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  • Celina Lee

Searching for unicorns? We found them.

Data science communities are growing in Africa

At Ixio Analytics we know how organizations, and even recruiters, often struggle to find data science talent in their own local markets. As a result, companies often end up bringing in consultants from outside the country, if not outside the continent, for help, feeling that they have exhausted all their local options.

However, many people may not realize that entire communities of data scientists have been popping up in cities throughout Africa. They meet regularly for evenings or weekends of networking, discussing the latest trends in artificial intelligence, and hacking. These communities are growing rapidly, some with hundreds if not thousands of members.

A meeting of minds

As part of the launch of Zindi, a few weeks ago we kicked off a series of hackathons that took us to Cape Town, Lagos, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and Kampala. These meet-ups were co-hosted by Zindi and the local data science/machine learning/artificial intelligence meetup groups in each of the respective cities. 

Nearly 400 data scientists attended this series of hackathons with approximately 150 in Lagos alone. The events usually started with presentations from the more senior scientists in the groups who then acted as mentors throughout the hackathon. The participants formed teams to tackle one of the current Zindi challenges, which include problems like predicting the demand for bus tickets in Nairobi, predicting the number of retweets a tweet will get, and classifying news articles and other documents according to the most relevant topics.

But we realise we’re just scratching the surface with these brief events. Our partners, Cape Town Machine Learning, AI Kenya, and Kampala R User Group meet roughly once a month and each have over 600 members.

One thing that struck me was that as an emerging and specialized field, the data science communities are close-knit, open, and supportive. They are marked by goodwill and mentorship. For data scientists, these communities provide a much needed support system. They are a chance to share knowledge, network, and gain exposure.

How to get involved

For organizations in Africa looking for data science talent, you may be surprised to learn that such a pool of data science talent may exist in your own backyard. If your organization is interested in exploring data science or building your data science capacity, you should think about engaging these communities. One encouraging story from the recent Zindi hackathons is that one of the mentors reached out to the winners of the hackathon to invite them to apply for positions at his company.

These are the groups that we are aware of, but there are many more across the continent. If you are a member of a data science community not mentioned here, we would love to hear from you!

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