Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pak Software Prodigy's Inspirational Legacy

Arfa Karim Randhawa passed away at the tender age of just 16. Inna Lillah Wa Inna Elaih Rajeon!

Born in 1995, she achieved celebrity status after becoming the world's youngest computer expert at the age of 9, passing a tough series of Microsoft tests designed for software professionals. Her success brought her an invitation to Microsoft headquarters in Seattle, where she met its chairman, Bill Gates, and discussed her idea for a self-navigating car in 2005.

She spent the last month of her short life in a Lahore hospital after reportedly suffering an epileptic seizure and cardiac arrest. Two weeks ago her prognosis appeared to improve. In recent weeks, Microsoft stepped in to help provide expert medical care.

Todd Bishop, a Seattle-based newspaper reporter covering her Redmond visit, wrote about her as follows: "She made an impression through a combination of charm, flattery and boldness uncommon for someone her age. For example, during Arfa’s meeting with Gates, she presented him with a poem she wrote that celebrated his life story. But she also questioned him about what she perceived to be the relatively small proportion of women on the campus."

When a younger 9-year-old Indian girl M. Lavinashree broke her record a few years ago by becoming the youngest Microsoft Software professional, Bishop told Arfa about it and got the following response from her:

“This is the first time I’ve seen this story. But I must say that I’m really happy to have read it. This is exactly what I had been wishing for ever since I got to bring laurels for my country. I am very glad to see that people are following what I did and have succeeded in beating me. I don’t know whether you’ve heard or not but a boy, named Bilal, from Gujranwala in Pakistan also became a Microsoft Certified Professional at the age of nine. I would say that the other youngsters should follow suit, thereby convincing the people to take us kids seriously. Our generation is very talented and so should be promoted.”

Arfa's untimely death at such a young age is a tragic loss for her family and for Pakistan. Her legacy, however, will live on. I hope and expect that many more Lavinashrees and Bilals will be inspired by her memory to accomplish whatever they set their mind to, including but not limited to achieving celebrity as Microsoft professionals.

Here's a video clip of Arfa Karim's Interview:

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pakistan's Demographic Dividend

Pakistani Software Expert Helps Fight Terror

Pakistan IT Industry

Pakistan Leads Asia in Biometric IT Services

Pakistanis Studying Abroad

Pakistan Working Women

Quality of Higher Education in India and Pakistan

Developing Pakistan's Intellectual Capital

Intellectual Wealth of Nations


Anonymous said...

God bless America for the technology we use in our daily lives. Also God bless Bill Gates also for showing compassion.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts of a BBC report on Arfa's death:

Arfa's short life mirrors Pakistan's burgeoning engagement with information technology, an industry which holds out hope for youth embittered by unemployment and a lack of opportunities.

Her father, Col Amjad Karim, says she was particularly concerned to use her skills to help the young, those under-served by IT and those from villages.

"It is generally understood that computers are for very hi-fi people or rich schools but nowadays one can be purchased for a few thousand rupees by the poorest of poorest," he told the BBC.

"Arfa's centre of gravity was wanting to improve human resource development by focusing on education."

Col Karim retired from the army to be his daughter's manager. He says her mother and two younger brothers are in shock after her death.

Arfa had been in intensive care in a Lahore hospital since late December.

Senior politicians joined relatives at her funeral in the city on Sunday - she has already had a technology park named after her in Lahore.

Her loss is also being felt by Pakistan's IT world.

Shoaib Malik, country manager for games company Mindstorm, said: "It's really sad. What was amazing about her was that she had a clear vision, she literally wanted to set up the industry.

"One thinks only kids who have studied from abroad would have a vision but it was remarkable. I think whatever God does, does for the better but had she been alive she could have played an important role in the IT industry."

Mindstorm is one of a number of small Pakistani start-ups tapping into the global IT boom - a side to the country often overlooked amid bombings, natural disasters and never-ending political crisis.

The company, set up by self-taught techies, developed a game which ended being selected as the ICC World Cup 2011 official game, Cricket Power.
Internet effect

According to Pakistan Software Houses Association president Jehan Ara, Arfa was "intelligent beyond her years".

"In addition to achieving a professional certification at the tender age of nine, it is also notable that she set up and ran a computer training institute for a poor community.

"Her passion for technology, coupled with her vision to use her talent to do something significant for Pakistan and its people, was truly amazing for someone so young."

Ms Ara feels the IT industry offers a way out of unemployment for young Pakistanis, many of whom she says are starting their own companies. One Karachi firm is even developing software for the stock exchange in the UK.
Around 1996 - the year when Arfa was born - the IT industry really took off in Pakistan, according to Shakir Hussain, CEO of software company Creative Chaos.

