Thursday, June 19, 2014

Guest Post - Fool's Errand: by Ron

So today we have a guest post for the first time in a long time... maybe 3 years (I'm leaving it to my editor to find out how long it has been because I'm making it his job :D [Editor's Note: Actually it's 2 years and 29 days sir; we must always be precise!]) Anyway back to the introduction; the person writing today bothered me all week to get this post up - I may lose my life for mentioning that. I've known him for the the last 8 years since high school. He was a classmate and quite literally my wingman during those years. He's annoying, funny, clever and very big. When he's not pestering me he also blogs at The Spectator. I'd like you all to put your hands together for the writer known as Ron!!!

So recently I was contemplating this whole friend zone scenario (we’ve all once been there no point in denying it) and it hit me, people must really like pain I mean why else would you spend countless hours thinking about someone who, let’s be real, has never spared a fraction of a second to contemplate your existence.

This was me in primary, I had fallen head over heels “in love” with a girl named Cherie (pronounce with a French accent) and man was I smitten. Yani, I was the actual definition of a fool in love. I think the closest I ever got to her was during the swimming tournaments, since both teams stayed in the same vicinity and we usually had those late night games in the pool if you know what I mean (Yes, this is every teenage boy’s perverted dream come to life). I do miss those days, when I could actually say my heart skipped a beat, still don’t understand why it’s never happened ever since but I digress.

The story was about a fool’s errand, this consistent hope of salvation from the friend zone (hahaha), I would like to tell you that my story was the stuff of fairy tales and that we have been in a happy relationship for years but we all know I'd be lying. She ended up dating my best friend from back then and guess who was the one that set them up (yep, stings like a b**tch doesn’t it). But that’s not even the worst part, a little piece of me still held on to the idea that maybe one day she would see that I was the one who truly cared about her. That was a while back, life has taught me many lessons thereafter, none of them pleasant but all of them relevant:

  1. If a girl doesn’t ingia box by end of month one, dude just move on. No point in being friend zoned while you’re trying for more.
  2. Sometimes you might just get the hot chic, no shame in trying (well, there might occasionally be some shame but heeeeeey, be a man).
  3. Emotions only last as long as you want them to so please, for the love of all that is good, let her go; it's not worth the pain.
  4. Finally, if it works it works and no one can tell you otherwise.
So now that I have shared with you my wisdom, I hope some of you have grown a little bit wiser and will avoid that classic pit fall that is a fool’s errand. Besides, you don’t have to be with someone to measure your worth. Learn to love yourself (cliché as that might sound, those words hold deep meaning), no one is ever gonna love you better; now I sound like I’m trying to write a song! Anyway, that’s my take on this matter, hopefully I won’t have to see some poor bastard go through this again. Just SayinG

Friday, June 13, 2014

Getting to iHub: Lessons Learned

So this will be a post just recapping some of the things I've said in the last four posts. Think of it as the tl;dr of them

Find and follow companies that inspire you. I've been a white member(registered) at the iHub since it's inception in 2010, I follow them on Twitter, read the email newsletters they send and have their blog listed in my feed. I would never have found out about Umati without all these measures. I do this with other cool companies. 

Find out something really cool the company does that you want to join and help with. iHub has four main arms the community, the UX lab, consulting and research all of which do really cool exciting stuff. Research, where I work, also has several different projects that we work on but I was interested in Umati and I think that being that specific helped.

Write a good cover letter.  The cover letter is where some of your personality needs to shine through. Potential employers need to know why they should hire you other than a impressive resume. I think this is particularly important for interns because most of us don't have much experience to offer but we can show our enthusiasm.

Make use of your connections. I didn't know anyone personally at the iHub but when I met them I did ask them to put in a word for me there. Rachel certainly comes to mind. So if you know someone at the organisation they may prove invaluable in pushing your application forward.

