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Data science bootcamp gives UCT students a boost

23 Oct 2020 - 16:00

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Eight UCT students participated in a pilot Data Science Bootcamp arranged by Absa’s Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB) Division from August to September 2020. Final year and postgrad students were recruited through UCT’s Career Service and were given the opportunity to work on a real-life project analysing data and then presenting their findings to banking leaders.

The students came from a range of departments, including computer science, chemical engineering, economics, statistics, taking subjects as varied as project management, applied mathematics, and analytics. Given the Covid-19 lockdown, the project was conducted virtually with some students working from Zimbabwe, Botswana and various parts of South Africa. The programme consisted of six modules, including design thinking, natural language processing, communication and presentation skills, and ran over about eight weeks. It was intended to expose the students to how data is used in a corporate and investment banking environment, and to expand their knowledge of data and banking.

“We wanted to grow the data science mindset and capability within the student community, allowing us to give something back, but it was also something we could benefit from as we are building the pool of data science experts in the country,” said Niren Ram, Head of Data Analytics for CIB.

The project was based on Absa’s Twitter feed to provide a sentiment analysis about how customers felt about Absa as an innovative brand. The students used natural language processing – a way to program computers to process and analyse large amounts of human language – and some other techniques to analyse the data. The students were also given guidance on how to communicate and present their findings so that the messaging was clear to the layperson. “Our ultimate goal was to expose the students to the field of data science, working on a real life project, and then to present their findings to senior leaders at the Bank. We believed that it was important that the students could see the process through to the end, and gain valuable feedback from our leaders on the value of data science,” said Ram. “What the students finally presented was of extremely high standard, and enables us to take the research to the next level within our internal teams.” 

“The bootcamp was an insightful experience - one for which I am entirely grateful. We were introduced to the concepts of design thinking, natural language processing and sentiment analysis - concepts which I had not previously been exposed to - so the bootcamp worked in giving us academic knowledge which would be useful in a professional setting. The bootcamp also exposed us to 'real work' - something for which I am entirely grateful. Apart from the technical skills that I gained, I also enjoyed what was termed, "lunch and learn sessions", which were conversations with employees of Absa (both higher up in the hierarchy and normal employees) that served to give us insight into the various departments at Absa and the career paths available to graduates. I really enjoyed these sessions because it was insightful and inspiring to hear how people got to where they are in their careers and that not everyone had their whole career figured out when they graduated,” says Musonda Sinkala.

“The bootcamp was a very holistic experience that exposed us to the various considerations we'll have to work with as data scientists. They gave us a high-level overview of how things work across the banking sector and some of the key challenges in the industry. They taught us about human-centered design thinking, which is a way of approaching problem-solving. We were also taught about presenting for impact, and natural language processing. We were then given the opportunity to put those skills to work in a twitter sentiment analysis project,” says Bonisiwe Mahlangu.

Sisipho Poswa also found the bootcamp very helpful. “We were given insight into a range of different careers in corporate, through lunch and learns with various experienced and well-rounded individuals - analytics, digital and design, investment banking and accounting to name a few. I also developed an understanding of design thinking (something I had never even heard of), expanded on my presentation skills, all while developing coding skills in Python.”

“I got to experiment quite a lot with the data to understand modelling and data analysis techniques. The modelling was made less challenging since we were organised into teams. It taught me the essence of teamwork, which made the journey less intimidating and more enjoyable. I enjoyed the module on 'Presenting for impact', I learnt practical presentation skills that can make one's work/findings presentable and relatable to an audience you are speaking to,” says Rati Matowe.

Wandile Gwebu also felt the bootcamp was hugely beneficial. “I can safely say that this experience has widened my view of potential careers because I had not considered a career in banking, thinking it required a strong commerce background, but I wanted to get a view of what it’s like, and it was great. Now the challenge lies in deciding.”

“Being able to interact in our teams was very enjoyable. Being able to work with others from different disciplines and backgrounds was very enjoyable and put into perspective how people think differently,” says Megan Jiawain.

“Based on the success of this pilot bootcamp, we are hoping to run future sessions,” says Ram.

“We believe the bootcamp transferred some useful skills and we hope it will assist the students to make informed career choices.”

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