Campus Connections Goes to IBA

Society feeds a fairy tale to university students about their glorious future as graduates. Lush salary packages and bonuses would await them at every turn and companies would approach them from every corner. Yet the stark reality of unemployment statistics and lack of opportunity is largely unknown to many. However, success is not out of reach for those that persevere, adapt and endure.

Campus Connections held its tenth session at the IBA City Campus. In attendance were Asif Jafri, CEO Eocean and Co-founder MOMENTUM, Zahid Sheikh, General Manager IT at Orient Energy, returning panelist Anis Shiekh, CEO BaseH and Saifullah Sami CEO Saifullah Sami Architects.

The auditorium was filled with Computer Science majors and so the conversation naturally tilted towards programming languages and technical niches. Zahid began by asking the students to identify their niche, whether it be systems architecture, business intelligence or software development. Carving out a niche would give them an edge over the competition because specificity is key in a computer scientist. Anis told them to extract logic from their courses because, “If you can program in one language, you can do them all. If you can approach problems with logic, the language doesn’t matter.” Saifullah talked of his personal experience in architecture. “Programs like BIM and Revit are revolutionizing my field. If you can simulate models for me on those; I see no reason not to hire you.”

A student named Usama asked how one would find one’s passion. He bemoaned the fact that he’d been unable to find a passion despite internships. Asif replied, “Look at internships as opportunities to create networks for yourself. Don’t take them as an excuse to ‘chill’ and waste time.” Saifullah encouraged the students to have lunch with their supervisors and “hang out with them while they have a smoke”; the students responded with laughter. Anis agreed with that approach and then came to the real question. He contradicted expectations and told Usama not to follow his passion. “You could go for something that seems outright boring. Once it starts paying well it will become your passion.” The trick behind this, said Anis, would be to treat each project as one’s own. That gets you noticed by your boss and your value grows.

A lot of the questions were geared towards entrepreneurship and the risks involved, more specifically the preferable approach to building a business. Saifullah immediately opined that gaining work experience was paramount before starting a business. “Begin by working for someone else. I worked for eight years before starting my own company.” Anis differed because he had begun his first company when he was 20. “My first venture failed, yet it gave me a lot of experience; I learned from it and today I have a successful business.” Zahid suggested offering one’s products or services to a large company on a trial basis or even for free for a limited time to increase its value and test its worth. That in itself would be work experience. The panelists complemented this with advice for fresh graduates. Zahid suggested watching a documentary called ‘The Secret’ while Asif merely reiterated, “Find what you love to do.”

Many students were worried because of GPA requirements at companies and the fear of low pay. Yet the panelists opined that the former was minimally important and the latter, outweighed by opportunity. Asif implored them to set their priorities in order and work on themselves in and out of employment. “Learn to manage your boss’ expectations. Growth is inevitable if you do. Take the low pay, don’t miss out on the opportunity.” Zahid nodded in agreement, “Learn to sell yourself and take some extra courses to learn new skills. Make yourself valuable.”

Anis narrated a recent incident when he’d been looking at identical CVs all day and found one that differed radically. The candidate didn’t have a degree, yet claimed to have learned different programming languages by himself. “If someone comes to me and says I’ve learned python, but doesn’t have a degree, that won’t deter me from hiring him.” Saifullah said he’d graduated from a four year MBA at IBA before pursuing architecture and had seen his friends prosper at huge conglomerates like Shell while, “I was tracing lines at Indus Valley School of Arts. I went through the grind.” Now he owned his own company.

As the discussion winded down the panelists were questioned on how they started their day. Zahid chuckled and replied, “I take my kids to school.” Asif said he wakes up for Fajr daily and does yoga, he believed being alone with oneself had its advantages in starting the day. Anis also recommended exercise and opined, “If you can maintain your health, the rest will take care of itself.” And Saifullah doubled down on this advice. “I exercise each morning and Jiu Jitsu helps me stay alert. Wake up as early as you can so you can exercise the most control over the day.” He also recommended keeping a journal so that one’s days remain organized.

The session concluded with the panelists identifying their worst fears on the behest of a student named Hassan. Asif simply said, “Failure”, a sentiment echoed by Zahid. Saifullah said he shrugged off fear by fighting challenges as they presented themselves and Anis ended the session with a quote, “When you try anything you risk failure. If you don’t, you ensure it.” And the auditorium erupted with applause.

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