An Explorer, From One Burgeoning Tech City to Another
ILLUMITI: So, how about a little background information, about where you were born and what it was like growing up.
TOLULOPE AKANNI: Well, I grew up Lagos, Nigeria, which happens to be the largest city in Nigeria and its commercial capital. I grew up in a very busy city, but in a quaint part which isn’t so small now that I think about it (laughs). It was a very, very connected community with lots of well-known pop-stars all over the place and everybody in the street knew you by your first and last names. I regularly went to a community church and a local school. When I got a bit older, I continued my schooling in Nigeria and received my Bachelor’s Degree. (When I moved to Canada in 2014, as a student, I continued my studies at the University of Ottawa for my Master’s Degree – that’s when I decided to stay permanently in Canada.)
IL: Interesting. And during your studies and when you were growing up in Lagos, was there a time when you sensed that you were going to lean towards a career in technology?
TA: So, yes. But I think when I was as young as eight years old, I wanted to actually be a plumber. We had a plumber that was just the nicest human ever, and every time he came around to help with issues, I would just want to help him, you know, get into stuff, so I thought I was going to go down that route one day. It wasn’t until I was 12 that I realized, and knew, that I aspired to be an engineer, partly because I had the influence from older siblings who are also engineers. Plus, I think engineering and medical careers are very romanticized, generally, in Africa. So, because of that, I wanted to get into engineering.
IL: That’s cool. So, after moving to Canada for your schooling in Ottawa, what did you career path look like on your way to Illumiti?
TA: Actually, before I came to Canada, I worked in Nigeria in engineering, mainly in oil and gas and a bit of telecom, so I was just jumping here and there trying to figure out what exactly I wanted to do. After landing in consulting with Accenture in Nigeria—that’s where I was first introduced to SAP—I came to Canada to finish my studies. With my work experience and my Master’s, I received an offer to join Deloitte in Canada as part of their SAP practice. I was there for close to four years before joining Illumiti in June of 2018.
IL: And what is your current title at Illumiti?
TA: I’m an SAP PP QM Consultant.
IL: And describe a typical day.
TA: Well, a typical day depends on what phase a project is in, but I typically start off catching up on emails and having my daily catch-up meeting with a client. And I’m also catching up with other folks on the project, from those involved in designing or resolving an issue you’re fixing that has dependency on finance or sales. So, it’s pretty busy.
IL: And how has the current coronavirus lockdown impacted what you do and how you work?
TA: Well, I’ve been working remote for 60% to 70% of the time well before the pandemic, so I’m accustomed to remote work. But I realize now how that I treasure the couple days a week I would come into the office prior to the pandemic. I miss the face-to-face interactions with my colleagues. I need to see people. It’s been challenging in the sense that you’re going from partial day-to-day interactions with people to no physical interactions with people. But in some ways, I think it’s a bit easier to reach people now. The pandemic and working from home have shown some upsides and downsides. But I constantly say, ‘Okay, now I need to deliberately end my work day,’ and learn to separate work from personal time and all of that, especially now that they are so intertwined.
IL: In your opinion, how do you think this pandemic is going to impact the future of business in general?
TA: I think remote work is a good option for business. But something as drastic as the pandemic had to happen to really expose people, and businesses, to the possibilities of remote work being a part of our lives. And in many ways, it’s almost like Illumiti has been so futuristic, forward-thinking and ahead of other companies for a long time because we were already working remote so often, and so well. Many other companies, unfortunately, don’t allow remote work for their employees. So, I think in many ways, this model is working and it’s going be the new normal. It could be a good thing for employers, as it uncovers so many benefits and operational savings. It’s definitely going to be around for a while, I believe.
IL: So, speaking of challenges, and in terms of your previous experiences, what challenges have you faced along the way and up to this point?
