In Conversation: Dr Kagiso Magowe (Research Engineer & Data Scientist)

From helping to build a smart city in Australia to assisting businesses to make data-driven decisions through cost-effective data analytics solutions, Dr Kagiso Magowe's career is all about using technological tools to make a real impact in the world. In this interview, he takes us through where it all started and where it's all going!

In your own words, tell us who Dr Kagiso Magowe is

Born and raised in Mmadinare, Botswana, Dr Kagiso Magowe is a research engineer, data scientist, leader and entrepreneur who is enthusiastic about solving real-life and business problems with a focus on solutions with strategic impact. I am passionate about entrepreneurship and seeing businesses, governments, professionals, and multi-disciplinary students learning and adopting relevant technological tools to make a real impact.  As such, I have co-founded two Botswana based start-up companies namely, Smart Learning Hub (with Dr Alphious Kedikaetswe) and soon to be officially launched (SK Smart Enterprise trading as) MarketXplora (with my partner-in life Sinah Magowe) focusing on hybrid educational services and interactive service listings, respectively.

Briefly take us through your journey to a career in data science

I simply love this question because it makes me reflect and acknowledge all who played a part in my life to be where I am right now. Firstly, being my parents/relatives who raised and supported me every single step, and then the teachers & colleagues during my basic education and tertiary education who provided a collaborative-conducive learning experience. In summary, upon completing my Form 5 at Francistown Senior Secondary, I pursued a Bachelor of Science at the University of Botswana for 2 years. I then transferred to Adelaide, Australia to study Bachelor of Engineering (Networking & Communications) followed by Master of Engineering - Telecommunications (by research) and finally a PhD in Electronics & Telecommunications from RMIT University, Melbourne Australia. My PhD work developed novel mathematical frameworks that evaluate the performance of localization algorithms accurately. The research outcomes would benefit applications such as wireless communication, defence, emergencies services, and data analytics for businesses. After completing my PhD, I then embarked on 2.5 years as a post-doctoral research fellow at RMIT where I got to work on practical Internet-of-Things (IoT) projects in collaboration with local governments and industry partners. The main objective of these research projects was to design and deploy end-to-end IoT infrastructure to provide data-driven solutions. Coupling my research expertise and working in data-driven industry projects during my Postdoc eventuated my data science journey.

What inspired you to pursue this career path

To answer this, let me begin by giving my viewpoint regarding data science. I see data science as a multi-disciplinary field utilising or co-existing with various disciplines including but not limited to linear algebra, statistics, optimization, probability theory, programming, machine learning, deep learning, and software engineering. And guess what, these are the topics or areas of great interest to me, and I have applied quite a few of them during my master’s & PhD. Hence, venturing into data science was more like a natural progression and exciting pathway for me. It is worth mentioning that as a qualified professional with a strong background in research and engineering, it becomes natural for me to not only define my career within the data science landscape but to treat is a powerful tool or field that allows me to apply its frameworks to various research, engineering, societal and business-related problems. In addition, and with an entrepreneurship mindset, I am more than motivated and eager to use such tools to develop cost-effective data analytics solutions that help businesses make data-driven decisions or improve existing processes.

Please tell us what your job entails

Since I am working for a newly established start-up company (Tierralogica) specialising in spatial science, data science, business consulting and infrastructure management, my day-to-day responsibilities span both the technical and non-technical aspects based on the company’s needs. At a technical level, I predominantly focus on building machine learning or deep learning models intended for development and production. In addition, I provide expert reviews and recommendations for any data science-related projects that the external clients consult the company on. The non-technical aspects of my job include but are not limited to project management, leadership & strategy and helping the company seek capital funding in the form of grants or tenders. 

You have been based in the diaspora for most of your career. What have been your experiences working in tech abroad?

Indeed. I have spent most of my adult life abroad and I have been fortunate enough to experience and see the tremendous change in technology and its adoption in advanced economies like Australia. Technology is embraced nationally and there is a constant improvement in infrastructure to enable or accommodate for such technological advances. For example, in Australia 3G technology was switched on in 2006, 2G technology was switched off in 2016, and 3G is projected to be switched off in 2024, paving the way to re-use the spectrum for more efficient technologies like 4G and 5G. There is a lot of investment to bring the latest technology with resulting benefits overflowing to both businesses and consumers.

If there have been any challenges, how have you been able to surmount them?

One of the main challenges of course is being abroad and missing my family back in Botswana. However, the beauty of technology has enabled me to stay connected with my family back home regularly – which is a plus though it is not the same as an in-person connection. The other challenge is related to the start-up companies that I co-established while in Australia and comprises time differences and lack of readily available general information on the Internet including that of business processes in Botswana. The latter more so needs to be improved because it will deter potential foreign investors (including Batswana in the diaspora) who might not have the patience to navigate such hindering-systematic processes to do business in Botswana. However, having local investors or directors suffices to alleviate such challenges in the interim. 

