A Graduates Guide – Venturing Into The New And Exciting World of Work

I’ve always heard people talk about how difficult writing is but never did I comprehend the magnitude of this difficulty until a few weeks ago when I made the resolution to start a blog! So, here I am, putting pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) and boy, oh boy (Am I allowed to say ‘Yoh’?) I’m struggling! In my defense though, the last time I wrote creatively was 6 years ago when I was in grade 12 and to be honest, writing about ‘My Favourite Birthday Party’ for every creative writing essay hit its creativity ceiling pretty soon! Nevertheless, here I am venturing into something new and exciting, quite like the topic of this post: A Graduates Guide – Venturing Into The New and Exciting World of War (Work).

It’s about that time of the year where a large population of fresh, creative, innovative, dynamic, and enthusiastic youth enter the workforce for the first time. It is my genuine hope that this simple guide help in maintaining the freshness, creativity, (innovativity?), dynamism, and enthusiasm of these youth because that is exactly what this beautiful country’s workforce needs!

1. Get Uncomfortable

If you haven’t yet landed a job, are still on the hunt, and feel you’ve exhausted your options, try looking for the opportunities which scare you, challenge you, and make you feel uncomfortable. Don’t restrict yourself to what you know but rather, open yourself up to what you don’t know. Your most significant amount of learning and subsequent growth occurs outside of your comfort zone – be daring! Personally, what I studied at University and what I practice today are worlds apart. Today, I love my job and find my learning and growth curves to be positively exponential!

2. Google Google Google

Once you’ve entered into your new place of work, everything is going to be a blur. You will be overwhelmed by a constant blabbering of jargon, tools and techniques, and procedures which will sound like Dothraki to you. The way to deal with this: Google Google Google! I think it’s safe for me to generalize this to life – Google is Man’s best friend! Knowing what and how to Google will save you a lot of time and apparent embarrassment. For starters, Google ‘How to Google’. An abundance of resources await you, so get Googling!

3. Find a Mentor

I’m being very careful with my choice of words here: ‘Find’ a mentor, not ‘Get’ a mentor. If you’re joining on a graduate program of some sorts, HR will probably assign a mentor to you. The relationship with this assigned mentor may or may not be favourable. It is up to you, however, to socialize with a lot of people and in doing so you will naturally gravitate towards someone whom you align with. How do you tell if someone is a mentor to you? Well, put simply, this person will show a genuine interest in your growth both personally and professionally. Every interaction with this person, whether positive or negative, will leave you with a new lesson – it is up to you to translate those lessons into character growth. This brings me to the next point, which I strongly believe is the most important guideline. If every word thus far has made no sense to you (quite like the ending of Christopher Nolan’s Inception), I ask that you make an earnest attempt at understanding and internalising the next point.

4. Take Initiative

At the start of every day, you are completely responsible for how much value you add to yourself and your organisation, and the best way to do this is through proactive learning. What is proactive learning? Here’s my oversimplification:

  • Discovery: Discover something new which you don’t/didn’t know about or, alternatively, come up with an idea of something new/different which could benefit you or the organisation (it does not matter how big or small).
  • Exploration: Using the abundance of resources at your disposal, do some preliminary research/inquiry/brainstorming into this ‘new thing’.
  • Execution: Based on your exploration, go ahead and have a crack at actually doing what you had in mind. This execution may take several forms such as writing a piece of code, taking an online course, speaking to a group of important stakeholders or scribbling on a white board.

The underlying thread through these three steps of proactive learning is that you do not wait for someone to tell you to discover, explore and execute. You choose to discover, explore and execute. At this point, I must bring to light a shadow which will walk besides you throughout your first year of work.

5. The Label

From day one, a shadow will walk besides you – the shadow of a label. ‘The New Grad’, ‘The Intern’, ‘The New Kid’ or whatever your kind co-workers come up with. Now, here’s the thing about this shadow: it’s not as ominous and dark as it seems! This shadow will help you at times throughout the year and will also challenge you at times throughout the year. Here’s how: the workplace is generally more lenient towards graduates which means (in all likelihood, I hope) you will be allowed to fail and make mistakes without losing your job. So, fail quick, fail safe, and fail cheap, but don’t be afraid to fail. Secondly, and this may happen a lot, your worth, credibility and how serious people take you will be shadowed by the label. This can get quite frustrating but don’t let yourself be misguided by false entitlement. You are new – prove yourself! Discover, Explore, and Execute!

