Graduate Spotlight: Mike Mbabu – Masomo ya Gumbaru haitaki aibu


My grandmother would often mix my brother’s name and mine, something which I’ve always attributed to her failing memory. In hindsight, however, I now realise everybody does this. Though this might sometimes be embarrassing, studies suggest scrabbling people’s names is completely normal and by no means a sign of bad memory or ageing.

Scientists recently found that when people use the wrong name for a person, in the vast majority of cases the name that was used fell in the same category as the name that was supposed to be used. This happens when our brain is multi-tasking and has to quickly retrieve the words. Say you’re fully concentrating on writing an almost due report when your daughter Lina walks in to ask about something. You’re still facing the laptop screen, typing, when you reply “It’s in the cupboard, Manani!”. “It’s Lina, mom. Manani’s my sister, remember?” *facepalm*.

You’re smiling now because it has most likely  happened to you before… haha.

Why am I yapping on about this? Just this morning, I called Michael Babu and had an enthused minute long conversation about a graduate spotlight interview on him. See, the right recipient of this call was meant to be Mike Mbabu from the ICT department. But because Babu, from the Community Service Centre, is just the usual cheeky Babu, he decided to carry on with this conversation. Only for me to realise  it’s him, laugh and throw a boys’ banter before hanging up.

Anyways, I got a hold of Mbabu, who also goes by Mwiti, and we had an interesting breakfast at the Cafeteria. People seem to gravitate towards sanguines, apparently… Sure enough, shortly after we sat at one of the tables, we quickly became a temporary boy band of four thoroughly immersed in a discussion I can’t quite disclose. All you need to know is… it was a fun catch up!

Remember growing up, mostly for us boys, how we’d form our own tightly knit posse of daytime and/ or evening storytelling, usually at the corner frame of an abandoned house, an aged tree, or just the good old estate hangout joint? One thing that was forever guaranteed, there would always be the guy who’s experienced it all, you know… he seemed to know quite a lot and would attract his faithfuls, keeping them glued with tales that ranged from entire movie plot narrations to how he tackled the neighbour’s dog and came out unscathed. See that guy? That’s Mbabu. This man is a natural orator and will leave you either perplexed or mind blown… at least that’s what it is from a friend’s lens. As we walked up the STC stairs to the Communications Office on the second floor, he receives a call and quickly responds with “ningokoringera!- ‘I’ll call you back’” (pardon my French), and hangs up. I later learn that he’s Meru! I’ve known him for a while now and it never occurred to me he could converse in his native language casually and that well.

What more don’t we know about Mr. Mwiti?


What did kid Mbabu dream of turning into as an adult? He giggles while fiddling in his interview seat, looks up and says, confidently to some degree: 

Medical doctor!

But of course I fell victim to the supposed ‘wokeness’ of nearly all high schoolers. I realised that this wasn’t my forte at all. I had no passion for health sciences. So I dropped it and like a kid learning to walk for the first time, I challenged my curiosity on other spectrums of academia. My parents, ever the understanding pillars, entertained my hunt for a new passion. I told them that I had a very deep conviction that my métier now lay in Accounting (I realise now just how convincing I can be).

I did quite the ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ of my own- on a window shopping spree moving from one institution to another comparing programmes until I settled on Strathmore’s CPA. A semester in, I was hit by another realisation; manze Accounting just wasn’t the “it” for me.

Then… I learnt of this new course in everyone’s lips at the time, BBIT! Boy did I jump onto it! This is how I fell in love with information technology and ever so religiously nurtured my newfound passion despite getting an acceptance letter to pursue Economics and Statistics at one of the top public universities. I pursued BBIT elsewhere and began writing the first chapters of my happily ever after.

In 2013, like a son turned prodigal by my initial distaste for accounting, I came back, this time meaning business! I started my industrial attachment at Strathmore’s ICT department and even went on to graduate while still here. My strategy at the time: Work so hard, stay dedicated to my tasks and have as many good networks here as possible- giving my potential employer no choice but to retain me. ‘Unajituma hadi hawa wasee hawawezi kushow uende home, unaget? Hahahaha.’

It worked! I got a formal internship in 2014. Nearly 10 years later and I’m still here. Not as an intern, of course. I’ve grown in leaps and definitely countless bounds.

You even decided to be a master in Information Technology. Is tech that good an option?

When you’re fresh off studies, there are always two competing scenarios: I’m so pumped I could eat a whole PhD pie, orMy brain cells need a considerable break from all that wracking ordeal. 

