'Our self-taught careers took off and gained ground'

Thursday November 28 2019

These three young Kenyans capitalised on the internet to create impressive careers. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


What are you doing on the Internet? It is no secret that the internet has greatly affected the way we interact among ourselves, and altered operations in many organisations. We have become dependent on it for almost all our daily activities. We shop, communicate, read news and even watch movies online. And now, a crop of young people has emerged, and they are taking things to the next level. They are learning different skills and transforming themselves into self-taught professionals just by watching online tutorials. What’s more, they are competing favourably at their respective workplaces against colleagues who have gone through formal training.

This week, we had a chat with three young Kenyans who have capitalised on the internet to create impressive careers.

One need not look far to find a list of individuals who excelled in careers that were founded entirely on online tutorials.

The most popular of them is no doubt Kenyan javelinist Julius Yego, the first Kenyan to win a World Championships gold medal in a field event. Also known as “the You Tube Man”, Yego taught himself how to throw the javelin by watching videos on YouTube.

Playing Javelin requires technique, power, flexibility and speed, and the 30-year-old learnt all these skills from online tutorials. Within no time, he ascended to the top of the Kenyan Javelin scene, and became the world champion we celebrate today.

Mahila Mohammed is a self-taught Kenyan chef who recently made headlines when she became the first African woman to win an international cooking award. The Mombasa-based cook earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records after cooking for 75 hours inside the Kenya Bay Beach Hotel kitchen in Mombasa.


Also ranking high on the list of individuals who’ve excelled in self-taught careers is Asmelash Zorefu, an Ethiopian man who learnt how to build a plane through the internet.

The 39-year-old single handedly completed the construction of Ethiopia’s first ever homebuilt aircraft by reading aviation books and watching YouTube tutorials.

Joel Embiid from Cameroon is enormously thankful to online tutorials, because through them, he learnt a number of basketball skills such as shooting, rebounding, passing, dribbling, blocking and stealing. Joel, who turns out for the Philadelphia 76ers, is now a key member of his team. 

 There is also Louis Rebeiro, an 11-year-old Australian pianist. An eight-minute jaw dropping, impromptu public street performance by the youngster was recorded by his transfixed audience and shared across the globe, with many people greatly appreciating the impeccable skills possessed by one so young. Rebeiro later revealed that he taught himself how to play the piano by watching online tutorials.

Paolo Ballesteros is a renowned self-taught make-up artist from Philippines who specialises in celebrity make-up. She has since revealed that he learnt his immaculate makeup application skills by watching YouTube.

Gidraf Orenjaa Mtange, 24, software engineer


Gidraf Orenjaa Mtange.

“Brilliance is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not.”

These are the words of Gidraf Orenja, a self-taught Software Engineer.

The 24-year-old spends huge portions of his days working on his computer. He is an employee of Tracom Services Limited, a microfinance software company that help organisations develop customised applications for their operations.

However, he did not learn any software development skills in school. He learnt everything he knows by watching online tutorials.

“My love for technology began when I was 12 years old after I played my first video game at a friend’s house. Before that, I was determined to be a doctor. My love for video games grew exponentially over time and before long, I found myself using my lunch money to access virtual games from the cyber!

“By the time I was 13, I was forced to find alternative sources of money to satisfy my deep thirst for video games. I began collecting and selling scrap metal to supplement my lunch money when I went to play the computer games. That way, I learnt so much about computers at a very young age,” he says.

When he got to secondary school, his interest in computers peaked, and he began looking for information about how the devices performed such marvellous functions.

Gidraf was unable to go to college due to financial constraints, but he secured a job soon after completing his secondary school education as a cyber attendant in Mombasa. There, he worked for three years on a Sh200 daily wage, but he managed to save enough money to buy a laptop.

This enabled Gidraf to learn coding and software development methods from the internet, although he could not always afford Internet bundles.

“I went to one of my previous employers and made him an offer. I would use his Wi-Fi and in return, assist him to run his cyber cafe. I used to walk from Maweni to Shanzu just to get Internet so that I could  access the online tutorials. I was driven by nothing but passion, and because of my determination, I learnt a lot. I am now a software engineer with a substantial salary!