TA: I think I’ve been somewhat lucky and haven’t faced notable challenges in my career journey. I joined Illumiti the first week that Illumiti University started: it’s a fantastic platform, an intensive two weeks ramping up quickly, meeting new people, and getting access to everything you need. It was also a great opportunity to get to talk to different people, like Solution Architects, various managers, and other leads from different parts of the company. It was a perfect welcome. It also created a smooth transition for me, helping me to adjust to new technical or functional points-of-view, the core solution delivery principles that Illumiti subscribes to, delivery and best practices, and so much more. Coming from a traditional consulting model, this was new to me. It helped me to really think deeply on what are the standards, realigning my thinking to ensure what’s best for clients. I’m now way more comfortable with that type of thinking and process, and the approach fully makes sense to me now.
IL: So, why would you convince somebody to come to Illumiti?
TA: I think there are few things that jump out to me, but one is that I’m working for an organization that is smaller than what I’ve worked for in the past. But with the bigger consulting firms, you just get lost so easily—there are hundreds of consultants. You can also get overwhelmed with the sheer volume of people, there’s almost no human connection. But at Illumiti, I run into the CEO in the washroom and he knows my name! And I’m like, “Oh, why does the CEO know my name?!” I just feel like there’s a lot more connection, and that’s definitely something I didn’t think I valued as much until I experienced it.
IL: That’s amazing.
TA: It is. And the flexible nature of work, this is something I really, really, really value. Add the fact that we follow a certain methodology on best practice, it makes it all worthwhile. We deliver solutions, endorse flexibility, and we’re keen on being connected—being able to just reach out to people for support and help. These all mean a lot to me. And if I can add one more thing, I think you appreciate the amount of learning that happens at Illumiti. Because we staff projects in a lean manner, unlike the bigger firms where they easily throw five people on a project and during the course of the project, you only get to deal with very little of what’s going on in your functional area. At Illumiti, you’re more involved in the way a project is delivered, because it’s typically 100% of your functional area. It forces you to really know pretty much everything happening. I really like that approach.
IL: So, were there influential people that helped nurture you or is there advice you, something of great insight that has guided you along the way?
TA: I think one of the earliest things that I learned when I first got into SAP, and from a manager in a previous role who told me it’s okay to not know everything about what’s going on and to be comfortable with not knowing certain things in a certain moment. Consultants can be quick to say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m on top of things. I’m on top of things.’ But in reality, they are not, and their response if merely reactionary. Illumiti has people that push you to do better, and who are also appreciative of your thought process even if it means parking something, an idea, because it’s distracting from what you want to discuss at that point in time, or just because you need more time to think through the solution.
IL: Now, what career advice would you like to share to somebody that might be reading this article?
TA: Well, our delivery approach is very different. So, I’ll say that anyone reading this should be open to change and to a new way of implementing things, because usually it’s a lot of folks that come in here with years of experience and, we always have different ways of doing things based on our previous projects. Trust the process and be open minded. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
IL: What makes everything you do worth it? Why do you do what you do?
TA: I think there’s just this fundamental part of me that wants to solve problems. Being able to solve problems on a day-to-day basis is fantastic. And, the beautiful thing about the kind of IT work that we do, because of the scale of SAP projects, it usually leads to a larger change for the organization. I just enjoy the thrill of starting that cycle with a new client where you come in, they’re a bit skeptical, they might be stuck on how they like to do things. So, it’s just that growth journey with each client, where we kind of just see them being a bit skeptical, not too sure about what they want this change. And then, three months, six months into it, you start see them picking up the SAP language. Nine months, 12 months down the line, they just become super quick, super- fast, at absorbing all this new information. And over time, just seeing the additional value added to their business processes, that’s what makes it worth it. That, just that growth journey. It’s always fun to see.
IL: And what does life outside of work look like? What are your interests, and what things do you like? What kind of things do you do to recharge, or what are your hobbies?
TA: The biggest thing I do outside work is photography. I’ve been into photography for the past three, four years now. And I like to travel a lot, and because of that, the two have blended nicely, photography and travel. I’ve shared my work with friends, on social media, and my work has been in exhibitions. There’s also general fitness stuff, exercise of course, and I’m trying my hand at cooking. But it hasn’t quite happened yet (laughs). And a fun fact about my photography, I’ve actually won two or three categories in Illumiti’s annual employee photography competition, so that’s been fun, too. It’s nice to see your photos up in the office.
Learn more about Tolulope on LinkedIn.
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