Linda Ikechukwu
AI School ("Port Harcourt School of AI")

AI School ("Port Harcourt School of AI")

Port Harcourt School of AI's 2020; Year In Review.

Port Harcourt School of AI's 2020; Year In Review.

Steven Oladele's photo
Steven Oladele

Published on Jan 5, 2021

19 min read

As 2020 came to an end, we decided to reflect on some of our activities from the past year and to thank everyone who made the year impactful for our community. While events from the year were all-round disrupted by the pandemic (among other unfortunate events), our volunteers and enablers were still able to impact the community in one way or the other and we are truly grateful.

At the Port Harcourt School of AI, the cause that drives us is decentralizing world-class AI and data education to underrepresented groups and regions. We were able to execute some of the programs we designed at the start of the year (2020) around this cause, and in this report, we'll share some of the highlights of these events.

Here are some of the highlights of our year (2020) at the Port Harcourt School of AI;

Practical Machine Learning Course 2020.

We announced the Practical Machine Learning course program for the year to the community. You can check our blog-post where we announced the details of the course here. The course aimed to bring experts and data professionals from within and outside Africa to take workshops and classes on specific areas of AI and machine learning, following a structured curriculum.

We were able this program with our guest speakers and have them up on our YouTube channel here for the external community, and are actively engaging some (4) Machine Learning engineers for our internally-facing program.

1st Batch of Speakers--PML Course

First Batch of speakers for PML Course; All speakers were able to take their session.

2nd Batch of Speakers--PML Course

Second Batch of speakers for PML Course; Due to the various circumstances, we were unable to host Catherine Xu, Doug Rose, and Sam Charrington.

Before we began the program, we had an in-person learners' orientation event to orientate the learners about the program. We also created an on-demand version of the orientation to make the experience easy for our learners.

In-person Learners' Orientation

Stephen Oladele talking to learners about the course at the in-person orientation event.

We started in-person classes with our local community, and then went on to pivot to online classes when the lockdown in the city of Port Harcourt was initiated. In total, we are currently engaging and mentoring 4 learners, while having accumulated over 5,000 views for each of the workshops and live events for PML Course, and have had the guest speakers' workshop resources (including notebooks and slides) downloaded over 789 times.

Special Workshop on R.

In our bid to make world-class AI and data education accessible, we had our first-ever R workshop with Dr Lee De Cola, a former US federal scientist who has over 20 years of experience with R programming and data visualization. We had over 50 participants from African countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, and including post-graduate students in the United States. We released the playlist to the public and you can view it here.

Dr Lee De Cola's Workshop on R

Recruiting A New Set of Instructors For the Community.

In our bid to keep looking for ways to provide opportunities for our members, we launched our first call for instructors that may also eventually serve as mentors alongside our experts, in the community. With the campaign, we recruited 5 volunteer instructors to help the community in activities such as local workshops, facilitating training for external stakeholders, and help us drive our educational cause while providing opportunities for them.

AI Festival Nigeria.

AI Festival Nigeria 2020 E-Flyer

We held our first community event for the year for "AI Festival Nigeria" pioneered by Emeka Boris and other community members. Watch the playlist of sessions here with around ~1072 views. You can visit the website here to learn more.

Launching "The African Data Scientist" Podcast.

The African Data Scientist Podcast Promotion

The African Data Scientist Podcast E-Flyer.

In June, we launched our podcast "The African Data Scientist" to drive our cause. With the podcast, our aim is to tell the story of the African data science potential by featuring interviews from guests within Africa and those interested in the industry in Africa outside of the continent. We have had 10 episodes (as of January 2, 2021) so far and are looking to invest more in growing the show in 2021. Please listen to the episodes here.

Cloud AI and Data Science Day 2020.

Cloud AI and Data Science Day with Lynn Langit and Yufeng Guo

In August, we hosted the first-ever Cloud AI and Data Science Day in Africa where we got two experts in Cloud AI and Data Science to take on workshops and give talks to the community. Our guest facilitators were;

  1. Lynn Langit (CEO of Lynn Langit consulting and a Cloud Architect) who gave a talk on the "Essentials of Cloud Computing for Machine Learning and Data Science". You can watch her session here.

  2. Yufeng Guo (Developer Advocate for Google Cloud Platform) who took participants on the workshop on "Machine Learning on Google Cloud: Navigating the Cost-Performance Trade-Off Landscape". You can watch his workshop here.

Hosting This Year's NASA Space Apps Challenge Port Harcourt 2020 Hackathon.

In October, we hosted this year's edition of NASA Space Apps Challenge for Port Harcourt city.

NASA Space Apps Challenge Port Harcourt

You can read the report on the program here. The hackathon this year was held on October 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. There were 13 people who joined the International Space Apps Challenge with 2 teams formed. These two teams focused on solving 2 completely different problems. Unfortunately, only one team was able to complete their project before the end of the virtual hackathon. The local results, including the work of this team, can be found on the teams' tab here.

Partnership with Global AI Hub for FREE Online Interactive Machine Learning Course.

Global AI Hub for FREE Online Interactive Machine Learning Course

In November, we partnered with Global AI Hub to bring our community a certified introductory machine learning course that ran from 9-13th of November on zoom and certificates were awarded to those who successfully completed the course. You can learn more from our Twitter thread here.

Partnership With The Gradient Boost.

TGB+Port Harcourt School of AI.

In November, we partnered with The Gradient Boost as our data and education partner announce our recent partnership with The Gradient Boost to drive our mission of “democratizing world-class AI and data education and opportunities to underrepresented groups and regions”, in a cause-related alliance.

