This week’s edition of the #AlumoftheWeek takes a look into the journey of Ms Catherine M. Gitau from Kenya. An alumna of the AIMS Masters in Machine Intelligence (AMMI) program from AIMS Ghana. She is currently a Data Science Manager at VISA Inc.
From the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in Kenya, she studied for an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Computer Science. Catherine’s passion for mathematics and problem-solving dates back to her younger days, and there was solid evidence to back this.
Particularly interested in Quality Education and Gender Equality, her research interest is in African languages and their machine translation. Her research outputs help assess children of all backgrounds to study in Africa in a language they easily understand effectively.
“English is the official language in many African countries. It is how knowledge is imparted and tested. Sadly most people equate knowing the English language to being smart, contrary to the truth. Therefore, I see the need to work on language tools to create educational materials available to everyone in their native language. I am also part of groups whose sole purpose is to get more women into male-dominated fields. Through this, I believe we’ll reduce the gender gap in STEM, which will increase the employment and productivity of women and reduce occupational segregation.”
As people will attribute opportunity to when passion meets preparation, the success of Catherine came in at a point where she was nearly giving up in life as to the next step to make. The AMMI program came in to give her hope and propelled her to the current position she finds herself.
“AIMS has had a huge impact on me. When applying for the AMMI program, I remember I was at a place in my life where I was yearning for growth. I felt like my career had stopped, and I didn’t know what I was doing or what to focus on going forward. AIMS provided me with the knowledge I needed, and I felt very confident in myself afterwards. Applying for jobs has never been easier. The rigorous training provided me with the skills to learn anything quickly, and this has proven to be very useful in my current job, which is in a new area. I also believe that without AIMS, I wouldn’t have had the numerous achievements I have now. An AIMS Alumna and I worked on a Machine Translation project right after we completed the program, and if it were not for AIMS, we wouldn’t have met and would not have gotten a good professor to help us with it. I gained a lot of long life friends and made meaningful connections throughout my time there, and I will forever be grateful to AIMS for providing me with this opportunity.”
Unlike many of her fellows from the AMMI program, Catherine did not have any prior AIMS experience before joining. Yet she describes her experience in the AMMI program as having a significant impact and serves as the primary catalyst to securing her role at VISA Inc. AIMS created the avenue for her to work on other projects. At the same time, she studied for a Master’s degree. These projects helped her pick up skills that challenged her to know more and learn to do more for herself and her society.
I wouldn’t say that I chose AIMS; instead, AIMS chose me. I was particularly interested in the AMMI program offered rather than the school itself. However, I later came to appreciate AIMS more when I started learning. I loved that we got to learn from various great professors from all over the world, which was quite different from what I was used to. I also loved how my classmates came from other parts of the African continent; I learned a lot from them! The environment was also very conducive to learning.
While at AIMS, I worked part-time as a Natural Language Engineer. The company I worked for had a partnership with AIMS. The company hired a number of my colleagues as well. After AIMS, I worked on a Machine Translation platform for African languages. I had never worked on a production-level machine learning project before but AIMS provided the right faculty to guide me through all of these projects. The experience I had built up, in addition to my Master’s degree, gave me the courage to apply for the Manager role at VISA Inc. I wanted to get into a challenging position after AIMS, which was the perfect opportunity.
By way of advice to students and other younger people in Africa, this is what she has to say:
“Time is money. Use your time wisely; learn as much as you can. Plus, your network is your net worth. Make as many meaningful networks or connections in your lifetime.”