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Cover image for Building Data Science East Africa with Harun Mwenda.
Microsoft Student Ambassadors - Kenya

Building Data Science East Africa with Harun Mwenda.

Sony
Making mistakes since 2000 😎
・Updated on ・5 min read

Harun Mbaabu is a Microsoft Student Learn Ambassador from the Murang'a University of Technology. He is a Data Scientist and Software Engineer with more than 3 years of experience in full-stack web development. He's been involved in many design thinking panels and conferences like the recently concluded CityJS Conference 2021.

He's founded two communities: Data Science East Africa and Lux Tech Academy, based in Nairobi, Kenya. He also doubles as a Machine Learning Instructor at Ubunifu College.

Harun at Ubunifu College

Julia: How did you get into tech?

Harun: I got into tech back in 2017 when I was still a first-year student in university. I started with web development: HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Later on, in 2018, my interest in data science spiked after watching a friend do it.

Julia: What's DSEA all about?

Harun: It's a community comprised majorly of people from East and West Africa who have an interest and enthusiasm for all things Data Science and Machine Learning. We bring them up, match them with mentors with industrial experience for training. We hold free boot camps for the learners. For instance, we're currently enrolling in the first 2021 boot camp.

We also help people to get started on projects related to Data Science. We're currently building a project called Next Africa. It's more of a start-up that uses AI and modern web development tools to create solutions for Agricultural and Health centers in Africa.

Julia: Who's eligible to join DSEA and how do they get started?

Harun: Our program and community is open to anyone with passion in data science and Machine Learning or Artificial Intelligence as a whole. Be it a software engineer, campus student or a high school graduate.
Data Science display on laptop

Julia: What impact do you think you've made in the society?

Harun: Currently, we have students from East and West Africa. The ongoing boot camp has learners enrolled from about 10 different countries i.e. Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Nigeria. We also have some from Cameroon, Ghana and India.

I'm proud of having few people placed for jobs. From the last boot camp we held in 2020, we had more than five people getting job placements as data scientists.

We're also trying to develop solutions for two problems in the largest sector in Kenya: Agriculture. One of them is a PWA app developed with JavaScript and Tensor flow JS. We're trying to make it light (about 100-200kb). It can take photos of maize and cassava and classify the disease and the necessary treatment required.

Julia: How did you come up with your mission statement and tie it up to DSEA community?

DSEA Mission: Bringing together the East African Data Science community to help foster the exchange of innovative ideas and encourage the growth of open source software.

Harun: Our main target was to train the people who can't afford the expenses associated with joining a paid boot camp. We wanted to train them using projects; therefore, we got mentors from all over the world including, the US and UK. One of our most active mentors is a Ph.D. holder in data science from the US. The mentors help them learn and use their skills to innovate real-world solutions.

Our mission statement speaks for itself - we're bringing together the East Africa data community that'll foster the exchange of innovative ideas and encourage the growth of open-source software in the Data Science field.

Julia: How has the Microsoft Learn Student Ambassador program contributed to the success of your community?

Harun: I've been able to get in touch with other mentors and built a network with other MLSAs who've helped me spread the word. I've also had access to personal mentors who've pushed me to to the next level. I've gotten access to learning resources available in Microsoft - like LinkedIn learning courses. I've met a lot of people who've impacted me and the growth of DSEA at large.

Programming session

Julia: Is DSEA apart of Lux Tech Academy?

Harun: Well, DSEA branched out from Lux Tech Academy. I founded Lux Academy back in 2019 December but, we held our first boot camp in mid-2020. When we first had our boot camp, many people showed interest in python, data science and machine learning. At the time, we were only focusing on basic programming skills in Python and JavaScript. We also did modern web development like building Progressive Web Apps, modern JavaScript and single-page applications.

We're trying to build something as big as MIT but as affordable as a gym subscription fee.

We're a free coding school based in Kenya. We have campus ambassadors and hope to enroll about 30 of them.

We also have Ladies of Lux as an effort to bridge the gender disparity gap in our learners. We aim to have a 50-50 enrollment of both genders.

Consolata: When did you know that it was the right time to start DSEA and Lux Tech Academy?

Harun: I followed one of the best pieces of advice that my dad has ever given me:

The only secret is starting, it doesn't matter if you'll fail or succeed.

Any plans that you might have, make sure that you start implementing them as soon as possible. The "right time" is an illusion. It's either now or never.

Bethany: What do you do outside coding?

Harun: I spend a lot of my free time going out for nature walks or sometimes hikes. I also relax with my friends and family when I can.

Harun Mbaabu

Bethany: Where do you see DSEA community in the next two to five years?

Harun: Our first target in the next five years is to train more than 20,000 data scientists from Africa. We're also actively recruiting partners who can help out with training and reaching out to more learners who're passionate about data science.

We also have learners without stable internet access. We're trying to accommodate them by looking into a cheaper internet connection for them.

We're actively developing projects with the help of our learners. We hope to have built at least implemented three projects in the next two years.

Bethany: What's your parting shot?

Harun: My greatest joy was joining tech. Your field doesn't matter. If you're in tech and you work smart, you'll always be proud of your achievements. The greatest secret is working smart in tech and trying as much as possible to help others along the way.

Stay in Touch:

Check out this full interview with Harun Mbaabu on our You Tube channel.

You can join the DSEA Slack channel or Discord server. Follow them on Twitter and LinkedIn to stay updated on upcoming events and boot camps. If you also want to be part of their community, you can email at datascienceeastafrica@gmail.com or join their WhatsApp group.

You can also catch up with their journey on Medium.

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