Spotlight: Zuka on grooming the next generation of Data Scientists
Data is part and parcel of what we do today.
From when we wake up to when we go to bed and wait even when we are asleep, we still generating data. Take, for instance, every time we are working on a connected device or just sending out that tweet, more and more data is being generated.
In fact, it is stated that there are 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day at our current pace, but that pace is only accelerating with the growth of the new technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT). What is more interesting is that 90% of this data has been generated over the last two years alone
With this in mind, it is clear that data science and data analytics jobs will be among the most sought after, high paying careers not only in Kenya but also Globally with unfolding technologies in different sectors of the economy.
Using this data properly can mean the difference between business success and failure, and a data scientist is a key to unlocking the story behind the data.
The good news is that more professionals will be required in this field, the bad news is that few individuals are exploring these data-related courses.
Bridging the gap
However, one company in our space is bridging the gap by developing talent in data scientist and engineering by offering industry-driven programs to help companies in Africa sail through the data wave.
After seeing the great opportunity that data was offering and yet there was a huge skill gap in that space, Victor Mutunga, Founder Zuka, straight from one of the Tech Giants and started helping individuals nurture their skills in data.
This saw the birth of Zukademy that has since transitioned to ZUKA. We sat down with Victor Mutunga, to better understand how his company is changing the data narrative, one company at a time.
Here is the interview excerpt:
NG: Tell us about Zuka (Formerly zukademy) and how the company came to be.
VM: www.zuka.world is a Nairobi based startup tackling the human capital deficit in Data Science by developing world-class Data Science and Engineering talent from Africa through our industry drove 20-week foundations and 10 advanced programs in Analytics and Machine Learning.
The world economic forum reported that 82% of organizations in Africa will be looking to implement Data Strategies while at the same time, LinkedIn saw 2x rise Data Related roles globally. While there are opportunities, up to 72% of Kenyan job applicants are unemployable hugely because of a lack of Industry skills. This informed the move to start Zuka.
Machine Learning and Artificial intelligence which are emerging technologies in Data Science informed the name Zuka, which a Swahili word meaning EMERGE which fits well with what we do
With the speed of business moving quicker than ever, companies need to respond to opportunities fast and we aren’t an exception. Months in the business, we transitioned from not just a school but a hub for Data Science Talent where both Individuals and organizations can leverage our learning and consulting programs.
NG: Most companies take quite some time to transition but you only took months which is quite impressive, but why did you settle for business in developing data science and engineering talent?
VM: Universally, innovation will always outdo legislation and a lot of government programs. Consequently, a lot of higher education programs in Kenya have been deemed outdated and less industry-driven.
In Kenya, 80% of University Students are in Humanities and Social Sciences majors, whereas only 20% are in STEM courses. Data Science and engineering require outstanding individuals with statistics and programming skills which are critical in solving data related challenges.
With that in mind, we started programs that are carefully designed and co-created programs with not only Industry experts on different subject matters but also higher education stakeholders with a knack of skills transfer.
So far, we have a great mix of interdisciplinary professionals who are carefully selected to go through our programs. The engineers, statisticians, economists, entrepreneurs, and health professionals are all looking at transitioning into new jobs or shifting to the field of Data.
NG: Quite interesting but with all these interdisciplinary professionals coming into play what then is your primary focus as ZUKA?
VM: Domain expertise, collaboration, communication, and technical skills are the key things we focus on while developing our talent. These professionals have domain expertise making it easier to specialize in data needs in their fields. We now accelerate their technical data science skills like not limited to the use of tools like R, Tableau, and SQL among others.
NG: Shifting a little bit and having our focus in today’s work-life which is quite demanding. How are the ZUKA programs designed to fit in?
VM: ZUKA’s learning models are designed to help you, as a working professional, improve your skills without compromising on work and family responsibilities.
The program curriculum is broken up into weekly, manageable bite-sized modules, with incremental progress, designed to help you over the duration of the course and allow you the legroom to practice and work on projects when it suits you best.
At the beginning of each week, you’ll be presented with all the lectures, notes and assignments necessary for completion. We have designed a course that closely mirrors the demands of the workplace and have added job immersion and self-paced project work, which lead to understanding team-working dynamics.
NG: What would you say sets Zuka apart from other institutions, say Moringa school?
