Chatting With a Brilliant Telecoms Engineer/Consultant – Uche Adaigbe

Today, we continue our mentoring session with Uche Adaigbe. Meeting with him was a turning point for me as he struck me immediately as a young man who knew where he was going. An extremely focused individual with a huge drive; Uche did a lot to instill confidence in me when I joined Vmobile Nigeria in 2005 from an IT background. If you are looking for a man who understands his job to the minutest of details – then he is your man. He converses with you up to protocol levels and he is truly an Engineer. With guys like him; the future of Nigeria in Internet Protocol and new generation Telecommunication is very secured.
Uche is presently a consultant to the leading Telecoms vendor in the World and has deployed solutions in 11 countries already.
Happy reading.

What book are you reading at the moment?

Just finished reading some certification book, won’t say I am a very good book reader, I mainly read technical materials.

Forgive my morals, please let’s meet you sir

Uche Chukwuemeke ADAIGBE

I know you read a lot and marvel at the ease with which you go even down to protocol level in Telco/IP world. Did you find your school books that interesting?

Interestingly YES, especially from SS1 – Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Further Mathematics up until this day.

Give us an insight into your formal educational journey from elementary to Tertiary?

Brother Pius Nursery School Benin City, Air Force Primary School Benin City, University of Benin Demonstration Secondary School Benin City and University of Benin

What was your career choice when you were in Secondary school?

I think I had decided on Electrical and Electronic Engineering from my SS1 or SS2

As a graduate of Electrical Electronics, most of your classmates’ first choice of industry would most likely be Oil n Gas; did you have the same sentiment?

Yeah, I did, especially haven graduated from the University of Benin where most of the guys who had graduated before me had been snapped by the likes of Shell, Schlumberger, Chevron with their then obscene salary offers, I seriously considered the Oil and Gas industry, just for the money though. I must confess it wasn’t easy sticking by what I knew I was cut out for especially when you hear of all those ‘stupid’ money your peers are earning in the Oil and Gas industry

So what attracted you into the Telecommunication industry?

Not too long after my project defense, while waiting for NYSC posting (that was delayed for one year), I decided to study a book on Digital Electronics as I noticed that it was an area I wasn’t very confident of after school, I also decided to hook up with a friend who was my computer lecturer before I got into the university and had started his own business/ computer training school. I was also studying IEEE Communications and Computer journals at the time, I think all these together, the IEEE Communications Society (ComSoc) journals especially made me discover the fact that I was cut out for telecoms, it really came like a knowing not just an attraction.

Most times, our first jobs determine our career path. Where did you cut your first teeth and share your experience with us?

Not sure which I would call my first job now, as I mentioned earlier, I was working with this computer lecturer of mine and he is someone I really credit for helping me discover myself as it were, he at the time was someone that believed in me much more than I believed in myself, I was working for him but was not earning a salary. My first job in which I was being paid was as a corper with Cellcom as an Admin Officer (I have interesting memories of those times), it obviously did not determine my career path but the little skills I picked from there have come a long way in helping my writing skills as per documentations and designs which could be a nightmare for many technical people. I afterwards was retained in the company as a Switching Engineer Trainee. But the job that really shaped my career was with GloMobile, just 6mths after I was retained by Cellcom, I was employed as GPRS O&M Engineer, that’s where my career practically began to unfold and in one year it was set and clear.

The data world in Telecoms is still relatively new and gradually becoming the cutting edge in the industry, what is your comment on this?

It sure is the future of telecommunications generally especially as ARPU from traditionally telecoms services (voice) is on a steady decline, data can help bring in untold revenue. As you know, its only humans that can talk, number of data capable agents are limitless.

In layman terms, what is SIGTRAN?

It is an acronym for SIGnaling TRANsport, it basically means transporting traditional Signaling System No. 7 (SS7) messages over using IP of course over an IP infrastructure.

Most Telecoms vendors now use TCP/IP as their preferred transport protocol even for traditional nodes like the MSCs in the form of SIGTRAN, why did that happen?