You can almost guess where I fell on this.

It makes sense why my Master’s journey took off considerably later. I  got a call from Benson Ogutu, the ICT Client Support Manager, in early 2021. He challenged me to consider dipping my legs back into the sea of knowledge acquisition, and I said I’d think about it. I needed to reorganise my life in respect to this new development. I had just been blessed with a new baby, the pandemic was still giving everyone the jitters, I had to come up with a new arrangement of taking care of my family and personal business… It had to be a lot of sacrifices. I knew I couldn’t join the May intake and my target was to join the September cohort. It took me three months to reorganise everything, including my brain- which hadn’t been in a formal class for academics for close to 10 years!

A few years later after this life changing decision, I am almost furious at younger Mbabu for not making it sooner. Taking on the Master of Science in Information Technology has been the missing cog in my professional life’s engine. Of course it was familiar territory, given my BBIT background, but it also challenged me intellectually and socially. Socially because I was now in class with guys who’d more or less graduated from University a few years, if not months, back. It was eye opening to say the least. One of my biggest highlights was the two-week international trip to Brno University of Technology, one of the Czech Republic’s leading research and teaching institutions. It was quite practical, especially the Cyber Security and Forensics training, and of course, the summertime enjoyment hehe!

Truly a Masters with a difference!

A Machine Learning thesis with convolutional neural networks. Could you run us through it briefly?

My thesis title was “A car body damage assessment tool using convolutional neural networks”. It might not sound as mean right now, but I assure you it gave me sleepless nights on countless occasions.

How the system works: I started by training a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) model with four layers of instruction and action; You take a photo of a motor vehicle. So the first neural network determines whether it’s a car, if it gets a thumbs up, the second CNN determines whether the car has any damage. The third neural network determines where the damage is and the final network determines the severity of the damage on the car. So the system, after assessing the extent and severity of damage, would give an output against a database with recommendations on whether the car just needs a minor repair or even full replacement of parts, and the cost of each action.

My goal is to do a partnership proposal to car dealerships and insurance companies so as to do this project on a larger scale. As you know, I’m very entrepreneurial. So I could commercialise the idea, maybe even do it as a startup. No one has done it before in our region. But let’s see…

I never thought I’d have as much fun as I did with this project. Buuut… when the last word was typed, the final sentence crafted, the concluding paragraph written, and the final defense given a thumbs up, a wave of satisfaction washed over me. The completion of this thesis represented a personal milestone.  I felt a profound sense of personal growth and development, pride in my work, a sense of closure, and excited by the potential for making a valuable contribution in the world.


Family, work, school, entrepreneurship… How did you manage all these?

The simplest answer to this is family, and my tight support system.

Managing family, work, school, and entrepreneurship simultaneously was undoubtedly a challenging yet rewarding endeavour. You know during the pandemic, when we’d work from the office, I would work from the main office during the day and move into another quieter office in the evening to take on my virtual classes. Balancing these various aspects of life required meticulous planning, effective time management, and unwavering determination. I came up with a system: On weekdays, I’d handle school and work, Saturdays were mostly for my business, and Sundays… Sundays were purely and strictly dedicated to family and church.

With a supportive and understanding family, I was able to create a harmonious environment where responsibilities were shared and mutual encouragement was abundant. My wife came through for me in so many ways. This interview wouldn’t end anytime soon if we went into that.

It so happens that my brother is my best friend! So balancing became quite bearable. He would help me run my business effectively. We also have a very good system for making home visits to our mom. Family has always taken precedence and I’m glad we’ve never compromised on this.

Prioritising tasks, setting realistic goals, and maintaining a strong work ethic were crucial in achieving success in all areas.

Despite the demanding nature of managing these commitments, the passion and drive to excel in each domain propelled me forward and ultimately led to a fulfilling and well-rounded experience.

Masomo ya Gumbaru haitakangi aibu…

As we pen off, I think people limit themselves too much. And It’s always a mental thing. I remember I’ve joked with my classmates about this quite often: When you restart your academics journey at the adulting stage, you’ve got no choice but to stay committed and to finish what you started.

You know, masomo ya Gumbaru haitaki aibu’ – Studying at one’s old age should not be a shameful thing ( or at least that’s what I think it means), and all you’ve got to do is to pass in your units. There are no distinctions, what matters is finishing and finishing well. Weka hiyo degree kwa mfuko!

As we graduate, they remind me of these sentiments. Apparently, I was right!

This article was written by Kabutu Francis

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