Halftime: Nairobi Women in Machine Learning and Data Science.

One of my very good friends, who hadn’t been in a relationship for the longest time has been celebrating his six month relationship anniversary all of this month. And he’s gone all out, from proposing, to travel around the country and a major party with friends and family.

After the said party, I was definitely pumped up to celebrate things in my life that have lasted beyond the first day despite all odds… So I got home and partitioned my notebook into four parts then in between beer breaks took time to fill in the four slots as a way to celebrate consistency. The four quadrants: 6 months to 1 year, 1–5 years, 5–10 years, beyond 10 years.

The last two quadrants were actually really hard to fill and are still a work in progress. The first thing I wrote down was Nairobi WiMLDS which will have lasted six months, this month!!

Nairobi WiMLDS, is a community of women (and men) with interests or working in data science. And here’s a road trip around what six months into building this vibrant community have been like:

When I finally decided to give data science a try, I was beyond clueless on where to start but totally excited by the idea of making sense of out data, uncovering trends and just doing cool stuff (That was before I discovered, no one cleans the data for you). Honestly, I’m still clueless most days but in manageable doses.

Being a very predictable human, the first thing I did was to take online courses. This is another day’s story. The next things I did was to try an identify a community of people with similar goals where I could learn and just hear of the cool stuff guys were up to. I didn’t really find one that matched where I was but found several mirroring where I wanted to be. There’s lots of amazing Data Science meetups in Nairobi, but I was kind of trying to find something very beginner level. You know what they say about necessity and invention?

A few months later, the amazing ladies Erin LeDell and the organizers of different Women in Machine Learning and Data Science chapters helped me setup the first meetup chapter outside of the United States. Each day brought with it new members. Next, I reached out to the members who had signed up for help in organizing the meetup, a few people got back and eventually we had a team of about five ladies working towards having the meetup happen. As is with any kind of growth, some of our starting out challenges saw the team reduce to two people myself and one of the most amazing people I have met in the recent past, Kathleen. Her email tagline reads “ dreamer and doer of impossibilities ” and she truly is!!!

Intentional Serendipity

Fast Forward to about a month later, we met and talked to Jessica Colaco, co-founder, Brave venture labs about our plan to establish a community for people starting out, working in and with interests in Machine Learning and Data Science. And just like that we set a date, had a venue and begun planning for our first meetup.

Aside: I first heard of intentional Serendipity from Jessica on this day at the iHub. “ You can chose to wait for opportunity to happen (what some would call “serendipity”) or you can be intentional about it and make it happen.” I am a planner, I over analyse situations and most times it leads to some sort of paralysis because over analyzing situations will normally only bring to focus the worst case scenarios or the impossibilities, however working with Jessica and Kathleen on several occasions this past few months has opened me up to the realization that “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Granted, I am now learning how to consciously live more intentionally and loving the results. I can not hide from the fact that having the courage to actually start out the meetup has been quite a rewarding experience.

“…And, when you want something , all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it…” Paulo Coelho

We started out on a zero budget. Crossing fingers and hoping that people would believe in us enough to actually show up and to also pay a small fee of Ksh. 500 to cater for snacks and drinks and we have not “walked alone” ever since.

Here’s a quick recap of the six meetups we have had so far:

  1. Uncovering patterns and trends using exploratory data analysis

Watching Dr .Vivienne Ming’s presentation during the 2016 Data Science festival on Predicting how people learn: Cognitive+Data Science set the ball rolling. We then had a very exciting Open mic Introduction to data science by rockstar Data Scientist at Brave, Chris Orwa. Kathleen then handled an introductory session handling exploratory data analysis using Python to uncover patterns and trends on a Kaggle dataset.

2. Extracting Your Own Web Data using Scraping Tools

During the first meetup, most of us mentioned having a challenge in accessing data to use for learning projects. During the second meetup we learned how to use Docker and also build a web scraping tool which we used to scrap data form OLX. Using this data we used PowerBI to do some analytics and visualizations. Code and presentation

3. TensorFlow Post-Summit Event

The month of love was an exciting one for us. Thanks to Google Kenya, we hosted the Nairobi TensorFlow Post Summit event. This was an exciting day with lots and lots of pizza and amazing conversations on Machine Learning, Data Science and Tensor Flow.