VM: Africa has the highest population with a big opportunity to grow. There’s no economy that has ever grown without a well-skilled labour force. Now that we know the education system has challenges, both the likes of Moringa and we are playing an important role in bridging the skills gap
However, we are different from Moringa which is a School well known for coding while we specialize in data science and engineering programs. Even with that, we happen to have a superior team of practising Data Scientists and Engineers run the program and are way more affordable.
NG: Tell us about one assumption you made about the market that turned out to be totally unexpected and how you adapted.
VM: We knew that organizations knew the kind of Talent they needed and all there was for us to do was develop talent. When we started off, we were shocked by the fact that even the companies did not even know what they really wanted when it came to data scientists. They all had the same job description copied
So this drove us to now changing our model a little bit and ensuring that some of our students were absorbed in our partner organizations so that these companies could understand the people we are developing and this is what the industry needs and these are the people your company needs.
The second assumption was that when we started off, we thought we would actually attract mostly graduates fresh from campus we actually didn’t expect that our programs would also attract people who are already operating in the data science space. We expected to get very few people interested in our program, but we were shocked.
NG: We know hiring your first employees can be daunting, who has been your best hire?
VM: My self, I’ve been my best hire 🙂
On a serious one, we are an exceptional team of six; a bunch of talented data scientists and business teams who are strong in different skills and thus complement each other.
Our core team which consists of the data scientists all have different personalities that are beneficial to our fellows. For example, one of us was a University Lecturer who joined the industry to practice. She is a natural teacher making it easy to transfer her skills.
NG: You have a lovely website, what are the most effective marketing strategies you have used to sell your business?
VM: Thanks, Know the user.Know the magic. Connect the two!
One of the biggest things is simplicity, this easily helps a lot of people understand what we are doing. There is a customer who needs to learn and business who needs to access our talent and you need to communicate with these people at the same time and ensure they actually understand what you are selling.
One of the most successful strategies I’ve used is Digital Marketing, I’ve been able to get high conversion rates by using channels like Twitter. Other marketing strategies have been referrals, word of mouth works like a charm and also using different Google products to measure and understand our target audience.
NG: Do you offer online programs? What do you feel about online vs one-on-one teaching sessions?
VM: We have a blended model, which is a mix of both online and traditional in-class immersive where an instructor comes in to guide the fellows as they work in groups. This has proved to be the most effective learning model.
Reports show that there is a 90-95% drop out rate from online courses hugely because they lack support and human touch. Besides, you get less relevant content and data sets for our case. I also think it’s a cultural thing to attend class without distractions at home or work.
Online programs are quite a challenge but how we do it from our end is that we allow you to consume content online and ensure that you come and have that physical touch in class.
NG: What do you feel is the future of EdTech in the Kenyan landscape?
VM: I think the future of EdTech is quite bright. Guys are doing amazing stuff in this space. We have schools like NOVA that do not only focus on the syllabus but also on other aspects like communication, creativity, and innovation.
They are using so many tools, this shows that there is a bright future to the learning institutions that do not only focus on the content but also on the tools that actually groom the students with other qualities that make them better people.
People like TollBridge.co.ke and Akili+ (www.akiliplus.com) are doing some crazy and exciting things around EdTech. They are creating outstanding programs that not only are needed by the country but also the continent.
NG: What is one major win you have had recently?
VM: I think the biggest win for us was when we got 0.06% enrollment rate with our first course. This is even higher than Havard! This was huge for us. It goes to show that people trust us and have been a force of motivation since then.
NG: What is your number one frequently asked question by your customers?
VM: Must I be a programmer or know programming to attend the classes? The answer is no! Our Foundation’s current cohort, for instance, is made up of graduates from the fields of Economics and Statistics and do not necessarily have backgrounds in programming. The other question is around the payment of fees. We allow our students to pay their fees in instalments
NG: The best thing about working from Nairobi Garage?
VM: Cost friendly: Setting up an office can be quite hectic, from furniture to fees that come attached to the rent, these can be quite tasking. But at Nairobi Garage it took me about two days to set up. They allow us time to walk in and concentrate on our core work as they handle other things for us.
The second thing is accessibility. The Kilimani Space is quite accessible for our customers and anyone who comes to all parts of the city. One can easily get here from Upperhill, Westlands and even Mombasa Road.
The community is amazing, you get to meet and network with different people in the space. Also, our fellows love the ambiance.
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