The above guidelines are in no way exhaustive. There are a tonne of things which you may need to add to your arsenal in order to survive your first year of work, but the beauty of the first year lies in the unexpected, so why make an exhaustive list?

It is my genuine hope that your first year of work does not crush your spirit but only make it stronger. The guidelines outlined in this post are things which I learnt from my first year of work. In 10 months time, I would love to see what your list looks like. You are destined for greatness, go out and fearlessly realize it.

Lastly, please give this post a thumbs up if you enjoyed it and gained some value from it. More importantly, you never know who else may gain value from it. So, please share it! I leave you with the wise words of one of my closest friends (which she stole from an Ancient Greek Aphorism):

“Know Thyself”

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Humans having human experiences


One of my most painful memories from high school was having to study Shakespearean literature. Seriously, I just didn’t get it! Nevertheless, being one of those things that I had to get through, I devised useful study techniques and methodologies which I knew would guarantee me the marks I so dearly desired. One of those techniques, particularly in the context of Shakespearean plays, was byhearting character traits of the various characters in the play. Macbeth — our grade 11 set work — saw me studying no differently and till today, I can regurgitate all 11 of Macbeth’s character traits. 8 years later, however, one of those traits stands out strongly for me: Vaulting Ambition.

#TheHustle #TheGrind #GrowthMindSet #Success #Money #Power #Business. Look familiar? Perhaps you’ve made a few social media posts using these or similar hashtags, or perhaps you (like me) subconsciously have had these hashtags consume your mind’s feed. Let me relate a personal experience…

I started out my career 2 years ago. Like most young people my age, #CareerGrowth was my priority. I was ambitious! Learning a lot quickly and doing my best to impress, I gained a lot of satisfaction from the validation received by seniors, coworkers, friends and family. I grew significantly in confidence and my ambitions, naturally, grew too. And so I took on bigger challenges by myself. Very soon, I found myself in some very challenging, frustrating, and annoying situations, dealing with difficult people and doing work I just didn’t want to do. Without realising it, I began labelling these difficult people as incompetent and openly vented about them to others. As the problems persisted, my resilience and perseverance fell. I then decided “That’s it, time to get out of here”. Enticed by all of the potential #Growth opportunities in the market, I polished my CV and began interviewing. After every interview, I spent some time reflecting on what went well and what didn’t. With each reflection a realisation gradually dawned on me: in every interview I was able to answer questions by narrating situations in which I had human interactions and experiences. Technical experience and skills accounted for arguably less than 50% of my answers to questions. This hit me hard!

Thinking back to all of the difficult people and situations I’ve had to deal with over the past few months, what I perceived as threats to my #Growth, #Career and #Success, were actually the most significant positivecontributors to my #Growth, #Career and #Success. And so this got me thinking even further, perhaps we’re incorrectly measuring #Growth in a professional context? Perhaps professional #Growth, just like personal #Growth, should be measured by the number of enriching human experiences you’ve had?

Finally, tying this back to Macbeth and his Vaulting Ambition! I truly believe that having ambition is absolutely important and necessary (regardless of age) as it promotes a healthier mind. Ambition, however, can very easily become excessive and misdirected to the point of you rationalising decisions which inevitably end up hurting you and others. What scares me is that excessive and misdirected ambition can distract you from rich human experiences. And at the end of the day, we’re humans living human lives, having human experiences.

If you’ve enjoyed and appreciated this post, please feel free to give it a clap. More importantly, you never know who else may gain value from it so please share it! Follow me on Medium if you would like to hear more from me.

Deep Learning Indaba 2018 Reflections

[8min read]

During the week of the 9th – 14th of September 2018 I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the Deep Learning Indaba 2018 held in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The Deep Learning Indaba is a week-long conference that “exists to celebrate and strengthen machine learning in Africa”. It is a wonderful gathering of Machine Learning Researchers, Practitioners and Enthusiasts from all walks of life who share in the collective vision that Africans are and will continue to be “critical contributors, owners and shapers of the coming advances in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning”.

