My interview with Birzeit University Alumni Unit

The following is my translation of a recent Arabic interview published by Birzeit University’s Alumni unit under Success stories for BZU alumni. It was an interesting experience and I’m hoping it will inspire others to work hard and follow their dreams.  The original post in Arabic is located at the BZU Alumni site.

Feras Nasr – A rich experience between professionalism and innovation

Feras Nasr’s beginnings with Birzeit University was in 1995 when he enrolled to study electrical engineering with a minor in Computer Science. His dreams were big from the start and he knew that the path to success would require a lot of hard work. During his last year at Birzeit, he worked full-time with Palnet Communications to be more aware of the labor market and how to apply what he learnt at university and how to apply it to his professional work life. He remained with Palnet until he graduated from Birzeit. Feras says “the work experience gained while a student is studying is extremely important as it helps build their character, prepares them for the labor market and gives them the opportunity to apply what they learned“.

He then left Birzeit University to the USA to achieve his Master in Computer Engineering from Wayne State University, and he preferred to return to Palestine after graduation despite the extremely difficult circumstances with the start of the second Intifada. He started working with the Palestinian Development Gateway, a World Bank group project, where he remained for a year and a half and he says “the first job after returning is really one where I learned a lot“. He then moved to the Palestinian Central Elections Commission as an IT Manager where he worked for 8 months and then in 2004 to become a Technical Manager at ASAL Technologies.

Feras then moved to Canada and lived there for five years. During that time he received a second Master degree, an MBA from Ryerson University. He also worked at Q9 Networks, first as a Network Operations Center (NOC) Analyst and later to lead the operations of the NOC, which is responsible for monitoring all the company’s and customers’ networks 24 hours a day, every day of the year. He then decided to return to Palestine. “The decision to return was a for my love of the country, family and friends. I also felt a general improvement in Palestine. Returning to Palestine should always be in people’s mind, the country needs people with skills and experience“.

Today, Feras works as President of iConnect Tech and says that “every position I’ve worked in has played a big role in my life and has given me enormous experience, and I feel that my current position as President of a company is the most important and most challenging. More challenging given the amount of responsibilities and more important in terms of the amount of experience and knowledge I’m gaining. When a person works as part of a team, you always have people to go back to when there are problems. Whereas being the President, the responsibility is on your shoulders, which poses a great challenge for me“.

About Feras’ most memorable moments in the university, Feras told us that “after 13 years, I really do miss the university life and the very close social connections and relationships I had with my fellow students. When we used to walk through campus, we knew everyone and everyone knew us. The student volunteering hours were also very special. We would often give tours to visitors of the unversity and of course picking olives in villages was also a great time“.

Feras talked to us about Birzeit University today and what changes he has seen. “Of course, the university has gotten much larger in the past few years and the number of students and buildings has increased greatly. I’m seeing a lot of advancement throughout the unversity, but the university curriculum also needs to evolve, especially from how it is delivered to student. It shouldn’t be based on memorization, especially given that the current business environment needs people who can think, innovate and produce new ideas and projects“.

Feras added, “I visited universities in the US including (MIT and Harvard). The students there are intelligent, innovative and productive. That’s how I would like to see Birzeit University students. I hope Birzeit University becomes a source of innovation that doesn’t only graduate students who work in companies. I hope the university graduates students who create their own companies and excel. I hope to see the university continue to grow and become a source of innovation and excellence and a source of new and successful ventures“.

Asked about the university’s connection with its alumni, Feras comments “There is a lot of positive interaction and interest in Birzeit univeristy towards its alumni, but we still need to see more interaction. The university should continue to follow up with its alumni to help create job opportunities for its new graduates, and the new university should also develop methods of continous communication with the alumni body. There should be a strong bond between the university students and alumni, where they can both share their experiences and concerns“.

In conclusion, Feras confirmed his stance in helping any student who is interested inn bringing an innovative idea to life and advises students to not fear failure, learning and fixes our failures is how we can all be on the path to success.



Accommodation in Hannover, Germany

We thought we were pretty smart when we reserved a hotel room in Germany to attend CeBIT 2012.  The cheapest rooms we were finding were for at least a couple hundred dollars a night and I’m not talking about anything fancy, 3 stars at the best, although most are simply bed and breakfasts.  We reserved a room in the Bad-Horn area for only 32 euros per night (~ $41 USD).  The only catch was that it was 90 kms away.  We assumed that given Germany’s fantastic road system and the fact that their Autobahn has no speed limit, that we would just rent a car and drive the 90 kms in around 30 minutes.

