Is Research for Me?

[tweetmeme source=”rags2riches” only_single=false] “It was my dream to pursuit a career in research” is a typical reason I hear from software developers going abroad for higher education in computer science—a reason that I fail to understand. Why on earth a person interested in research joined a software services company, in the first place? My next question to the person leaving for studies is “Will you opt for a PhD, given a chance?” They usually say yes.

Google Insight for Search tells that search for the keyword “PhD” is most popular in the following countries: Ethiopia, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Nepal, Ghana, Rawanda, Zambiya and Kenya. For the keywords “PhD Education,” Pakistan comes at top with India being second.

I am now focusing on enthusiasts from the above list of countries.

There could be many reasons for going abroad but in most of the cases “interest in research” is not one of them or at the least, the responder doesn’t know “what research in reality means.” More candid reasons for selecting an Engineering Masters program [1] in a foreign university could be

  1. I just want to get the hell out of here, and higher education seems to be the easiest way out; I’ll get a job as soon as I finish my studies. PhD is what I have kept as a backup if I don’t get a job.
  2. The second reason could be, “My Masters would be followed by a PhD; having the words Dr. written with my name looks darn cool; it will open up lots of doors of opportunities.”
  3. The third reason could be, “I believe I can invent something as soon as I enroll in a PhD program.”

If you belong to category 1 above, I wish you best of luck; you are sure what you want. However, don’t think of any backups—just go for what you want and don’t waste time on something which is not your ultimate goal. Do think of your people when you have survived the first few levels of Abraham Moslow’s Pyramid of Motivation.

If you belong to category 2 and 3, you need to understand what you are opting for; most of the guys are terribly misguided as to what academic research in practice means, unless, of course, you have gotten published at undergraduate level.

Paper Submission for The Conference “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham, http://www.phdcomics.com

Paper Submission

There are three extremely important elements of your PhD career:

1. Your Thesis Topic
2. Your Supervisor
3. Your Funding

If you don’t know about the 3 above, you can land yourself in trouble (read “desperation” of several years). Usually, the funding is your supervisor’s headache, and a PhD position is offered only when respective funding is available with the supervisor. Your thesis topic, however, will keep haunting you for the rest of your life.

The Age Factor!

The time you need to spend to earn a PhD degree is something between 3 and 7 years! Let’s say you finish your undergraduate studies at the age of 21, and spend 2 years in the industry when you realize that you are “interested in research.” You will spend next 6 months in applying for admission/ getting the visa, and another 2 years in finishing your Masters—by then, you would be 25.5 years old. When you enroll and complete your doctorate after that, your age would be 29 to 32 years! Consider not having a “career” (as the rest of the world thinks of “careers”) by that age!

Explaining Academic Career“Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham, http://www.phdcomics.com

So what do you really do?

Unless you are a real freak, at some point in time you are doomed to get tired. When that happens, the very desire which motivated you to pursuit a PhD becomes questionable, and more so, because of the following reality.

Life of an Academic Researcher“Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham, http://www.phdcomics.com

Life of a Researcher

[1] An MBA from abroad, on the other hand, is usually very expensive and hard to get into.

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Umair Khan: A Serial Entrepreneur

[tweetmeme source=”rags2riches” only_single=false] I picked up the ringing phone; it seemed to be an international call. The person at the other end had a Russian accent. He introduced himself as Vladmir Soskov. If my memory serves me right, he further introduced himself as CTO of Clickmarks. I was immediately reminded that I had applied for a job there, and the call was for a technical interview.

Arsalan Minhas had left Clickmarks, for his funded Masters in South Korea, and Clickmarks was now looking for a replacement for the post of Engineering Manager [1]. But I was talking about the phone call…

Vladmir started throwing questions right and left. I was impressed by both the depth and the breadth of his knowledge. His style was like “Do you know C++?” And then he moved on from tough to very tough questions till I started saying “No, I don’t know that.” He would then move to another language/ technology, saying “OK, we are done with C++. What else do you know?” I would pick one thing after another and he would start again from tough question moving towards very tough till I said my proficiency in that area was limited.

Later, from a guy who worked for Folio3, I came to know that Vladmir was actually from Bulgaria. And in the later years, I also found out that coders from the Eastern Europe were the best in the world.

I was reminded of all this when I read STEP’s sort-of-an-interview of Umair Khan.