The theme of this years Indaba was Masakhane – We Build Together. Keep this theme in mind as you read through this post. By the end you will have a better understanding of the significance of the theme as well as (hopefully) a new, refreshed, or affirmed perspective on what it means to be African.

Note: this blog post will not be a technical deep-dive. Rather, this post will cover several key takeaways which I walked away with from the Indaba.

Here’s how the week went…

Day-to-day Walkthrough

Day 1

Entering the main conference hall for the first time, I found myself feeling a bit anxious and overwhelmed by the crowds and the week ahead. This anxiety was quickly dispelled when Nando de Freitas, Principle Scientist and Team Lead at DeepMind, kicked off the event with a welcoming Keynote that left the 500+ attendees inspired, energised and excited about the week ahead. Nando left the audience with several wise words:

  • Where there’s a problem, there’s an opportunity to do something great.
  • Don’t ever say that a problem cannot be solved.
  • Ideas are not born out of the blue – you have to develop a strong sense of curiosity.

He was then followed by Moustapha Cisse, Team Lead of Google AI in Ghana, and Naila Murray, Senior Scientist at Naver Labs in Europe, who covered the Fundamentals of Deep Learning and Convolutional Models respectively. Moustapha humorously (but quite seriously) stressed that as a Data Science practitioner, you only earn the right to use a Deep Learning framework (Tensorflow, Keras, etc) once you’ve gone through the pain of implementing neural networks from scratch at least once. nn

*(Charles H Martin, 2018)

One thing that was quite apparent to me was that all of the speakers (including those I would later come to see) were not only exceptionally knowledgable in their technical fields, but they were excellent communicators who made it easy for audiences to consume knowledge. This is a beautiful skill to have!

Day 2

Day 2 began with an awesome lab session on Convolutional Neural Networks where we got to implement a basic image classifier. This was then followed a technical lecture by Yabedal Fantaye, Junior Research Chair at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in South Africa. Yabedal’s lecture showed how probabilistic thinking is at the heart of Machine Learning because Machine Learning attempts to model data under uncertainty. This stats-heavy session brought out some of my old insecurities as stats and I have never quite gotten along.

Kyunghyun Cho, Assistant Professor at New York University and Research scientist at Facebook AI Research, followed Yabedal with a lecture on Recurrent Neural Networks. Mr. Cho went through the mechanics of Recurrent Neural Networks in a humorous but clear fashion, and he opened my mind to just how massive a field Language Modelling is with particularly useful applications which tackle pressing problems such as breaking down educational barriers through automatic language translation. Day 2 concluded with a lab session on Recurrent Neural Networks where we got to implement a Recurrent Neural Network for time-series estimation and a Recurrent Language Model for character level classification.

Day 3

Shakir Mohamed, Research Scientist at DeepMind, kicked off Day 3 with a lecture on Generative Models. His session was focussed on strengthening probabilistic foundations, where he stressed the fact that all Machine Learning practitioners must build ‘Probabilistic Dexterity’.

probability joke

*(Pbworks, 2014)

This session was followed by the Kambule and Maathai Awards Session – an inspirational awards session which recognises excellent machine learning research and application being done by Africans. This session was particularly special because it celebrated African Machine Learning – Machine Learning being used to positively impact African societies. The Kambule and Maathai awards were awarded to Dr. Justine Nasejje and Yasini Musa Ayami. I urge you to see what great work they have done to enhance the African Machine Learning body of knowledge and to uplift their communities. What particularly stood out for me in this session was seeing that the African continent is exploding with talent and has a lot more brewing. Machine Learning can and is being used to uplift communities throughout Africa. You don’t need to be the smartest person or have the smartest idea to make a positive difference. You just need to embed yourself at the heart of the problems which you’re trying to solve.

The remainder of the day was dedicated to Reinforcement Learning which was covered by Katja Hofmann, Researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge. Katja took us through the foundations of Reinforcement Learning as well how she currently uses the game Minecraft as an experimentation platform to develop intelligent technologies.