The Gradient Boost is data science as a service platform, and together with TGB, we are collaborating to enable quality data education for our community members, as well as providing opportunities (such as job openings) for them.

While there's so much cool stuff this alliance will contribute to the African data and AI ecosystem, here are few things you should forward to in the coming months;

  • Hosting workshops to educate executives and stakeholders in various sectors on the need for AI and data science for their sector, and how communities and organizations can help them bridge the talent gap in their organization.

  • Hosting hackathons and monthly-themed events and guided problem-solving programs to enable learners to collaborate with other learners across Africa and solve challenges both on data science competitions (like Zindi) and through community-curated programs.

  • Providing members (of the Port Harcourt School of AI) unique access to quality data and AI education by The Gradient Boost.

  • Co-hosting podcast sessions and workshops with experts in the AI and data ecosystem within and outside Africa.

  • And so much more you should definitely look forward to from this alliance.

You can read more about it here.

Applied Machine Learning Workshop with Google AI and Google Crowdsource.

Explore ML With Google AI and Crowdsource by Google

In December, we hosted an applied machine learning workshop for our community powered by Learn with Google AI and Crowdsource by Google.

Explore Machine Learning with Crowdsource is a Google program to get started with Machine Learning. Over 60 participants got introduced to machine learning through hands-on workshops, theoretical concepts, and brainstorming sessions with the help of facilitators that were trained by experts from Google AI, and are practitioners or researchers in the field of AI (artificial intelligence).

About 35 learners who attended the 2-day workshop were certified by the Learn with Google AI and Crowdsource by Google teams for the beginner track of the program.

If you missed the workshop, we wrote articles highlighting the 2-day event here;

  • In day 1, we introduced learners to the concept of AI and tasked them to think critically about various problems machine learning can solve through intermediate in-class question and answer sessions. You can go through the summary article here.

  • In day 2, we introduced the learners to the concept of neural networks, explaining how and why they work, and engaged them with hands-on exercises. We rounded up the workshop by asking participants to brainstorm ideas based on the workshop, and as a result, we are currently working with one person to get his pitch ready for the Crowdsource by Google team. You can go through the summary article here.

Career Recess for African Data Scientist

Career Recess for African Data Scientist

Through this event, we gathered over 130 participants to join various career sessions with African data scientists talking about crucial career points like "negotiating your salary", "understanding what technical recruiters generally want", "practical data science experiences", and so on. This virtual event was our last event for the year 2020.

Highlights;

  1. Robert John - Chief Data Scientist at Versus and a Google Developer Expert in Google Cloud and Machine Learning Technologies. Robert helped participants get into the mind of technical recruiters for Data Scientists, so participants could understand how they think, and prepare accordingly.

  2. Vangelis Michael - Senior Data Scientist at Loans 2 Go Limited. Vangelis helped the participants understand the key details and steps on how to negotiate their salary as a full-time Data Scientist or a freelancer/consultant, with the following key points;

    • Identify your personal career stage before applying for a role.

    • Identify a career stage has positioned you or wants the position you.

    • Know what kind of impact will your role have in the data products that are going to be delivered.

    • Know your reporting structure and hierarchy—who you report your work to. Is it someone who is in another division, or a lead data scientist above you? This will help you understand how much work they have on hand.

    • Know what needs are meant to be met with the salary.
  3. Olalekan Fuad Elesin - Technical Lead, Data Platform at HRS Group and an AWS Machine Learning Hero. Olalekan will share with you practical experiences from his career as a Data Scientist including the lessons learned along the way.

You can watch all the sessions here.

Lessons Learned From the Year 2020.

While 2020 was a great year for us at the Port Harcourt School of AI, we want to make 2021 better by building on the successful events from 2020n and learning from the mistakes and failures from next year.

  1. Program Sustainability Only Comes with Proper Planning and Structure: While we definitely did not predict the pandemic, we believed we would have wrapped up the internally-facing Practical Machine Learning course program if we had a bit more structure to the program, planning for contingencies (not the big ones, but the very obvious ones), and created a more realistic curriculum. We have taken lessons from this event and are learning more about how to manage the program from prior to launching them, to launching them and sustaining them till end-of-life.

  2. Structuring the Community as a Social Organization: We have learned that organizations are only sustainable in people, operations, and finance when they are intentionally designed to be sustainable. One of our plans in 2019 was to bring about a planned structure for the community, and we failed to execute on that. We will take effective steps this year in ensuring we do just that.

  3. Becoming Member-Focused: Some of the programs we started last year were programs we launched on our own, without properly surveying members on what is missing. We plan to engage a representative sample of members a lot more this year, working hand-in-hand with them to understand what they want and how volunteers can innovate around their wants and needs—so we can operate more like a community.

  4. Tracking The Impact of Our Programs: Another thing we could not do more of in 2020 was keeping in place effective measures to track our impact and performance. As we morph into a proper organization, collecting the necessary performance data for our programs, projects, and progress will be a core priority so we can be a lot more effective in running the organization.

  5. Working With International Partners for Impact: One of our plans in 2021 is to work with more international institutions that we believe can enable us to better drive our cause.

  6. Working With Organizations Focused on Diversity: Diversity to us just not stop at gender-based diversity. We are also planning on projects we can execute alongside inclusive organizations that work to impact people of various disabilities and impairments.


We say thank you to everyone who was part of our year in 2020; from our members to our stakeholders, our amazing guest facilitators, and partners. We would put in the work to ensure 2021 is an even better year. Happy new year! 🎉🎉.


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