‘Collaboration and networking at Zindi events is more powerful than prize money’: 2022 winner Victor Olufemi on how to get the most out of UmojaHack Africa 2023
With UmojaHack Africa 2023 just days away, we caught up with Victor Olufemi (aka Professor), winner of UmojaHack Africa 2022, to get some tips and tricks on how to succeed in this year’s event. If you’re interested in participating in this year’s event, check out umojahack.africa to sign up.
Can you please introduce yourself? Tell me a little bit more about yourself, where you’re from and what you’re currently doing.
Victor Olufemi: My name is Olufemi Victor, and I’m currently based in Nigeria. I’m a student at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, studying electronic and electrical engineering. I’m currently in my final year. Aside from my studies, I’m an ambassador for Zindi in Nigeria and I’m also working towards building my own startup.
Tell me about your data science journey up to this point.
Victor Olufemi: I started basically with Python, as far back as 2018 or 2019. Of course, back then I didn’t know much about data science or machine learning, but I was interested in programming and trying to build myself along that line. I became involved with a prominent community here in Nigeria called DSN, formerly known as Data Science Nigeria, now Data Scientists Network — they had a local community in my university that I joined. From there I was introduced to the world of data science and machine learning. There was such a buzz around AI and machine learning at the time, and I found myself particularly interested in AI. It’s a great way into my field, which is in engineering. I saw a lot of ways I could take my career forward.
Fast forward to 2019, where I attended my first DSN Bootcamp, and I was able to gain a lot of knowledge there. All my training has been what’s known as non-traditional — boot camps, YouTube, online resources, etc.
In 2020 I won UmojaHack Nigeria, that was really where the game changed for me. From there, I got so much attention in the Nigerian data science community, that was good for me at the time. I started upskilling myself, building myself, and also contributing to activities within the data science community and at my university. All through 2021 and 2022 I started more intentionally participating in Zindi challenges and competitions. I regularly used them to develop myself, and gain more insight into several diverse aspects of AI, from computer vision and NLP to more classical machine learning. I was able to diversify and grow my skills using the Zindi platform. I would say my journey has been non-traditional, my pathway was modelled towards participation with communities and regular participation in competitions.
Tell me about UmojaHack Africa 2022 — How did you go about approaching the problem that you tackled? And what was the experience of winning the competition? Did it have any impact on your lives?
Victor Olufemi: The way I approached UmojaHack Africa last year was basically the same way I’ve always approached hackathons over the years. A few days until the competition, the challenge is made public — you can’t access the data but you can still see information regarding the type of problem you’ll be solving, and the kind of metrics for evaluation and the likes. As soon as the challenges come out, I start my research into what the problem is, trying to understand the problem itself; also the evaluation metric, that’s quite important as well. I take my time out to actually study the challenge, even before the data is out and the challenge kicks off. I also look for similar problems as well, maybe past competitions on Zindi or even other platforms like Kaggle as well. I try to find out what has helped people previously.
There are often webinars or information sessions online, last year I remember one particularly with Dr Fad where he shared some tricks. Those are things I take cognisance of and use them whenever I approach UmojaHack Africa or any other hackathon.
My intention for the hackathon is to show up and just basically enjoy myself, hacking with the whole of Africa. As much as I’m around to test my skills and also have fun, I always have the intention to come up top.
The prize money is really great, it’s enough motivation. But aside from the prize money, one thing that happens when you come up as a winner of UmojaHack Africa: to other people, you’re basically one of the best in Africa. That builds so much confidence in you, to approach more problems, pick up bigger challenges, and it sends the signal that you are actually growing as a person in this space. Not just winning, but even climbing up the leaderboards as well, growing during the hack sends the same signal, that you know you are building yourself, you are growing, and that you know what you’re doing. So in as much as the prize money is great, the confidence and the opportunities this event presents are really the most valuable thing for anyone participating.
I also got the opportunity to intern with AirQo, one of the data sponsors for one of the tracks of UHA22. After the event myself and some of the other winners were enrolled into a four-month internship with them, where we got the opportunity to deploy the model that we built for UmojaHack Africa. And that gave me another very different perspective towards data science, getting to work with the thing. Getting to deploy the models that we build for the hackathon. So the opportunities for collaboration and networking I get out of Zindi events is something I find much more powerful than even the prize money. That’s a really good experience, and I hope everyone participating this year can enjoy the same.
What are your plans for the future?
Victor Olufemi: I hope to go for graduate studies, doing some form of master’s degree in an AI related field? I’m working towards that as soon as I round off my bachelor’s program here in university.
I’m currently working on building a startup called Chemotronix. And what we do, basically is to use data science — that’s machine learning, AI itself, blockchain and IoT — to tackle the problems of carbon emissions around Africa and the world. It’s still of course a small and growing startup, but AI itself is a central part of our solution.
For a lot of people, this will be the first UmojaHack Africa 2023 will be their first hackathon, maybe even their first attempt at machine learning. It’s obviously very daunting and scary. What would be your advice? How should they get started?
Keep learning! Learning never ends, definitely. Keep the learning process even during the hackathons, keep learning stuff and keep trying them out. And the second point I would say is try out new things, right? I always see hackathons as a place to try out something new, and see what really works. And the last advice I would give is to enjoy the event itself, enjoy the process, network with people, use the discussion forums and the communication channels provided as well. Have fun during the hackathon.
Lastly, everybody should make sure they are in a local community, especially being in Africa. Community is very important especially as a beginner and someone joining the data science space.
If you’re interested in participating in this year’s event, check out umojahack.africa to sign up.