HYPE keynote speaker: Tech innovator shares career journey

Tech executive and entrepreneur John Imah knew from a very young age where his passions lay. At age 7, he completely disassembled the family’s first computer, much to the dismay of his parents.

“I was so infatuated with this machine. I had a feeling this was my calling,” said John, who on Thursday shared his journey as the keynote speaker for Heidelberg’s final HYPE Career Ready® program this academic year.

While young John may have been enamored with his living room project, his parents … not so much. They immediately told him to reassemble it. Through tears, he successfully complied. That was the first of a great many successes in technology.

By his preteen years, John had taught himself coding and had started “to transform into a true nerd.” His parents insisted that he enroll in college but the tech world soon came calling, John explained. At 15, he started his first tech company and navigated its acquisition shortly after.

“In that moment, my parents were excited, but they still insisted I was going (to college),” John said. About that time, he got heavily into gaming, and built a game for mobile, which he also sold, at age 16.

“When you’re an entrepreneur, you really believe in your product,” he said.

He did ultimately enroll in college, although he wasn’t very excited about it. Students on his campus quickly sought him out to fix their computers and professors enlisted his help teaching classes and tutoring. Then came a career fair his freshman year and an unsolicited visit by some Samsung “suits.”

John met with them and they offered him a job on their team that was building Samsung’s Galaxy product. “I was very unsure at the time how to perceive an opportunity like that. But it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing and those don’t usually come on your terms,” John said.

So he jumped at the chance. The first-generation Nigerian became one of the youngest employees at Samsung, and although he felt out of place, that motivated him to work harder. Although it was out of his comfort zone, he became “Samsung John,” accepting an offer to be the face of promoting the new product to celebrities and high-powered people around the world.

John’s Samsung gig was the first of a lengthy string of tech opportunities that have included Take Two Interactive, a start-up, Twitch, and Facebook, to name a few. At Facebook – er, Meta – he gained the confidence that he “could hang with the big dogs” and manage teams. He even was named Employee of the Year, congratulated during a surprise meeting with an on-screen message by Mark Zuckerberg.

“That showed the journey I’ve had. It was very validating for me,” he said.

Validating, sure, but John still felt a bit unfulfilled. “I loved being in corporate America but my true calling was as an entrepreneur. I was good at identifying key trends and solving problems.”

John decided to pair his love for tech and fashion, creating an online platform that gave users an in-store shopping experience. Through that project, he learned a lot about himself and life, including some valuable lessons he shared with Heidelberg students:

•    Never take no for an answer. 
•    This is your road. You’ve got to move through it.
•    The people you surround yourself with make up who you are. Choose people who can help take you to the next level.

“For me, there have always been people better than me. I challenged myself to learn from them,” he said

“Don’t give up. Find your motivation in life and draw inspiration from it.”

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