One Semester, Next A MESTerThis post was contributed by Kwadwo Agyapon-Ntra, a Ghanaian entrepreneur-in-training at MEST. He is a full-stack developer with a first degree in Computer Engineering. Kwadwo's chief passion is advancing technology in Africa using Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things. He was a member of the team that won Ghana's first edition of the NASA Space Apps Challenge. When he's not coding, he's usually reading, writing or playing his guitar.
For a Ghanaian coming out of university, National Service is the great unknown. The system can fling you to any corner of the nation to serve. Even if you manage to hack the system and land a great service opportunity, the day will surely come where your service will be over, you will receive your last allowance, and you will have to find something to do with the rest of your life.
My National Service experience was nothing short of sweet: I got to be a teaching assistant in KNUST’s department of computer engineering. No early morning commutes, and a chance to enjoy life on campus without the pressure of tests and assignments. I was in geek heaven, and I must admit I learnt a lot as a TA, possibly more than I did as a student.
Towards the end of my time as a teaching assistant, the time came for me to answer the looming question, “Where do I go from here?”
There were a few options, and a whole lot of details I have to skip because life does not progress in a linear fashion. In the end, however, I threw my hat in the ring with MEST, and I have not regretted it.
I usually get three questions when I tell people where I am:
- You’re still in Ghana? (those who thought I’d jump straight into a Master’s degree programme abroad)
- What’s MEST? (those who have never heard of MEST)
- Wow! How did you get in? (those who know the magnitude of what I’ve gotten into)
Allow me to attempt to answer these questions. I say ‘attempt’ because I can only make some calculated guesses to answer the third question. So here we go.
1. You are still in Ghana?
Yes, I am. I see the opportunities available here, and much as I would like to travel the world, it would only ever be with the intention of learning from others so I can come back better equipped to join the men and women working to solve Africa’s problems.
2. What is MEST?
Considering that this is the MEST blog, it might simply be appropriate to point you to the official about page, however, I will say a few words on what MEST is from my point of view.
First of all, MEST is a training program that teaches business, technology, and communications: the foundations of any successful tech startup. Beyond that, MEST is an opportunity, a chance to insulate yourself from the cares of life and learn, fail, succeed, network, and build something that outlasts you; something that brings positive change to this continent, and the world.
It’s a fully sponsored year of learning: three meals a day, free residency, and a monthly stipend. But this is what I cherish most: the multicultural and multinational environment. I am in a cohort with bright individuals from 12 African nations, hand-picked after going through a gruelling application process. The experience alone beats those other perks, in my opinion.
3. How did you get in?
This is the real question, isn’t it? Unfortunately, as I said earlier, I can only make assumptions to answer this question. The best people to tell you why I got in would be the MEST recruitment team. However, I can still share my opinions with you:
- I love Africa.
My whole life has been lived in Ghana, and there’s no place I would rather call home. I feel a sense of responsibility for this country and this continent.
The passion I have to make this country, and this continent, a better place; my desire to brighten this corner called Africa is something I always make sure to communicate, even in my application to MEST. I honestly believe that nobody should have to leave this continent looking to settle in ‘greener pastures’.
- Don’t just talk; do something, and show it.
There are so many people who talk big but have nothing to show for it. In the words of Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux operating system and Git:
I cannot assume that everyone reading this article builds software, but you can replace “Show me the code” with “Show me your portfolio”, and personalize the quote.
Volunteer at events; work on your LinkedIn profile; push some work to Github; write a research paper if you can; build a portfolio of practical work. These things will take you far, believe me.
- MEST looks out for these traits and more when recruiting:
- Entrepreneurial Instinct
- Drive / Stamina
- Team Player
- Communication Skills
- Personality / Humour
You should also have an X-Factor (something unique that makes you stand out… positively)
Fortunately, it’s really hard to fake these qualities without stressing yourself out, so all MEST requires of you is that you be yourself.
So What Next?
There really is a lot to this new phase of my life, the MEST life. It's not all enjoyment, fun and games here, although occasionally we get out and de-stress. We wake up every day and work hard because someone has to do the work to make Africa a better place. This is just the beginning of a journey: one that ends in a new Ghana, a new Africa, a new world.
I cannot say that I have everything figured out. I'm just trying to do the best I can with what I have. But like I keep saying: We will change the world! One way or another... One life at a time... One byte at a time.
One semester, next a MESTer. Once a MESTer, always a MESTer! #MESTLife #MESTPower #MESTAfrica
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