Solomon Kassa: An Exclusive Interview with Loline Mag
Loline Mag had an exclusive interview with Solomon Mulugeta Kassa, best known for hosting the show Tech Talk with Solomon. He shared his life journey with us.
On Loline Mag's 19th edition, released today [13th Feb 2022], Loline Mag features Solomon Mulugeta Kassa, best known for hosting the show Tech Talk with Solomon. He had an exclusive interview with us to share his life journey.
Born and raised in Addis Ababa, Solomon moved to the United States about 17 years ago. He constantly kept in contact with various universities in the US, which earned him a partial scholarship at one of those colleges. After moving to the states, Solomon says that he had challenges figuring things out. He was forced to start working while learning. “I did what any young person in America did until I finished my studies,” Solomon says.
After completing his bachelor’s degree in computer science, Solomon joined the professional world as a software developer. A few years later, he decided to further his education while maintaining his professional job. He, therefore, joined an extension program that lasted for two years in which he earned a master of science in information and technology management at George Washington University. “Since my undergraduate was a technical field, I thought it would be good if my master’s degree would also be a technical field that joined both technological and business aspects,” he says. Fusing his newly acquired knowledge and previous work experience, Solomon shifted his career to consulting, which he has been doing ever since. “Consulting is a different kind of work,” he says, “it’s wider and deeper [in scope] and touches many different aspects…I believe being a professional consultant has helped me on a lot of things.”
Solomon’s name is almost synonymous with his show, Tech-Talk With Solomon. Speaking of its inception, he describes it as “an amazing circumstance.” Solomon told us that, despite being away, he always wanted to contribute to his country by sharing his knowledge and expertise. He first decided to create a blogging website to write about tech-related topics in Amharic. However, he doubted his consistency to blog, and he didn’t want to stop if he started. While pondering about the blogging website, Solomon got a chance to host a TV show through a friend who knew about his passions and advised him to start a TV show. EBS TV was starting out at that time, and Solomon’s friend told him that his idea was educational and that he should pitch it to the station. “I never even dreamed of becoming a TV personality. I had no problem expressing myself, but I never imagined being on television. I thought about it for a few weeks, and I decided to pitch the idea. They [EBS founders] loved it, and that’s how Tech Talk With Solomon started.”
Since starting about ten years ago, Tech Talk With Solomon has aired for more than 20 seasons. When asked about his most memorable episode that aired, he says, “it’s like choosing a favorite child.” But to answer the question, Solomon points out two: The first is an extended interview with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, which he describes as “an amazing time filled with passion.” “Interviewing a country’s leader about science and technology was a joyful experience,” he adds. The second is a program he makes annually at a consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. “Since you physically interact with the technologies you talk about and take your audience on a virtual tour, it’s always a memorable experience for me,” he states.
Solomon gets a lot of messages from his audiences and fans. In the beginning, the messages he got were manageable, and he interacted with most of them. But as his followers grew, the messages he got were out of his control. As of now, Tech Talk With Solomon’s Facebook page has more than eight hundred thousand followers. Through that and other means like Instagram and email, Solomon gets tons of messages, and he told us that he doesn’t interact with them as much as he did in the past. Looking back, he recalls a memorable email sent from a young fan living in Jimma. The fan told him that he watched his show non-stop and that he lived in a small village on the outskirts of Jimma. Solomon was touched to learn that this young man had to travel to a cafe in the city just to watch his show. At that time, Solomon was writing his book and was in the midst of a writing slump. He says that hearing that man’s story inspired him to finish his book.
ግርምተ ሳይቴክ (roughly translated as “The Wonders of Science and Technology”) is a book written by Solomon that was published in June 2018. Not long after starting his TV show, Solomon had another idea: how can he share his knowledge with people who don’t have access to television? The answer he gave himself was to write a book. Even though his progress in writing the draft was interrupted, the young man’s email from Jimma inspired him to finish the book. Solomon describes his book as “written in a simple language that joins historical and technical aspects [of technology] and can be enjoyed by both young and more experienced individuals.” The book covers a wide range of contents that centers on human civilization. It covers the past, present, and future of technological developments. “It’s like traveling through a time machine,” he says. Apart from that, the book also covers black history regarding technological development. Using the civilization of Mali-Timbuktu, Axumite Empire, Ghana, and others as a starting point, the book tries to investigate what’s behind Africa’s technological downfall and provides potential solutions on how to move forward.
We need another victory because we still have enemies. But unlike Adwa, our enemies are not people. They are unemployment, lack of education, and economic damages.
Apart from his book and his show, Solomon’s latest project is 1888 EC. Although founded in 2020, Solomon says that the idea was perhaps 2 to 3 years old. 1888 represents the year in the Ethiopian calendar in which Ethiopia won the battle of Adwa. “EC” stands for both “Ethiopian Calendar” and “Entrepreneurship Center.” The company’s tagline is “Victory Re-imagined.” Solomon describes the reasoning behind the tagline as “We need another victory because we still have enemies. But unlike Adwa, our enemies are not people. They are unemployment, lack of education, and economic damages; to beat these enemies, we need to transfer our forefathers’ strong will to the largest population, the youth, and in the process, innovation, skill, technology, and entrepreneurship, play a significant role.”
