Haji has been on an incredible journey so far. After migrating to Bristol from Nigeria, he spent his childhood living in a single-parent, low-income household with his siblings, aspiring to become a successful professional. Haji came to one of Babbasa’s first-ever Ask About Me events, which connects young people with professionals, and describes it as one of the triggers that led him towards a career in Cyber Security. Now a well-travelled senior manager at a multi-billion pound company, Haji reflects on his journey from child to professional and becoming a Babbasa mentor, who recently helped a young person to start their own career in Cyber Security. This is his story:

“I am Mohammed Umar, 29 years of age. Most people know me as Haji. Haji is a name that I picked up from a young age. If we ever cross paths, I can share with you how I got the name. I was born in Nigeria, grew up in a low-income, single-parent house in Bristol. I have 1 younger sister and 4 older brothers, I’m happily married and I’ve been living in Switzerland for over 6 years.

My friends and family would describe me as being humble, calculated, articulate and generous. I’m a keen Property Investor, fixated traveller, a mentor and a devoted Cyber Security leader. I also love spending tranquil time with family and friends. I achieved a Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology and Business Management from UWE, and I currently work for Novartis – a global pharmaceutical giant -as a Cyber Security and IT Audit Manager

To get to where I am now, it was important for me to adapt to life in the UK, having migrated from Nigeria at an early age. My family was jumping from one communal house to another, and I was eventually growing up in a single-parent household, with five other siblings in a council house. We were living an impoverished life financially. I saw my elder siblings having to work three low paid jobs at a time in order to afford their own education and living. But I always knew that, with the right education, I could achieve whatever I wanted to in life. The right education to me is not limited to just a university degree. The right education to me is the journey in which one can build the desire and ability to think, adapt and learn about the world around them (e.g. people, environment, health). Once the ability is mastered, one can then navigate through life to achieve whatever they define as their success (healthy living, being a parent, owning a sports car, a house, earning a 200k salary and all the above).

With this in mind, I completed my GCSEs at Fairfield. My grades were pretty bad. As a result, I was narrowly accepted onto a National Diploma in Information Technology, at the City of Bristol College, but my focus kept me going. I worked as a part-time waiter during my studies as well. After successfully completing my National Diploma with a Distinction, I was accepted to the University of the West of England for a 3-year BSc in Information Technology and Business Management.

While studying at UWE for my BSc, I decided to keep busy during my first summer holiday. I completed a 6-week internship with Bristol City Council, at College Green. My main project was to design and roll out the official 2014 Black History Month event information brochure. While gathering content for the brochure, I came across a number of Babbasa events which took place in and around the city, so I attended one myself. The event gave me a sense of hope. It made me understand that there are actually people out there that are taking time out of their own agenda to hear your stories and provide/suggest you the right tools to reach your goals. I attended a few more during my degree; they were super insightful and had highly contributed to my growth! One of these was Ask About Me, which I remember being one of the triggers for my aspiration in Cyber Security. 

Right after my BSc, I was adamant to work for a global company. With this determination, I applied at Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) – A non-profit organization dedicated to providing career support and opportunities to young people from underrepresented communities. A few weeks after applying, I received a call from a company called Novartis, based in Basel, Switzerland. I had no clue where Basel was, nor did I know the company. I honestly thought someone was trying to sell me basil-flavoured biscuits (doesn’t sound so tasty right?) Having gathered a sense of understanding as the call went on, I was soon after offered a 3-month IT & Finance Internship at Novartis. Next thing I knew, I was on a plane to New York City for a 2-week Internship training course and thereafter a flight to Basel, Switzerland where I would start my internship.

Fast forward to the end of the Internship, I was offered to stay full time with the company. Over the past 6 years, I have progressed at a fast pace, travelled all over the world, lived in Boston, United States and now I am back in Basel, Switzerland where I call home (I definitely now know where Basel is on the map). Life for me has transformed for the better. I’m still hungrier than ever to reach personal life goals. I now work in a dream Cyber Security job that involves protecting a $49 Billion Dollar Pharmaceutical company from malicious hackers and insiders. I lead an elite multicultural, global team of Cyber Security experts. Our objective is to deploy technologies and processes designed to protect computers, networks and data from unauthorized access, vulnerabilities and attacks sent via the internet by cybercriminals.

As a professional I’ve maintained a passion and commitment to supporting young people because of the values and teachings my mother instilled in our household, which were:

    • Always treat those who come after you with full respect and ensure to provide them with good teachings
    • Education is the one thing that no one can take from you
    • Actions have consequences. Learn lessons from your mistakes
    • Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness

I’m now a mentor on Babbasa’s Mentoring Programme. Most recently, I’ve been working with Lewis, who I was able to support with starting his career. What I noticed is that his background is super similar to mine, and it was the first time that I was able to give direct experiences to someone that was in my field of work. I am so glad to hear that Lewis is doing amazingly for himself, with his own role in Cyber Security, and is progressing towards his goals. When I think about the mentoring programme, I think ‘what an initiative’ – I think it’s the most incredible thing. I wish I had it when I was beginning as well. I think the communication for the mentors is super clear and transparent from the team.

I always tell people that Babbasa is like a trampoline to success. There are a number of trampolines you can leverage to support your growth. Once you elevate from these trampolines, don’t forget to place a few more for those coming after you. You can do this in several ways like mentoring or volunteering. I have recommended Babbasa to so many people. My younger sister was is one of those people. She is now a devoted Ambassador for Babbasa and is part of their mentoring scheme.”