In connection with the point above build out your network and brand. I've been on the internet for a long time since I was maybe 8 or 9 but in terms of what I may call branding and networking I've been on Twitter since '09 when we just a handful compared to the numbers today. I've meet a lot of cool people because of it. I've been blogging since about then too. Leo probably followed me on twitter because of one or the other and she proved invaluable in getting me in the door at iHub. So go out and use the tools available to you. You'll never know if your future boss will be one of your followers.

Research the company you're hoping join. Before your interview and even as you think of places to apply find out everything you can about the company so that you can answer questions about it and perhaps more importantly begin to think about what your role in the company maybe and how you may help them in that regard. When I went into my interview I knew that other than the technical aspect of the project I could help with documentation and writing blog posts. It also helps you get to know some of your potential interviewers.

Keep calm and smile. More than anything else during your interview how your personality comes of may clinch you the job. Remember to smile and maintain eye contact. Keep your voice steady and audible. Remember you've already done everything in your power to prepare for this it would be sucky for you to have come so far only to get rejected because your awesomeness was obscured by your nervousness.
In case you get denied at the interview stage(wanted to use rejected but it seemed to harsh a word) or your application doesn't get responded to remember it's never that serious. There's always the potential that you may fail but you shouldn't be dejected about it as it is never personal and there may be a myriad of reasons you didn't get it. Keep your chin up and your ears to the ground for more opportunities.

So there you have it the best way to get internship at iHub, which is probably one of the coolest places to work at in Kenya (Disclaimer: I have not worked with any other companies so this may be wrong but I seriously doubt it). I hope this helps. If you have any other tips or tricks you used to get your internship or just have a question please sound off in the comments or you could email or tweet me. Peace!!

Reread the series: part 1(The Search) part 2(the Letter), part 3(the Pitch) and part 4(the Interview)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Getting to iHub: The Interview

This will be the penultimate post of the series. I had been called in to interview. I was stoked, but at the same time super apprehensive. I had never done an interview before and wasn't sure what to expect. I knew that iHub was a cool company and seeing that it was for an internship position I was hoping that I wouldn't be asked to demonstrate any complex coding.

I did however do a few things to prepare. I first made sure that everything I had mentioned in my cover letter I could demonstrate or explain clearly. Which included the facial recognition project I had done and the methods I used. I googled likely interview questions for interns and made sure that those that applied to me I could answer without hesitation. And finally I read everything I could about iHub research and got to know the people I may be interviewing with.

On the day of the interview, I was dressed smart and formal (no tie) and had gotten a hair cut. I smelt great, I always do, but I had put on some cologne I never use because it was a gift from my aunt. How I smelled probably didn't matter to the interviewers but it mattered to me and to my confidence levels.
I got to the building early, more than 30 minutes early, and found myself parched. I was probably just nervous. I went to the supermarket near by and got a water. Then I wallked into the building for my interview about 15mins early.

It was noted that I was early - I'm not sure it was a good thing though - and I had to wait for another meeting to end and then was called to the couch area for the interview.
I was interviewed by a panel of four. It was an interview like I had never had before or, I fear, ever have again. It was more of a conversation with questions mostly directed at me. We discussed some of the aspects of my CV and cover letter and what I thought I could help the organisation with. We ever got round to discussing twitter of yore, being on radio and what it was like going to school so far from Nairobi. I must say it was a mostly pleasant interview though I have to admit my glaring inexperience working with data was noted.

I was thanked for coming and told I would hear from them soon.

I left there with a slight spring in my step because it had gone as well as I could've hoped for. Even if I didn't get it I had done as well as I could have.

Obviously I got the internship otherwise what would have been the point of a posting all this? :D Working at the iHub has quiet literally exceeded my expectations in every way. I work with a bunch of really fun and cool people. My input in meetings and in projects is taken as seriously and as valuable as anyone else on the team. I've met so many cool people - who I don't work with - and I don't have to dress in any particular way to work. But best of all is that I work on a project that I care about and could quiet literally be used all around the world one day.

I plan to write more about the culture of the iHub as I see it and all the cool things that go there but just in case I don't get round to it you should read this post by one of the founders of iHub, Eric Hersman, to get an idea of what it's like here.