Umair Khan, another MIT graduate like Kewan Khawaja (CEO of Techlogix), has several things to his credit. Apart from the not-so-famous Urduweb and Wordwalla, these include

  1. Open Silicon Valley: An Organizzation of Pakistani Entrepreneurs in North America
  2. Chowk.com: one of the first “articles” based portal that became popular in Pakistan
  3. Clickmarks:  a product based software company, with development in Karachi; now stands sold for $1.5 million (unofficial figure)
  4. Folio3: a software company which helps “start-ups” in the developed market to engage some workforce in an onsite-offshore model; once again, this is based in Karachi
  5. SecretBuilders.com: a game site for young children

Umair Khan’s interview reminded me of Clickmarks, and Clickmarks reminded me of the phonic interview with Vladmir. The guy remained there with Umair even in Folio3, and the extreme is that Vladmir is the CTO of Secret Builders.

Apart from the list of companies given above, I believe Umair had much say in the establishment and working of Pixsense. I could be wrong but Adnan Agboatwala, CEO of Pixsense, had been VP Marketing of Clickmarks back in 2004, when I first met him. Further to my information, when Pixsense was getting shut down, several of the developers were “adjusted” in Folio3.

Have you worked for an “Umair company?” What are your opinions about him as an entrepreneur?


[1] Arsalan Minhas later dumped South Korea in favor of Germany, and remains settled there to date.

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Is an MBA worthwhile for Software Engineers?

[tweetmeme source=”rags2riches” only_single=false] “Where are you going?” asked Kewan Khawaja, CEO of Techlogix.
“Sweden” was my reply.
He further inquired, “I hope you are not going for an MBA?”
And I said that I intended to pursuit an MS in Dependable Computer Systems from Sweden.

He seemed to digress, “Do you think this is a fascinating building?” The year was 2004, and this was my first and only interaction with Kewan that lasted for around 20 minutes. Techlogix had newly established its office in The Forum, Karachi, where we were sitting. He went on to say, “Don’t you admire the systems that are functioning within this building? This is made by an engineer. Compared to that, what can an MBA do? An MBA just blabs.”

I was reminded of this conversation by a recent post on a similar topic by Adnan.

Kewan Khawaja was fully against doing an MBA at least for a young software developer with only 4 years of professional experience.

My plans of not wasting time on MBA were further endorsed by this sermon from Kewan. In fact, I was always shocked when a US or UK scholarship advertisement specifically targeting Pakistanis omitted “doctors” and “engineers.” Instead most of the scholarships I used to come across were for the fields of “administration”, “management” and “policy making.” I used to think, “how on earth do they not consider engineers to be important if they want to help stabilize Pakistan’s economy?” After all, aren’t the engineers who build stuff the most important for growth? How wrong I was!

If  computer science schools continue to produce a few extra ordinary software and several average developers every year, why do software companies get shut down? Despite the claims that the standard of education is falling down every year, the number of “extra ordinary” graduates injected into the industry is still not zero. But can you go through these two lists where companies rose to fame and then disappeared within the last 10 years:

List 1: Neovision, Connect2Web, CresSoft, Progressive Systems, Pixsense, etc.

List 2: ITIM, Kalsoft, 2B Technologies, Clarus, etc.

It’s not engineers which are in shortage—the quality of computer science education at undergraduate level is not bad in Pakistan. A good software engineer who has graduated from a reputable local university is not very far behind graduates from foreign universities. But do the same comparison at the “management” level, and the differences are huge.  Add to that the extremely fragile working environment of the country, the need becomes more critical.

As highlighted by the scholarship ads I mentioned above, here in Paksitan, there is shortage of people who can make good policies and can manage things. In fact, there is a dire shortage of good techies who make into management, and are given decisive powers (or looked at in another way, the techies never rise up to the occasion and show their potential to take up management responsibilities). The steering wheel, unfortunately, remains in the hands of either non-technical CxO’s or techies with no management skills—both are extremes.

While doing an MBA might not be a solution—-after all the business school’s program cannot create a leader out of a follower—there are things that techies should learn. Just like a PMP doesn’t ensure that the person is a good “project manager,” an MBA won’t certify that for a manager either. But the reason for writing all this is to highlight the need for good managers—whether they get molded by doing MBA or learn tools of the trade on job. The bare minimum includes communication and negotiation skills, making strategic plans, a belief in “process” instead of “heroics”, and being proactive.

Any company where the pioneers have reached the break even level, and would now want to expand needs to think on these lines. Otherwise, within 10 years you would either be in List 1 or List 2.

When the question “Should I enroll in an MBA program to further boost my career?” is thrown at me, my reply is that “If you are asking this, the answer is already a no.” An MBA makes sense only when you understand your shortcomings as a manager, and can yourself relate how an MBA degree would help.

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Freelance PHP Jobs

[tweetmeme source=”rags2riches” only_single=false] You can now find aggregate of freelance PHP projects posted on 3 of the most popular freelancing sites of the web on a single page!

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Hello world!

This is supposed to be an awesome blog; limited content will be posted.

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