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Prosper Otemuyiwa
Prosper Otemuyiwa

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Who is Speaking On Your Behalf?

Who is Speaking On Your Behalf?


forloop Summit 2019 (L-R), Remy, Mohammed, Mustapha, Prosper, and Funsho

Prowling around Twitter like a roaring lion looking for an article to devour, a technical blog post to consume, a funny video to laugh at, a business post to bookmark, a software engineer to follow, I came across a video where the Vice Chairman of Morgan Stanley, Carla Harris was interviewed….

She said something that struck my nerves deeply. In her words:

I realized that being smart and working hard was not enough. It still wasn’t getting me at the top of the class.

..and later went on to say:

I realized that there was somebody who had to be behind closed doors arguing passionately on my behalf. But at the end of the day while performance currency gets your name on the list that’s being discussed behind closed doors, when your name is called, if no one else in that room can speak on your behalf, they just go to the next name and it has nothing to do with your ability to do the job.

Your politicians have cracked this code that’s why they are up there grabbing juicy opportunities while you’re here arguing baselessly everyday on which is the better frontend framework, or trying to show off your technical prowess by telling every Tom, Dick and Harry that you are the best backend developer the world will ever know (now, this is not bad at all)…but apart from your work that can probably speak for itself :

  • Who can speak on your behalf?

  • Who can send in that letter of recommendation?

  • Who can boast and argue passionately for you that you deserve a seat at the table where you can influence a lot of decisions in place of the other engineer that’s equally as good?

  • Where the hell is your advocate?

  • Who has encountered you in ways that can spread your gospel to their networks?

In the short span of my career (~6 years), I have discovered that the folks(asides being born with a silver spoon) that appear as incredibly lucky due to the kind of opportunities they have access to in their career or business have a ridiculous knack for connecting with people.

They don’t have to be extroverts. They simply possess the willpower and drive to observe people, get to know people, appear in gatherings that involve people that are aligned with their goals, and connect people with one another.

One of my close friends looked at me a couple of months ago and said “Prosper, you are very lucky” and I didn’t fail to ask him how. With all honesty and sincerity, he let me know that over the few years I have been neck deep in the software engineering and technology world, I’ve had several access to opportunities that are hard to come by especially if one is from this region (Lagos, Nigeria)

Perhaps he is right, because I know for sure that anyone that has had a fair bit of whatever is classified as “success” achieved it with some dozes of luck here and there(..in combination with hard-work and book/street smart).

Perhaps, a few portions of that luck was unconsciously engineered to work in my favor. Perhaps, the thousands of people I have connected with, and stayed in connection with, are speaking on my behalf in hundreds of places I’d originally never have access to. Perhaps, I’m not just doing the work (coding everyday & speaking to my laptop alone), I’m also actively sharing that work with other people. Perhaps, I spend a huge chunk of my time actively stalking people I want to be like and connecting them with other people I’ve met.

Engineering Luck & People To Speak For You

As a software engineer, your daily work involves putting lego blocks together in form of 1s and 0s and stringing language APIs together logically to build products.

You are building on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Heck yeah, you’re also building on Saturday, because it’s fun, it’s addictive, you feel incredibly happy and satisfied by your work, the dopamine effects of creating products slaps greatly!….but pause and ask yourself these questions:

  • What time of the week, or month, or year have I dedicated to connecting with people?

  • Who am I talking to about my work?

  • What time have I set aside to connect that random designer with that other frontend developer?

  • How am I helping that CEO in ways that it will be hard for them to forget that I exist?

  • Who am I sharing my work with?

  • Who am I helping to become better at their work?

  • Which clubs or communities are am I affiliated with?

  • Have I been too embraced and locked up in my work that I fail to connect with the 1% of the 1%?

    The best way to ensure that lucky things happen is to make sure a lot of things happen — Bo Peabody

It’s great to be smart, hardworking, and world class in the work that you do, but there’s a high probability that if someone doesn’t discover you, or you don’t deliberately do the leg work of connecting with people…you’ll keep hacking away in a rabbit hole while folks with half your intelligence, but rich in people currency will have a mighty seat at the long table of opportunities, wealth and opulence.

Build powerful alliances and maintain a diverse mix of relationships. We are in a very competitive economy. In fact, in the technology industry, there are tons of smart people, even smarter than you. When 10 people are drafted for an opportunity, and y’all have an amazing body and portfolio of work…WHO WILL SPEAK ON YOUR BEHALF?

I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time. — Ecclesiastes 9:11

I’m reminded heavily of the PayPal Mafia and how they kept connecting each other & speaking on behalf of each other in new circles. Yelp, Youtube, SpaceX, Tesla, LinkedIn, Slide, etc and a group of modern millionaires & billionaires emerged this way!

I’m reminded of how people with similar ideas and information tend to hang out with another. You can see clear examples of this in the various elite clubs, groups, political parties, cults and communities that exist in the world. Majority of the times, the only way to break into a circle is for someone within that circle to speak positively on your behalf.