In the final post of the series I hope to put to you everything I've learnt into distinct points that you can use to think about how you apply to getting an internship at the iHub or really any organisation for that matter. Peace!!!

Continue the series: part 1(The Search) part 2(the Letter), part 3(the Pitch) and the conclusion(Lessons learned)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Getting to iHub: The Pitch

Now I had my CV and a decent cover letter. So what next? Well what happened next was a series of very fortunate coincidences that would lead me to an interview with iHub research.

The first thing was when Rachel, the old community manager at iHub came to my school with Intel to train students on their Native Development Kit. I won the phone, an Intel YOLO, they were giving away by being the most awesome tweeter (twitterer? Either way follow me on twitter) And I got to have a chat with her as she was leading the team that had come to my school. She had just given me her card.
"Can I call you about something other than Intel?" I said while looking at her details on the card.
"Ummm, I don't know if that would be appropriate"
Looking up with a smile and a slight chuckle,"I just want to talk to you about this internship I want to apply for at iHub research"
"Oh cool. Send me an email with your CV and I'll see what I can do"
I hadn't even written my cover letter yet at this point but I was trying to give it the best chance I could when I did.

Later that week, I finished the cover letter and sent it both to Rachel and to iHub Research. And then I waited. I sent it on a Wednesday evening and waited. I was a little nervous wondering whether it was good enough and if I was being presumptuous to apply for internship that didn't really exist. The next day  I got a reply
We will get back to you should an opportunity arise.
I was hopeful now and so I began to reread the reports that Umati had come out with and I tweeted some of my thoughts and interesting things that I had just read. Luckily for me @C_leo_patra, a Researcher who worked at iHub, saw my tweets and asked what my interest was in the project. After I told her that I'd applied she said that she would look in to my application. The next day I got a the following reply:
Are you available to come in to iHub Research for a brief chat to better understand your motivation for working with us and your areas of interest? Let us know what day/time next week might work for you.
Success!!!! I had an interview!!! I had a foot in the door so to speak. Next it was time to prepare for the interview. I'll be talking about this next post. Peace!!!

Continue the series: part 1(The Search) part 2(the Letter), part 4(the Interview) and the conclusion(Lessons learned)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Getting to iHub: The Letter

