INTERVIEW: MTN lawyer shares long walk from IT to the courthouse
Determined to become a lawyer, a dream and pathway towards leadership, Allan Mwase, quit an MTN Manager job to undertake the Bar Course at Law Development Centre. He graduated with Distinction in the recent graduation. It was trials and tribulations for the youngster starting his own family. Through hard work and determination, he made his way back to MTN, this time as a lawyer. We spoke to Mwase to share lessons and advice for those thinking of switching careers whilst housing responsibility
Take us through your career journey?
I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Makerere University in January 2012 and in May 2012 got a job at MTN Uganda as a Graduate Trainee- Revenue Assurance. I was appointed Revenue Analyst in November 2012. In February 2019, I was appointed Manager- Revenue Assurance Operations. While I was doing my job well, I didn’t consider this as my career. I believed there was more to my person. I needed to do other things with my life.
How long were you at MTN?
I am still at MTN. But before I resigned to go to LDC, I had been with the company from 2012 to 2019. 7 years serving in a role that promised growth. But, while at my job, I decided to improve my self and my skillset in line with where I aspired to go.
Why the change in career path?
Firstly, I don’t consider it as a complete career switch. I believe my experiences, skills and education have enhanced or improved what I bring to the table for my employer and for life.
Secondly, when I left university in 2012, I resolved to practice “pure” IT related work until I was 30 years. I desired a more management and leadership role and my job at MTN at the time did not seem to make this a possibility. The Revenue Assurance role is under the Finance department. I didn’t see myself grow to become a Chief Finance Officer considering the requirements for the role.
So, in 2015, I decided that my path toward leadership was going to come through learning the law. This meant a switch towards a career path that I was passionate about and would also later open doors of leadership roles. After deep thought, I knew the legal environment would drive me to that reality.
Coming from a computer science background, how was the experience of studying law?
The Experience was great and required a couple of sacrifices. On a good note, I was blessed to be sponsored by the Government of Uganda through the mature age entry program. This meant I didn’t have to worry about tuition.
For four years, I was at my job by 6:30AM, left office at 4:30 PM to make it in class that started at 5pm in the evening and ended at 9:00pm. My boss at MTN was very supportive because she allowed me to leave work at 4:30pm. On Average I was home at 10 PM daily. It was hectic but, that was the routine, at least until I got to LDC and had to leave MTN. Then the hustle got even more real.
After acquiring the law degree, you left MTN in 2019, why would you leave a big company like MTN?
I left to do the Bar Course at LDC. Indeed MTN is a big company and it was not an easy decision. However, I sought advice and spoke to several people, friends and even practicing lawyers. I even spoke to Enid Edroma, the general manager corporate affairs at MTN before quitting. She said: “The value of that diploma will only be realized when you are done with it. You will catch up.” A close friend told me, “If it does not cost you, it is not worth it.” I knew I had to pay the price for the journey I had chosen or the journey that had chosen me.
You were nearing thirty and had just become jobless yet still had responsibilities, please paint a picture of your life at that time.
It was a very challenging moment. The biggest challenge must have been the decision to quit my job at MTN without clarity of how my family would survive. There was fear and doubt that if I did not pass, it would be a while until I got back to work. Also, I got married in 2016 and between then and now, my wife and I have had 2 children.
Our last child came in 2019 as I was considering quitting. Taking care of him was a puzzle. For example, Diapers for a baby as essential but there were times, we struggled to provide these. We learnt to use our resources sparingly because either the money was not there, or our promised deliverer of diapers couldn’t deliver them in our preferred time. It was hard for me to watch my family experience a different life from what they had subscribed to.
As Enid Edroma had mentioned to me, LDC was a place to go and die. The program is packed and requires one to give their all. It was key to work with a Team. I had a team of brilliant and hardworking colleagues with whom we discussed at 7AM daily. These, “Visionaries” were and are a blessing. Committed, diligent and hardworking people. Then came covid-19 in 2020 and classes were halted for a while, until online means of studying were devised. It was a tough journey, but it was worth it. I did not and do not regret my decision.
So how did you cope?
I thank God for my supporting wife. She believed in me. She supported this hustle, she reminded me, in those deep dark nights, when I felt I was letting her and the boys down all in the name of a dream that, “it will all be well”. We were supported by a Community of Believers who paid all our rent through the school season. Several friends supported us through this time, and we are forever indebted. Of course, some friends turned us away, because our requests were outrageous… how dare you ask someone to literally share with you their hard-earned money for your school time? Except, they didn’t get that that was the need at the time.
I hope, I will support someone one day when they make the leap into what is not common. When they choose a path less trodden.
Your experience seemed quite challenging, are there any benefits?
I graduated with distinction and among the top students at the Law Development Center. I get to inspire people with my story and experience. Everyone can follow their dreams and get the career of their choice. I am doing what I love to do, I have the freedom to work in a field that I love. My work now has more purpose and can say I have a career path. I am also more valuable to my employer and the business as I possess multiple skills that can be deployed as and when needed. I got a job immediately after my clerkship.
Having lived through it, what would you advise people to consider before deciding to switch profession?
It is important to do some introspection. First, you need to ask yourself if that is a job you would do without pay? It needs to be something you enjoy and would like to do.
Once you have figured that out, you need to ask yourself if you are willing to pay the price because there will be a price to pay. The price for me was leaving MTN. However, it is also important to plan before you make this kind of move. You need to prepare a buffer for example, having savings to take you for some amount of time before you need a bail out. Do not ignore your employer, they come in handy when you leave on good terms or if you are a diligent person in your work.
How important is an employer through one’s journey towards the career switch?
An employer is a critical part in one’s career path. For instance, when I joined MTN as a graduate trainee, I did not know much. In only six months, I was confirmed as a full time staff of the telecom. There, I was exposed to a variety of skills and career paths because of the presence of several skilled people across different professions all serving one company. When I started pursuing my law degree in 2015, my manager created an enabling environment.
The open office policy at MTN allows for mentoring from different people including the CEO who were very pivotal in my decision making towards the career switch. In addition, nurturing a good relationship with my former employer MTN was key in getting me the opportunity to do my clerkship. With Covid-19, I needed an exceptional approval to do my clerkship at MTN. The offices were closed, but I was allowed access. During my clerkship, I was also exposed even more which helped me learn vastly in this new field. At end of my clerkship, due to my track record, MTN retained me in the legal department and currently I serve as the legal and regulatory advisor MTN Mobile Money Company.