1888 EC is a startup studio that transforms business ideas to sample products and presents them to the market. After taking feedback from the market, the studio grows the sample product into a full-scale company. By doing this repeatedly, numerous startups can emerge, creating job opportunities, solving problems, and generating profits for the entrepreneurs.
With his professional work, writing, TV show, and now a venture studio, Solomon says that it’s not easy finding the time for everything. “I have to use my time in a disciplined manner. I spend the day doing my professional work, and I use the nighttime and weekends to [do my other work]. I usually create content for my show during the nighttime and film them during the weekends. While writing my book, I had to compromise my sleeping time. I believe we should compartmentalize our time...it’s hard, but time management requires constant discipline. Trying to relax, doing something we like, and resting shouldn’t be forgotten as well. ”
Regarding policies concerning technology and innovation in Ethiopia, Solomon believes that there is an improvement compared to a few years ago. He says it’s a process, and many stakeholders like startups, accelerators, and others contributed to this change. Solomon has used his TV program and other platforms like public speaking, panel discussions, and lectures to push for the change. The efforts of Solomon and his likes have resulted in the approval of a national digital transformation strategy, but he believes that there is a lot more work to do in overcoming the challenges and creating an enabling environment.
Solomon highlights the importance of a gig economy. “Especially in a country where there is a high percentage of young people that can be trained in a short period, those youth have the potential to create products that are viable in the international market.” The problem of unemployment, which Solomon describes as a “headache,” can be solved through the gig economy. Solomon says that the gig economy is “hopeful” in Ethiopia and should spread beyond the tech sector.
Apart from his love of science and technology, Solomon is a very passionate adventurer. Despite his busy schedule, he always tries to find time to try new things. “I like doing things that are considered to be scary. Among them are skydiving and bungee jumping. I have done skydiving before…if I’m going to try bungee jumping, I want it to be extreme. I love roller coaster rides as well. There is this saying that you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than dying while skydiving. So I always calculate the risks when I try these things.”
Ever since Solomon was introduced to the concept of Ikigai, he says that it has helped him a lot. Ikigai is the Japanese word for “the reason for being.” Solomon describes Ikigai as “An intersection between what you love, what the world needs, what you are paid for and what you’re good at. When these things intersect, that is a true Ikigai. But there are challenges in this world; what we are paid for may not be what we love, what we do may not be what the world needs of us, or what we’re good at may not be what we love, so the intersection of these four things might be rare. But if they do and someone manages to have that - meaning if they do what they love, are good at it, provide a solution to the world and through it all, manage to better their lives, that would be perfect. But that usually doesn’t happen.
“It would be great if we could get at least some combination of those things. For example, if the things we love to do and the things the world needs are compatible, that would become a mission. If the compatibility is between the things we love and the things we’re good at, that will be our passion. If what the world needs is what we’re paid for, that would be a vocation. And if what we’re paid for is what we’re good at, that will be our profession. But having one of these alone has its own shortcomings; therefore, we must strive for a life that intersects all four aspects, even though it’s challenging and some of it may be out of our control. But if we can achieve it, we can attain the Ikigai state of mind.”
When asked about his challenges, Solomon says that the question is “overloaded and cliche.” “Life is full of challenges, so there is nothing to point out. Every day, you face a new set of challenges; it may be personal, work-related, relationship-related, financial, or nationwide. But the viewpoint I like to offer is perhaps not to dwell on the challenge. We should try to think about ways that will get us out of [our challenges]. Doing that will shorten the age of our challenges, I believe. I, too, have fallen into the trap of dwelling on my problems. It prevents you from moving forward. We also have to remember that we are not alone through it all. We should ask for help if we need it, without being afraid or shy.”
Don't be afraid to fail. you should boast your failure; It should be in your resume.
Solomon’s first advice to young entrepreneurs is that they should not be afraid to fail. “Actually, [you should] boast your failure; it should be in your resume,” he adds. We shouldn’t hide our failures; instead, we should talk about them openly. Solomon believes that failing is not losing; rather, it’s proof that you’re trying. He uses a metaphor, saying that if we choose to sit on a chair, there is almost no chance of us failing because we are static. But if we choose to run or do any other activity, our chances for failure rise, for we are not static. Therefore, Solomon believes our failure is to be embraced.
Solomon’s second advice to entrepreneurs is to be bold and brave. An entrepreneur is someone who can sell their ideas anywhere with confidence. He believes our culture confuses confidence with boasting. Young people should break free of those constraints and be vocal about their visions.
We conclude our interview with Solomon by him recommending 3 books:
- Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari - an insightful book that describes what our future looks like.
- Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil - explains the risks that come with the increase of big data.
- David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell - explains how underdogs overcame and prevailed over giants throughout history.