Skilling tech talent dominates at Safaricom Engineering forum

Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa (left) and Chief of Staff and Head of the Public Service, Felix Koskei

Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa (left) and Chief of Staff and Head of the Public Service, Felix Koskei follow proceedings during Safaricom’s annual Engineering Summit dubbed Decode held on October 11, 2023 at Sarit Expo Centre, Nairobi.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

Skilling Kenya’s growing tech talent to prepare them for a job market that is rapidly being transformed by emerging technologies such as 5G and artificial intelligence (AI) took centre stage as the second Safaricom Engineering Summit started yesterday.

Dubbed Decode 2.0, the summit is being organised by Safaricom with a number of partners, namely Huawei, Dell Technologies, Mitsumi Distribution, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Techsavanna, Oracle and Redington.

One of the attractions of the summit was the display of the Safaricom-AWS Deep Racer Championship 2023. The mini-vehicle race, which takes place on an indoor track, gives the telco's data science and data engineering teams a platform to showcase their machine learning capabilities.

During the summit, Safaricom also unveiled a demonstration of a realistic artificial intelligence product called Digital Twin. The model is fed with prompts and, using the data fed to it, is able to create a digital twin of an individual capable of generating responses.

Various stakeholders in the technology space spent most of the day discussing key trends in the sector, including AI, cross-border financial payments, quantum computing, internet connectivity, eSports, gaming and education.

Mr Peter Ndegwa, Safaricom's chief executive, said the summit is critical to nurturing digital talent as the company races to become a purpose-driven digital business within the next two years.

“Decode is in line with our vision to become a purpose-driven technology company by 2025. Together with other developer-centric initiatives, it embeds an engineering mindset as we seek to build a digital Kenya through connectivity, accessibility and affordability,” said Mr Ndegwa.

Safaricom says it has increased its digital talent from 250 to 850 in the past three years alone. However, it notes that there is a mismatch between the skills of ICT graduates and those required in the job market, making such skills programmes and events critical.

“Through initiatives such as Safaricom Decode, we will continue to provide opportunities for engineers to showcase their exceptional skills and share knowledge on best practices so that we can cement our place as a technology hub,” he said.

President William Ruto’s Chief of Staff and Head of Public Service Felix Koskei, who was the chief guest at the event, said innovation and the use of cutting-edge technology will be key to the President’s plan to create jobs.

“Kenya has consistently demonstrated an unwavering capacity to make remarkable strides in technology and embrace cutting-edge solutions to address everyday societal challenges more inclusively and equitably,” he said.

Mr Koskei cited milestones achieved in various sectors, including health through innovations such as M-Tiba, which he said has brought health services closer to citizens, digital financial solutions, AI-led education, agriculture and in the justice system through the digitisation of court processes.

“Safaricom’s unwavering commitment to technological advancement has propelled this country onto the global stage in remarkable ways. Innovations such as M-Pesa have taken Kenya to the world,” said Mr Koskei.

Another key topic discussed on the first day of the summit is the readiness of the local workforce for revolutionary technologies such as AI, and the strategies that need to be employed to equip talent with the necessary skills to prepare them for an AI-driven job market.

“The past decade has seen a remarkable transformation — high-speed connectivity has become universally accessible. During this time, we’ve witnessed the emergence of AI, with countless companies investing in it to gain invaluable insights to optimise their operations,” said Mr Morten Bangsgaard, the company’s chief technology and information officer.

“We are on the cusp of an exciting journey where AI will open up a world of opportunities and possibilities that will reshape our future.”

Ms Kadri Humal, who serves as the Honorary Consul of Estonia to Kenya, said rapid technological innovations and advancements such as AI can help Kenya reduce the time it takes to become a technology-driven society.

“Estonia’s digital success story spans several decades. In many ways, this success story has had different phases. Kenya doesn't need to take several decades to achieve the same success,” said Ms Humal.