Interview with the Board - Abdullahi

Written by Kelly Karremans

Let's start with a short introduction.

My name is Abdullahi Ali, but most people here know me as Appie. I'm 21 years old and currently in my third year of the study Artificial Intelligence. I'm from Beuningen which is a village close to Nijmegen. I also went to highschool in Nijmegen.

Do you still live in Beuningen?

At the moment I live in Nijmegen, I have a room here. Not for that long though, I only have room here since February 2016. I was 20 and felt like it was time to go and live on my own. It's also easier, I no longer need to crash at other people's places. I can just go to my own room. So it's just nice to be more independent and live your own live.

Why did you choose to study AI?

The funny thing is, at school I had an E&M profile*. Yet I felt that I liked the science side more. I like the model side of economics, but that was all. I did like history a lot though. So I was doubting if I should study history or not. I went to look at studies I could do with my profile, but history was the only one I liked. Despite liking history, it wouldn't be a good choice considering the jobs you could get with it. History is fun to do besides an other study, and it's still a lot of fun to keep reading about history, but not very handy as a main, that would be just a bit too much.

Thus I continued looking for other studies and eventually came across AI. I chose it because I could start the study with my profile, and because the study is widely orientated, just as I am myself. I liked the science side and the social sciences side. Also the study of the brain looked interesting to me, so did the technical aspects of AI.

Those are the reasons I decided to study AI, and I still do not regret my choice.

*For non Dutch students: E&M; literally, "economy and society") emphasizes social sciences, economics, and history. The mathematics classes focus on statistics and stochastics. This profile prepares for management and business administration.

Did you come across any obstacles during your study?

Not really, from the start it went really well. I got high grades without a lot of effort, and I already had a bit of programming experience which also helped a lot with the programming courses. The only thing I had a bit of trouble with was Brain in the beginning. This was because for this course you kind of needed to have had biology, which I didn't chose as a course in high school. So in the beginning where they started specifically with the cells, I had a bit of trouble to catch up. It didn't turn out to be a big problem and I managed to make up for it. I guess in the end I didn't have much obstacles.

How long have you been a member of CognAC?

From the very beginning. That means since September 2014. To give an overview:

In my first year I was part of the website committee, and the introduction committee.I have been in the study committee for two years. The first year as secretary, and the second as chairman.

In my second year I was a member of AC. Last year I was in the weekend committee as chairman, and I was in the real life monopoly committee.

I've have been quite an active member of CognAC.

What made you such an active member of CognAC?

I came here to study, but I have a lot of different interests, which is the reason I chose for AI. So I like doing other things as well, by example being active within the study association. Especially organising things that are about things I'm interested in. For example organising the introduction, I think that was one of the most fun things to do. I went to those meetings with a lot of enthusiasm. I think that's why I became such an active member. I just wanted to do stuff besides my study, because just studying isn't as much fun.

What other thing do you do besides your study that do not involve CognAC?

Well, for a long time I've been quite a fanatic runner. I quit it because I got too busy with other things and in the end didn't like it that much. A part of me wants to start running again, since I do started missing it.

Besides running you have the other basic hobbies, so I won't elaborate on those. I did do the honours program in my first year. But I don't have a cool hobby or anything like building airplanes or something.

Is this your first year as chairman of CognAC?

This is my first year as chairman of CognAC, and I'm pretty sure also my last year. Most people do a board year only once for the same association. You do it to learn something from it and after a year you're done with that. Some people do a board year after their first but at a different association like Olympus. The change of setting gives a different dynamic and different challenges.

How did you end up as chairman of CognAC?

For starters by being very active within CognAC. It was not like I started this study with the plans of becoming the chairman of a study association. The idea never really occurred to me. It was more like, I'm just going to study and see where it takes me.  It started in my second year. Around December I started to think about the chairmanship. Back then I was still like, I'm not going to do that. I liked being active within the association, but it seemed just a bit too much to do a board year.

Eventually I changed my mind rather quickly. It was a new challenge, and considering what I've heard I did like the idea of being the chairman. So after contemplating about it for some time I decided to go to the interview.  Around March there was an information meeting about it and soon afterwards you could decide if you wanted to do it. I wrote a motivation letter and send my resume along with it. Based on that I was invited for an interview, and on that same day you heard whether they chose you or not.

What are your responsibilities as chairman?

The funny thing about being the chairman is that your basic job responsibilities aren't that much. You have to keep an overview of the association, organise the board meeting, preside the general meeting of members etc. So mostly the function of a chairman is an overview function, but the rest of the position you can fill in by yourself. Unlike a treasurer who has fixed tasks to fulfill.

As a chairman those tasks are a bit more vague, so it depends on the person and how your divide it with the rest of the board. What I personally like a lot are the external contacts with other associations, I like doing the communications. The fun thing about being a chairman is that you get in contact with a lot of different people and you get to lead the way. I just really like doing those things.

As the chairman you get to be the face of the association. You get the chance to develop a policy in the general sense. You can set up a structure, make plans, and set out guidelines. It is fun to think about general policies, and to make policies on a relatively high level. So you're not busy with small specific things, but have a helicopter view on the entire association.

You really get your chance to put your mark on the association. Of course this is also the case with the other board members, but as the chairman you are still the person they expect to make the policy in that specific year. You get the chance to change the things of which you thought could be improved the previous year. It is just great being able to do that.

Are you able to combine the chairmanship with your 3rd year of AI?

I'm lucky to have followed more courses in my first and second year than necessary. So my free-choice electives is almost full, I only need 45 EC, which means I won't have to do one course this semester. The next semester I have to do my thesis and besides that two courses. Therefore it is a bit less work. Still getting 45 EC in a board year stays a challenge. Not everyone is able to do that. I am very busy with all of it, but it is still doable. I can't really decide until later, after all the deadlines have been passed, because that's when everything's gets to be decided.

Do you already know what you want to do as a master?

I'm pretty sure. Here you have the option to get a double degree cognitive neuroscience/AI. It looks really interesting to me. It really prepares you for the research in which I'm interested. I would really like to be in the science side of it all. Therefore this master is my number one choice. Next to that I'm still looking at computer science, maybe that they have something else I'm interested in. I keep my options open, since I haven't really been to any information meetings about the masters. I will go to those in the near future and see then where I'll end up.

Are there any tips you would like to give to the people currently studying AI?

If you're capable of doing extra things, especially in your first year, follow some extra courses. They do not really encourage you to do this, but the level of the courses get harder, and having done some extra courses may work in your advantage. In my case it really helped me, because of this I am able to finish my bachelor despite having done a board year. So if you get the chance and you’re capable of doing this, do it. Not just the extra courses, but you can become me active in different ways as well. Like becoming a more active member of CognAC, following an honours program, joining a student association. Go ahead and do something besides your study. AI on its own is already an appealing study and the job market for AI is also great, but I still recommend you doing something besides it. Something on which you can spend your time, and can be proud of.

Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone!

What is it like to be the first black president chairman of CognAC?

You are asking this after Obama is done as president? Well, I am very proud to be the first black chairman of CognAC, during the few months Obama was still the president of the US.

It is kind of funny, because I notice I stand out. Especially when you look at the people that have board/management positions, since most of them are white. Not being white can work in your advantage. Personally I have never had any problems with it. As many people might already know, I like making black jokes, and think they are very funny. So for the people who were still in doubt about that, feel free to make jokes, as long as they are meant to be funny. I am used to being the black guy, so it’s normal for me.

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