As the millennium approached, the fear of a mass technical apocalypse also motivated people to pay more attention to IT ventures.

"Suddenly there were hiring and migration opportunities for software engineers," he recalls.

But techies in Pakistan had been putting their creative minds to work even earlier than that, with far-reaching and destructive results.

In 1986, two brothers from Lahore created the world's first computer virus, "Brain".

They insist the virus was friendly and not intended to damage information, but it still ricocheted through the tech world and was developed by others, spawning viruses used to exploit operating systems.

That, however, is not what Pakistan's IT industry wants to be known for.

Shakir Hussain thinks it offers bright young people a good chance to earn a few thousand dollars working from home through various websites.

"The internet has been a great leveller," he says.


Anonymous said...

SAD HOW SUCH PEOPLE HAVE SUCH SHORT LIVES AND THE mullahs and other trouble makers have such long ones!!

Anonymous said...

Lovely article we have really lost a beautiful soul.

Hope to hear some news about economic health of Pakistan which is not all well i hear. Whats your opinion?

sanaahamed said...

We all love you Arfa Karim. She is the biggest lost for her parents and the whole nation.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Toronto Star story of a Pakistani and Chinese Canadian kids space flight using a lego man with a balloon:

Two Canadian teenagers have sent a Lego man into space using a home-stitched parachute and spare parts found on Craigslist.

Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad, both 17, attached the two-inch astronaut clutching a Canadian flag to a helium weather balloon, which they sent 80,000 feet into the air - three times the height of a commercial jet's cruising altitude.

The pair managed to capture the entire 97 minute journey which began on a football pitch in Toronto using four cameras set to take photos every 20 seconds, reports the Toronto Star.

They were left with astonishing footage from an estimated 24 kilometres above sea level which showed the toy floating above the curvature of our planet before beginning a 32 minute descent back to earth.

The personal project cost the boys $400 and took four months of free Saturdays, reports the Star.

Having attached a GPS receiver to the styrofoam box carrying the cameras and Lego man, the teens were able to recover their Lego man which landed 122km from the launch site.

When the teens got home and uploaded the two videos and 1,500 photos onto a computer, they told the Star that they started screaming with joy.

Their footage shows the Lego man spinning at an altitude three times higher than the peak of Mount Everest, before the balloon bursts and he starts to plummet.

“We never knew it would be this good,” Ho told the Star.

According to the report, the two students met in middle school after Muhammad's family had just emigrated from Pakistan.

Muhammad, who spoke no English, was soon befriended by Ho and they began working on the project at Ho's house last September.

"People would walk into the house and see us building this fantastical thing with a parachute from scratch, and they would be like, 'What are you doing?', We'd be like, 'We're sending cameras to space.' They'd be like, 'Oh, okayyyyy …' Ho told the Star.

Astrophysics professor Dr Michael Reid, from the University of Toronto, praised the boys' work, telling the Star: "It shows a tremendous degree of resourcefulness. For two 17-year-olds to accomplish this on their own is pretty impressive."

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2092501/Lego-astronaut-makes-debut-space-help-Mathew-Ho-Asad-Muhammad.html#ixzz1kpIl8PF4

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Express Tribune on IT contractors in Pakistan:

..From business process outsourcing to developing smartphone apps, Pakistani IT professionals are seem to be going after every opportunity, especially in the online job market, to bring home valuable foreign exchange.

In high demand, Pakistani IT professionals are growing significantly on oDesk, a Silicon valley-based online marketplace, in terms of both revenues and subscriptions to the platform.

“Pakistan is one of our largest contractor bases, and it is growing steadily,” CEO Gary Swart said in reply to queries through email. Contractors in Pakistan earned almost $1.5 million on oDesk in January 2012 alone, he said. “That figure is more than double the $700,000 they earned in January 2011, which is really an impressive growth!”

In January 2012, Swart said, more than 4,500 contractors from Pakistan signed up for oDesk, which enables businesses to hire, manage and pay a flexible online workforce, representing significant growth over previous months.

The top five categories of oDesk that work in Pakistan, according to the CEO, are web programming, web design, search engine optimisation, software development and mobile apps.

“In these five categories alone, contractors from Pakistan earned $796,000 in January 2012.” The number of Pakistani professionals that sign up for oDesk is growing steadily at a rate of 11% month over month, he added.

As seen from the top five job categories for Pakistani contractors, Swart said, there is certainly a large demand for their IT skills on the oDesk marketplace – which was the seventh fastest-growing company of Silicon Valley in 2011, according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

oDesk, according to Swart, is world’s largest online marketplace – as measured by dollars earned by contractors each month – and has 1.6 million registered contractors where 120,000 new jobs are posted each month. Contractors earned more than $225 million on oDesk last year, he said.

