Meet our students: Benjamin Olayinka

EIT Digital

EIT Digital

He is a DJ, an embedded system engineer and is featuring as a sports ads model. Alongside his job at an Amsterdam IT Company, he is working on a robotic innovation to clean plastic from the streets to be recycled in goods. “We screw up the world and need to find solutions.” The American native, Benjamin Olayinka, who lives in the German capital Berlin, but currently winters in Greece recently graduated from the EIT Digital Master School. He thinks that his fellow American engineers would be “pleasantly surprised” if they would also study here.

Olayinka was born in America, grew up in Nigeria for the first ten years of his life and went back to the United States. After his Bachelor of Science, Electrical and Electronics Engineering, at the Northern Arizona University he worked for a few years for a government agency doing electronics. In 2018 he entered the two-year EIT Digital Master School Programme Embedded Systems. He started his first year at the Technical University in Berlin in Germany and finalised his studies at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.

Olayinka participated in the EIT Digital Alumni Startup Competition in 2020 with an own made trash eating robot prototype. This project came forward from an inner felt mission: “I grew up in Ibadan, Nigeria, where there’s plastic trash everywhere. When you walk around, you’re walking over plastic bags, kicking over plastic bottles, it sucks. I always wanted to one day make a robot to clean up all that trash.”  Though he did not win the competition, the project was still too immature, he is determent to work on. Making his dream come true.

Benjamin Olayinka

What does the robot project entail?

“It would be great if the pitch I made can be real: robots collect plastic from the streets. These can be cleaning trash everywhere. The collected plastic can be reused for building roads in Nigeria or building more trash eating robots. There is a growing market for recycled plastic. Adidas for instance has manufactured shoes from recycled plastic. These cost more now. The business case is not there yet, but it is an acknowledgement now, that everyone is realising that we fucked up the world so badly that we need to try to find solutions for the long term to be sustainable. In the long run, this will pay off.  So, there is good timing for projects like my robot. It brings exposure to a big problem.”

You have a prototype that looks like a floor drone that picks up trash. What are your plans with the trash eating robot?

“In Christmas time I invited some friends and clients for a try. I am slowly progressing with the project. Currently, I do not have a financial intent, that might come in the long term. For the time being, this is a learning process for me. I learned so far that if you try something yourself, you do not come as far as with a team. Being an engineer, I spent a lot of time playing with mechanics and programming, that contributed zero difference to the success of the project. That doesn’t move the needle. Nobody cares how things works, they care about how things affect them. I now have a small prototype to give demonstrations. I also made a trade-off with Kids Creative: they will work on branding, communication and marketing and in return I work for them.”

How did you end up in Europe?

“As an undergraduate, I was visiting Europe in the summer times. I fell in love with a lot of things in Europe.  The job I did, was low and unaspiring. After two years of working the job that I did not like, I wanted to get out. I just travelled to my best friend who lives in Berlin, in Germany intending to start a masters in Germany. My friend recommended the EIT Digital Master School instead, that also included the Technical University in Berlin. I applied and got accepted. Meantime, I started to work for a design company Kids Creative.”

How do you look back on the EIT Digital Master School?

“The EIT Digital Master School was the best experience of my life. It was really nice. What comes up especially is the community. A good portion of my friends are people I met in my cohort.  Reminiscing about the time, I realise that the best time I had is with people.  It is not about what you did, but with whom you did it. This is why the EIT Digital Master School stands out from other master studies: it facilitates ways to spend time with each other. You study at two different places, in two different cities and all the surrounding elements in the education, like the EIT Digital Summer School makes the EIT Digital Master School incredible.”

The EIT Digital Summer School is a mandatory element of the EIT Digital Master School. How did you experience this?

“The EIT Digital Summer School was fun, we had these bikes in Amsterdam and we laughed a lot. If I think about it, I realise that the relationship with the people you work with determines how good your ideas will succeed. I mean, if you have a good idea and a bad team you will fail, vice versa a good team can even make a bad idea work. At the summer school, you get to work in a team with people you do not know yet and you try to make something together. That is the point of studying and that is what your life is going to be like: working with people you do not know. So, it is a very good experience. Alongside teambuilding I acquired also the skill of project management. Engineers can make great things but cannot bring people together in business in it. It is not the ideas that motivate people, it is the relationships you have with like-minded people. Learning to build teams is a valuable skill.”

What happened since your graduation in 2019?

“I stayed awhile working at Teenage Engineering where I did my internship. In February 2020, I started applying for jobs. That was exhausting. I hate applying for jobs. After two weeks I decided going to work on things I wanted to work on and trusted that something will come up. I collaborated on the project ImisstheOffice with Kids Creative. This is a virtual office with funny characters that represent annoying colleague habits. I also worked on my robot project. And I am having fun as a sort of joke DJ – I don’t take it seriously – I played already in clubs in LA and Las Vegas back then. The dance music world is small, so I got to play in Berlin too. On the side, I do a lot of sports modelling jobs. I just did a Nike Zalando ad about mental health.”

How and when did you find your job?

“After a couple of weeks, a EIT Digital classmate called me to say that the company he worked, The Things Industries, that builds end-to-end secured LoRaWAN networks to manage low power internet of things devices, was looking for someone for embedded development. After some talks, the company was more interested in me as a technical writer and to do content management, since I am a native English speaking, and wrote blogs on technology. So, now I am a Technical Writer. It is a cool company, and I am having fun working there. I manage all the documentation for the platform, I test and write how to use the technology, do web development and make instruction videos. The company is based in the Netherlands, but I work remotely from Berlin, but now for two months in Greece to get out of the cold weather. I can work from anywhere.”

Would you recommend American students to do the EIT digital master School in Europe?

“Yes. Absolutely.  As American, we have everything in our country, we don’t take the time to wonder what is out there. There is a small percentage of people who are curious, well-educated and adventurous.  I think if you do go on this adventure, you will be pleasantly surprised to find out what it could be like somewhere else.”