My Pivot Journal is a Ventures Africa weekly series documenting people’s career transitions from one industry to another, especially to tech.
Christian Obi (p.k.a. The Igbo Wolf) became Insta-famous in 2021 when he started a series of skits cosplaying an Igbo Professor with Yoruba students. Since then, he has taken on other characters, including “Work Chris” and “RonkeHR.” But it’s not only in content creation he has gotten a breakthrough. There’s a real-life “Work Chris.” His corporate persona as a product manager has a more intricate yet satisfying background. And in this week’s episode of My Pivot Journal, Christian tells us the story of Work Chris’ path to self-discovery through product management.
How it started
As a child, I wanted to be a doctor. Well, you know how it was— we had three options: be a doctor, engineer or lawyer. I went for the first option. I got into school to study Medicine. But in my first year, I realised it wasn’t aligning with who I am. I wasn’t necessarily struggling with my studies, but I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do. Right from JSS1, I wanted to move to Arts, but my parents were adamant. But at the University, I felt I couldn’t do it anymore. So I moved to Computer Science. At that period, things were good, and grades were up. But I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, even though I was studying Computer Science. I had seen the Programming part, and it wasn’t my thing. I also saw the Graphic Design part and knew it wasn’t me. Back then, there was nothing like a Product Manager, at least not that we know.
When I got out of school and after service, I decided to do a bit of Graphic Design. But my first day job was in Customer Support, which I did for over four years. Then I was freelancing and getting gigs. However, I had made several attempts to get some guys together to build a product. I did not know that what I was doing included product management. Heck, I didn’t even know it was a career!
I got graphic design gigs, some of which involved designing apps (not UI/UX). At that time, graphics designers used to do app design. But as I said, I knew graphics design was not the nest in which I’d settle. I still wanted to find the right path. So I tried out different things. Right before the pandemic, I started learning data analytics. And even though I enjoyed arranging those numbers, I still had to come out of it.
Amidst all this, I had to quit my job. I couldn’t fully describe my reasons, but there was no satisfaction. It wasn’t like I hated my job. I just knew something was missing. So I left a job I had been doing for four years without having a new one. I didn’t even know my next step, but I knew I was done. I was not finding happiness in what I was doing.
During the pandemic, I went into marketing and strategy. And many times, my job would include doing research. So, in several cases, when people brought apps they wanted to launch, I could see that they were terrible. My place was not to tell them but to find a market fit for their products. However, I realised that while trying to understand the target audience for these products, I was doing product management again. This time, I knew the role existed. And that was when it hit me: this could be my dream job. I had done it unconsciously in the past. But now, not anymore.
My transition from marketing to tech came from many streaks of luck because it was pretty easy for me. I was still into marketing when a friend who was trying to move to UI/UX told me about the product he was working on. We needed a tech person to collaborate with, so I called an old friend and told him about it. But that old friend reminded me that the product I described was the same one I tried to build years ago. I didn’t realise that I had instinctively called the same person. And so, we all joined hands to create this app.
At the end of our first group meeting about the product, I cracked a joke with my friends, telling them I was available if anyone needed a CEO. They laughed, but then someone told me there was an opening for a Product Manager role. I told them I had no experience, but they said it didn’t matter. So I went for the interview the following Monday and got the job on Wednesday. In the space of a week, I became a Product Manager.
But that was only the beginning. Becoming a product manager showed me how disorganised I was. My first PM job had me manage four products at the same time. It was ridiculous for someone who just walked through the door. Although I wasn’t making all the strategic decisions, it was still chaotic. The company was using its product to build products for several other companies — real estate, fintech, etc. So even though I took many courses on Udemy, I got confused a lot at the beginning. Documentation was my biggest challenge. But after I got help, it became clear and clean.
Starting with a company like that came with its advantages, though. For instance, when I started looking for a new job, I wasn’t restricted to one field. I could confidently tell several recruiters that I had experience in their space. It didn’t take very long for me to land my next job.
How it’s going
For the first time in my life, I truly enjoy my job. Even on days when things are not rosy, I love it. But I don’t have any regrets for taking so long to find this path. The only reason I could make such a swift transition was because of my past experiences. I know customer care, I’ve done customer products, design and marketing. None of them is without use today. Even my short stint at banking during my IT (which made me vow never to work in a bank) came in handy. Being in that locked, regulated space helped the way I think about my work in fintech today.
I still have challenges, but they don’t phase me any longer. For instance, I’m not a confrontational person. But because I’m managing stakeholders, the job requires me to be political sometimes. Also, I have to admit, I don’t know how I combine my job with content creation. Sometimes I have to shoot my videos at 11 pm, 1 am or 4 pm, depending on when I get the opportunity. All I know is that I keep to one goal: to solve problems as they come.
Because of that goal, I take things one day at a time. Every product manager dreams of having a product of their own, as do I. But that’s not what I am focusing on right now. I want my learning curve to be complete without getting distracted. It will happen, one product at a time.
I think the biggest career hack is knowing how to do the hard things. What gives me an edge today is that I’ve spent many years doing jobs that I didn’t like.
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