IT services are definitely a sweet spot for the oDesk marketplace in general, Swart said. The top two job categories on oDesk overall – web development and software development – together make up more than half of the total earnings on the platform, and demand for IT skills continues to grow rapidly.

Pakistan’s IT industry, according to Pakistan Software Export Board, has seen steady growth over the last few years despite sluggish economic growth – thanks to the online job market.

IT and IT-enabled services exports stood between $560 million and $860 million last year, according to former managing director of PSEB Imran Zia. On a Y-o-Y basis, the IT sector has been growing at 15% to 20% for the last three years and the growth in 2011 was about 15%. The future outlook for Pakistani IT professionals looks promising as IT jobs are in high demand on oDesk, where subscription rate of Pakistani contractors is growing steadily.

“IT jobs are our most in-demand category – which means we have significantly more IT opportunities for contractors from all countries, Pakistan included,” Swart said. “So we believe that we have more Pakistani IT professionals than any other online work marketplace,” he added.


Riaz Haq said...

Here's Huffington Post on Pakistan's new youngest Microsoft professional:

Qualifying to be a "Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist" is an impressive achievement regardless of one's age, but now a Pakistani boy named Shafay Thobani can boast having checked it off his to-do list at the tender age of 8, the Daily Mail and the UK's Sun newspaper are reporting.

According to Shafay's personal website -- likely managed by adults, as it makes heavy use of the phrase "the child" to describe his training and accomplishments -- he started working with computers when he was just 4 years old.

At the age of 7, Shafay started training to pass the exams necessary to become a Microsoft expert. Doing so meant 13 months on a strict schedule that involved attending school from 7:30 in the morning to 1:30 in the afternoon, followed by computer classes at his father's office from 2:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Becasue Shafay's father is Shah Thobani, the CEO of Thobson Technologies in Karachi, the boy had access to a 1,000 square foot training space featuring three desktops, switches, routers and laptops.

Despite all those hours of work, Shafay's father and the staff who trained him didn't lose track of that fact that the boy is only 8. There was a dedicated area for chess, darts and arcade games.

All that rigorous studying appears to have paid off though, with Shafay reportedly achieving a score of 91 percent.

“I feel like the luckiest parent because at the end of each day I only ever receive very positive feedback from Shafay’s teachers," Shah Thobani was quoted as saying in the Sun. “Every year I give Shafay a new challenge to try and encourage him."


Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Dawn report on Pakistani student winning International Computer Olympiad:

A Pakistani student from Balochistan has bagged gold medal in an international contest held in Turkmenistan leaving all the countries like Germany, Canada, Russia, England, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka behind.

M. Ubaidullah son of Haji Talib Din, a rice trader, is a class ninth student of Pak-Turk International Schools and Colleges, has brought home a gold medal from the International Computer Project Olympiad (ICPO) held in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

The competition was held on September 14 and 15 among students from 45 countries who presented 150 projects in the Olympiad.

Ubaidullah’s project that caught attention of participants, organisers and judges was regarding plant automation system; subsequently he was awarded 1st position in the hardware category.

His project P-Bot aims at saving plants in cold-flame or greenhouse setting, especially when someone wants to protect the plants at home in all the seasons. P-Bot automates the round-the-year tasks of plant care by means of its full-automatic cold flame and greenhouse routines.


Riaz Haq said...

Here's Gulf News on a planned model village named after Arfa Karim:

Islamabad: Authorities in Pakistan are planning to build a model village in honour of late Arfa Karim, an information technology genius who at nine years became the world’s youngest Microsoft Certified Professional.

Arfa’s ancestral village in Punjab, Ramdewali Chak No 4, will be soon developed into a model village at a cost of Rs140 million (Dh52 million) the Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

A monument will be built at her grave, and a library and a museum will also be established within the model village.

“She deserves to be honoured by the entire nation forever,” the APP quoted a government spokesman as saying.

The village will have a girls’ degree college, a technical training centre, a basic health unit, a playground, improved drainage scheme, paved streets, provision of portable water and agriculture equipment.

Arfa died in January 2012, aged 16, after complications resulting from an epileptic stroke and cardiac arrest.

She rose to international fame when she became the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) at the age of nine in 2005. She was subsequently invited to visit the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, by founder Bill Gates.

She received the Fatimah Jinnah Gold Medal in the field of science and technology in 2005, and was also the recipient of the President’s Award for Pride of Performance.

In 2006, she was invited by Microsoft to be a part of a conference in Barcelona. She was the only Pakistani among over 5,000 developers in that conference, the Daily Mail reported.


Douglas Gomez said...

Such a disheartening loss. The online community lost a protege with a potential to be a master iphone application developer or even an executive of her own software company.