When I was 4, in 1999 my dad bought a PC, and when I was 9 he told me to check out this thing called a “blog”. When I was 15, my family and I moved to Malaysia. At this time in my life I was following dozens of world class Iranian software engineers and UI/UX designers on Twitter that I liked to copy and learn from. After high school, when I was 18, I took a 2 year break since the Iran-US economic war had intensified and my family could no longer afford to send me to university. I did freelance web design to gain some experience and make some money and played competitive football and wanted to make it pro, but didn’t manage to. In early 2015, a year and a half after finishing high school, I did a 6-month internship at a startup called Beetalk that was aiming to be the WeChat of Southeast Asia, but had suddenly become popular (15+ million users) in Iran instead (since Iran’s government had blocked WeChat and Telegram at the time) and the company needed interns who knew Farsi, for Ops. It paid me enough to pay for university registration and bootstrap the rest of the journey with my family’s help. I was offered to study Computer Science majoring in Artificial Intelligence at Malaysia’s #1 university.
One year into my degree studies, I was fed up with the faculty’s low standards of education and the fact that our graduates who scored 4.0 GPA weren’t even good by the industry’s standards, let alone great. Inspired by football’s “compete with yourself, grow as a team” model, I started a student club to bring startup engineers and CTOs to the campus to coach us so we could stop competing with each other in a mediocre competition, and instead work together and learn [from those experts] things that we weren’t gonna learn at school, and to build more. The startup folks would do it for free, and would recruit whoever they thought was interesting or talented. It was a fair proposition for both sides. Sometimes we’d even get students who had a deep knowledge in a technology stack to teach the rest of us. Few months later, I co-founded it at another university, too, with friends, and today I’m open-sourcing that model so other students can clone it in their universities, to multiply their growth as a team and individuals.
At some point, my university’s Vice Chancellor invited me to share about the club’s model at the International Association of Universities 2019 conference, addressing hundreds of higher education managers from all over the world, which later on indirectly gave me the opportunity me to author the ‘Global Education’ chapter of a forthcoming Oxford University Press book titled Cultivating the Globally Sustainable Self (due out in 2020).
Over these past years, I’ve come to understand individuals have different wants and abilities, and having and continuing to depend on one-size-fits-all growth and education systems is just wrong, and a desirable future is one in which we personalize and present one education system per person, instead of one education system for the entire population; even if the whole world doesn’t think that way. In the case of our student club, personalization meant looking at the middle 50% of CS students who weren’t over/underachievers and therefore never got prioritised by their school and were left alone. We looked at them, understood them as individuals, and worked to understand what that psychological safety was that they lacked in order to perform in a direction that suited them best.
I’ve cared about those students because the system isn’t optimised or built for them. Because they may live a lifetime and never figure what it was they could be great at. I’ve cared about them because my elder brother was one of them, and has suffered mentally and eventually physically as the consequence of the unhappiness of being left out, for the past years.
I’ve also cared about that population because I grew up listening to my mother, an elementary school teacher, telling me everyday about her hopes and wishes for her students, as well as her rants and stories about the parents and school management. I’ve grown up going to school everyday, for my entire student life, having 3 perspectives: mine, my teachers/lecturers’, and my school’s. I’ve consistently been curious and asked “Why” every time these 3 perspectives didn’t align.
Between wanting to solve my brother’s problem, my school’s problem, or the world’s problem, I’m going for the latter, because I’ve come to conclude that in today’s world, the complexity of solving the education problem at one school is equal to the complexity of solving the global education problem; because arguably both would take the effort of a lifetime, though at a remarkably different financial cost. And since we live in a capitalist world where there is more capital than there are people who care, I believe that for the same amount of time and effort and energy and pain, I might as well solve the problem for the world rather than just for myself and my close ones, given the resources.
It’s hard, but possible. It takes people who are great at acquiring or providing resources, and people who are great at defining problems, or defining solutions.
I’m great at defining problems, and I want to become great at aligning great problem solvers, for this. Working for a year as an AI product manager at a Malaysian startup called Supahands gave me a huge validation on that, and encouraged me to wanna take a higher risk.
I’m 24 and I’m on a mission to navigate through my unknown unknowns to create a route to my goal, a known unknown. I don’t have all the time in the world to figure out what’s next, but while I’m at it, I’m pursuing 3 options in Malaysia, China and Canada, to see which one (if any) opens a door to me.
The 3 options are the absolute peak of my thinking and career/life planning at this point, and they’re restricted by everything that I know and everything that I don’t know; and there is so much that I don’t know.
If you’d like to know more about how I’m planning my next steps, or if you have any comments on this memo, or if you want to coach me, or work with me, email me at [my first name]dot[my last name]@gmail.com