So yesterday (9.4.14), I put up a post that began to describe how I got an internship opportunity at iHub Research. In this post I'll be putting up sections of the original cover letter I wrote. I've only edited it to remove some sensitive information.
[My name and introduction were here talking about where I'm from and where I live]
I was reading your quarterly report for the end of the last quarter and something that jumped at me as really interesting was the Umati project on monitoring the internets for inflammatory speech that could help spark violence offline. Umati found that online speech did not directly lead to violence offline but did offer useful insight into what issues need to be addressed to head of violence on the ground
In Umati II you plan to improve the monitoring methods by automating them, test ways to counter such speech – recognising, I assume, that it is impossible to control or even have authorities take down every single instance of such speech, and testing it in the 2015 Nigerian elections.
This you plan to achieve within 2 years.
I’m particularly interested in the first part of this project; improving the monitoring methods by automation. I’m interested because to this you’ll have to do a lot of work in machine learning and natural language processing and therefore you’ll be working with experts in these fields.
I have an acute interesting in all things to do with artificial intelligence. While I don’t have much formal training on NLP or ML I am doing a project on facial recognition and going through an online course on machine learning.
What I was wondering was if it would possible for me to help in the Umati project. I’m currently searching for internship as part of the requirements for my last semester and degree so perhaps it can be that capacity. I’m willing to do anything to be a part of the project, even if it’s just doing coffee runs to Pete’s upstairs. I should be done with this semester in April so can start soon after that.
Of course if this isn’t possible to join in such a formal way as an intern then maybe I can be join as a volunteer or something, doing something like reading and checking the documentation that the project produces.
I am also interested in the other aspects of the project, though to a lesser extent. Finding effective ways to counter inflammatory speech online would be a major achievement for the project and it’ll be interesting to see which methods, or combination of methods, you use, which work and how you measure their effectiveness and scale them.
As the Umati project was first deployed in Kenya for use in our elections so I’m also curious to see how it works in Nigeria next year. Will there have to be some localisation of particular methods for a country that not only differs in ours in location but also in culture? I was recently reading a book on the Biafra-Nigeria war and that makes me feel that your work will be even more cut out for you there than here at home not even mentioning the religious tensions.
I hope to hear back from you soon on my request. Even if I can’t join the team working on this I’d still like to hear about the project, which ML and NLP experts you’re working with, the research you use to develop the counter inflammatory measures and how you plan to deploy them.
Keep up the good work and success with all your other projects and research.
Yours sincerely.
Yeah, this is a rather embarrassing cover letter. Don't write something like this. Luckily for me I had a friend, a PhD student called Duncan, who was helping me with my project, and he offered me some advice when I emailed it to him.
I've read your letter. I think, that while I know you, and understand your enthusiasm,
I don't think the letter strikes the correct note.
It should be shorter, to the point and say more about your *strengths* rather than interests.
The employer will not care about whether you are interested in their work but rather, whether
you can offer them competence etc. In general, in writing these types of applications, your feelings may not be the best guide.I would even start with a title:
"Enquiry regarding internship." (allows them to know why you are writing.)
I think details about your skills are more important than your home town etc.
So you could say:
"I am a fourth year computer science student at Maseno uni. with proficiency in C++, Java, operating systems and experience in ML, NLP" etc.
*Don't* say anything of the sort "I only have some experience in ML ...". This sounds weak.
Then go on to expand on your experience in relation to their work.
Finally don't grovel, and offer to make coffee for them. If they need an intern to make coffee
they may well ask you to do this, but you don't need to offer.
So after my ego recovered from this blow to my ego after what I thought that was a brilliant letter I sat down and did some research to condense my letter into a couple of paragraphs and make full use of my friend's advice and that gave me something like this.
Mrs A___ O____,
Reading the iHub quarterly report brought the Umati project to my attention. The second phase of the project will deal with automated monitoring methods, machine language and NLP, and project implementation in Nigeria. I thought I might be useful to the project as an intern.
Being a fourth year student at Maseno University I have experience coding in Visual Basic, Java, C and C++. I also have experience in multimedia and web design and in artificial intelligence and machine learning. My current project is designing a facial recognition system using Eigenfaces.
Further, I consulted in the development of a couple of smaller websites and guided in the creation of their content strategy.
As President of the university’s premier creative club, Spoken Heart, I lead the team that organised several events, I’m particularly proud of Biscuits and Juice, and brought the club funds in to the black for the first time in its history. I’ve written for a number of blogs and I’m editor at Gigzcampo. I hosted, for one and a half years, a radio show called Source Code, a concept that I designed, that informed the community on trends in technology and how those trends may affect their lives.
I believe I would be a valuable addition to the team working on Umati II as an intern.
I look forward to hearing from you.
He thought this one was much better and it was the one I sent. Come back soon to see what happened next. Peace!!!

Continue the series: part 1(The Search), part 3(the Pitch), part 4(the Interview) and the conclusion(Lessons learned)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Getting to iHub: The Search

I have been working with iHub, under their research arm as a research associate (my own way of saying intern because associate sounds better), for the last month, and since the beginning I've been meaning to do a couple of posts on  how exactly I got there and what it takes to get an internship at an organisation like iHub, an organisation I believe hasn't advertised for internship for the past 3 years.

For those of you who don't know what iHub is about I encourage you to visit the website and the community space on the 4th floor of Bishop Magua Center along Ngong Road. But for a really shallow definition, iHub is an organisation that started with the purpose of creating a space that techies in Nairobi could meet and interact. These days it has the mission of supporting startups, connecting and developing people and to surface information.

