Why I Loved Every Second At Deep Learning Indaba

As I sit here in our Airbnb after a week full of positive energy, inclusivity, collaboration and inspiration, I just can’t help but reflect and digest everything that happened, whether it is on what it meant to go to Deep Learning Indaba (named hereafter DLIndaba) as an InstaDeeper, but also on what this conference meant to me as an African.

For a bit of history, I recently joined an Pan-African startup, called InstaDeep. If you’ve been to the DLIndaba, I’d say that there’s a 90% chance that you know what I am talking about. For those who don’t or weren’t in the conference, InstaDeep is an AI startup that has started in Tunisia, and in a matter of 4 years, expanded in Nairobi, Lagos, London and Paris.

As a reference, DLIndaba is THE African Deep Learning conference. First edition was in 2017, and for this year’s edition, I had the opportunity to attend with one of the greatest teams you could join: InstaDeep.

InstaDeep at DLIndaba

Deep Learning Indaba, so what?

Trust me, DLIndaba is not the most common conference you’ll go to or hear about, and allow me to tell you why.

Indaba’s aim is to create an inclusive environment where Africans will, for once, not be regarded as people seeking for help, but more like people who are able to produce and to be elites in what they do, and more specifically in a field like Machine Learning. Indaba is a group of volunteer organizers that were able to bring together 500 Africans for a week of learning, work showcase, collaboration and rewards.

To make this conference as inclusive as possible, DLIndaba organizers were able to provide more than 200 young Africans with scholarships to join and get the most out of the learning, just like anyone else. With speakers like Jeff Dean, David Silver, Nando De Freitas, Moustapha Cisse and Shakir Mohamed, we were certainly served in terms of inspiration, humility, and exchange.

Not only did we have the opportunity to learn from the high level speakers who were invited, but we also could benefit from the meaningful discussions with the participants. Most specifically, I was delighted to go through the posters that showcase the tremendous research work that Africans have been able to deliver.

Rihab, from InstaDeep, presenting her work at DLIndaba

What I usually enjoy about conferences is networking and talking to people, which I consider one of the sources of knowledge and inspiration in gatherings like this since the talks can be too general, repetitive or simply stereotypical after a while.

However, at Indaba, you could find a serious concrete flow of knowledge transfer through well-organized theoretical and practical sessions. Sessions go from basic deep learning fundamentals to probabilistic thinking and reinforcement learning. Furthermore, for theoretical sessions, and even though those were held at a huge auditorium that could easily fit 500+ people, interaction was highly present, with the possibility to simply go to the speaker after the session for a chat.

Bonus point: all of the slides and practicals can be found on the website. Please do enjoy taking a look at those!

Excellence, diversity (the authentic one), and hard work were what characterized Indaba this year. And those are the exact values that InstaDeep goes by.

InstaDeep in all of this?

Well, if I can put the experience as an InstaDeeper in three words, it would be excellence, teamwork and pride.

The teamwork was especially visible during the days and nights leading to Indaba (and during!), in which multiple teams kept working tirelessly to improve the demos and website to make the event a success.

Let me try to summarize the output of the experience, as much as I can:

  • We were honored to have Jeff Dean (head of Google AI) join us at InstaDeep’s booth, along with our friends Moustapha Cisse (lead of Google AI in Africa), Andy Volk (Google Ecosystem Lead for Sub-Saharian Africa), and Soonson Kwon (ML GDE Lead).
  • The work was also exposed to David Silver and Nando De Freitas from Deepmind who literally sat down with the team to discuss it.
Nando De Freitas sitting with the InstaDeep team to discuss their work
  • Someone beat our AI! We were very happy to welcome people in our booth and having them play a game that we prepared for the conference, where humans get to try to beat our AI, and we had a winner! We loved that Tumisho stepped by to get his well-deserved gift.
Tumisho getting his prize for beating our AI
  • 7 posters from InstaDeepers were selected to get showcased during the week of the conference, among which 4 got prizes at the end of the it. The top prize, a ticket to NIPS, got awarded by Microsoft to an InstaDeeper as well.
  • David Silver even mentioned the team’s research paper in one of the slides of his talk. The level of excitement at that moment was just unreal!
  • Seeing Amine, InstaDeep’s head of product and Karim, InstaDeep’s CEO, be two of the speakers at DLIndaba was a particularly proud moment for all the team.
Karim, InstaDeep’s CEO, having a talk about “Life of an AI startup”


To sum up, three key points to remember:

  • It’s unanimously agreed upon that the team of Indaba organizers surpassed all expectations for this edition. Creating an inspirational ML community in Africa is definitely helping in democratizing what AI means for this continent, preventing and curing several community issues. Those guys are taking this matter seriously and managed to craft a program that answered so many needs in the utmost manner. Kudos to you, DLIndaba team!
  • None of the above would have happened without the magical link that unites the people of InstaDeep. That goes from those who worked on the logistics of getting 12 people of the company to the conference, to the AI researchers and developers work behind the demos shown at our booth, to the designers who worked hard for the posters to be consistent and attractive, to the developers who worked on our website, to our Unity heroes who could have not made the demos any smoother, and to those who made sure that we kept the good mood, laughter and most importantly fire going around the week! If I have learned something about this last point, is how important people are for a startup. I have certainly just joined, but what I have observed and experienced in the past couple of months is self-explanatory.
InstaDeep’s team (missing Karim, Muthoni and Amine) at Signal Hill (how lucky were we to go up there and find it that cloudy? Hehe)
  • Stellenbosch, where the conference was held, is one beautiful town, located around 45 mins away from Cape Town, South Africa. Holding the conference there was certainly meaningful from the history of the university. I can talk for hours about the beauty of this town and of the South Africans’ warmth. In fact, I had the opportunity to meet with the sweetest people ever, Lydia and Cornel who took some time to show me the beauty of the town through the most amazing hike!
Hike with Lydia and Cornel at Jonkershoek Nature Reserve

For InstaDeep, this is just a small milestone and a reward for the work that the team has been doing lately. But it’s also the beginning of so much more. As Karim says: “Great stuff, guys! Exciting times!”.

Thank you South Africa and Indaba for this energy boost. Now let’s get back to work.

Source: Deep Learning on Medium