ALUMNI PROFILE:HOUSSEINI AHSSIMI MAMADOU, CEO @ HKONNECT

Housseini Ahssimi Mamadou

AGE: 30
INTERESTS: I’m passionate about teaching and sharing my knowledge. I also like to mentor people around me, motivate them and help them achieve their goals.

Tell us more about where you are from and what shaped you:

I’m from Niger. I discovered the internet at a young age when I was in secondary school. My passion for tech started from there. I got my first computer when I was 15. It had Windows 95! This old computer was transformative. I’m driven by curiosity. Whenever I see a new platform, the first two questions I ask myself are ‘how was that built?’ and ‘can I recreate that?’ Unfortunately, at the time, software engineering wasn’t popular in my area and nobody saw a future in that field. So even though I wanted to pursue my education in tech, my family wanted me to choose a business track. After high school, I went on to get my degree in international trade.

What did you do before 42?

While studying international trade, I didn’t lose my passion for technology. I kept teaching myself through online courses and YouTube videos. I even got accepted to some boot camps in France and the United States. But I couldn’t attend because I couldn’t afford it. Right before coming to 42, I was the Director of Viamo in Niger. Viamo is a Canadian Tech Company. But as the director, I was dealing more with management, business development, and project Implementations.

Working with Viamo was a really good experience because it brought me more close to tech. When I decided to quit my job to come to 42, it was thanks to Viamo. Because of that experience,  I see how we can use technology to provide solutions that can impact millions of lives. I was visualizing how I could implement some impactful solutions too. But the only thing that I was missing were the technical skills.

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

I thought I knew programming because I was able to build static websites using WordPress or by modifying HTML templates. So for me, I was a programmer. The first day of the piscine showed me that I was way far behind on what we call programming. So I can say I really started programming at 42.

What did you like best about your 42 experience?

The community. Being surrounded by so many talented people was the key to my success at 42. During my piscine, I was stuck on an exercise at 3 in the morning. Then I posted on 42’s slack asking if someone was available to help me. Jo Chang drove from home at 3 am and came to campus to help me out. His explanations were so clear that  I was able to move to finish other exercises easily. We spent the whole night working and became friends. After becoming a cadet, Jo Chang is one of the first people that I went to see when I got stuck and he always had tips on how to find a solution. Like most of the cadets, Jo Chang is very smart but also humble and always happy to help others.

Is there anything that you do now at work that you don’t think would come as easily if you hadn’t attended 42?

Definitely. Currently, I’m working on very big projects that I would never be able to do years ago. Previously I wouldn’t even accept working on these kinds of projects. But 42 teaches us to go out of our comfort zone and we are not afraid of tackling any projects. For example, during my stay at 42, I programmed a lot with C. But for the project that I’m working on, Ruby on Rails is the best fit. I decided to go with Ruby on Rails for the Backend and Bulma CSS for the frontend. All those technologies are new to me but thanks to the skills that I got at 42, I am able to learn these new languages easily. I am giving myself 4 to 5 months to finish my project but currently, I am 80% done.

What inspired you to start HKonnect?

As I said before, I knew some HTML to modify templates. Thanks to that skill I’ve won some international competitions. And to get my prize I was asked to create a company. This is where HKonnect got created in 2015. During that time I was doing any tech related jobs from digital communications, training, or static website building. In 2016, HKonnect got a grant from the US Embassy to improve a mobile app that I’ve built thanks to tutorials.

Since then HKonnect is now focusing on building tech solutions that could have a social impact. Our first product is a mobile app that you can download for free on Google Play Store. The second is the project that I’m working on which is a coding platform for Entrepreneurs. The goal for HKonnect is to teach entrepreneurs the skills needed to build their MVP and be able to enter the market as quickly as possible. From there, they can hire developers to continue to improve their platforms.

Describe what you do at HKonnect:

HKonnect is a social enterprise that focuses on building solutions for emerging markets through the use of technology. At HKonnect our approach is simple, as the CEO I help to identify problems in our community that can be solved using technology that will have a positive impact. From there we decide which problem to work on. Thanks to my past experiences as a manager, I deal easily with everything related to the business side. I also deal with the technical part by coding solutions.

What does your typical workday look like?

I start my day usually at 7 am and stop at 1 or 2 am. I keep the same routine that I had at 42. In the morning I do some meditations then breakfast. After that, I start working according to my schedule. From time to time I put some music on to do some push-ups (just like what we do in the middle of the lab). My current project is very exciting so I code most of the time until I’m really tired. I sleep on the couch in the office during the week. I go back home only one or two times a week to pick up new clothes. This is how I’m able to do a 5-month long project in about one month.

Would you recommend the 42 program and if so, why?

Definitely. 42 has been recommended to me by my friend Bashir who is also a cadet. I remember his words, ‘Houssein, I know you are enjoying your life as a Director. Flying from country to country and having fun. But I want you to leave this and join me at 42. You can do better than what you are doing now.’ And he was right.  42 gave me more confidence and revealed all my potential. Just after one year at 42, I’m earning in two months what I was making in one year. And I am doing something that I really like and that will impact my community. So again, I definitely recommend 42 to anyone passionate about making an impact through the use of technology.

Do you have any advice for 42 students when it comes to starting their own social enterprise?

My goal when joining 42 was to gain the technical skills needed. After that, I wanted to try to get a job to have some experiences before running my own social enterprise. But what happened is that the projects we work on at 42 are actually enough to give the experience you need to create your own social enterprise. My advice is to start building your enterprise as soon as possible. There are so many opportunities out there.

When looking for ideas, use this method: Find a spot, list all the problems you have in your neighborhood, then pick the problems that don’t have any solutions yet. If you solve one problem, you know you have the potential of impacting at least 1,000 people. Start from there and you will be amazed by your achievements.

Connect with Housseini on LinkedIn

Photos provided by Housseini Ahssimi Mamadou

Interview by: Stacey Faucett
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