“To put an identity on me is pretty impossible because I’m evolving every day. I see myself as so many different things and having so much intersectionality. I’m the youngest guy in my family, but I’m also the oldest kid of my mom, so my little sisters look up to me. I’m a tech guy, but I like to think of the philosophical approach and how it’s going to impact people. I’m always developing more and more dimensions to myself and learning.
I have 23 siblings. Most of the time, we are all in the house at the same time. Always being around people made me realize that what I do doesn’t just affect me, but it affects others. With such a big family, many things were happening, so people couldn’t help me with homework. My parents never went to school and they had no sense of my grades, so it was up to me to keep going. I wasn’t seeking approval from anyone but did what I needed to grow as a person.
When I was growing up, I would see so many things that seemed wrong. It started to really hit me in high school, so I asked myself, what could I do? I couldn’t solve all of the world’s problems, but there were small ones in my locality that I could try to improve. I always thought that technology would play a huge role in making that change.
In Ghana, I would be in high school and I’d be curious about something, but I didn’t have access to the internet to look it up and the school library had nothing. If I would’ve had a phone that was connected to books and knowledge, that would’ve been so cool. All those experiences influenced my decision to do computer science.
Now, I’m at the point where I’ve identified what I want to do, which is artificial intelligence. When I think about the term artificial intelligence, it’s the terminology I don’t like because whose intelligence is it? It’s something we need to question.
Now, more than ever, it’s really important to have people with different ideologies, motivations, and perspectives working in the field. Technology should be for everyone, that’s what it promises.
One of the major lessons I learned out of the transition from high school to UW-Madison is you don’t have to always have everything figured out. I had no idea what I was doing, but I told myself to keep fighting and not give up. The transition hasn’t always been easy. Wisconsin is a hard place to be as a black person because there are not so many of us here. It’s been really interesting to learn that there’s more beyond my world. When you’re living in your tiny circle, you get comfortable and start to think that’s the only parallel that exists, but once you step out, you start to see that there are infinite parallels and paths.
I definitely know what I want to do, but I don’t know how it’s going to look. I know that I don’t want to just end up being another number in the software developer pool, cranking data all day. To me, that is not fulfilling enough and there are far more impactful things that I could be doing with my knowledge. I know I want to be working on products that are going to be making people’s lives better.
What is really important to me is making a positive change and not thinking I’m too small to make a difference. There’s this funny quote that says, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, then you’ve never spent a night with a mosquito.” That’s how I see myself because I think there’s so much that can be done, especially in the kind of society where I grew up.”
Sheriff Mohammed Issaka is a King-Morgridge Scholar at The University of Wisconsin-Madison (‘22). He majors in Computer Science and is from Kumasi, Ghana.