Passion for digital agriculture: A conversation with Ismail Fatai

There's something contagious about passion when you come across it. That's how we felt after speaking with Ismail Fatai, a recent participant in our Automation and Digital Agriculture Specialist program!
Passion is contagious

There’s something contagious about passion when you come across it. Whether it stems from a concern for global justice, for family, or for local community, getting the chance to speak to someone who is passionately committed can change you. At Palette Skills, we’re lucky enough to come across this kind of passion in our community often. From our many program participants right through to our community and employer partners, it can be exhilarating to sense just how much passion people are bringing to what they do.

That’s certainly how we felt when we sat down to talk with Ismail Fatai, who has recently completed the Automation and Digital Agriculture Specialist Program from Palette Skills in Saskatchewan. Ismail is a friendly and soft-spoken person with a quick smile, and he’s eager to share his experience of the program. He is originally from Nigeria, and grew up as the second-oldest sibling in a family of nine children. He tells us that his childhood home is in the south western part of Nigeria in Lagos state in a beautiful neighbourhood, where he always saw lots of families and children.

“Growing up was a wonderful adventure for me,” he tells us.

Ismail studied animal production and health in Nigeria, successfully completing an undergraduate degree, a Masters, and finally a PhD. He focused on animal breeding and genetics, and published several papers in the field. We wanted to find out a little more about Ismail, his passion, and about his experience in the Automation and Digital Agriculture Specialist program.

Palette Skills: How long have you been in Canada, and what made you decide to move here?

I have been here since 2021. I had actually applied to the University of Saskatchewan back in 2007, but I didn’t get the scholarship I wanted. What made me apply to study there in 2007 was that I realized there was a lot of passion there about agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan, and in the province. So I was very excited when I was able to come in 2021.

Palette Skills: Not only do you have this exciting research career, you also have a wealth of experience in data analysis and business intelligence. Can you tell us a little bit about how these skills came together?

I think of myself as a problem solver. I have a lot of experience in farm management, and I want to take all of these skills and help farmers and the agricultural industry make efficient and data driven decisions. For me, business intelligence is an umbrella term for all of the different tools I use, including data visualization and data analytics. What I have worked on is how to use historical data to make data-driven decisions, and how to help organizations make decisions that really reflect their performance. So for example, looking at what they’ve been doing in the past, what they need to improve on, and then looking at what the future holds for them based on the data that we have. 

Palette Skills: How did you hear about the Automation and Digital Agriculture Specialist program from Palette Skills?

I heard about the program through some friends I met in Canada, because they know about my passion for agriculture, and they know about my background. I was convinced that this would be a bountiful opportunity, so I did what I had to do, and I joined the pool. I didn’t hesitate, I just jumped for it, and I embraced it with all my heart. 

Palette Skills: How did you manage to balance your passion with the intensity of the program? What part of the program fired you up and gave you a lot of energy?

Like you said it’s a very intense program that demands your attention and presence. You don’t want to miss a moment of the program, not a day or an hour, because there are so many things to learn. You know, when you join the program you might think that you know everything, but the program will humble you in a really good way. It’s a lot of work but we all know that the agricultural industry needs innovation every day. People in this sector are very serious because in the end we are producing the things that people eat, and what we do makes a difference. 

Palette Skills: Tell us about some of the things you learned that surprised you!

What I found valuable was the structure of the program itself. They start by working on some really important professional skills, like developing a great résumé. You know, I thought I had a good résumé, but when we worked on it they were able to bring out all the skills that I had, and even skills I didn’t know that I had, but that are important in a professional setting. They helped me put all of this in writing and made my résumé really shine. 

Also, the instructors spend time coaching us on how to speak to employers, and this was very important. And there were the networking events, as well as the hands-on workshops that really showed us how different things are done. In addition, you get the chance to spend time with mentors, and the one I had was really able to instil confidence in me. You know, they told me “you are qualified! Look at yourself as a qualified candidate.” And that was great because now I can look at any employer and tell them I am qualified for this. 

Palette Skills: That’s great to hear. How are you feeling you now that you are out there and applying for different positions?

It’s very exciting, and I’m full of confidence now. In the past, before I joined this program I had I think some difficulties expressing myself. Sometimes it felt just like stage fright, and I could feel myself going off track, or just going blank. I think in the program I learned to keep my balance, and to trust that I have a lot of knowledge that is valuable to other people. 

You know for me, I am a recent immigrant, and so I was a little uncertain about how to begin with digital agriculture, but this program opened a way. The program is actually enticing and enchanting for people to join, and I mean for all kinds of people. 

Q: What would you tell people who are considering taking the Automation and Digital Agriculture Specialist program?

I think the future for digital agriculture is really bright, because it’s so important. And with more and more cohorts of students in the program, Palette Skills is building almost a database of people who can really make a difference. You know it is actually kind of contagious, in a good way. The dedication of the instructors and the staff is irresistible. And as a matter of fact, when I shared my experience about the program with other people in the industry, they became really interested, and they also want to join the program!

Are you motivated by a passion for learning? Do you want to make a difference in the world of precision and digital agriculture, or want to find out more about the people and the program? Everything you need to know is right here!

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