When the Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Kenya’s Information Communications & Technology (ICTA) contacted IBM’s Kenyan research lab three weeks ago IBM scientist Daby Sow was both excited and nervous.
“The Minister wants to increase IBM’s presence in the community of Nairobi, particularly with recent graduate students and his idea was to bring 60 students to our lab for a briefing and demonstration,” said Sow. “The only challenge, we had three weeks to prepare.”
Sow and his colleagues, including Juliet Mutahi, were up for the challenge and hosted the students on 2 November. The agenda included an introduction to IBM Research, hands-on demonstrations with IBM Bluemix, Watson and new cognitive healthcare and financial technologies.
“Most of the students weren’t familiar with Bluemix, so we gave them an introduction and then used two of the Watson APIs for practical demonstrations including Personality Insights and Tone Analyser,” said Mutahi. “The students analyzed a recent speech by Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and Watson accurately summarized his tone as ‘concern’. The speech was about how citizens need to be more diligent in reporting corruption.”
The 60 students are part of the Presidential Digital Talent Program (PDTP) aimed at getting ICT and engineering students from local universities ready for the job market. Participants in this public private partnership program include local companies, multinational and public sector players and targets qualified ICT graduates for one-year internship to prepare them to serve in a variety of roles within Government. IBM East Africa and IBM Research – Africa are both participating for the first time.
“Kenya’s ICT sector has posted phenomenal growth for a number of years now and its important for our talent pool to maintain this rapid pace. Therefore, we are relying on our world-class partners, such as IBM Research, to provide training and education on the latest cutting-edge technologies, to inspire our talented minds and prepare them for jobs in both government and private sector,” said Minister Joe Mucheru.
The second cohort of 400 students started their program in this past August.
“We pledged to provide training and certification for hundreds of participants on several topics including; application security, security intelligence, mobile application and cloud application development and Big Data,” said Sow.
“Additionally, we are providing mentoring with our senior scientists and offering access to the lab, including the IBM Bluemix and Watson cloud platforms. Before the term ends we will also host a hackathon across all of the IBM labs for them to participate in.”
Mutahi adds, “When I was a student we didn’t have exposure to such evangelism forums organised by tech companies. I find this to be an excellent program for the future of our country and I hope it spreads, particularly to younger students for a strong pipeline.”
After the session the feedback from the students was overwhelmingly positive:
“Bluemix is awesome, especially since it is an open source platform.”
“IBM has gone a step further in to diversifying technology on a whole new level. It is quite impressive to see how the company is able to integrate technology so as to be able to suit the most basic human needs. Thumbs up.”
“Watson is good idea to help in tackling dissenting opinions of a country’s citizens, consumers and learning institutions, to avoid any fallout or bad reputations.”
Sow and Mutahi are already looking forward to hosting the students again in 2017.