Tech moves fast, especially in areas like AI and machine learning. While academics enjoy access to top-notch knowledge at a theoretical level, how do you keep your practical knowledge current as tech innovates faster than anything you learn at university?
The answer is Gathers.ai. Co-founder Bogdan Ponomar joined forces with engineers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and product people to start a local community in Ukraine of educational events.
But then, "after the war started, we were inspired by the global unity. And we're a community that believes in sharing everything we know and own and giving it back to the community in Ukraine and beyond. We wanted to unite Europe's fragmented AI ecosystem."
Gathers delivers practical hands-on educational resources to upskill AI and machine learning professionals. The school soft-launched in September 2022.
It offers paid courses to help businesses upskill people currently working in AI and machine learning. Think short bursts of knowledge over hours of someone standing before a whiteboard.
And it works. While only %3 of people complete the Coursera course they sign up for, Gathers has a completion rate so far of over 70%
"Because you work collaboratively with peers. As an industry, collaboration is hard, with people focused on their research and KPIs. We provide something better."
Upskilling is essential in a time of lay-offs
Education is essential to future-proofing your role in AI against financial uncertainties and lay-offs.
With any workplace initiative, there's always the challenge of C-suite buy-in. This is especially relevant as the needs of businesses grow despite the challenges of lay-offs and hiring freezes. "The best way to not hire people is to develop them."
"These days, you can't just learn from courses; you need to learn every day, not just to read books or watching videos. The new era of learning is to talk to your peers, colleagues, and like-minded people. The new era of upskilling is to synthesise this knowledge and creativity."
The school offers short courses and has also created The Papers Club, where Gathers brings together industry experts and the authors of industry papers to facilitate group discussions.
It is an opportunity to "synthesise new approaches, create ideas, and explore how we can implement research into business and other real word applications. You can join the conversation and get an opportunity to validate your hypothesis fast, with advice from your peers to iterate."
The Club welcomes machine learning practitioners from startups as well as behemoths like DeepMind and openAI.
And in a fast-moving sector, a commitment to life-long learning is critical. Ponomar shared that
"To be a good machine engineer, you should always read these research papers. But it takes a lot of work to keep up with the exponential growth in the industry. It's also critical to not just read but to iterate and reflect with peers."
Creating a startup during war
When listening to Ponomar's enthusiasm, it was easy to forget that I'm talking to someone whose life has been fundamentally disrupted over the last year.
He shared that the main challenges have been to launch a startup "at a time when your daily life is unpredictable, with some team members remote and others dealing with the challenges of living in Ukraine, like consistent access to electricity."
The company has moved some of its team of 8 people to the West of Ukraine. But some wanted to stay in Kyiv, "they told me, no, we will stay, we're safe. We're going to buy Starlink and electricity generators. Of course, we keep pushing them to move to the safest places possible, but the Ukrainian people's resistance is unique."
He casually mentioned in our interview that 30% of meetings had been held from bomb shelters. Even running a ML day school in November wasn't easy, with half taught in a bomb shelter.
Ponomar shared that the company is a place of support:
"We offer support to each other in different ways. Especially with friends and family members on the frontline. It also greatly impacts our mental health, despite everyone saying they are ok." Ponomar shared he has a lot of trouble sleeping. "But I see the light at the end. tunnel."
After testing its product offering locally, Gathers is first focusing on the Scandinavian market with plans for an official product launch in March.
This article is part of Tech.eu's highlighting of remarkable Ukrainian startups on the one-year anniversary of the Russo-Ukrainian War. Read more ...