Growing up as the 14th of 16 children in a polygamous home of five wives, Jacob Isah was familiar with struggle. However, the real realities of struggles beyond the home became more real when his father died in his second year of secondary school. This meant one thing — every man for him/herself. With this new reality, he had to fend for himself through secondary school by selling palm kernels, cashew nuts and sachet water as well as pushing a wheelbarrow for people.
Post-secondary school in 2013, he got admitted to study Political Science and Religious Studies at a College of Education. Upon resumption, all he had was ₦20,000 which he had borrowed to pay for his fees. The real question he had to answer was how he was going to survive through school and pay subsequent fees. Teaching became his answer. He approached parents who had kids in nursery and primary schools and offered to be their after-school home lesson tutor on subjects they struggled with. This served as a means of survival while in school.
Jacob’s first introduction to tech was through a community that taught the basics of digital marketing. The training sparked his interest in tech and digital marketing, specifically WordPress and Facebook ads. He couldn’t learn so much because he didn’t have a computer and certainly couldn’t afford one. His focus at that period was survival, and he heard of an opportunity in Kano. He moved there and took on a role as a payroll system operator in a plastic manufacturing company. Processing the payroll for over 10,000 workers, he became curious about how the software could track all of that data. This reawakened his curiosity for programming. With the emergence of COVID-19 in 2020, all staff were asked to go home, which spelt one thing for Jacob — his return to Kogi.
Back home, he was able to procure a desktop computer for ₦17,000, but without electricity and UPS, all he had was a TV that he couldn’t use because of the poor power situation in his environment. Downcast about the turn his life was taking, he started learning basic programming online mostly with his phone, but the pace was frustrating.
On one of the platforms Jacob was on, he heard about a Volunteer opportunity at Minna, Niger State. He immediately made enquiries and asked for two things — if they paid stipends and if there was a constant power supply, to which both had positive responses. Within a few days, he took the risk of moving somewhere he didn’t know anyone, taking his Desktop computer along with him, so he could practice at night. A few months later, his desktop broke down. He was back to square one.
Again, online, he heard of transformational stories of people who made great strides in the tech space within 2 years in Lagos. That fuelled a new motivation for him. Like an opportunity nomad, Lagos became his new dream. He contacted a friend in Lagos and a few days later, he arrived in Lagos. To fend for himself, he worked in a Cybercafe and helped people run digital ads. Not forgetting why he came to Lagos, he attended tech conferences and tried applying to some tech training institutes.
Jacob’s exposure to Semicolon came when someone in one of the platforms he joined in search of a tech school mentioned Semicolon. The offering of a laptop and the ‘learn now, pay later’ loan option checked the boxes for him. He applied to Semicolon as his last hope because he was tired of being someone else’s burden. He got admitted to Semicolon, and there was no turning back for him. On the day of resumption, he came with all his belongings and everyone looked at him with complete surprise. They had no idea what his story was.
The beginning of the program was confusing to Jacob. He had been learning without a clear direction and jumping from one part of tech to another without having an in-depth understanding of what he was doing. Jacob recounts “I am glad and happy to be part of Semicolon Africa.
When I went home and had conversations, I questioned everything and pointed out their flaws. My senior asked me, ‘What happened to you?’ I said it is Semicolon o! When someone discussed a business idea with me, I asked questions about the feasibility, if it was desirable, and if it could sell. He said he had never thought about that and that I was a visionary. Semicolon has changed me for life.”
Today, Jacob has been equipped with the knowledge, tools, tutors and community, he never had. And with his drive for better, he’s become a Software Engineer, and his story has become one of inspiration for all with a similar background.