A hearty S/O to The TensorFlow Post Summit Expert Analysis panelists : Jessica Francisca Colaço: Co-founder Brave Venture Labs & Ted Fellow, Kenneth Kinyanjui: CTO and Co founder, Infinity Space SAS, James Mwai:Software consultant & Cloud GDE, Kennedy Otieno: Developer Ukulima Africa and Dennis Mungai, a Linux Systems Engineer and HPC specialist at Boss TV as well as Kathleen for the Hands on TensorFlow Practical session.

Here’s the code and presentations.

4. Fueling the Artificial Intelligence revolution with gaming!

This meetups was all about GPUs and who better to handle this session than Alison Lowndes, NVIDIA’s Artificial Intelligence Developer Relations in the EMEA as well as our resident Samurai Dennis Mungai.

The session was to build upon the foundational understanding of how artificial intelligence is applied to multiple problems and explored the phenomenon of deep learning and how NVIDIA enables the entire ecosystem with optimized open-source software and its pioneering hardware based on the GPU .

5. Sentiment Analysis in R

“What’s in a president’s speech? ” Alot, you can bet on that. From lower maize prices to witty remarks and everything in between.

Prestone Adie took us through an interesting session to scrape and analyse Uhuru Kenyatta’s speeches. You can read more on the exciting presentation here through which he proves that three speechwriters are used by the President’s office. This is as a result of analysing the evolution of one pattern or the presence of three stylometric patterns.

In April we also hosted and had an exciting converation with, Catalin Voss, an award winning engineer and the founder of the Stanford Autism Glass Project and computer vision company Sension, which was acquired by GAIA Systems (owned by Toyota) in 2015.

6. Unravelling Intel’s Deep Learning SDK

This weekend, Roy Allela , Intel’s Developer Relations lead in the EMEA region will take us through Intel’s tools for machine and deep learning. We’ll cover the Intel distribution of Python for High Performance Computing and the Intel Deep Learning Training tool for creating deep learning models.

Throughout the six months, we have had members of our community travel even from different counties to attend the different sessions. We have also had several guests coming in to scout for talent.

Half-time jig..

The thorns ?

It’s not been all roses without thorns. Nothing good comes easy. I would be lying if I said we have not had a fair share of challenges. The immense support by our community members and the tech community at large has however diffused most of these challenges.

One thing however, keeps me awake at night, at least every week in a month. The main reason why we set up this community was to create a safe space for women interested in Data Science and Machine Learning to learn, grow, have fun and network. However, in the grand scheme of things I had never anticipated that we would ever have low female attendance, and it worries me because we are yet to identify how we can encourage more ladies into the space. The men on the other hand, have kept us going. We are really grateful for your consistency (and on a light note, hope you didn’t scare the ladies away).

Building a community is not easy. It’s a lot of trial and error. We would definitely not have come this far without all the support we get each and every month.

Tensorflow post summit


A big thank you to Africa’s Talking who have let their cool space be our home as well as Brave Venture labs, Google Kenya and Intel for their support during different events.

A big S/o to Deepali Gohil who joined our organizing team. She brings a lot of experience, expertise and wisdom to the table. Thanks to Deepali, we are looking at the future on bigger lenses. We are more committed to creating value to the community as well as forging more lasting and sustainable relationships with all our members.

The future??

Definitely more pizza….and more requests for the event’s code

and greater growth and progress. You can be sure that we will continue to host more exciting events, even more exciting speakers (hint, hint… we will be hosting one of the Senior data scientists from SoundCloud in June) and more code labs .

Also, thanks to Google Kenya, we will in every quarter host a meetup targeted at growing the community of Machine Learning and Data Science experts using Google tools and libraries such as TensorFlow.

Want to be part of this exciting journey?

We are always looking for ways to improve the experience and community and always appreciate your feedback. We also love help, in any kind…just talk to us, you will see!!

And to everyone who makes this a success, from the bottom of our hearts…Asanteni sana!!!

You can join our community here

Techies at work:smiles.