I’m reminded of how I have spoken on behalf of certain people that got them great jobs instantly without rigorous interview processes. I’m reminded of how so many people have spoken on my behalf that got me great gigs, jobs, opportunity to travel the world while speaking at technical conferences, and meeting great decision makers that I’d have never dreamt of sharing the same room with.

I'm reminded that when someone powerful speaks on your behalf, protocols are broken, "due processes" are discarded, the power of network effects start to work for you. "We don't employ people from this region" becomes a fallacy. New roles that have never existed within an organization will be created for you, because someone spoke on your behalf!

Again, Who Is Your Advocate?

I’m writing this short piece because I have seen that millennials would rather have advocates for their romantic relationships than for their life-long careers and businesses.

  • Who’s speaking on behalf of your startup or company?

  • When you make mistakes, who will speak on your behalf to afford you a second, third, fourth, fifth and infinite chance?

  • When everything comes crashing down (which always happens at some point), who will be your advocate?

    And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none.

A new day, another opportunity to invest in yourself, invest heavily in connecting with people and transform your entire life.

Top comments (152)

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald • Edited on

Excellent article. Very well said.

I, like many, have had to be my own advocate. One of my obstacles is that I lack a "traditional" work history, due to my traumatic brain injury preventing me from finding or being able to access a standard office job for many years. I instead focused on my own software startup, MousePaw Media. I've built a career for myself, but that would have meant nothing without, as you said, someone to speak for me.

But for the longest time, I knew no one who could do that for me, so I spoke for myself. I crashed the doors of the industry, so to speak. I wrote letters to leading computer scientists, asking for their advice on various topics. I made appointments with professors and career services directors to build my company's reputation with the universities. I learned how to leverage my passion and communication skills to get people excited about my ideas, and then I went and found the people I wanted to get excited! I seldom bother with the "traditional" hierarchies and channels: I just go straight to the person I want to speak to, even if it means bypassing three department chairs and a gaggle of administrative assistants.

Case-in-point, as my goal is to produce educational software, I once cold-called the guy who had been lead developer on a best-selling educational software game in the 90s. That is, I found his name in the credits, researched his work history online, and went straight through his current workplace's corporate switchboard to get to his office line. He was, frankly, flabbergasted that I had found him, and was only too willing to answer my questions.

Of course, many people wonder how I'd even have the guts to try that, but I've learned to have the shameless audacity to reach out to the people I want to talk to. (Of course, I'm always polite and professional about it.) After all, think about it: what's the worst possible outcome? They say "no, go away," and then you're no further back from where you started. That shameless audacity is why I have a signed personal letter from Donald Knuth hanging on my wall, encouraging me to keep at it.

All that to say — if you don't have an advocate, be your own advocate. I'm well aware that I have common bias in my favor, as I'm male and (apparently) white. Yet the best people, the people you want favor and help from, often won't care what your skin color, gender, or heritage is! What I'm talking about is one-on-one communication, not one-on-industry. Beat down the doors if you have to. More often than not, you'll be amazed who answers and invites you in.

Some of those people may even become your advocates.

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unicodeveloper profile image
Prosper Otemuyiwa • Edited on

Wow. Your journey is quite a huge inspiration. Thank you for sharing your story!

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borderless_i profile image
Omo Osagiede

Wow! Thanks for sharing your journey! I believe self-advocacy is super important. However, there are some doors that only other advocates are able to open for others. Both sides of the same coin I say.

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

Indeed. I believe it starts with self-advocacy, by which you'll usually find other advocates.

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debbie_adef profile image
Debbie♠

Thank you for this!!
Cannot even begin to share how truly valuable the experiences you've shared are.

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unicodeveloper profile image
Prosper Otemuyiwa

Thank you, Debbie.

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oikechukwu profile image
OIkechukwu

Quite an interesting read there from Prosper. The message was sent was dully received.

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unicodeveloper profile image
Prosper Otemuyiwa

Thank you so much. I hope you keep finding it useful.

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dyagzy profile image
dyagzy

Wow, Jason your perspective is very impressive. I had to re-read your article about three times so as to get all the points you raised.

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unicodeveloper profile image
Prosper Otemuyiwa

Very impressive.

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tinydev profile image
Alex

Your audacity is awesome!

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ijsucceed profile image
Jeremy Ikwuje

Thanks a lot Jason. I also did this with an outstanding author. This is something that prior to this write up, I find it tough though.

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emmysteven profile image
Emmy Steven

A nice perspective on the matter! I'll go with both, I'm an Oliver Twist

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nosdgenius profile image
omorodionnosa

Great article!

My take away are:

  1. Let people know what you do, not just within your circle but outside your circle.

  2. Anyone can advocate for you irrespective of their status.

  3. Be Visible. Connect, join communities.

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unicodeveloper profile image
Prosper Otemuyiwa

Perfect!

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akhatorenosa profile image
Osa

Very apt article. I've always been one to tell myself that just coding like a wizard won't get me anywhere without the proper connects or advocates and this is true not only in tech but also other fields as well. I remember how your advocacy got me the ZTM course by Andrei Aenogie which is changing my life till this day. Thanks sir for this article and everything.

