Data; A Love Story

Imagine turning down four job offers to create one for yourself. Interesting, right? This is a story of data, passion and a young man.

 Maybe, stories are just data with a soul. 

~Brene Brown.

Having graduated from Moi  University with a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Statistics, the stars couldn’t have been more aligned for my graduation day. It took place on the 23rd of August , 2019, a day before the Kenya Population and Housing Census.

A few months down the road,  I was assigned a statistics project, and I thought that my four-year education in the area had prepared me to take it on but boy, was I wrong. Part of the output had to be done in a python program, yet the only software I was acquainted with was SPSS and simple code in R. This project required me to know Python (at the time I wasn’t too sure what this was; now I know better).

Out of curiosity, I enrolled for a data science course with an online platform which I didn’t even  complete. Luckily, one of my university professors recommended an upcoming data science school. He was convinced that this was the school that I needed: Not only to become a better statistician but also a data scientist. In the meantime, I took to learning Python on my own. Imagine my shock when I went to inquire more about this data science school, only to find out that it was still in the works. 

What do you do when you find that the only thing holding you back from your future is you building it?

You build it!

At least, that’s what I chose to do. Coincidentally, the name of this school was JENGA School. Jenga, a Swahili word that means ‘build’.  

“You can’t just sit there and wait for people to give you that golden dream. You’ve got to get out there and make it happen for yourself.” 

~Diana Ross

It was a bit of push and pull at the beginning to prove myself worthy of being part of the team, but I persisted and it proved fruitful in the end.I have been privileged to work alongside a team of dedicated and spirited individuals who buried themselves deep in the dream of making Africa the engine room of STEM talent to the world: Mark Karake, the founder and CEO of Impact Africa Network pioneered the project, and enabled us to see how big of an opportunity Africa has. Not to forget my professor Dr. Lawrence Nderu, the Snr. Instructor at JENGA School who ensured the curriculum stood in stark contrast to the short bootcamp style programs in existence.

 Dr. Lawrence Nderu (far left) , Mark Karake (far right) and Dr. Senagi (next to Mark) pictured with JENGA School graduates during their meet and greet at Karura Forest

We kicked off our market research and curriculum development in November 2019 as a team of four, a number that has steadily grown. Initially, we used excel sheets to analyze our data and over time we have adapted more efficient tools. 

We officially launched JENGA School in June 2020, yes, in the middle of a pandemic. We bet on ourselves and the vision we had for JENGA School. Granted, it was a challenge with all the uncertainties, but we were sure of one thing, we had at least one student; Me. I was part of the inaugural class for the Data Science and Machine Learning Course. The course curriculum was designed to take 12 months, equivalent to a Masters Program. 

In June this year, we celebrated our first year anniversary in Naivasha, Kenya. 545 applications, 42 enrolled students, 12 graduates later, we had to give ourselves a pat on the back.

An excerpt from the Half Year Report of Impact Africa Network detailing JENGA’s progress

I was in awe when we sat around to share a meal. We sat at a dinner table and the table was full.From an operations and academic team of  4 to a team of 15 and growing. 

Even when I look back at the past year, I realise that I have grown as an individual.  I can confidently say that JENGA School and I have a symbiotic relationship. Part of this symbiosis has been attributed greatly to how personal this was for me. The dynamics were a bit unorthodox seeing as every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, I was a JENGA student but every other day, I was working there as well. Despite this hurdle, I was able to gain two perspectives of the product; the consumer and being part of the team as well. 

Team JENGA at a retreat in Naivasha celebrating our 1 year milestone. Our Chief Strategist, Mark Karake at the back feeling ecstatic!

As I finish my project, I have acquired an array of skills through JENGA School and become the data man at Impact Africa Network, the fellowship program that nurtured JENGA School to life. From excel sheets to effective data pipelines for the entire organization. I get to work in a fast paced environment and contribute to data-driven products in the organization. I have learned so much but this is just the beginning for me. 

Shalom Nyende and I, the Data Lab squad

As I sign off, in the last JENGA Industry Lecture with Dao Mi, he said something that will be a guiding light in my career moving forward especially in the start-up ecosystem. As a data scientist in a start-up, you have to deliver as fast as you can because you don’t have the luxury of time. You should also be aware of the data you are collecting to help you understand the market better so that you can solve problems for them.

Taking on this journey has neither been easy or smooth, but it’s been worth it. I’m excited about what more we can do.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”

~ Margaret Mead

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