Up&Ap: Alice Mamsana on her journey from an AI enthusiast to trailblazer

Get ready to remember the name Alice Mamsana because she’s about to take the world by storm. A true superstar in every sense of the word, Alice has, in just one month, accomplished more than most people do in a year. Over the course of the last few months, Alice developed a passion for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and started to challenge herself to learn more and built several small projects with generative AI, diffusion models and large language models such as GPT-3. 

We were very excited to sit down with Alice (pictured) to get to know her better and understand who she was. Below are excerpts from the session…

QUESTION: What’s the biggest misconception you had entering the field of software engineering?

ALICE: That it is a solitary job. Software engineering is a very collaborative field involving a lot of teamwork with colleagues and stakeholders, contrary to the stereotype of a lone coder in a basement.

Q: Would you say collaboration is the most important thing you’ve learnt so far?

A: Yes it is, you also have to get out of your way to help others because tomorrow it may be you who needs a helping hand. This is especially true throughout the learning process / approaching a new subject/field.

Q: What are some of the other soft skills that you have developed in your time here at ALX SE?

A: Effective and timely communication – this is important while working within teams, for understanding project requirements and also while explaining technical concepts to nontechnical team members and stakeholders

Problem solving – we continuously learn to break down complex problems into manageable parts and have the willingness to explore different approaches to a solution.

And lastly, collaboration with diverse teams and people from all across the globe.

Q: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about coding or software engineering?

A: “You learn best through practice”. We have manuals / documentations to read but until you work on a project, that’s when the concepts stick. That is why I love ALX SE because all the projects actually require you to do them practically.

Q: About the ALX SE program, I think people want to know: is the checker your friend?

A: We started on a rough patch but nowadays I guess we’re okay. Eventually you get used to running the correct output of the project before consulting with the checker. Sometimes it works, other times the checker still disagrees and this is where I ask for a different set of eyes to look at my code, but most times we’re okay. 

Q: What advice would you give to someone just starting to learn to code?

A: Practice more than you learn!

What’s even more impressive is Alice’s diverse background. With a degree in Mathematics and experience in Sales and Marketing, she’s able to bring a unique perspective to the world of Software Engineering and AI that sets her apart from the rest. But here’s the really amazing part – Alice’s interest in AI was sparked while she was at work. She saw firsthand how AI could revolutionize the industry and improve people’s lives, and she knew she had to be a part of it.

Alice taught herself GPT-3, Whisper and DALL-E 2 from openAI, and in less than a month, she was on stage, giving an incredible demo on how to build with and integrate these API’s, to a global audience of participants at the OpenAI hackathon. With her team, she also co-created an AI-powered health assistant called Wellnexus. Her work didn’t go unnoticed: Nvidia offered her a free ticket for Nvidia’s workshop “Fundamentals of Deep Learningtaught by Nvidia AI experts during the 2023 conference. She did all of these projects while juggling as an ALX SE student.

Q: How do you manage to do your studies at ALX SE and work on additional projects on the side? What’s your secret?

A: My secret has always been group discussions, I cover very little on my own as compared to what we could do in a group setting. Also, I believe I have the best study buddies – we’ve accomplished and learnt so much together.

As for additional projects, I only take those that interest me, especially around Artificial Intelligence. I knew right from the start that this is where I wanted to focus on in my tech journey and I’m very grateful for all the exposure I’m currently getting. The additional projects are a great way to network with experienced Software Engineers.

Q: What’s the most important AI project you’ve worked on so far?

A: This is actually a continuation of my campus project while at the University of Nairobi. My teammates were working on a project to determine the shortest route but we had to do all the calculations manually. Once I started exploring with tech, I found out that it was possible to realize more accurate and faster results.

Q: For those who have a non-tech/mathematical background, what exactly is the shortest route?

A: Say you want to go to the market, or school, and then bank and work all in one day, this project would potentially let you know which route would be the most efficient, allowing you to run your errands within the shortest time, using the shortest route.

Q: You had to learn GPT-3, Whisper and DALL-E AI APIs and present it in front of a global audience. How was the experience? What did you learn about yourself?

A: I was excited and nervous at the same time. Anything could go wrong on a Live Demo especially on a platform that was actually new to me (Discord / Twitch) but I’m grateful the session ran smoothly and had so much fun while at it.

As for the code, I practiced for days over and over until I understood everything very well. Towards the end I was asked several questions, there was one I had no clue about but I’m glad they did because it was a new learning opportunity.

Giving a Live Demo within such a popular Hackathon was an opportunity I didn’t think I was qualified for, but I’ve learnt to take such opportunities and then navigate or figure out how to make the best of them. In the end, you will learn.

Q: You were also a participant within the OpenAI Hackathon. How did it go?

A: This is one event I will live to remember – we were stretched beyond belief with absolutely no sleep on the last day of submission. I had an amazing team with a diverse skillset / interests plus the grit to push forward despite the challenges we faced, which was great! Being the team leader, I was in charge of submitting the solution and more often than not, my teammates would take initiative on various aspects of the project which are some of the key things that led to the success of the team. To put this into perspective, there were over 500 teams that registered for the hackathon but only 88 teams managed to submit a solution, which is less than 20% of the teams. I think we did well.

A lot of invaluable lessons learnt, especially around thoroughly researching your solution and getting feedback earlier on before starting the building process. Also, while working in teams, the more diverse the better, including non-coding members who may be experts in other fields such as business / entrepreneurship. This will ensure your solution is viable in the marketplace right from ideation.

Q: As a result of your exemplary performance at the Open AI Hackathon, you secured a spot for a NVIDIA ML course. How was the experience for you? What advice would you give to someone scared to take that first step?

A: NVIDIA felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity and so I have never been more eager to attend a class. The concepts of Deep Learning were obviously new to me but ALX SE has taught us how to learn.

The facilitators really understood their stuff and broke it down so well, which is part of what we learn at ALX SE with the Holberton framework and the Feynman Technique.

It was a full day course and at the end, we had an assessment test. We were supposed to train a model that could recognize fresh fruits from rotten ones from a given image dataset, I managed to run the numbers and thereafter earned a certificate that I will live to cherish and celebrate.

Fear will always be there, just learn how to take those initial steps while still afraid. In the end, you will either win or you will learn! – Alice Mamsana

Q: What’s the biggest misconception about AI that you have encountered, and how do you explain the reality of this field to others?

A: “AI will take people’s jobs”. AI is a tool, when you learn AI, you learn to generate better solutions. When calculators were invented, some Mathematicians lost their jobs but there were those who learnt how to use them and even became more efficient. AI will only take your job if you’re not improving. It’s a growing field and it will be a tool that will help you do your job even much better!

Q: If you could have any superpower related to AI, what would it be, and how would you use it?

A: Data processing at super speed!

Q: Alice, we have to ask: Emacs or Vim?

A: Definitely Vim. Always been Vim. Super loyal to #teamVim!

(Alice is a testament to the power of hard work and determination. Despite starting her journey in software engineering and AI with little experience, Alice has quickly become a rising star in the industry. Her story is an inspiration to anyone who is starting their journey in software engineering and AI, proving that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible. You can connect with Alice on LinkedIn;  Twitter; and Email).


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