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SPU students shine in global competition

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A team of Sol Plaatje University data science students have been placed among the top 14 percent of data scientists taking part in a global competition to use historical product and customer metadata to develop a personalised customer recommendation system for international fashion group H&M.

SPU data science students Ngonidzashe Tinago, Risima Da Gama, Hiteko Kevin Maluleke, Rejoice Chitengu and Skhumbuso Maleka who took part in a global data science competition. Picture: Supplied

A TEAM of Sol Plaatje University (SPU) data science students have been placed among the top 14 percent of data scientists taking part in a global competition to use historical product and customer metadata to develop a personalised customer recommendation system for international fashion group H&M.

SPU senior manager of marketing and communication Kashini Maistry said the five students, under the guidance of SPU data science lecturer Nontokozo Mpofu, took part in the competition via Kaggle, a data science platform that challenges data scientists to participate in real-life data science competitions.

“The BSc Data Science students Ngonidzashe Tinago, Risima Da Gama, Hiteko Kevin Maluleke, Rejoice Chitengu and Skhumbuso Maleka were all second-year students,” said Maistry.

She added that the group competed against 2,952 teams and 3,759 competitors with skill levels ranging from amateurs to experts while adhering to due dates of required submissions.

The winners stand to win a total cash prize of $50,000 (around R850,000).

Tinago indicated that they were only able to take part in the last one and a half months of the three-month competition while attending full-time lectures.

“Kaggle provided us with four data sets and one sample submission data set, including images of almost each product in the H&M stores and transactions of each customer for a given period. Since the datasets provided were too big, we had to code on the Kaggle platform that allowed five submissions a day, so from the time we joined we could have submitted a total of 90 submissions.”

Chitengu and Da Gama explained that the team scrutinised the strategies used by previous winners.

“We allocated enough time to the project and set deadlines for each task we allocated ourselves. There were days we would meet up and have fun playing for hours to refresh our minds before getting back to work, and that helped us think clearly.”

Maleka said the team gained valuable experience from competing in an international competition.

“We also learnt that there’s no irrelevant skill in a team, whether it is programming in a legacy language or putting a smile on one’s face, each skill has great significance.

“We learnt that programming doesn’t necessarily have to be intimidating. It can be fun, but there is no fun if you do not fully understand your data, hence the need for data exploration and analysis.”

Mpofu congratulated her students on their achievement. “Although they didn’t have as much time as the other competitors, they did very good work and showed their potential.”

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