Unveiling My Enlightening Expedition: A Deep Dive into the Recent Indaba Experience

Omotoso Abdulmatin
6 min readSep 16, 2023

Under the vibrant African sun on a Sunday afternoon, amidst a sea of diverse faces and cultures, my journey at the recently concluded Deep Learning Indaba(DLI) began. As one of the largest gatherings on the continent, DLI was more than just an event — it was a melting pot of ideas, a crossroads of traditions, and a platform for dialogue and discovery. As I stepped into this dynamic arena, I was not just a participant, but a traveler embarking on an unforgettable expedition. This is the story of my Indaba experience, a journey that transcended geographical boundaries and delved into the heart of African unity and innovation.

My journey to the Indaba began in a bus filled with fifty(50) other AI researchers, all of us buzzing with anticipation and curiosity. Our destination was Ghana, but the road there would take us through the heart of West Africa, crossing the borders of Benin Republic and Togo. The journey was a marathon of twenty-one(21) hours, a test of endurance that was both exhilarating and exhausting. As we traversed the diverse landscapes, the bus became a community of the Indaba itself — a space of shared knowledge, mutual learning, and the collective pursuit of understanding. Despite the physical fatigue, the journey was a mental and emotional stimulant, setting the stage for the transformative experience that awaited us at the Indaba.

The greatness of the Indaba was unveiled with a wonderful keynote by Kevin Patrick Murphy, a research scientist at Google Brain. His presentation, a symphony of complex mathematical equations, was a stark reminder of the vast ocean of knowledge that still lay unexplored before me. It was a humbling experience, a wake-up call that there was still so much to learn, so much to achieve.

The following days were a whirlwind of workshops and practical sessions, each one having a unique opportunity to delve deeper into the world of AI. Among them, three stood out for me — The recommender system workshop by Amrit, The session on Generative AI with transformers by Nando de Freitas, and the NLP workshop by Masakhane, as they all resonated with my passion for building NLP applications.

Each of these sessions was a journey in itself, a voyage into the depths of AI, guided by some of the brightest minds in the field. They were not just lessons, but inspirations, fueling my drive to explore, learn, and create in the realm of AI

Initially, I had planned to attend the Indaba as a silent observer, soaking in the knowledge without actively participating in the events. However, as the conference progressed, I felt a growing urge to step out of my comfort zone and immerse myself in the hands-on experiences. This led me to join forces with Busayor and Alex, who I just had the fortune of meeting at the event, to participate in the JP Morgan hackathon.

The hackathon was a 48-hour marathon, a race against time to solve a financial problem in Africa using the chatGPT API. It was a grueling yet exhilarating experience, pushing us to our limits and beyond. We worked tirelessly — brainstorming and coding, to develop a financial solution that allows people to interact with their financial documents and receive updates about specific stocks by providing the stock ticker and other relevant information.

Although we didn’t make it to the winning podium, the hackathon was far from a defeat. It was a victory of learning, collaboration, and pushing boundaries. It was a testament to the power of teamwork and the magic that happens when great minds come together. The hackathon was not just an event, but a milestone in my Indaba journey, an experience that enriched me professionally and personally. I left the hackathon not with a prize, but with invaluable lessons, new friendships, and a renewed passion for AI.

Of course, no account of the Indaba would be complete without mentioning the incredible networking opportunities it presented. The event was a gathering of brilliant minds, a confluence of student researchers like myself, and industry experts from tech giants like Google, Microsoft, OpenAI, and Instadeep. The chance to interact, learn, and pose questions to these professionals was an invaluable part of the Indaba.

Among the many connections I made, two stood out — David, a senior research engineer at Instadeep, and Ali, a research engineer at Microsoft who specializes in NLP and reinforcement learning. Our conversations were not just enlightening, but deeply inspiring. They provided me with the motivation to continue my journey in AI and offered guidance on the path forward. The opportunity to learn from their wealth of experience was a privilege, and their insights will undoubtedly shape my future endeavors in the field.

Ah, the food! How could I recount my Indaba journey without a nod to the culinary delights that accompanied it? As a proud Nigerian, I must admit I was skeptical about the food in Ghana. After all, there’s no place like home when it comes to comfort food. However, the Ghanaian cuisine surprised me, surpassing my expectations. On the first day, I ventured to try the Ghanaian Jollof rice. While it was quite tasty, I must confess, my loyalty still lies with the Nigerian Jollof (no bias intended!). Throughout the week, I found myself gravitating towards rice dishes, a safe haven amidst the unfamiliar culinary landscape.

Breakfast was a departure from my rice-dominated meals, usually consisting of snacks that most people would find familiar. However, I did have a bone to pick with the portion sizes. The one or two pieces provided were a mere tasting by Nigerian standards, leaving me yearning for more.

Despite these minor hiccups, the food experience at Indaba was an adventure in itself, a gastronomic journey that added another layer of richness to my overall Indaba experience.

The final day of the Indaba was a crescendo of memorable moments. It began with a captivating keynote session by Rosanne, setting the tone for the day. The excitement continued with the Nigeria MLC hangout, where we had the opportunity to engage with Rosanne, David, and Ali in a more intimate setting.

The closing ceremony was a rollercoaster of emotions, a bittersweet farewell to an unforgettable week. The announcement of a free chatGPT+ API for Indaba attendees for a year and one-month free access to all of Oreily’s materials was the cherry on top, a parting gift that promised to extend the learning journey beyond the confines of the conference.

The day culminated in a grand closing party, a celebration of the knowledge gained, the connections made, and the experiences shared. After seven intense days of learning and networking, it was a chance to let loose and revel in the joy of the journey we had undertaken.

None of these experiences, opportunities, connections, and joyous moments would have been achievable without the generous support of our sponsors who donated to our fundraiser, enabling us to cover the transportation costs to Ghana. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to you. Additionally, I want to acknowledge Busayor, Steven, Moyosore, Abraham, and everyone else who took time out of their busy lives to organize the fundraiser and arrange for the bus. Your assistance made all of this possible and I do not take any of this for granted.

As I look back on my Indaba experience, I am filled with gratitude for the opportunities it presented, the people I met, and the lessons I learned. It was more than just a conference; it was a milestone in my journey as an AI researcher, a beacon that will guide my path forward. The Indaba was not just an event I attended; it was an experience that shaped me, and its impact will resonate with me for years to come.

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