This has happened because the telecoms standards organization 3GPP/ETSI from its release 5 onwards decided to standardize the use of IP as network layer protocol because of its flexibility as a protocol and its success in its use in the internet, of course as you know, the transport layer for SIGTRAN does not use TCP but rater SCTP which was specifically built for SIGTRAN purposes to cater for short falls of TCP and UDP in carrying such delay sensitive protocols like SS7.

With the experience you have gathered, what do you think will be the next big technology in Telecoms?

Most advancements in the telecoms world is been done on the radio network as against the core network, this will make Long Term Evolution (LTE) that promises to offer up to 100Mbps per user the next big technology in telecoms, especially mobile telecoms. Mobile IP with the use of IPv6 could also be a technology that we should look out for in the future, it is a core network technology though.

Your first touch with General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and Mobile Packet Backbone Network (MBPN) was with Glo Nigeria, describe how it happened for us?

I had dropped off my CV with Glo Nigeria during the “mad rush” into Glo in 2003 after knowing I had no future in Cellcom about 6mths after being retained from NYSC, I was called for an interview as a Switching Engineer Trainee, honestly, I barely knew nothing about switching especially because I had been spending my time reading up CDMA and had just finished CCNA so I was practically all about IP and CDMA. During the interview, I was asked a number of switching related questions all of which I think I answered wrongly. Interestingly, one of the guys in the panel was the GPRS/WAP and MMS Manager; he looked at my CV and saw I had written that I had knowledge of CDMA, the interview then turned to be a two way question and answer session between me and him (he told me later that I had given him the exact answers he had wanted), he finally then asked if I knew the meaning of GPRS, I then smiled as though, “what a question?” and then answered. He then decided to take me from the switching position I was been interviewed for to the GPRS O&M position he had under him that was the first stage of the interview that day, I had one more technical interview and two HR interviews afterwards. I got the job a couple of months after.

I am privy to the knowledge that you have never attended any Computer school and that your development was mostly self-taught and through hardwork, any advice on how to tow that route?

I actually did attend a Computer school after SSCE and by the time I had graduated from the university, I could not remember anything about computers, it was Windows 3.1, DOS, BASIC, DBASE and the likes that I had learnt for just 3mths though. As for advising, I’d say its all about interest, for me, reading is out of interest, I have been reading since I left the university and I have been able to sustain it because I kept up and am keeping up my interest in telecommunications and technology as a whole.

Most people tend to think that techies like you don’t have business skills. Can you disprove them?

Well, they won’t be wrong in thinking so seeing how techies have always turned out. I, on the contrary think you can develop business skills and even build a business around your technical abilities. I guess the only way I can disprove anyone who does not agree is to build a viable and profitable business based on my technical abilities myself.

When was the first time you realized you can become an expatriate at what you do?

After I had worked with an expatriate who was employed by Ericsson Nigeria and more so after the same guy had asked me what I was still doing in Nigeria as a local. Before then, I had only thought of working abroad like guys do in the UK et al now.

Describe your first shot at consultancy abroad and how it succeeded or failed? Lessons from the experience?

I declined the very first interview I was to have as a consultant because I was not mentally ready to leave home then. By the time I was ready, I had 2 job offers – 1 in Haiti for Digicel Haiti which used Ericsson equipments and the other with Siemens in Cote ‘d Ivoire which used Cisco equipments, I turned down the Siemens guys because I really wanted to work with Ericsson equipments and also because they didn’t seem very straight – I’m sure you know of the very many problems Siemens have been having lately, especially about bribery. The Haiti one did not work out as well because I had a problem securing a transit visa from the French embassy so the contract was eventually canceled after a number of visa trials. In all of it, I think I would say perhaps God wanted me in Kenya which was the next opportunity that came and it greatly helped my skill set, actually in ways I can’t even begin to express here. As for the lessons I learnt in all of it, I was happy I knew all what I said I knew; the image of the Nigerian Youth is so so bad and its something I think we all as Nigerian Youths should go the extra mile in trying to better in our conducts and lifestyles as individuals so I wasn’t just going to be another Nigerian guy with some twisted story, claiming to be who he is not.

