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.

How Skype works


A lot of us use Skype daily but have no idea about how it works. Here is a brief description of the Skype framework.

Skype employs a partially decentralized architecture – a mix of the peer-to-peer and  client-server architectures. The client-server system is used for authentication while the peer-to-peer system is used for IP telephony, relaying, indexing peers and file transfers. On top of this is the Skype overlay network which users interact with directly, an overlay network is a virtual network that is formed above and independent of the underlying Internet protocol network.

Skype uses overlay networks to achieve the following:

1. It enables them to design and use their own proprietary protocols and application over the Internet. This enables Skype to encrypt all packet transmissions.

2. Redundant links between Skype peers guarantees robustness. This assures of end-to-end connection even when network resources are severely limited.

3. The peer-to-peer overlay model provides an elegant solution to the scalability challenge, given the huge number of interconnected nodes.

4. Skype uses its overlay network to circumvent problems arising from Network Address Translation traversal and bypass firewalls.

5. Routing and relaying are very flexible; protocols allow peers to autonomously set up links with the best nodes available.

6. The overlay allows Skype to store a lot of offline data in its peers leading to reduced storage infrastructure expenses.

7. Employing peer relays improves the quality of VoIP calls.

However the use of overlay networks can lead to serious security and privacy issues as users can use Skype to breach policy. Some possible reasons why organizations block Skype include the following:

1. There is no way to check user activity on the Skype; thus confidential information can be transferred through Skype. User communication is also encrypted, making it impossible to detect what information exchanges are going on.
2. Also, there is some speculation that Skype PCs can be used to launch denial-of-service attacks because viruses, spyware and malicious code can be transferred across its network. Skype can also become resource-intensive as any Skype user can unknowingly become a super-peer if he has access to enough computing resources.

Hopefully, you know more now about Skype.