In his first thirty days, the ever zealous Kihiu has been able to interact with other teams and had a sneak peek of life as a product designer at Safaricom.
At 22, Reuben Kihiu is not only a CEO of Chaji Energy, a startup he co-founded, he is also a Product Designer at the communication giant Safaricom. Kihiu is a forward-thinking fellow who is obsessed with design and giving the user the best experience ever.
The product designer started his career in 2018 when he was still at the Dedan Kimathi University in Nyeri. He was working for Ficar Delivery as a Full-stack developer which he says is one of the most exciting products that he has ever worked on. As he talks you can really tell that he loves building exciting products. He has an insatiable thirst for learning and growth in his career.
Reuben Kihiu had clocked 30 days at his new role at Safaricom by the time of this interview. He spoke to Fuzu about his career and his experience adapting to life at the giant corporation.
It all started while he was pursuing Computer Science at Dedan Kimathi University. After working for Ficar, a British company called edSense, which is now known as Scholarsite approached him in 2020. The company, which offers a podcast app for educational content offered him the role of a Front-end designer but later transitioned into Product Design.
As he was busy executing his role he realized that he is a very visual person and loves designing. “I love graphic design a lot which is a passion I caught from a very young age,” adds Kihiu. Therefore in late 2019, he learned how to work with Product Design tools such as Figma and Adobe XD Tools that one uses to design digital products. By this time, having been a Front-end developer he had already mastered working with React and Vue.
He always found working at the backend and frontend boring and that is when he came across UI/UX and the light bulb moment happened for him. He finally found something that he enjoyed in his career. Luckily for him, he was working with senior Designers from the United Kingdom which gave him a lot of growth and exposure.
“Some of the developers had studied at the University of London and they gave me a lot of exposure because they taught me a lot of things. Looking back, working as a designer is my best career so far,” shares an enthusiastic Reuben.
He graduated from the university in 2021 and in July 2021 he joined Zalego Academy where he worked as a Product Designer.
Entry into Safaricom
Though Reuben says he is not an extrovert, he loves and does a lot of networking. That is how the door to work at Safaricom opened up. “I can’t say that I’m an extrovert because there are moments where I go silent. An ambivert describes my personality better,” says Reuben.
The young CEO is a very active member of the Google Developers Group (GDG) community and is a leader in the Developer Students Club Club. He is also a part of a host of other communities.
His networking efforts finally bore good fruit. He interacted with different designers in the industry and that is how he got the opportunity to work at Safaricom.
The journey so far
The 22-year-old designer has always dreamed of working at Safaricom. He says that Safaricom is undeniably the largest company in East and Central Africa. This gives him the chance to work with other amazing and talented people.
“In my previous job, I used to be the only designer. That meant that whatever I said went. At the same time, there was no growth because I was not interacting with other senior and more experienced professionals. At Safaricom, there is a lot of positive exposure.
Secondly, since I’m very enthusiastic about the end-user, it gives me great pleasure to know that I’ll be building products for millions of people both within Kenya and outside,” notes Kihiu.
Kihiu looks forward to utilizing the numerous resources at his disposal for research courtesy of working for the most profitable company in East and Central Africa.
When Reuben started his job he hit the ground running. His acumen and apt leadership skills earned him an opportunity to take the lead on a product that they are working on. Though he can’t reveal what it is yet due to company policy, he promises that customers will be more than excited to interact with it.
His thirst to keep growing and making an impact everywhere he goes drives him in his new job. “The passion for user-driven design has led me to initiate and go to numerous user research visits with Safaricom customers,” says Reuben.
“In my first four weeks at Safaricom I have taken numerous trips to the field for user research with Safaricom Customers. . I felt that I needed to know who I’m designing for. I needed to have their wants and needs in mind as I am developing this new product. The company has been very supportive in terms of providing resources, both on the ground and with logistics to visit the different areas. ” narrates Reuben.
In his first thirty days, the ever-zealous Kihiu has been able to interact with other teams and had a sneak peek of the ideas/products they are working on.
“I love interacting with other members of the Safaricom staff so that I can see ideas that I can inject and the contributions that I can make. Of course, I’m not vigorously involved in those teams because I need to focus my energies on what I’ve been tasked with. But where I can contribute nice ideas or suggestions, I’m elated to do so. In the process I get to learn many different things and even become better at what I do,” says Kihiu.
With the amazing support that he has received at his new workplace, Reuben believes that he is learning a lot about Safaricom. He has taken the time to understand the entire business and the company. His teammates have also been of great help therefore adapting is easy.
From the lessons he has learned, he advises people who are in a new job to emphasize and prioritize learning. He says that you should take time to learn all that you can about the company you work for in your initial days at your new workplace.
One of the things that you’ll pick up from this trailblazing designer is that he has an endless aura of positivity. He is so enthusiastic about the future because he believes that the product designers of the future will be very customer-centric.
“As we progress into the future we will have to focus on helping users take products in the best and easiest way. Offering solutions will also take precedence overlooks (Not that appearance is less important, but the experience will take precedence over interface) and most importantly, designers will be interacting with users actively,” advises Kihiu.
On design principles
The tech guru lives by the following principles which guide his work ethic.
Empathy - He loves empathizing with users.
Consistency - He believes that when a product has been consistent through the journey it builds trust.
Reducing cognitive load - The user should not have to think too much when interacting with a product. They should recognize more than they recall.
Give direction to the users - Kihiu says that he loves setting users on the right path.
Give control to the users - give users Control over their interaction with a product. (eg, a user would want to undo an action they have done)
After all is said and done, Reuben dreams of growing and gaining more experience in the future and becoming a product manager. He is also aiming to be a Chief Technology Officer of a big company in the future.
Looking at what he has achieved so far, such as being the CEO of a startup that is developing charging infrastructure for electric motorbikes and vehicles, it’s only a matter of when and not if he reaches his big goals and achieves his audacious dreams.