Day 4

For attendees wanting to dive deeper into the technicals of certain fields, 3 parallel tracks were hosted in the morning of Day 4. I attended the session titled the ‘Frontiers of Computer Vision’. This session walked through the history of Computer Vision and how it has developed over the years. We were then fortunate to watch presentations by a select few who are using Computer Vision to solve very interesting and complex problems. Two particularly useful use cases stood out for me wherein Computer Vision was being applied to healthcare problems such as Breast Cancer detection and Early Retinal Tissue Damage Detection.

Following the parallel sessions, a thought-provoking panel discussion was held on Democratising Machine Learning on the African Continent. Truth be told, this topic itself needs a separate blog post to explore its depth but I’ll do my best to summarise the conversation. This discussion explored how Machine Learning can, is being, and should be democratised on the African Continent. Key takeaways from this discussion:

  • Access to internet and computing power are the two most important things needed in order to democratise Machine Learning on the African continent.
  • African countries should not be concerned about brain drain. In an increasingly digitally connected world, there should be no reason why you cannot add value to a place remotely.
  • Those with skills and resources need to drive localised education and skills development in their communities to develop talent. Africa must not be afraid of exporting it’s talent to the rest of the world.
  • Africa needs practical Machine Learning – moving beyond ideation to delivery and execution.

This conversation turned out to be very lively and interactive with the panelists tackling some sensitive topical issues, leading me to believe that they truly are thought leaders in this space.

David Silver, a celebrity in the Machine Learning fraternity, delivered a special session on the success stories of Reinforcement Learning. He is a Principle Scientist at DeepMind and was also the lead researcher on the AlphaGo team responsible for defeating the worlds best human Go player in 2016.

Day 4 was concluded with 3 parallel tracks. I attended a session on Generative Models and Healthcare facilitated by Konstantina Palla, Research Scientist at Microsoft Research Cambridge. One thing that stood out for me from this session was how carefully one has to frame a Machine Learning problem in the context of Healthcare. This is because of the sensitive nature of the work being done e.g disease detection and diagnosis. You cannot trust a Machine Learning model blindly in such contexts without truly understanding what your model is doing.

Day 5

In an unfortunate ‘turn’ of events (car accident), I wasn’t able to attend any of the morning sessions on the final day, but I made it just in time to catch the tail end of another Machine Learning celebrity’s talk: Jeff Dean – Senior Fellow, Google AI. Google Brain lead and co-founder. Co-designer and implementor of Tensorflow, MapReduce, BigTable, and Spanner (seriously, what hasn’t this guy done?). At the end of his talk, Jeff Dean was asked “How have you done so much?”, to which he replied (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Find an area you don’t know about which you want to know about. Then find people in that area who you can learn from and work with. Collaborate.” Hearing this I began doing some deeper reflection on the Indaba over the week and two values stood out for me as my biggest takeaways.

Empathy and Humility

Let me reiterate: over 500 people from all over the world gathered together for a week because of a collective vision – Africans are and will continue to be “critical contributors, owners and shapers of the coming advances in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning”. Every one of the attendees at the Indaba this year has, in some way or another, taken it upon themselves to embed themselves at the heart of the challenges being faced in their fields of research, places of work, and communities – that’s empathy! With empathy at their core, every attendee came with a thirst for knowledge, knowing that there’s so much out there to be learnt. Everyone was ready to work with and learn from others – That’s humility! Coupled together, empathy and humility form an unbreakable chain of collaboration that can span across the African continent ultimately helping people to live better. That is Masakhane!

