August 2020

Hassan Kane ’13

Hassan Kane’s life took a wide turn in 2012 when he and his family won the green card lottery. After spending his whole life in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, Hassan had six-month window to decide where he wanted to finish high school. 

After some research and advice from his family members, they decided to settle in Houston, where Hassan could continue to study under the French curriculum at Awty, while also being immersed in an international environment. 

Today, Hassan leads the machine learning team at a Boston startup called Emtropy Labs and consults with a startup called BigHat Biosciences.

We are so proud to feature him in this month’s Alumni Spotlight!

What person, course, or experience most influenced you while at Awty? How?

The whole experience went above my expectations. I felt like I was in “High School Musical”. I remember being amazed by simple things such as having an assembly, lockers, a homecoming game, senior ball, and all of these moments typical of the American high school experience that I had seen in TV shows and didn’t expect to experience as my previous high school had simpler activities.

Share your favorite memory of Awty:

I remember exactly what I was doing on 12/12/12 at 12:12 p.m. We were having a philosophy lesson and staged a photo opp to commemorate that special time which would be the last time of the century where we’d have a date with exactly the same numbers.

Hassan and his classmates on 12/12/12

How did your education/experience at Awty prepare you for what you did in college and/or are doing today?

Academically, 12th grade was my best high school year. The environment at Awty was really stimulating on an intellectual and personal level. In the French section, we pretty much had an exam that would look like the one we’d take at the end of the year (devoir type bac) every week. The classes were small and the teachers overall dedicated. For example, in our Specialty Math class, we were only four students and went over very interesting topics such as linear algebra and number theory. 

Winning the 2013 University of Houston Math Contest

Winning the 2013 University of Houston Math Contest

Another cool highlight was the Math Club. I met students from the International sections who were really passionate about Maths, and one of the highlights there is I was part of the team which won the University of Houston Math contest in 2013 which, I think, was a first in the school history.   

What college did you attend and what did you study?

I attended MIT where I studied Computer Science with a minor in Mathematics. I came with a strong background in Mathematics/Physics and studying Computer Science built on these abstract thinking foundations. Towards the beginning of my Junior year, the field of artificial intelligence really took off and has captivated me ever since. So, within the intersection of computer science and mathematics, I focused on machine learning. My studies were complemented by two software engineering internships at Facebook, and one at Uber where I worked on algorithms for self-driving cars.

Describe your current job and the path you took to get there. What do you love about your job?

I lead the machine learning team at a Boston startup called Emtropy Labs and I consult with a startup called BigHat Biosciences. At Emtropy, we are building algorithms to understand conversations happening at call centers and via emails between customer service agents and customers. We are able to provide close to real-time analysis at scale and analyze the tone, emotions, and content of the conversations which would have otherwise been difficult to do manually. BigHat Biosciences designs and engineer antibodies and I help with building machine learning models to predict biochemical properties of interest.

What I like the most about my role as a scientist leading teams and building machine learning algorithms is the interdisciplinary nature of the work and the simultaneous exposure to business and scientific problems. After my experience interning in large software companies, I got attracted to the startup world because startups are at the forefront of taking new technologies to market. Furthermore, since they are smaller organizations with a lot of work to do in a short amount of time, they tend to be flat at the beginning and one gets exposed to every aspect of building a technology-driven business ranging from writing software, learning about business development, marketing, fundraising, recruiting. Startups are definitely risky and involve a lot of work but the feeling of attempting to succeed against the odds and impact is equally rewarding.

What advice would you give current Awty students interested in pursuing a career in your field?

When getting started in computer science, it can be very intimidating to encounter people who have been programming since they were seven years old and feel like one will never catch up. I studied a bit of algorithms and programming in high school, but really focused on computer science in college and was still able to get the most selective internships in the technology industry. As soon as I got started, I did a lot of personal projects with friends. It is very important to get deliberate practice and work on projects outside of schoolwork. The field is constantly evolving and when new technologies emerge there can be a lack of experts there, so if you also really focus on these newer fields that interest you, you can become an expert in those areas and attract opportunities. As I approach seven years of programming experience, I work on not becoming complacent and constantly learn about new fields. While I am dedicated to perfecting my craft in machine learning for now, I keep an eye out on other fields and stretch myself out of my comfort zone. In short, as a beginner, confidently approach the field, explore for some time, and once you find areas that interest you, dive deep in those areas by working on projects with collaborators and - while perfecting your craft - keep an eye out on other fields/application domains, too, to not only stay in your comfort zone.

What is something people may not know about you?

I aspire to write both fiction and nonfiction books about afrofuturism at a later point in life. For now, I write essays on Medium. I have also owned a chicken farm in my home country since 2016.

Anything else you would like to share?

At first, I approached my one year at Awty by trying not to make too many friends. “I will be only here for a year and have a lot of academic challenges, so maybe I shouldn’t invest too much in friendships”, I thought. This view didn’t last long as I bonded with both students in the French and International program from 12th and 11th grade, and even created a public speaking club. I ended up bonding with my cohort and stayed more or less in touch with many of them. I met many after Awty in San Francisco, Paris, Montreal. I am still trying to figure out how they awarded me the Kathleen Awty award after just knowing me for a year!

Hassan's Awty school picture

Hassan's Awty school picture