Meet Oluwadolapo Obafemi, a determined woman whose journey into the world of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI & ML) defies stereotypes and challenges gender norms. Oluwadolapo shares her experiences as she navigates through the complexities of AI, inspiring women worldwide to pursue their dreams regardless of societal expectations. Recently, she secured an internship as a Machine Learning Research Assistant, further cementing her commitment to the field and breaking barriers along the way.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I’m Oluwadolapo Obafemi, I spent my childhood in a historic town called Ilesa, situated in the southwestern part of Nigeria’s Osun State. As time went by, my family and I began a new journey, saying goodbye to the familiar surroundings of Osun State and moving towards the lively cityscape of Lagos. My mother is a Teacher and my father runs a small business as a local merchant. It was quite a journey. I’m relieved that I am where I am.

What inspired you to pursue AI & ML?

I have always had a keen interest in technology and my engineering background deepened my passion. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I dedicated myself to learning Python programming through various courses. It was certainly difficult finding the proper career path and I had always believed that AI was for exceptionally intelligent fellows. However, I eventually realized that AI is simply a tool to simplify tasks. As a student in chemical engineering at that time, I’ve always been eager but also a bit nervous to learn to explore areas outside of my discipline, with the goal of eventually applying them within chemical engineering.

My interest in AI was sparked during my final year project, where I had to apply AI solutions in chemical engineering. Before this, while learning Python, my father encouraged me to delve deep into tech despite having little knowledge about tech and its different domains. As long as I was using the laptop responsibly, he was fully supportive (i.e not engaging in fraudulent activities, in Nigeria, there is a stereotype associated with individuals who frequently use their laptops.) The technical complexity of AI and ML scared me, but with the support of my parents and my mentor, Samuel Diya (who ensured I incorporated ML into my final year project), I was able to overcome my anxieties and fully dive into the field.

Were there any unique challenges you faced getting into tech as a woman, and how did you overcome them?

I have often encountered questioning looks when people wonder why I am putting so much effort into learning coding and technical skills. In Nigeria and Africa at large, there’s a prevalent belief that women should prioritize family, marriage, and the kitchen over technical careers. Now, don’t get me wrong, none of that is bad, it is just that there have not been ways to properly balance marriage, family, and career. Even if a woman chooses a career, she’s often discouraged from delving into technical fields. While I fully intend to have a family and have kids (I want to become a mother and will become a mother to my kids) I reject the idea that being career-oriented should prevent me from doing so.

I have faced doubt from both men and women who were skeptical about my abilities and were reluctant to embrace the technical challenges. Being a female engineering student wasn’t particularly problematic, as many women were hesitant about their abilities and unwilling to tackle technical challenges and stress, although this has improved over time. However, being a female engineering student, especially in a field like AI, presented additional difficulties. Coping with the demands of a technical path like AI was challenging, with most of my female peers opting for less technically demanding tech paths. I found myself as the only female pursuing AI among my acquaintances, but I had to adapt and work alongside my male friends. They were very supportive and encouraged more women to join the field, making it a collaborative effort to increase female representation in AI.

Can you share a project from the AWS AI & ML Scholarship that you found particularly interesting or impactful for your career?

There were two projects that I found really interesting in the AWS Machine Learning Fundamentals Nanodegree program. One aspect I appreciate about Udacity courses is that if you meticulously go through each module, quiz and exercise, you’ll find yourself well-prepared for the projects. They will definitely look weird at first, like you are looking at a bunch of meaningless words but with thorough preparation and diligence, they become manageable as you grasp the concepts. The Landmark Classification and Tagging for Social Media Project stood out for me for its depth. Understanding how to write reproducible code and have a systematic project workflow was totally awesome. Additionally, Building an ML workflow for Scones Unlimited with AWS Sagemaker just capped everything I’ve learnt since the AI programming with Python Nanodegree program. This was the height and I am really thankful for the opportunity. Incorporating the ML workflow into a Cloud Service such as AWS significantly simplified the process.

Can you share one key achievement after you completed the scholarship that you are particularly proud of?

Right after graduating from school, I secured an internship as a Machine Learning Research Assistant, and I now hold a position as a Data Scientist at NITHUB (NITDA IT HUB) and I am also involved in AI research projects in NITHUB. I did not anticipate landing a role right away because getting positions in machine learning and data science is pretty difficult in Nigeria. I was genuinely grateful for the opportunity. There are limited opportunities for AI research and Data Science in Nigeria and I was excited to kickstart my professional journey there.

What advice would you give to other women like you, starting their careers in AI and ML?

My advice to other women starting their careers in AI and ML would be to embrace their passion and pursue it with confidence. You should not allow the gender imbalance or stereotypes in the field to deter you. Getting along smoothly with your colleagues even if they will definitely be men will greatly assist you in beginning your journey in AI, and it will also inspire other women, just as I am doing currently, to enter the field.

The Udacity community platform is an excellent opportunity to meet with people growing in the field. The program provides a mentorship program that will last for a year which is highly beneficial. It is important to take full advantage of this opportunity. Be proactive in expanding your skills through continuous learning, projects, and networking. Remember that your unique perspective and contributions are valuable assets in this rapidly evolving field. Stay resilient in the face of challenges and setbacks, and always advocate for yourself and other women in tech. Together, we can create a more inclusive and diverse AI and ML community.

Don’t wait to get started. If you’re interested in applying for the AWS AI & ML Scholarship program, visit our website here.

Dora Gyulai
Dora Gyulai
Senior Marketing Manager