When we got to the airport, we were told that there is no full size car (which is what we had reserved), so we got a free upgrade to a nice black Audi A6, which is one of the most amazing cars I ever drove.  The car can do 200 kph without a sweat and we made sure to test it 🙂

The only problem when was when we left for our hotel.  The first part of the drive was on the Autobahn where we cruising at a nice 150-160 kph, then we left the Autobahn for a smaller road where there were speed limits!!!! We were driving between 50 – 100 kph until we got to the hotel.  The hotel itself was in the middle of nowhere, and because it isn’t really a tourist destination, few people speak English.  Even the ones that say they speak a little English, speak half of their sentences in German and the other half in English.  Definitely a good time to use Google translate.

The next morning was the pre-fair meeting so we had to drive to the CeBIT fairgrounds.  We left at around 7:30 because we had to be there at 9:00 and we wanted to make sure we were the first ones.  Unfortunately, the drive was extremely painful, passing through small towns with speeds sometimes dropping to 30 kph and not to mention traffic lights. Eventually, we arrived at the fair grounds 30 minutes late.  Luckily, it was preparation day and we still found ourselves to be one of the first groups there.

We shared our stories with others and found that some hotels nearby still had vacancies.  During our break, we left to a town called Sarstedt and went from hotel to hotel asking if they had any vacancies.  We finally stumbled upon a nice, very clean bed and breakfast, that had two rooms available.  Because the fair had started and the rooms were still available, the lady was quite happy to rent them out to us for 85 euro per night for each room.  Although that’s still not cheap, the room usually goes for 105 euros per night, and it was extremely clean and had a really nice breakfast buffet.  The place was also very close to the street car tracks, so although we kept the car, we didn’t really need it.  I would’ve gave it back but there was a transit strike in town so we didn’t want to get stranded.

I would definitely go back to the same bed and breakfast. I would recommend that people come for a day and use that day to search for rooms that weren’t rented out.  It’s a bit of a risk and a bit of a hassle, but for a couple of people spending up to a week there, you can save over $1800 on hotel charges alone.

If the hotel is next to a streetcar track, then you don’t really need a car either, because you can ride for free using the CeBIT entry pass that gets distributed to all exhibitors.

Moving back to Ramallah

After spending an amazing five years in Toronto, Canada, last summer, my wife and I decided it was time to move back to Ramallah, Palestine.  While it was one of the most difficult decisions we had ever taken, we realized that if we waited any longer, it would be much harder to move back.  Last July, my wife and kids left to Ramallah, while I stayed in Toronto for another month, packing, shipping and selling.

During the process of moving back and during my first few weeks here, three things caught my attention.  First, so many Palestinian expatriates want to move back, or at least it seemed that way.  I got so many comments on how lucky and brave we were to move back.  It was definitely a big step, and I can see how it can be difficult to move back, especially for someone who hasn’t been here in a while.

Second, Ramallah has changed quite a bit.  I’ve only been gone for five years and during that time, I’ve visited twice, but still so much has changed.  There are a lot of new restaurants, coffee shops, companies (especially IT related companies) and even some things I’ve never seen before in Ramallah, like bowling alleys and pubs.  Visitors that come to Palestine, and especially those that come here for the first time, are usually amazed with what they see here.  Their expectations are that there’s fighting and bombs and tanks everywhere, and then they visit and find that everything is absolutely normal.

Third, the number of businesses has really grown in Ramallah.  The number of IT related companies seems to have doubled in the past few years.  Many are in startup mode, and there is definitely a much bigger push towards encouraging entrepreneurship, especially within the Palestinian IT community.  We’re seeing VCs and other investors, which is a really positive sign that people are willing to invest in Palestinian talent.  I’m hoping this trend will continue and we’ll hear some success stories soon.

Hello world! Must start blogging!

I’ve been trying to start blogging for so long now.  The two things that are really amazing is how long it’s been since I first said I want to start blogging, and how easy it is to push it aside despite the fact that it’s not that complicated or time consuming, especially considering how many hours a day I spend behind the keyboard.  I think I first tried to start blogging was over two years ago.  Two years, and I’ve only created a wordpress blog last week.

My resolution is to write at least one blog post every week.  It doesn’t have to be long, it can even be one sentence, but I need to make it a habit of writing on a regular basis.