“Undergrads Who Work Don’t Become Rich”

It’s Tuesday the 19th, 1:43am. I’ve been tossing and turning in bed for a while now so I figure since sleep eludes me tonight, I might as well share the unexpected insults and mockery I happened to endure this past Monday morning.

The atmosphere in the Chiromo Corporate Lab was tense as I stepped through the door. It didn’t help that I was about half an hour late; The last person to join about ten other students that were in that lab to lay their project proposals at the feet of the three-man panel from Nairobi University’s Computer Science faculty. I wasn’t surprised that my name had already been passed, which meant I had a few moments to quickly remind myself of the key points of my presentation… a presentation I’d typed that same morning… in about half an hour.

Yeah, now you know why I was late.

You should also know though, that last week I was bedridden for six days by a combination of root canal, heavy antibacterial medication, and malaria.

Anyways, back to the lab coz you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with “becoming rich”, right? Don’t worry; it will surely come, as did my turn to present.

Customarily, my name was scribbled on evaluation forms by the lecturers amidst multiple attempts at getting the pronunciation and spelling right as I walked to the designated place. I stood in front of them as the only other latecomer who had presented before me sat down, his idea having been thoroughly shot down. The alpha male of the panel – who was sitting in between the three – glanced from the impeccably suited up latecomer then to yours truly in an Android T-shirt and let out a snide remark, “These are the ones who are working”. I think it was nothing more than an attempt at cheap humor, but all hell broke loose when the lecturer next to him said, “Yes, this one is actually working.”

Ah, it’s been years since I saw an academic man speak like that! With the tone, intensity, and self-vested authority reminiscent of a tyrant headmaster, he proceeded to address the rest of the students as I stood there. “Let me tell you something”, he said as he drove his pen into the table with each phrase. “Let me tell you something, undergraduates who work… They don’t become rich!” Then he paused, for dramatic effect perhaps? He continued to drive his point home, a condescending sneer clearly visible on his face now, “They never get rich! They just get these tu-mediocre mediocre jobs. Then, they never ever complete their degree, and because they don’t have degrees, they remain doing those tu-mediocre jobs. They don’t get rich.”

All this time I stood there, not saying a word. I kept my gaze on him with half a smile on my face, but his eyes kept flitting around the room, only meeting those of his disgraced student for a fleeting moment every now and then.

There was a bit of an awkward silence after the giggling and glancing from my classmates had ceased. Seeking to dispel it, the lecturer who had first spoken spoke yet again. “But him he has his own company”. I almost wish he hadn’t said that! I was now out of the frying pan and into the proverbial fire, for it only served to agitate the alpha male further! I know the first lecturer said that because he’d gotten wind of Skyline as my Data Structures and Algorithms lecturer last semester, and he meant well, but wapi!

The retort came, this time directly addressed to me, “but you see you’re going to lose that company of yours to more educated people!!!”

I won’t say much about the general inappropriateness of the situation and the guy’s comments. What bothers me is how he was reasoning. I mean, was he even reasoning? Was he being the objective panelist he should have been? He neither knew me, nor the industry I work in, nor the formal qualifications vis-à-vis the professional skill sets of the team I work with, and least of all the ownership structure, yet he made ignorant after ignoble sweeping remark.

I kept smiling.

He finally glanced down at the sheet in front of him with a slight flick of his hand as if to brush all that away and focus on the matter at hand. Then came the last insult. “Admission 2009!!! You see! These are the results of such!”

He had no idea that I quit the government-funded Electrical & Electronic Engineering degree course half-way through at the same university in order to pursue something more closely related to my passion.

I could say so many things about how wrong I think he is both in his narrow mindset and his rude public expression of it to me. However, I’ll only say this… Am I angry with the guy? No. I pity him.

Forget about me, what Mr. alpha male subconsciously and unwittingly revealed about himself is that the ultimate and chief end of his life is to get rich or die trying. That, my dear friends, is a very pitiful reason to live.

Are his statements true? Need I remind you of the Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerbergs of our generation? Perhaps Kenyans are just not cut out for standing out? God knows. And time will tell.

It’s no wonder the American rapper 50 Cent became so popular. He simply crystallized and verbalized the mindset of billions, educated and uneducated.

Signed. Martians.