Driving Towards Transformation: From a Danfo Driver to a Software Engineer
An eventual triumph despite many challenges is an all too familiar story in Africa. This captures not only resilience, but also determination and an unyielding commitment to personal and communal progress. Samuel Shola’s story, while embodying many familial aspects, is also a reminder of what is possible — he successfully transitioned from a semi-literate Danfo (public bus) driver to a skilled software engineer through sheer hard work and determination.
Samuel Shola was raised by a single dad who worked long hours; this meant he and his younger brothers were typically left on their own from as early as age seven, contributing to his ability to adapt from an early age and learn quickly from situations.
Samuel Shola stopped attending school in his second year of secondary school. At 16, he worked as a laborer shoveling sand and later, he became a ‘motor boy,’ transferring water from trucks to shops. During this period, his supervisor mentored him on conduct, communication, and eventually taught him how to drive, leading to his promotion.
In 2020, Samuel Shola lost his job due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trying to find a new way to make a living, he started working as a day laborer carrying sand and cement at construction sites for ₦700 a day. Later in the same year, he became a “Danfo” bus conductor, earning ₦1,500 per day. A turning point in this job came after an incursion where he was confronted by “agberos” — informal road tax collectors, who beat him up for not paying them. The experience made him quit the job and return to bricklaying until he heard about driving jobs. He eventually got a job driving delivery trucks for a logistics company, which he did for two years.
While driving and having the opportunity to meet professionals, Samuel Shola thought about getting an education himself. Someone suggested taking a tech course instead of spending four years at the university, so he bought a laptop. He began watching random videos without a clear idea of what he wanted to learn.
During this period, Samuel Shola discovered that his supervisor had stopped working and joined the tech training at Semicolon. Intrigued, he inquired about the course and asked if the program taught languages like HTML and Java, which people had told him to learn. Despite financial constraints, he applied and secured admission.
A day before his program began, he confided in a friend about challenges paying his initial deposit. To his surprise, this friend shared his situation with others, who generously contributed to cover his expenses.
Joining the program, he had an identity crisis and needed to fit into the new environment, which was different from what he was used to. In class, sometimes he cried. His prior knowledge of computer usage was very basic, and often he thought about going back to his driving job, where he was confident in his skills.
One night, when he was frustrated and contemplated quitting, he sent a message to his cohort group chat, announcing his contemplation. The support he received from his peers took him by surprise, made him discover that others were having similar challenges, and brought him to the realization that putting his thoughts out there also helped others. He became encouraged, and this contributed to strengthening his bond with his cohort.
According to one of his cohort mates, “We initially disliked it when Samuel Shola asked questions. He could inquire about a concept that everyone else understood, which sometimes slowed the class down. However, we came to realize that his questions helped him learn, so we embraced them and began learning more ourselves.” Samuel Shola, during his time at Semicolon, worked hard to achieve transformation; today he is working as a software engineer in a team developing an AI platform democratizing analytics in organizations. His story is a remarkable reminder of what is possible through hard work.