced a number of near-death experiences, but my faith has really seen me through to this point and given me hope of a bright future. I hope this encourages anyone who reads this that you can be successful, no matter what is holding you back.

ALX provides young Africans with the professional skills, and career support required to succeed in tech. Join thousands of other budding tech leaders – enrol in the ALX Software Engineering Programme today!

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