I've known about iHub ever since it's inception several years ago and have been a white member since then. It has always been on my radar.

In my last year of uni, I began to seriously think about places I could intern as part of my requirement for graduation. This would be the first time I would be interning since just before I joined Maseno and that experience was so wonderful. I didn't want to go through that again, so I decided to spend a lot more resources than I usually would looking for one.

I took a week of from school to travel to the capital to meet a bunch of people who could put me in touch with cool organisations. I spent several hours scouring the internet for job listings for interns and applying for them. From this I got a direct offer to intern for an NGO. 

Lemme take time to complain about one thing right now. It's annoying to apply for a job and not get any sort of reply. For starters, it's good to acknowledge that you received the application and thank people for taking their time to apply. Secondly, it would be nice to be informed if they won't be considering you for the job and if possible state the reason why. I get that sometimes the applications may be thousands but at least a generic reply will do.

iHub wasn't on my radar in terms of work, mostly because they haven't advertised for an internship for, I think, 2 years but then I read the iHub Research quarterly report and in there was a segment about a project called Umati: a project to monitor hate speech online. 

The report has a lot cool things and is a great read for anyone in technology, but the reasons this caught my attention were two: one was that the project dealt with hate speech and the potential effects of it and the other was that project would be dealing with some machine learning.

Hate speech was in on my mind at the time because I felt that as a country we hadn't dealt with the issues that lead to the post election violence and had simply buried them in fear. And also I was thinking about how Nigeria dealt with their issues during the Biafra war after reading the book Half a Yellow Sun.

Machine learning was just something I found cool and wanted to learn from someone. I was working at a simple facial recognition system at the time.

So there I was having found a company that was doing something I found profoundly interesting and I wanted in. I immediately began finding out more on the Research arm of the iHub, what they did and who did it. Did they have any positions? They didn't. 

So what was I to do next? Well I decided to just apply anyway. I would write a letter to them, telling them about myself and why I wanted to join the project along with my CV and hope that my passion would be enough to move them. So what happened next? Find out in the next post. Peace!!!

Continue the series: part1(The Search) part 2(the Letter), part 3(the Pitch), part 4(the Interview) and the conclusion(Lessons learned)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

I Got Jacked (Again)!!!

Once again while walking through town, I got jacked! The second fucking time in a few years. The last time this happened I lost my phone and with it my will to live - just kidding, more like my will to be online. That marked the beginning of my hiatus from the internet for almost 2 years.

It played out almost exactly like the previous incident. I was stopped by a scruffy looking man with bloodshot eyes and the strong smell of spirit on him who held my arm firmly and wouldn't let me shake him off. He then proceeded to ask me for money, this particular time for weed; I gave him 50bob, but that wasn't enough. He then informed me that he had bought, or operated with, all the police in that area. He kept making my hand feel the gun he had in his waist band and he had a partner backing him up. When I gave him all I had, thankfully it was only a further 100 bob, it apparently wasn't enough!!!

All he saw was a blur!!!

 When he started asking what type of phone I own, well let's just say that was the straw that broke this camel's back. I took of like a frightened gazelle that had just caught sight of a cheetah. I wasn't about to lose my phone again, and thankfully I was in a crowded area and didn't have to go far before I was surrounded by people. This was, as my kid brother told me when I told him the story, "A smart but dangerous move..."

One of my coworkers who was got his laptop taken after he was assaulted on a matatu with at least a dozen witnesses brought up something that I've been thinking about for sometime: most of these types of crime go unreported because the police can't/won't do anything about it and more so because it's such a hassle that takes so much time and effort. But that doesn't mean this information is not important. Consequently, I've been wondering if it would be a good idea to have some of this information, particularly on locations and times, crowdsourced. It seems like it would be a cool project to do using Ushahidi.

If I decide to pursue this project I'll let you know. Meanwhile, you can let me know in the comments about the times you've been jacked and whether you'd be willing to contribute to crowdsourced information on petty crimes in your city and the methods you'd like to use to do this. Peace!!!