Tatiana and I met through mutual connections on LinkedIn. I wanted someone out there to know that Africa has strong women in Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing. That’s why I asked for an interview and here we are. May you be inspired;
Hi Tatiana, you are welcome to Words That Count. We are honoured to feature your story
Hi Winnie, thank you for the invite. This is great work!
Thank you for the complement. Kindly introduce yourself to the audience
My name is Tatiana Moteu Ngoli from Cameroon 2. I am currently a research fellow at the Cluster of excellence Science of Intelligence TU Berlin, Germany. I also work remotely as a Natural Language Processing (NLP) engineer at Proto, Canada. On the other hand, I am also a co-founder of the Women in Machine Learning and Data Science Yaounde chapter (WIMLDS_YDE) where our mission is to support and promote women and gender minorities who are practising, studying or are interested in the fields of Machine Learning and Data Science.
How did you join the world of Machine Learning and Data Science?
Well, having grown up among boys, I developed habits and abilities to do things that were “not for my gender”. They are many, but I will stick only to the essentials.
You won’t believe me when I say I never liked Mathematics as a child in my primary school! I used to call it my “black beak”. This feeling changed in my secondary school, thanks to the encouragement and support of my parents. They never stopped holding my hand and believing in me. As a result, I brought very good grades home and was always among the best until I got my high diploma. Moving to university, I decided to enrol in the Mathematics and Computer Science course. My parents were not very happy with my decision because they were afraid that I could not make it. The good thing is that they always accepted my choices, even when they didn’t agree that much. Despite the difficulties and challenges encountered, my Computer Science option enabled me to graduate with a Bachelor in Architecture and Networks and a professional Bachelor in Software engineering.
I then continued my master’s studies in Information System and Software Engineering in another university in the country. During my final year there, I learned about the African Masters for Machine Intelligence (AMMI) program, sponsored by Facebook and Google, through one of my friends. I therefore applied and was selected as a scholarship holder for the program where I finished with a master’s degree in Machine Intelligence in 2020. Before completing the AMMI program, I applied for a job as an NLP Engineer, since I had chosen to continue my career in the field of NLP. I went through interviews, which were fortunately successful for me.
When I finished AMMI, I was still curious to know more about the contours of the field of research. That’s when I applied for a research fellowship which was once again successful. With my background, I am able to gain experiences from both industry and academia.
What have been some of your challenges and inspirations along this journey?
My inspiration comes from my parents! Seeing all the sacrifices they make and support they give me pushes me more to move forward and achieve my goals. I want to make them happy. In addition to the support from my family, I have also had friends who never stopped holding my hand despite their occupations. In addition, my social life has not been so easy, as I said above I grew up among boys, which made me a rather reserved and mysterious person, but that’s a narrative I am working hard to change.
As for my school career, my biggest challenge was when I got my master’s scholarship for AMMI. You know I did all my previous studies in French, but for this scholarship, I not only had to study in English but also in an English-speaking country (Ghana). You have no idea how difficult it was for me to have to understand some mathematical concepts in linear algebra, probabilistic, calculus, statistics and, the language at the same time. I never imagined I could find myself in such a situation, and sometimes I wondered if I was really where I should be! Many times I thought of giving up! Thanks to the support of my friends I met there, I was able to finish the program, and now I speak better in English.
Wow! I can imagine myself in a French speaking environment for school! I wouldn’t like that at all. But you made it through, you are stronger than you think! You are now Bilingual, haha
Please tell us about your prestigious moments in life
One of my achievements was being selected as an AMMI program scholar across Africa. Despite all the difficulties and stress that this program presented, I was able to complete it. In addition, being able to work as an engineer in the field of STEM was one of my goals. I don’t remember seeing this end of the tunnel while thinking about my career in school, haha. Nonetheless, here I am!
Being selected for my current research fellowship program was also one of my greatest achievements. You know, when you finish your studies, you are expected to find not only a job worthy of these but also one that could inspire the generation that will come after you. Finally, to make my parents proud of me today, I would say is my greatest happiness because as long as they are happy, so are we.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
Outside my work I am involved in encouraging young girls to get started in STEM professions through the WIMLDS_YDE chapter which you can take a look at on our social networks; LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.
Also, I love to sing anytime and anywhere, I love to travel the world and discover new places and cultures. My favourite activity is sport; occasionally I play football and tennis. Finally, I enjoy spending time with my family.
What is your favourite quote?
My favourite quote I would say is “never give up” ~ Winston Churchill. I know it’s common but when I look at my background it makes perfect sense. Never stop trying and learning, so you will gain more experience and knowledge. Also dream big, imagine yourself in a great success, in a greatness, in a position of kings, queens, presidents. It might seem impossible but that shouldn’t stop you from dreaming. It will give you the strength to move forward.
How would you encourage a young girl in STEM?
To all the young girls who still hesitate if this domain is made for them, let me tell you something; there is nothing more beautiful than a girl who codes, who handles machines or robots, who can explain technical concepts! No domain is intended for a category of people because for me, every domain is just the same as any other. You just have to work, work hard because nothing is easy. So I encourage the new generation to get into the STEM fields because in all determination there is a success
Wow! Thank you, Tatiana! I honestly don’t think I would speak this perfect English if I came from an entirely French background. You have done well at work and in your English skills. We wish you more prosperity in life.