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12 April 2019
Data Science Champion Katlego Kekesi Honoured By Ernst & Young

(Published - 12 April 2019)

In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, data is central to business and economic growth. As technology advances, the rate of data production is growing exponentially. Companies need skilled data scientists to turn that data into business intelligence - skilled data scientists like the University of the Western Cape’s Katlego Kekesi, who was recently selected as one of the top 6 entrants into the 2019 Ernest and Young (EY) Data Science Challenge.

“What I find most exciting about Data Science is the ability to unveil information about complex and complicated data that isn’t directly available to just anyone,” Katlego says. “Knowing that there is research and mathematical procedures that support that, and being able to do so at a remarkable speed, bridging computer science and statistics to find a way of solving – or even just truly understanding – the problems organisations face in the twenty-first century.”

EY runs a series of challenges for students around the world to identify young talent who can become the Data Scientists we need. Students need to work – in teams or as individuals – on messy and massive datasets (Big Data) to find solutions to real-world analytical problems.

Out of 278 groups taking part in the 2019 South African edition of the Data Science competition, 15 teams were invited to the Cape Town EY office to present their projects and findings – and only one team in the top 6 was composed of just one individual: team Katlego Kekesi.

“My project was about using Logistic regression and Tree diagrams to predict whether or not a person is within a particular city, examining trajectories with variables such as time, distance, and position,” he explains. “The most intense part of the project was identifying these variables, cleaning the data, extracting relevant information – and ultimately developing a reliable model.”

Fortunately, Katlego’s EY project was very closely aligned to his work as an Honours student in Statistics at UWC. Thus, what he was expected to produce for his Honours project could be applied to solve the competition challenge.

“I know Katlego worked extremely hard to achieve this success – and he deserves it,” says Professor Renette Blignaut, who heads the Data Science programme at UWC. “It not only shows his ability to solve difficult problems, but also that he had courage and persistence to compete and produce a very good statistical model.”

Katlego Kekesi: Delving Into The Data

The lastborn of three, Katlego was raised in the capital of the North West, Mafikeng, and spent his younger years engaging in all kinds of sports, from basketball and hockey, to swimming.

“For the longest time these were the center of my focus,” he says. “It’s only when I started attending boarding school that I had to focus more on my studies, and realised my love for solving numerical problems, particularly in Mathematics and Physics.”

That love took him first to North-West University for a BSc in Statistics, and then down to Cape Town to refine his statistical skills at UWC.

“Cape Town has always been a place in which I wanted to live and grow,” he notes. “Where I’m from, opportunities are scarce, and Data Science is a field in high demand - but that demand is focused in urban areas with a more global outlook. UWC has done well in this regard; we’re constantly being exposed to corporates and what they are looking for in the work space.”

The EY Challenge was the perfect opportunity to refine and test his skills, make a name for himself and ...well, to challenge himself and see if all the long nights and hard work have been worth it.

“I knew that if this was a success, it would be recognised by people who are in places to change the situation I was in. I am grateful for the opportunity to have taken part in the competition,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot on the journey – but there’s still a lot to learn.”

The EY winners have been invited to take part in the Graduate Programme that will commence next year, and Katlego is also interested in the Master’s Data Science Programme at UWC.

“If I can master Data Science and Computer Science, I’ll have prepared the ground for innovation – and not just my own,” he says. “My dream is to change lives through education – creating a system that allows kids like me to develop their talents, and find their way in a changing world.”