From oilfields engineer to competitive data scientist, Mariam Atoyebi is one of our favourite Zindians

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Perched high above the waves, offshore rigs are proverbial hives of frenetic activity. Drilling, evaluation and well completion work is carried out around the clock. But oil rigs are also rather like circuses, with a dizzying roster of specialist acts needed at various times in the life of a well. These range from mud-spattered geologists and white-aproned cooks, to burly drillers and their crews of roughnecks.

The oilfield engineer is arguably the oil rig’s star attraction. These highly trained engineers send sophisticated tools thousands of metres into the well bore, and gather data that determines if the well is viable and should be developed, or dry and should be abandoned. An oilfield engineer essentially sways investment decisions worth millions of dollars at a time, and impacts thousands of people who depend on the well for their livelihood.

That was the first job that Mariam Atoyebi did after graduating with a degree in Petroleum Engineering in 2009 from University of Ibadan in Nigeria. As an oilfield engineer in a male dominated profession, Mariam spent long nights cramped in a small cabin, peering at multi-coloured graphs scrolling across a screen, as a raft of connected sensors spewed reams of data back to the surface for analysis.

From oil fields to data fields

Six years after leaving the oil field, Mariam’s work still affords her the potential to make a difference in thousands of lives. Because Mariam is a data scientist on Zindi.

Like many data scientists just starting out, Mariam was intimidated at first. Who wouldn’t be when faced with a seemingly arcane discipline, wrapped in layers of clever-sounding buzz words? Her husband, Olayiwola, encouraged her to stick with it. He celebrated with Mariam when she completed an “Elements of AI” online course from the University of Helsinki, Finland. Other courses followed, and by the time Mariam enrolled in a series of weekend data science classes from Passion Incubator and Coven Labs in Lagos, she was hooked.

But there was something missing. Mariam still didn’t have a means of applying her growing skills to real-world problems. And then she found Zindi and embarked afresh on her journey to change the world. In a few short months, Miriam had designed an algorithm to predict flooding in Malawi and helped build an AI chatbot to support mental health patients in Kenya. She is now one of Zindi’s highest-ranking female data scientists.

“Although there are other similar competition platforms, none made me feel at ease as much as Zindi,” Mariam says. “Zindi means everything in my data science world, as I have garnered a lot of new skills and confidence from participating in her competitions.”

A data science space for everyone

Zindi is a data science competition platform with African roots and global reach. Our 18 000-strong community of data scientists uses machine learning and AI to solve the world’s most pressing problems. But Zindi offers much more than this. At Zindi, data scientists can find jobs, develop new skills and learn from experienced mentors. And as Mariam would tell you, sometimes they find a home with us; a safe space where they can grow and thrive.

According to the World Economic Forum 2020 Gender Gap Report, Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the eight micro-clusters with the highest employment growth rate. However women represent only 26% of this category. Clearly, the world is in dire need of more Mariam’s. Women whose skills and passion can help change thousands of lives for the better. Just like Mariam did all those years ago when she was evaluating exploration oil wells off the coast of Nigeria. And just as she’s doing today as a data scientist at Zindi.

Zindi is firmly committed to providing professional and personal growth opportunities to African women, which is why we’re a finalist in the MIT Solve Challenge 2020 under the category Learning for Girls and Women. If you believe that Zindi deserves your support in this mission, please vote for us here to win the Community Award.

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