You are GPRS/MPBN Expert/Consultant providing service for the leading Telecoms vendor in the World. How many countries have you provided these services in?

11 Countries all in Africa including Nigeria

Can you try to describe what your job entails for us?

In a brief, it involves Design and Implementation of Mobile Packet Backbone Networks – IP Backbones for Telecoms Operators that use Ericsson as their Telecom Equipment vendor. I also integrate GPRS Nodes, SGSNs and GGSNs.

If you think deeply, what is the greatest factor in getting to the point you are today and why?

Well, I would say God just answered my wishes. Other than that, I decided to pursue my interests and was blessed to have had the avenues and opportunities to have expressed myself. So the greatest factor would be my desires and drive all based on my interest, again I guess I was a bit daring in following my interests through and through.

Who is/are your role models?

Not sure I can say I have role models because I believe we all are in this world for different purposes and to achieve different goals this should not be mistaken for being conceit as I have people whose work and excellence in their endeavors have greatly inspired me as a person and as an engineer and these people have come in different stages of my life and career and there are some now and I guess many more to come. For those inspiring my future (which I believe would best fit the profile of role models as you have asked) are the likes of Jim Ovia whose community development efforts and selflessness is profound, not to talk of his being able to mastermind one of the most respected financial institutions in Nigeria today; Aliko Dangote and Mike Adenuga for having the courage to invest in Nigeria and providing jobs for very many Nigerian youths of which I was one. Many of us might have our reservations about the personalities of these people but their achievements are outstanding. If we were in their shoes, chances are that we might have been worse. I also am seriously inspired by my pastor Kingsley Okonkwo who was able to grow a church of young school leavers and fresh university graduates who had absolutely nothing into a church of young entrepreneurs and by simply believing in God and in their abilities, he really was not about the money he could but about the people. The common thing with all of these people I have mentioned is that they believe in Nigeria and the Nigerian human resource and trust me, haven travelled a bit around Africa and worked with peoples from around the globe, I know how valuable that human resource is.

Many think that the color of their skin shuts doors on them; do you have any advice for them?

Its only God that can shut a door and nothing will be able to open it, otherwise a man’s skill can make a way for him and his diligence can make him stand before kings.

Someone might be intimidated by your profile, how can they also start working towards their goal?

First know what you are truly cut out for, it is always something around that positive thing you are interested in, then begin to genuinely pursue it and trust me, nature will respond to you and then of course I won’t rule out the God factor as HE is able to do exceeding, abundantly above all you can ever ask or imagine.

If I present a young graduate interested in a Telecoms career to you – what are the steps you will recommend for the young person?

Same as in the last question

What are your long term career/business goals?

As for career, doing what I enjoy doing, which is providing solutions especially in the field of IP based telecommunications – using the available technology to better lives. As for business, building of businesses that would be able to generally better the lives of Nigerians and Africans such that the parts of the money made can be put back in the community and other parts used for furthering the gospel of Jesus Christ here on earth as everything is HIS and we are just custodians.

There is still a lot of skills gap in Africa especially in IT and Telecommunication. How can we bridge the gap?

First is by taking up the challenge being posed by the youths of the far east – Indians and Chinese especially, next is for those of us who have being blessed to be able to give back our knowledge, resources and time to the youths who are willing to take up the challenge and then of course pray and participate positively in politics so that we are able to get the right people that will create enabling environments for the development and operation of businesses and standardization of our educational systems so that we can tackle unemployment and idleness which are the strongest drivers of vices amongst the Nigerian and African youths.

What values do you hold tight in life?

Do unto others as you would want them to do to you which in others words are Love your neighbor as yourself, also honesty, fairness, equity. All of these for me are based on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What do you do to relax?

Watching movies on the big screen, small screen series, TV channels like Discovery, History also E! and then of course reading.

It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Thanks for the time and the insights.