Memories of Masdar: 2011 – 2013

I wrote a memories of Ife piece after completing my bachelors and it would be just as well to write another post about my time at Masdar. Masdar is a great school, has an international student community, extremely nice people, an awesome nearly unbeatable welfare package and a great beautiful environment.

I arrived at MASDAR in the fall of 2011 as a young naïve man with some basic development experience. Something unexpected happened just before I resumed; that event, which left an unpleasant indelible mark, propelled me to give my all and Alhamdulilah I emerged as a better person in the end.

The first few months were somewhat lonely – it was an unfamiliar emotion as I was used to being alone and far away from family all my life. The feelings of loneliness soon vanished when lectures went into full gear. I had thought everything would be super easy however I soon realized I had grossly underestimated the coursework involved as I struggled to understand some of the material and complete projects.

My interest in socio-mobile computing got me involved in the joint SCAIlab-MIT social fitness project. It involved extending a Pedometer app with social networking support, data collection, accuracy tweaking and influence mechanism design. Although the project was not completed, I got to learn more Android programming as well as Git.

I spent my first break solving Project Euler puzzles (a way to simultaneously hone my new Python skills), polishing my résumé and hunting for internships ( I applied to about 10+ software firms).

During my second semester, I got to learn more about Algorithms, distributed systems (hadoop, Skype, networking etc) and social computing. In my spare time, I learnt vim (and I am glad I did) using the excellent byte of vim book. Alhamdulilah, I spent the summer as a SDET intern with the Microsoft TFS Agile team.

In my last year, I finally took the dreaded software engineering ( got to learn about C, valgrind, make etc.) and sustainability courses. I also had to work extremely hard and at an insane pace to make up for the time I lost duing my internship. My first attempt didn’t turn out well so I had to start afresh.

Gains at MASDAR

Sometimes the loneliness and extreme levels of hard work got to me – the emotional drain and stress were just too much at times. I had to force myself to persevere ( giving up was easy but too costly) and I repeatedly prayed to Allaah to bless my sacrifices and efforts. Looking back, I am glad I got to improve on some of my weaknesses.

I improved my time organization, goal setting and progress tracking skills. I learnt to focus ( after getting burnt out a gazillion times) and also realized that I had a limit and couldn’t do everything. It was good to learn that being consistent was much better than alternating between periods of high and low productivity.

It was also at MASDAR that I started making conscious efforts to improving the quality of blog posts. The goals were quite clear: I wanted to create a knowledge repository for myself (something I can always refer to when I am in doubt), improve my writing and inform people. Now, when I write, I ask the ‘so what?’ question :).

My academic training equipped me with lots of computer science / software engineering knowledge. I got to conquer my fear of public speaking, honed my leadership skills and teamwork contribution. Oh, and I picked up the habit of continuously enrolling in online courses. Learning never ends…

I made a couple of true friends: the camaraderie, the teasing, the play, the talks and the sharing actually enabled me to come out of my shell. I met people who were extremely nice, friendly and wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for better companions and I do hope we’ll keep in touch for life.

It wasn’t all fun at MASDAR though – there were a couple of unpleasant experiences as expected. However I am glad because I learnt from such experiences too. In the end, I think I became more mature and discovered the meaning of self-worth.

I have left MASDAR now (I actually felt bad leaving MASDAR because I had become so attached) however I hope the lessons I learnt there would stay with me, that I have friends for life and have become a better person for it.


Algorithms I

Finally, I started studying algorithms – after delaying delving into algorithms for a long time; I ultimately had no choice but to learn it. So pronto I picked up a book – Problem solving with Algorithms and Data structures using Python – and started with gusto. Having little Python skills, I was somewhat worried that my lack of experience was going to make it more difficult for me.

However the book is quite easy to read and I found myself learning faster than I expected – maybe this was due to my improved experience writing interpreted languages, maybe not. All the same thanks be to God who made it so easy. Compared to Java, Python is great for implementing algorithms; it makes life a whole lot easier, Java was such a pain. Python, which sometimes reads like English, makes it easy to write Stacks, Queues and other abstract data structures. Complex algorithms are also easy to write and test in fewer lines.

Alhamdulilah I’ve gotten to study classical topics such as modular exponentiation, greatest common denominator, fractals and the towers of Hanoi. Compared to Java solutions, Python solutions are elegant, simple and light. While I still don’t understand some of the algorithms fully, it’s a start and insha Allah I hope to be confident one day…

One thing: I’ve fallen in love with Python and I hope to learn more of the language as I go along.

Finding the strength to go on

While this is not quite related to software development; I feel it’s a good piece and as all programmers are humans: it should be something we can draw upon and maybe learn some lessons from.

I got a big shock recently and it made me undergo a cathartic experience; ultimately freeing me of most of my grudges and sad memories. While I’ll not like to have another similar experience, Alhamdulilah it brought about some good and I have learnt a couple of lessons – big lessons – from it and I would like to share this.

Life is not always as we want it to go

You might have everything going your way but this doesn’t mean it’ll always be that way. Prepare so that you are not totally knocked out by unforeseen events. Life is not a bed of roses and being the best today and winning always doesn’t mean you’ll continue forever. However, whenever unfortunate events happen, look around and you’ll see people worse off so you should thank your Lord and start afresh again.

Love and appreciate the people in your life

As humans, we all appreciate love and want to be honoured and respected. Well, if you want this then you’ve got to honour and respect people too. One of the surprising things I’ve learnt is that it’s easier to remember the bad and forget the good. If you do serious soul-searching, you’ll find out that you’ve had a great number of happy times, so why not just appreciate and love the people you shared those times with?

What doesn’t break you only makes you stronger

Yes, whenever you emerge from a battle you’re stronger and have learnt more. Life teaches us lessons – whether we like them or not. So, don’t accept defeat, stop worrying and start afresh if need be – you’ll have learnt a lot and you’ll sure be better. On the flip side; if you decide to give up then you’ve lost and maybe all your efforts would have been wasted.

Turn unwanted events into your own wins

While this might be difficult; it’s only by learning from mistakes and using them that you eventually grow stronger, wiser and become better. Turn the anger and frustration into motivating factors, work even harder and avoid making the same mistakes and it should turn out all well insha Allaah.

Never ever give up

Well, provided you’re are still alive and kicking then why do you have to give up? Do you know if you’re already close to success or not? By persevering, you preserve your honour, success and commitment. Winners never quit and quitters never win.

Trust in God

I don’t think there is any need to explain this. :D

Live your life; have no fears, stand strong and live by your principles : you have no one to blame and nothing to lose. So quit lazing around, blaming everything and start to change for the positive right now.

“Stop cursing the darkness and fix the lamp”