Courageous Conversations

Human beings are strange. More specifically, our natural instinct to shy away from interacting with other human beings is probably the strangest thing about us. I’m generalising here, but recently I’ve come across many people and situations where this has shown itself. As my dear Sister puts it, people become ‘Awkward Turtles’ when having to interact with other people. What on Earth is an Awkward Turtle? Well, basically an awkward turtle is a person who suffers from self-induced social anxiety. Here’s a scenario: you’ve forgotten someone’s name and you’re afraid to ask them for it. So instead you ask them to punch in their phone number with the correct spelling on their name. Turns out their name is Ben. Awkward Turtle! Here’s another scenario: when someone keeps calling you Adil or Atif but you’re afraid to tell them that your name is actually Adit. Awkward Turtle! Man, names are clearly a problem. We need some sort of numbering system for humans. Back to the point, these Awkward Turtle situations invariably drive people away from human interaction. If you’re a software person, I completely understand why you would much rather prefer dealing with your code than with people. Code makes much more sense than human beings! Well, sometimes. But when it doesn’t, there’s always stackoverflow.com. Now you tell me, where can one find a Stack Overflow for difficult situations involving humans – a community of people dedicated to finding effective and efficient solutions to other people’s social problems? You can’t! That brings me to the purpose of this blog post: socialising and talking to people can get really difficult and awkward, even more so when you need to have a difficult conversation that confronts someone or something. So, what are courageous conversations, why should you have them, and how should you have them?

What are Courageous Conversations?

To put it concretely (Andrew Ng reference, cue Gopolang’s impersonation), courageous conversations are conversations which are extremely difficult and uncomfortable to have. They generally stem from a need for change or intervention. Some examples of courageous conversations are:

  • Telling an important business stakeholder that their R23 million project has no value.
  • Telling you Boyfriend/Girlfriend that they have bad breath.
  • Telling your Indian mother that she’s putting too much masala in the food while she has a rolling pin in her hand.

I’ve humoured it a bit but please, let this not detract you from realising how difficult some conversations can get, like confronting a racist person in public when they’re being openly hurtful. If you haven’t already, check out this Youtube channel ‘what would you do’  to get a clear sense of what Courageous Conversations are.

Why Have Them?

Arguably, the most underrated, overlooked and necessary questions you can ask in any situation is ‘Why?’ and ‘What is the purpose?’. The absence of purpose is the absence of reason. So, what is the purpose of courageous conversations and why should you have them? Well, to mention just a few, courageous conversations prevent bad decisions from being made, they allow for an exchange of perspective, and foster openness. At a much deeper level however, courageous conversations satisfy a fundamental human value – Integrity. Allow me to elaborate by performing a rudimentary Root Cause Analysis exercise using the ‘5 Whys’ technique:

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 19.38.41.png

And that’s what integrity is! Being true to who you are and who you are is reflected in your values. The way I have traversed this ‘why tree’ may be different to the way you would traverse it and I would love to hear from you and see what your tree looks like. I am quite certain, however, that your tree will terminate at a branch of values (provided you have asked and answered questions honestly). Having a courageous conversations is an active attempt at maintaining integrity and aligning with your value system.

How to Have Them?

I cannot profess that I am in any way an expert in having these courageous conversations or that I have a ‘Five Step Approach’ to having them. What I can do is draw from the wisdom of others which has guided me to date in tackling courageous conversations. Nike’s slogan articulates one approach quite neatly: “Just do it”. I suppose that’s where the word ‘courageous’ makes its way into the term. The starting point is mustering up the courage to just do it – have the conversation. Once you’ve mustered up this courage, it’s important to note that if you’re going into a courageous conversation with the intention of starting a fight, you’ve already lost. Courageous conversations are about honesty, respect and perspective! Greek Aphorism thief from my previous blog post once told me “you need to be fully present in the moment and be open to taking in all that comes your way”. Sathya Sai Baba says: “You cannot always oblige but you can always speak obligingly.” There’s a time and place for everything and it’s important that you remember that at the end of the day, you’re talking to another human being.

There’s no doubt about it, courageous conversations can be really difficult to have sometimes and can even leave you with emotional, mental or physical bruises. By choosing to have a courageous conversation you make yourself vulnerable and vulnerability puts you at risk of getting hurt. But let me just say, this type of vulnerability is beautiful! Here’s why: consciously accepting vulnerability shows that you have taken a step towards integrity and towards being true to yourself. And in my opinion, the biggest fallacies that can be committed are those which go against who you really are – your value system. So, I leave you with this:

“Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.” – Margaret Wheatley