Nelson Mandela University: Computer Science Master’s graduate focuses on smart cities and crime predictions

Kahl Kritzinger is the first Mechatronics graduate to also obtain an MSc in Computer Science at Nelson Mandela University, and cum laude to boot!

His research focused on smart cities using past crime data to predict future crime location and time.

His research, supervised by Computing Sciences’ Prof Andre Calitz and Physics’ Dr Lindsay Westraadt, found that predictive policing is a promising prospect for addressing the crisis of crime in SA, but poor data quality severely hampers its effective use right now. Poor data capturing procedures, a lack of inter-sector data compatibility and vague crime classifications are the main obstacles to data which can facilitate a predictive policing application.

Kahl (30) says his undergraduate degree in mechatronics afforded him a broad perspective on problem solving in multiple disciplines, as well as a solid grounding in how multiple systems interact with each other. His MSc compliments these skills well, as it taught him the rigours of the scientific process and analysing a concept to its fundamental principles. He believes he can now “switch” between these approaches to address everyday obstacles in a unique way.

Kahl was initially unsure of what to study and thought that mechatronics would introduce him to a wide range of disciplines. He liked the idea of working in robotics and automation and thought it would offer exciting career paths.

In his final year of mechatronics, he was introduced to machine learning through their evolutionary computing module. He then realised that he wanted to move into data science and work with data, rather than automation. So he approached Prof Calitz about switching over to the computing sciences department. He believed that an MSc would strengthen his push into data science, as working with supervisors that have experience in this field would accelerate his growth.

Doing his master’s part-time meant that he could work full-time in Cape Town, building up valuable industry experience, while furthering his academic understanding of data science. What was initially meant to be a two-year journey, eventually turned into a challenging three years of juggling career and studies. However, not sacrificing any time in the industry, it was an incredibly rewarding research path, “only made possible with phenomenal support from my supervisors”, he says.

Kahl emphasises that postgraduate students, especially part-time ones, have to be excited about their topic. “The MSc at Mandela Uni is a quality degree and the high standards set by the faculty will ensure your critical thinking, your work ethic is tested thoroughly and you have to stay motivated” says Kahl.

Having obtained an MSc in a data science direction, Kahl is now working as a data engineer for Private Property, remotely from Cape Town. He wants to further his understanding and skills in designing and building data infrastructure to facilitate data science use-cases. He hopes to merge his experience in both data science and data engineering to solve real-world problems with end-to-end data solutions.

He started out as an automation engineer and moved into software development 10 months later. He then spent two years as a software engineer before moving over to his current position as a data engineer, where he started in January 2022. He graduated in 2018 with his BEng in Mechatronics and started his MSc in 2019. He matriculated from Paarl Boys High in 2010.

Kahl says he gained a strong appreciation for data-driven decision-making, as well as the role that data quality and governance plays in such endeavours. By seeing first-hand how a promising concept such as predictive policing can be derailed by poor data systems, he is very motivated to solve these inefficiencies and shortcomings in industry.