Rose Wambui: From Zindi Competition Winner to Full-Time Data Scientist at Zindi
“While working as a software engineer at Andela, I would occasionally hop in and participate in Zindi competitions — I think that was from 2018. I was only a user for a while. Then after I left Andela, I ventured into contracting because I was focusing on starting my business. Zindi was one of my clients. I became an independent contractor for Zindi and later on transitioned to a full-time role as a data scientist.”
Rose Wambui, from Kenya, is a full-time data scientist at Zindi. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Security and Digital Forensics from Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology in Kenya. After graduation, she interned with Kenya Civil Aviation Authority as an IT intern before joining Andela in 2017. Like every ambitious person with passion, Rose has pursued that passion, to use artificial intelligence (AI) to solve problems like cybersecurity threats, and that path led her to Zindi.
Her Journey into Data Science
“My path into data science was interesting — I wanted to do machine learning so that I could detect cybersecurity threats. Currently, cybersecurity analysts have to look at computer logs to detect any virus or malware. Imagine a scenario where there are 100+ computers in a company network. It would take days or even weeks to detect computer viruses. The proliferation of Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) has come in handy for the field, making detection faster; integrating the systems with AI makes the system more intelligent by predicting the type of threats that a network is likely to face, and companies become more proactive than reactive.”
Rose started data science around the time she was working as a software engineer at Andela — about three years ago. At Andela, she always had to deliver on a project, so whenever she was given clients who needed data science skills, she had to learn on the job. She enrolled on Udacity for free resources, and then she found competitions on Zindi. It was a platform that exposed her to different challenges she needed in the implementation of AI, data science, and machine learning solutions, ranging across Africa.
“I think participating or being a user at Zindi is one notable phase of my journey and growth as a data scientist. It helped me overcome my imposter syndrome and realize I was skilled and capable. Zindi was also a good chance to compete on the African data science scene.”
In 2019, Rose came 3rd in the Xente Fraud Detection Challenge on Zindi — a competition geared towards creating a machine learning model to accurately classify fraudulent transactions from Xente’s e-commerce platform. She was drawn to the competition because it focused on fraud in financial transactions. With fraud detection being a part of cybersecurity, the competition linked back to her original goal of applying machine learning solutions in the cybersecurity space.
Inclusion and Opportunity for African Women
In a time where women in many African countries have fewer opportunities to get into certain roles or technical careers like data science, Rose feels passionate about changing the level of inclusion of women in the industry.
“My everyday inspiration is Michelle Obama. I like her because of her stance on women inclusion in society, and giving women a seat at the table. I believe all women should have the opportunity to participate in a field like data science or machine learning. ”
Rose believes that if more young girls are encouraged to pursue a passion in technology, there would be a greater pool of talent in the future, and no doubt there would be many young women as passionate about machine learning as she is, if they were given the opportunity to learn. This is why Rose actively mentors young women in the technical space, serving as a mentor for Zindi’s Mentorship Programme, and featuring in a recent panel of Zindi’s incredible female data scientists.
One of her proudest moments was being selected as a mentor for the CybertTalents community in collaboration with Zindi, where she guided the students on how to create a software engineering product that detects malware while integrating machine learning. Generally, she loves working with Zindi because of its diversity and how it bridges the gap between the clients and the data scientists on the platform.
For someone whose interest in machine learning originally focused on cybersecurity, Rose is equally excited about the future of AI being integrated into different industries. For example, integrating machine learning into agriculture to move more of Africa towards smart farming — smart irrigation, detecting pests and disease, and increasing crop yields or reducing waste. She envisions a future for Africa where machine learning will make farming better, and eventually integrate into other fields like health and security.