Inside the mind of an AI engineer

Inside the mind of an AI engineer
Photo credit: Pool

Dennis Kevogo is a trained and certified Artificial Intelligence(AI) engineer, and the head of the analytics function at Smart Applications Group. Additionally, he is a senior data science tutor at Predictive Analytics Lab and a member of YouthSpark Pan African Association.

What does your role atSmart Applications Group entail?
My role as a data leader involves analysing available healthcare data and drawing conclusions from it. That way, I am able to help our clients make sound decisions that are backed by accurate data. Additionally, I am involved in business intelligence which involves collecting, storing and analysing data produced by a company’s activities. Lastly, I conduct bi-annual webinars in the company to enhance staff knowledge on data analytics, which is the science of analysing raw data to make conclusions.

How does a typical day at work look like for you?
At Smart Applications, we deal with healthcare data which is among the most sensitive data you can work with. Therefore, it is crucial for us to comply with the Kenya Data Protection Act. I advise the company daily on ways to keep safeguarding our data governance structures to ensure that both data management and data privacy principles are adhered to. It is also my responsibility to ensure that as a company, we remain competent enough to fit into the fast-moving world of big data analytics and artificial intelligence. I usually finish my days by reading data science-related articles or taking a virtual class in data science.

Data leadership and data governance are still relatively new concepts in the country, what do they entail? 
Data leadership involves both data science and data analytics, while data science involves using scientific methods to extract knowledge and insights from available data, and use the acquired information in decision making. Data analytics largely involves analysing raw data and coming up with accurate narratives.

As a data leader, you are expected to ensure your company’s data projects are performing as expected and help the company realise profits by saving costs, making operations more effective, enabling the company to prepare for the future and also automate major tasks in its operations.

How did you acquire knowledge and expertise in finance, AI, programming and data science?
I’d say nothing beats passion. To acquire knowledge in the various fields I have interests in, I employ several techniques. First, I read at least three articles on data science and artificial intelligence every day and one book on the subjects every month. Secondly, I learn by applying what I have learnt in my day to day work at Smart Applications, and I also learn from my colleagues. My knowledge in risk and mathematics were acquired in my actuarial science classes at Maseno University. As for my leadership skills, I credit the Young African Leadership Initiative(YALI) . Lastly, I was privileged to join an artificial intelligence boot camp offered by the AI Institute as well as pursue a certificate in data science and big data analytics which was offered by MIT, which greatly augmented my knowledge in data science.

How do you juggle your day job with your roles at Predictive Analytics and YouthSpark without being overwhelmed? 
As much as I am involved in a lot of things, I wouldn’t call myself a jack of all trades. I do all this for the value I offer and the value I get back. All these roles require me to be a virtuous planner, an early riser, and an agile leader who walks in the footsteps of our former chairman, the late Chris Kirubi.
I work long hours, and in synergy with my team at Smart to ensure my objectives are met during my workdays. On Saturdays, I have my deep learning and machine learning classes for about three hours. I then dedicate my Sundays for worship, strategising for the coming week and participating in pan-African leadership forums from time to time. Aside from that, I try to find time to give back to society through my mentorship programmes during the week.

Where, exactly, does your passion really lie? What benefit have you gleaned from being knowledgeable in all these fields?
My passion lies in utilising data to solve real world challenges especially in healthcare and education. As a result of being knowledgeable in various fields in the data world, my social capital has gained value over time, particularly in the data world, and I have gotten strategic partners and friends in the UK and USA. Additionally, I have been recognised and rewarded both internally and externally besides being given an opportunity to contribute to the various curricula of different local universities and to offer mentorship, which has led to tremendous growth in data skills among scholars.

Why is data so important and what opportunities exist in that area? 
Just look at Google. So far, it has over a hundred data points on each person in the entire planet. This translates to about 10-15 exabytes of data. If all this data is monetised effectively, Google stands to be the most valuable firm in the world for ages to come. This gives an insight on how crucial and fundamental data is in the current era, given that it can generate income through data commercialisation.

Data is important in decision making, value based healthcare, human resource analytics and even in predicting the future. Some of the opportunities where an understanding of data is a must-have skill are analytics in the fields of law, human resource, sales, sports and manufacturing. Additionally, algorithmic trading, behavioural analytics, logistics, telemetry, and data journalism have data at the heart of their practice.

How can young people align themselves to take up these opportunities?
I believe one’s ability and desire to learn is their greatest asset. This is a quality that young people need to nurture. By constantly learning and adapting to real world problems, they will be able to empower themselves with a broad range of skills that are tailored towards being an asset in the data field. Additionally, they need to be constantly keeping tabs with the progress in the industry, acquire knowledge in a specific discipline when it comes to data and possess the ability to identify and execute a project from scratch. Lastly, I’d recommend reading and writing many articles on data science, identifying a mentor for guidance in the field and continually managing their time well and not limiting themselves to just a single field of knowledge.

Where do you want to be in the next few years?
In the next five years, I would like to be the chief data officer at Smart Applications International Limited. Currently, we only have a single chief data officer in Eastern and Central Africa, that is Hurtnell Ndungi of Absa Bank Kenya whom I look up to in many ways. I am also planning to create valuable partnerships for Smart that can enable me to place the company at a more data strategic position in the world. I also desire to be a key influencer in AI education forums for sustainable development goals, to impact as many young lives as possible.

How do you unwind?
I occasionally visit new places and try to meet new people. I also enjoy playing chess, scrabble and bowling. I also travel a lot. If I am not doing any of that, then I most definitely will be hanging out with my friends, especially those who challenge me to be more.