PASSION and Continuous GROWTH

“Predicting the future isn’t magic, it’s artificial intelligence.” ~Dave Waters

In the Beginning…

My name is Elie Wanko and I am passionate about technology. From software development to artificial intelligence, I believe our future will be shaped by how we are able to solve problems with smart technology.

As a child growing up in my home country of Cameroon, my access to recent technologies was fairly limited. At a young age, I was fascinated with computers; how they operated and what you could do through programming. I took every opportunity to read about programming and technology, but it wasn’t until my university years that I actually had a chance to study computer science. When I arrived at university, I chose to major in computer science and mathematics. Over the course of four years, I gained a foundational knowledge for programming, explored the theoretical nature of technology and solidified my passion. I went on to complete a masters degree in applied mathematics and informatics. Both, my undergraduate and masters degrees provided great theoretical knowledge but lacked the practical skills to actually apply what I had learned to real-world problems. So, I began searching for supplementary programs.

Finding a Solution

I researched a few online options, but ultimately, chose Udacity. I was already familiar with the learning style of Udacity, having completed the Android Developer Nanodegree program during my university years. With that initial course, I had a great experience building Android skills and actually publishing an app to Google Play. Up until this point, I had not considered Udacity for more advanced programming concepts.

Coincidentally, as I was researching which Udacity courses might provide the practical skills I was searching for, I received an email about a scholarship opportunity with Facebook and Udacity. As I read the title, I asked myself “What the heck is PyTorch?”. Then, I read the article linked in the email. I was familiar with Deep Learning and curious about its application but hadn’t considered this as a next step. The more I read, the more curious I became, there were so many applications for Deep Learning technology. Immediately, I decided to apply for the PyTorch Scholarship Challenge from Facebook, with the hope of earning a full scholarship to Udacity’s Deep Learning Nanodegree program.

Once I completed the application, my work began — if got accepted to the Challenge phase, I knew I would need to quickly brush up on my python skills. I was so excited and anxious for the acceptances to be announced!

Tic tac, Tic Toc …

October 30th, emails drop in our e-boxes, I received a much-anticipated email — I was chosen to participate in the challenge course. I knew the challenge phase was just a two-month period and I had about a 0.03% chance of being awarded the full Nanodegree program scholarship, but I was determined. At the same time, I was also preparing for my master's program university exams which meant my schedule was extremely tight. I couldn’t let this opportunity pass, so I created a two-month schedule. The scholarship community was a huge support. I was collaborating with other people from around the world who were, like me, interested in Deep Learning, brainstorming on projects and encouraging one another… it was an amazing experience and my network kept growing.

Study jams sessions with some participants!

All good things come to an end …

As expected, the challenge course came to an end, many of my fellow students were keen on continuing to learn and engage. While we waited to hear if we were to be awarded the full scholarship to Udacity’s Deep Learning Nanodegree program, we collaborated on side projects. It was amazing to discover all the ways one can apply the PyTorch framework. This undeniably boosted my motivation to continue learning and building skills. I signed up for more courses related to other frameworks and tools-kits like TensorFlow 2.0, Keras, Fastai, Caffe2 … you name it.

Drums roll…

Finally, the day arrived to find out which students were awarded the full Nanodegree program. To my greatest surprise, I was one of 300 students awarded a scholarship for the full Deep Learning Nanodegree program. When I enrolled in the Challenge phase, my main goal was to have fun learning a new technology, network and collaborate with other students, and maybe, just maybe I might get the full scholarship, never believing I would actually do it.

The journey through deep learning…

The Nanodegree program required more time and studying than the Challenge phase. I was tasked with building a set of projects using the Pytorch framework; Convolutional and Recurrent Neural Networks, Generative Adversarial Networks, Deployment of a neural network, and more. In one way, my background from my university studies prepared me for this opportunity, but still, I found the Nanodegree program challenging. The lessons on transfer learning and sentiment analysis were engaging, but having to build a Convolutional Neural Network to classify dog breeds from scratch was quite difficult. Reading, creating and piecing together a series of models of deep learning algorithms from research papers, and designing it to perform various tasks part of a data processing pipeline made it quite technical and interesting.

There were a few important aspects of my Udacity experience that made it possible to complete new and challenging projects. First, the project submission process: the feedback I received once a project was submitted and reviewed was crucial. Through comments from reviewers, I was able to see exactly what I was doing right and what I needed to improve upon. I would go back and forth, changing, improving and then resubmitting, until I would receive a message like this:

The second aspect that was highly important to my success was the positive reinforcement. For every instance where I felt like I wasn’t progressing in the program or had hit a wall with a project, there was another situation where I received motivating notes like this:

Finally, the course material. It was through the webinars, lessons, quizzes and real-life projects that I actually developed a passion for deep learning. I was able to complete the Deep Learning Nanodegree program because of my dedication and mounting passion for the coursework.

Blending my curiosity with content that challenged me to think beyond theoretical concepts, was a game changer for me. My curiosity and Udacity have helped me push my boundaries and reach new heights that I never thought I could. Today, the prospects of the projects I will work on can only be limited by imagination.

So what now …

Today, I am still learning and completing my master's program and looking forward to the Secure and Private AI Scholarship Challenge with Facebook. I am focused on implementing some of the new and most popular frameworks used in Artificial Intelligence. This industry is exploding, and it feels indispensable to have experience in the fields of AI, ML, and DL.

“Follow your dreams!”, “Do what you love!”, “Find your passion!”, … 
we have all heard these words of motivation from friends and family. Whether you, like myself, are looking to follow your curiosity or chasing the latest tech trend, I urge you to pursue new skills in an effort to chase happiness. If you are happy learning, do it! The limitless motivation in the pursuit of your passion pushes you in to accomplish things you will be forever proud of.

“When you find what you love doing, keep growing!”