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unicodeveloper profile image
Prosper Otemuyiwa

Oh wow. I can't even remember this but I'm glad you got the course. This is awesome!

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samuelfamolu profile image
Samuel Famolu

Thank you so much for this wise words. You have lived this truth, the tongue of the wise maketh knowledge good... When I heard one of your primary school mates talked about you, I just think to myself, wisdom is profitable to direct.

Will practice this as often as possible. Keep winning

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unicodeveloper profile image
Prosper Otemuyiwa

The tongue of the wise maketh knowledge good. Proverbs 15:2

Keep winning too, Samuel. Send my regards to my school mate!

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gbols profile image
gbols

Thanks for this article, you really have blessing not just to the Nigeria tech ecosystem, but to the world at large.

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unicodeveloper profile image
Prosper Otemuyiwa

You spoil me with kind words. Thank you so much!

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ingosteinke profile image
Ingo Steinke

Thanks @unicodeveloper ! I have nothing to add except that I am looking forward to see and hear you live (at least online) at JSWorld Africa!

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unicodeveloper profile image
Prosper Otemuyiwa

Thank you. JSWorld Africa will be amazing

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jakehadar profile image
Jake Hadar

Anyone inspired by this post should check out the books “Expect to Win” and “Strategize to Win” by Carla Harris (author quoted at beginning). I was fortunate to attend one of her talks at the start of my career, however her books have content relevant to all stages.

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unicodeveloper profile image
Prosper Otemuyiwa

Thank you so much for these recommendations!

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Moritz Rupp

This is a great post and a very good view on how society works.
Networking is one of the most important things. I have only worked in huge enterprises and that's the first thing I have learned.

  1. Build your network and connect to people, even if you don't know what to talk about with them
  2. Be visible
  3. Do great stuff and talk about it

The difficulty is to not brag about it, but still push your story to get your advocate.

Thanks for sharing this, Prosper!

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unicodeveloper profile image
Prosper Otemuyiwa

Thank you for reading, Moritz!

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daviddennis02 profile image
David Dennis

This is the most excellent article I have read through 2019/2020. I must say, though I haven’t met with you in person but I am most encouraged by the testimonies and witnesses that talk about how much you do and contribute to people especially in the tech community. Meeting you will be one of my goals for this year 2020. More grace to you..

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unicodeveloper profile image
Prosper Otemuyiwa

Thank you David. I really appreciate your kind words. I can't wait to meet you this year too!

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trisha114 profile image
Trisha Aguinaldo

Thanks for posting this! I bookmarked this as a reminder that self-advocacy is a must. I was passed over promotions at my old job because I never talked about the hills and mountains I had to overcome daily. I think, my supervisors didn't know exactly what I did or even how I did my job. They just knew I made magic happen. But I took the hard lessons I learned from my old job and tried to market myself more at my new job. I took the time to get to know my co-workers and see them for who they are. Anyway, I think you're right, the best way to get ahead is to connect with the people around you, observe them, and then reflect on ways you can be relevant to the company.

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Prosper Otemuyiwa

Oh wow. I'm really sorry about that Trisha. I'm positive that henceforth you will get all that you deserve!

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abell_cee profile image
Abel Akogwv

Thanks for this great piece of brilliance. You've been a blessing to everyone that knows you

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unicodeveloper profile image
Prosper Otemuyiwa

Thank you so much, Abel!

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calebdeji profile image
calebdeji

Thanks for this article, this is really insightful and inspiring 🔥🔥

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Eric Annan|Cofounder KuBitX|Blockchain Enthusiast • Edited on

Insightful, thought provoking and humbling piece. The only constant currency is quality relationships and most importantly Integrity backed by powerful congruent at all times.This goes a long way to get someone to vouch for you in Secret places you may have no idea of.
Note, it takes years to build that strong values of sincerity, integrity and honesty, but just a wind can blow it, if not jealously guarded.
I believe, together by been intentional and deliberate we can reconnect the dots and build a magnificent society on the principles of UBUNTU in Africa by holding each when we are climbing the mountain.We have to rewrite the narrative whereby the son of nobody can rise through hardworking, sincerity, honesty and integrity with solid relationships with people. We must eschew meritocracy and entitlements mentality to earn our sit on the table with our output.

Thanks for this great piece.

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Prosper Otemuyiwa

I totally agree. We need to, Eric.

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ihesiulor profile image
. --. ..- ... ..

Probably the best thing I've read in a long time and it just goes to remind me of something important I forgot, that is - building connections with people is easily more valuable than what ever money I make. People / Relationships last longer, and can do things that no amount of money can do for you.

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Prosper Otemuyiwa

Thanks for reading, Dan!

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Doyin Olarewaju 🇳🇬🇨🇦

Amazing as always.. God bless you for this article.

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Prosper Otemuyiwa

Thank yo, Doyin. You are amazing too.

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