Women in Machine Intelligence – Khadija Iddrisu

According to Google, Machine intelligence is advanced computing that enables a technological device to interact with its environment intelligently. Our African women are contributing to this field too;

Hi Khadija, thank you for accepting to add your voice to this cause. You are welcome to Words That Count
Hello Winnie. Thanks for the opportunity too. The work you do is of interest to me and I am happy to provide more information.

Briefly introduce yourself to our audience
My name is Khadija Iddrisu from Ghana. I am currently a student at the African Masters of Machine Intelligence (AMMI) program sponsored by Google and Facebook (now Meta). I am also the IT Lead of a Wikimedia Affiliate User Group. During my spare time, I volunteer to work on the Women in Machine Learning and Data Science organizing team. Additionally, I work on a team that produces machine learning content on Instagram (@AlphaML).

Walk us through your journey into Machine Intelligence; how did you join this field?
I grew up in the northern region of Ghana, where education for female children was not very important at the time. My mother worked as a seamstress, and my father lost his job. I was always a very bright youngster, which caught the attention of my teachers, who urged my parents to invest more time and effort in my education. I learned how to use computers sooner rather than later. Although I didn’t have one of my own, I would frequently save up my lunch money and use it to access the internet café outside of regular school hours.

I once won two computers for my school while competing on behalf of my school in IT competitions. This passion led me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at the University for Development Studies. I took part in the Ghana Tech Lab’s 6-week intense AI training program while on holiday when I discovered my affinity for machine learning. My long-term goal became to conduct research in this area. To achieve this, I applied to join the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) Ghana.

My thesis project at AIMS focused on the use of deep learning architectures for the segmentation of brain vessels. This initiative greatly motivated me to pursue machine learning research. Because I wanted to become an expert in machine intelligence, I applied to the AMMI program. I have greatly improved my machine skill-sets here, and I have subsequently had the chance to present my study in Africa.

What challenges have you faced on your machine intelligence journey?
I’ve always had financial difficulties. Before I started high school, my dad lost his job, and my mother’s income from making dresses was insufficient to support the entire family. Due to the difficulty of obtaining a quality education, I never dared to consider continuing my education after high school. But thanks to the Mastercard Foundation, I was able to pursue university study with a fully funded scholarship. After that, I was continually under pressure from societal norms to give up. I was impacted by the preconception that because I would end up getting married young, I could never seek higher education. I had the good fortune to grow up in a loving and devout home, which prevented me from succumbing to peer pressure.

The fact that there were fewer chances in tech in the north was another significant obstacle I had to overcome. I had the opportunity to attend conferences on several occasions, but I was unable to pay for transportation, so I had to pass. I think that all of these experiences have contributed to the person I am today. So, anytime I come across someone in my position, I try to be as helpful as I can. I’ve done tertiary scoping and mentored high school graduates who are now enrolled in several universities.

Many of us can relate to these challenges, unfortunately! How have you been able to move forward?
A significant source of inspiration has been my family. My parents’ willingness to go above and beyond, despite their lack of education, to support my academic objectives has always been a significant source of encouragement. I am encouraged daily to put in my best effort and make them pleased. My mentors, Hanifatu Mumuni and Deborah Dormah Kanubala are also a source of motivation. We attended the same university and reside in the same neighborhood. Watching the heights they achieve and how far they go each year motivates me to work more.

Let’s talk about some of your achievements and moments of recognition in this field of machine intelligence
I received the award for the top female student in computer science at the university for two years in a row. In addition, I received a full scholarship from the Mastercard Foundation for my undergraduate studies. After that, I also received the Google and Facebook scholarship to pursue a master’s in machine intelligence as well as a fully financed scholarship to attend AIMS.

Additionally, I recently represented Ghana in the 2022 Deep Learning Indaba, during the Africa Research Showcase day. Deep Learning Indaba is Africa’s largest machine learning conference and was held in Tunisia this year.  Because of my study, I attended the biennial Diverse Intelligence Summer Institute in St. Andrews, Scotland. Furthermore, I will be presenting my research at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change’s African Women in AI summit.

Congratulations on all these achievements. We pray for more celebrations ahead.

We would like to know what you enjoy doing outside of work
I enjoy taking walks along the beach while listening to music if I’m not at work. I occasionally watch sci-fi movies as well, and when I have free time, I like to sing.

What’s your favorite quote?
My favorite quote is from the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of Wabi Sabi. “A way of life that celebrates the perfectly imperfect beauty found in the unusual, unfashionable places or objects, and in moments usually overlooked or unappreciated.”

What is your word of encouragement for a young girl who wants to join machine intelligence?
Determine your strengths and passions and let them take the lead. With hard work and perseverance, everything falls into place. Along the way, I have encountered situations when the other gender did not genuinely respect my abilities but instead made comments about how I got where I was because I was female. I think that more than a privilege, our abilities are what bring us into these positions. This is why we must constantly strive to develop ourselves while providing more young women with better opportunities.

Thank you very much, Khadija, for teaching us about machine intelligence. This is a field we didn’t know existed before in Africa. Thank you for your time once again.

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4 Responses

  1. I’m so impressed ,from the first i saw you till now, Allah Has been good and you have done very well for yourself…Kudos Khadi

  2. This is so inspiring. Congratulations on all your wins. All the best as you journey through this field.

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