Meet Stella Kimani, Zindi’s reigning queen of the leaderboard

“You know, when people see the name ‘Plato’, they don’t know I am female. So, for any competition I ended up being number 1, I would get some private messages like ‘Congratulations, brother’,” she laughs. “Most people on the platform still don’t know I’m a woman. It feels really good to represent the women in the data science space, and I wish more women participated to experience this feeling too.”

Stella Kimani is a Data Analyst from Kenya — precisely, a consultant in data analytics for development projects. She holds a BCom in Finance from Kenyatta University in Nairobi. After graduation, she interned with AMREF as a finance & grant intern before transitioning into data science to explore the potential in finance with data, and the ecosystem at large. After a short course at Moringa School where she learned machine learning and programming, she is now developing new financial models and conducting in-depth data analysis at Palladium.

Journey to the top on Zindi

Stella first joined Zindi in late 2020 and tried a couple of competitions which, although interesting, she found intimidating too.

“I first heard about Zindi from people at Moringa School, and it was a bit overwhelming in the beginning,” Stella explains. “I was taking a machine learning and programming course, and I saw a post by the graduates who got into Zindi challenges to keep growing and enhancing their skills. So, I had the idea that joining Zindi would help build my portfolio so that I could get employed somewhere, and also build my skills by tackling real-world challenges.”

Her first challenge was the AI4D Swahili News Classification Challenge, where she ranked 47th on the platform. But by 2022, she was concentrating on more complex challenges. Earlier this year, she won the DeepMind Turtle Recall: Conservation Challenge and thebloods.ai Blood Spectroscopy Classification Challenge, one of the hardest and highest-paying challenges ever hosted on Zindi. She is currently the best-ranked female ever on the leaderboard, sitting pretty at #2. According to Stella, she was almost last in her first few competitions but didn’t let that demotivate her. For her, it was more important to stay focused and take every challenge as a project, rather than to be intimidated.

“My favourite thing about Zindi is that it helps both businesses and individuals. Learning and solving complex problems on the platform has improved my computer vision skills and my confidence as a data scientist. The fact that the platform also focuses on African challenges is a welcome bonus.”

Inclusion and mentorship opportunities for women

Stella is quite passionate about inclusion and opportunities for women in data science and shares her thoughts on the underrepresentation in the field.

“The underrepresentation of women in data science is huge. Maybe it’s because of imposter syndrome, or not getting sufficient mentorship as compared to male counterparts.”

She recalls participating in a women-focused data analysis competition in 2020, and believes if we can start from there — exclusive women’s competitions it’ll be easier to trace why women don’t participate.

“I love that some time ago, Zindi had introduced some mentorship for women geared towards motivating many women to tackle these challenges as they come. I think that the Zindi mentorship program for females had the right idea, where women can support each other and discuss ways to tackle the problem.”

For Stella, having a mentor helped when she was starting in those competitions, because mentors can push you where you’re not able to push yourself; they can see the challenges you’re having that you may not see.

AI for good and the community

The other aspect of Zindi that Stella appreciates is the focus on AI for good — using data science to tackle poverty, improve financial inclusion, or address climate change. Stella points this out as what deeply motivates her.

“I’ve always loved driving impact to create long-term sustainability, I love when companies use new analytical tools and methods to better the planet or Africa as the case may be.”

In particular, she is excited about an upcoming project using geospatial modelling to improve water sanitation and water resource management.

Stella is equally passionate about the community and shares a few tips that have helped her journey.

“One thing I know that can help grow your skills is to invest in yourself. If it’s a certain challenge, then the first thing is having a deep-level understanding of the data. You need to understand the problem statement because there’s no way you’re going to provide a solution if you haven’t understood the data and the problem exactly. Check out similar challenges that have been implemented on YouTube or GitHub, for instance. If you do comprehensive research, you will have solved about 10% or 20% of the problem.”

With the ever-changing models and a fast-paced field like data science, Stella generally encourages Zindians and data enthusiasts to try new things: stay updated with current trends, talk to others and experiment a lot, as that’s the only way to grow. She reiterates the power of networking and urges the community to embrace the networking culture and ask for help because, on the Zindi platform, there’s always somebody to help.

Stella is, of course, always happy to help mentor anyone who may need help in their data science journey (especially women), as she believes there’s so much potential for greatness out there. You just need to reach out to her.

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Zindi

Zindi hosts the largest community of African data scientists, working to solve the world’s most pressing challenges using machine learning and AI.