Graduate Spotlight: Allan Vikiru – If you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever
For millions, the classic Microsoft Paint was their first introduction to drawing or painting with a mouse on a computer, as well as creating slightly ropey-looking copy and paste collages. Dubbed “The People’s Photoshop,” this venerable graphics editing software brings nostalgia to many, ranging from drafting birthday cards to creating comics among a range of creative expressions.
“Drawing a stick house and family and also a moustache on my baby picture was my first real experience of a computer and I was hooked for life. I loved the sheer charm and simplicity of this program,” narrates Allan Vikiru, as he recounts the origin of his love for computing. “I would always find myself drawn to classic PC games such as Dangerous Dave, Mortal Kombat, and my personal favourite – Midtown Madness, where I would constantly try to break my own high scores.
Fast-forward to a somewhat adult me; I’d been overwrought with eagerness to enroll into a tertiary institution and I joined Strathmore University in 2017 straight from high school – Moi High School Kabarak. My choice of an undergraduate degree? Yeah you guessed it! I was going for something geeky! But not in a nerdish way. Something that would bring me all the excitement of academia but also allow me to have fun with my innovations. Joining the famous ‘Strath’ did not take much convincing by the Strathmore Marketing team when they graced my alma mater just before my final year national examinations. Besides, if I was to go on and become a famous Computer Scientist, wouldn’t doing it in a Strathmore branded hoodie give me more professional respect than Kevin Mitnick? That’s how I landed in the Bachelor of Science in Informatics and Computer Science #Classof2021.
A fashion cop special
Watching too many coming-of-age western movies, I guess, had cultured me differently. Being a computer enthusiast also came with the personal stereotype that I could show up to places, regardless of the context, in practically any ‘alright’ attire. After all, it’s my intellectual prowess that mattered, right?… Wrong! For my freshman year orientation, I adorned a look that I genuinely felt left heads turning, all for the right reasons, of course. It wasn’t one of those over-the-top MTV VMA or OSCARS fashion statements. It was just one of those looks that give you the confidence to do a short presentation in front of your mirror with an animated finger click right before you leave the house and by the end of the day, you’re so pumped by the way you looked, left feeling that not enough people were graced with your eye-catching presence. What I should’ve paid attention to was that every Stratizen I’d met that day, on my way to the auditorium, looked like a young professional. So my denim, however in style, looked quite odd. This was my first and last encounter with a Fashion Cop. Thank God!
On the long road to personal discoveries
I believe that life is simply far too short to be bored or miserable (or both) for such a large portion of the time we spend awake. So while I still could, I did a couple of things that literally made my soul dance. I had realized earlier on that not every single moment was going to be ‘fun’ and that even to pursue my wildest dreams involved a certain amount of graft and perseverance. I just chose to immerse myself fully into all I did instead. My four-year academic career here has been simply flavorful. I joined the Strathmore University IT Student Association (SUITSA), tried my hand at art and music, joined a couple of student fellowship programmes, appeared on the Dean’s List twice, developed a passion for cooking, partnered with friends in a national hackathon and won an iPad – which I still own, met incredible people, and created invaluable networks. If I was to write a Haiku about my #StrathmoreExperience, I would probably end up being wildly emote half way through and make a song instead,” adds Vikiru as we both burst out laughing at his romance with Strathmore.
A fire project!
“Did I mention I’m passionate about PCs? Not personal computers. Forgive my attempt at the bad pun. I meant People Centered solutions; because at the heart of every question, decision, and action, is a living, thinking person. So when I began my final year project, I had to make sure I was allying my intellectual research skills with empathy and practicality to deliver an effective solution to a real-life problem.
In 4th Year, at the peak of the pandemic and at the height of my intellectual curiosity, I had the brilliant idea of conceptualizing a system that would detect the risk of fire-ground injuries among firefighters using Internet of Things (IoT). Ecstatic about the idea, I presented it to my supervisor who liked it and asked me to prepare for the conceptual stage. However, at this stage, the panel could not see the viability of the idea. My heart sank! Thinking of every angle, I went back to the drawing board. Firefighters never really get much attention. I once read an article that stated that the last time the Mombasa firefighting station received a truck donation was from the British service in the 70’s. If I was to go back to the same panel with the same idea, I had to use facts. I did not just want to scale it down to the local context.
I figured it wouldn’t gain the traction it needed for an approval. So I based my research on Kenya, Britain, and the USA. The second time presenting was the charm. The panel was convinced that the project could be as big as I’d envisioned. Through the help of my supervisor, Dr. Esther Khakata, and the team at @iLab Africa, I was able to design a working prototype. I can’t be proud of this achievement yet until I see through the system which consists of a heart rate sensor, a GPS tracker, and a temperature and relative humidity sensor to track the vitals of the wearer and send data to an IoT cloud database. The visual real-time report would be used to detect the risk of fire-ground injuries among firefighters. At its most advanced phase, I see Health Informatics, Data Science, and IoT coming together to revolutionalise firefighting services,” concludes Vikiru with an eagerness to continue speaking about what he hopes will be a groundbreaking innovation.
Even with all the academic accolades, the latest one being graduating with a First Class Honours, my biggest flex is that I grew as an all-rounded person. How many can genuinely say this? Thanks to the support of family, friends, and faculty, my academic career was quite the wholesome journey.
Thank you Strathmore!
This article was written by Francis Kabutu.
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