On the other hand, what has been some upsides of being based abroad?

Being abroad meant that I got to experience both worlds (Botswana & Australia) with different economies. This provided me with a baseline and ceiling information pertaining to the differing developmental levels and what needs to be done or adopted to improve the status quo in Botswana across various sectors of the economy.  For instance, one of the many things I have observed in Australia is that the private sector, particularly small businesses, is the main driver of the economy and not just the Government. However, in Botswana, it is the other way round and the scales need to diversely shift to achieve such economic advancement.

The Northern Melbourne Smart Cities Network project which you were a part of is incredibly visionary and exciting. Please tell us more about the project itself as well as your role in it

Yes, this was a very interesting and practical project I worked on. The Northern Melbourne Smart Cities (NMSC) network is an award-winning project that delivered one of the largest open IoT networks in Victoria for enabling smart cities. It was funded by the Australia Federal Government, 5 Local Governments and 2 Universities (RMIT and La Trobe) to the value of AUD 1.4 million. The project’s objectives were to enable data to drive change through a) application of smart technology to improve liveability & sustainability of cities, b) openly available public and datasets to support, unlock innovation and create new business opportunities, and c) fostering collaboration between local governments to improve their functionality in addressing environmental, economic, and social challenges in the community. The project scope targeted 5 use case scenarios including asset tracking, waste management, water level monitoring, environmental monitoring, and occupancy (usage of public spaces). I was a Research Fellow in the project and my technical responsibilities included network design, tender specifications and evaluation, RF coverage verification and quality assurance. The outcomes of the project were published in IEEE Internet of Things Magazine 2020 for interested readers.

NortNorthernMelbourne Smart Cities Networkhern Melbourne Smart Cities Network

Compared to countries like Australia, Botswana’s tech adoption is what one could call archaic. What learnings do you think we can get from such countries to accelerate our tech adoption rate?

Yes, the tech rollout and adoption in Botswana has been very slow in terms of implementation, upgrading and utilization. In my opinion, I see two main barriers in fully embracing technology to its full potential. Firstly, there is a lack of major infrastructure investment e.g., fixed broadband technology connecting homes and businesses. Usually, such large-scale projects require investment from the Government – with a long-term view of the downstream benefits that will come out from such rollout of national infrastructure. For example, over the past 10 years, Australia has embarked on a wholesale National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout consisting of different fibre technologies. This increased Internet footprint in addition to mobile broadband provided by competing Telcos who were also able to tap into the NBN infrastructure and consequently offer services to consumers at a reduced price. However, in Botswana, though cellular technology is popular, the cost of accessing Internet services through mobile network providers is still high and Internet access tends to be constrained or streamlined to certain services. Therefore, the Internet needs to be made more accessible and affordable since there are other downstream business services or opportunities that will thrive in such environments. Secondly, consumers in Botswana tend to not fully embrace or adopt available and emerging technologies possibly due to many factors including cybersecurity, accessibility/affordability, and cultural mindset. Improved education to close this gap, especially in our basic education curricular, needs to be considerably accelerated.

Data Science, which is the field you are in, is constantly and rapidly changing with new technologies being introduced. How do you ensure that your skillset always remains relevant?

As a researcher, it is part of my DNA to always stay relevant with advances in new technologies through recent research works and professional/personal development via courses, training webinars and workshops.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

Transitioning from academic life to industry. I have always been passionate about applying my research expertise in practice especially in areas or sectors with scarce skills. It was a big transition but a necessary one for my individual and professional growth.

What’s something you know now that you wish you knew earlier in your career?

Life beyond academia. As a researcher, sometimes it is easy to focus more on the theoretical aspects of research and neglect to envision the (industry) life outside the university realm. In fact, it makes more valuable sense for academia and industry to co-exist because they both tackle real-world problems.

If any, what is the best advice you have received in your career?

I don’t recall the specific advice I have received but this is the one I gave to myself which might be applicable to some: “never stop learning but learn with a hands-on experience lens because there is more value to what you do than only what you know”.

What advice can you give to young people interested in pursuing a career in data science?

They can do it – the sky’s the limit. But it requires dedication and hands-on experience to demonstrate their global competence e.g., building project portfolios and doing professional courses (particularly ones with hands-on experience labs emulating practical applications) to learn new developments in data science. Gone are the days when certification on its own is enough – the stakes are high, and demonstration of true potential is what matters most.

Lastly, please share with our readers your contact details in case they want to get in touch with you

LinkedIn: Kagiso Magowe


NB: Interview has been slightly edited for clarity
Previous Post Next Post