Gidraf has created a Learning Management App (LMA), which is a web application that helps online learners manage their studies. Learners who have downloaded the app can schedule the academic articles they need to read within a specific period, and the app will notify them when it is time to read. He has also built an app that reminds Matatu passengers to collect their balance before the end of their ride. All the apps are available for download on Google Play.

Mathias Kavuttih, 32, translator and guitarist


Mathias Kavuttih.

Mathias Kavuttih is a professional translator and a self-taught guitarist who plays the bass guitar.

The 32-year-old is a jack of many trades. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Translation at the University of Nairobi, a song writer, vocalist, recording artist and band leader with NU Heritage Band.

He developed an interest in music while he was a child, and he got the motivation to pursue music from his father who was also a self-taught guitarist.

After acquiring the basic skills from his father, Matthias went online and sharpened his abilities on YouTube.

“I started watching online video tutorials seven years ago. My favourite tutors were Musicademy, KF Music, Sage the Drummer and Reggae in the Ruff.

“I was also privileged to receive mentorship from renowned Christian musician Reuben Kagame, who was my father’s friend.”

Mathias laments that although there are several institutions that teach music, there are not as many seasoned guitarists who take time to mentor interested novices. Online videos, therefore, offered him a great platform on which to advance his skills.

“I like learning from these tutorials because they are available online all the time, and that allows me to plan my lessons conveniently. Also, I can watch and re-watch the videos as many times as possible, which helps me perfect my skills.

“Also, I can compare different tutors and the lessons they offer, and that way I get to learn many different ways of playing the guitar,” he says.

To access the treasure trove of online video tutorials, all he needed to do was to buy a bass guitar, a laptop, and some Internet bundles. His favourite genres are Seben, Ballads, Rumba, and Reggae. He is currently learning how to play Jazz.

“I am part of a band, and we regularly get invited to perform at weddings and birthday parties, which helps me get some income. Recently, I have opened my house up for interested beginners to come learn some guitar skills from me at a small fee,” he said.

Matthias’ greatest challenge is that music, especially Christian music, does not pay well in Kenya because some people assume that gospel artists are just volunteers in Christian ministry.

“Also, not many people appreciate music played by live bands. Many prefer to play recorded music off the radio or flash disks, and that denies artists like us an opportunity to showcase our skills.

Antony Carlos Onyango, 24, filmmaker


Antony Carlos Onyango.

Carlos wears several hats. He is a film producer and founder of EyeCarl Productions, a company that offers an array of services such as shooting and producing music and wedding videos, as well as recoding corporate events.

He is a graduate of Law from the University of Nairobi, and is currently taking an Advocates Training Program at the Kenya School of Law.

Carlos, who is very enthusiastic about film production, has never gone to a film school. He developed an interest in film production when he was only 19 years old, and learnt the requisite skills from YouTube.

“I really enjoyed watching travel videos by YouTube personalities such as Peter McKinnon, Caisey Neistat and Sam Kolder. While watching this videos, I started dreaming about developing my own videos, and so I started watching tutorials that offered tips on video editing and production.”

Initially, Carlos shot and produced his own YouTube videos as a hobby. But now that he has polished his skills and earned the confidence of many clients, he has begun to offer his services at a fee.  He has worked as part of the production crew in a number of TV programmes such as the Samantha Bridal Show and the Kasuku Talent Show. He has also worked with popular video directors such as Enos Olik. He markets his business entirely through social media, and gets most of his clients through referrals.

Carlos, says that despite the fact that the film industry is dynamic and exciting, it has its fair share of challenges.

“Sometimes people don’t trust you because they feel that you don’t have the necessary experience, and they may refuse to offer you a contract just because of that. I’ve experienced situations where I’ve secured an interview based on my online portfolio but when the interviewers met me, they said I was too young and therefore unqualified for the job.

“Also, I am still in school and balancing my Law studies with film production requires discipline, sacrifice and hard work.

“There is more to being on social media than just chatting with friends on Twitter and Facebook. The internet is a classroom where one can learn so much about so many subjects. My advice for those who want to venture into this line of work is that they should pursue their passion, talent and interests, and the money will follow.”