Campus Conversations starts off with a bang!
It was my first visit to the FAST-NUCES main campus in Karachi. I had been to the City campus many times but somehow the trek out to the National Highway had always put me off. On 17th March I realized that the campus wasn’t really as far as I had thought. It only took Yusuf Jan and myself 45 minutes to get there. So now that the fear of the unknown is behind me, I guess the second and third visits will not be that tough to undertake :).
This was the first in a series of P@SHA-CIO Campus Conversations, the purpose of which is to try and bridge the gap between industry professionals and the faculty and students at the Universities throughout Pakistan – one of the initiatives that will hopefully address the HR and Recruitment problems that everyone complains about.
The panelists from the industry included myself, Yusuf Jan, Head of MIXIT Technologies (and current Chairman of P@SHA), Ashar Zaidi, Country Manager Intel Pakistan;; Rahim Lalani Head of TRG Tech; and Danish Nafay, Deputy Manager SBS at National Foods Limited.
From the academia side, the representatives included Professor Zafar Nasir, Head of Department (CS), Dr. Zubair Sheikh, Director FAST Karachi Campus, Amna Ali, Ravendar Laal, Taha Rafiq and Sohaib Qamar.
I will not go into a blow -by-blow account of what was said, and by whom, because that is all available in the videos that have been uploaded at the CIO Webstudio. However, I just wanted to mention some of the highlights. A more complete coverage with photos is available at http://ciopakistan.com/2010/03/campus-conversations-goes-to-fast/.
The faculty and the students were very welcoming and, as always, it was a pleasure to be amongst bright youngsters who would soon be a part of our industry. The industry representatives started by explaining their domain areas and the kind of work that was done in their organisations. This was important so that the kids would know what kind of work scenario awaited them. Their mantra was that they were all looking for smart, committed, enthusiastic and hardworking young people who wanted to do something in their lives.
Rahim Lalani, head of TRG Tech, insisted that the GPA was one of the things that he considered before interviewing an applicant for a job – his reason was that since they were all smart kids (getting into one of the best tech schools in the country was indicative of that, he said), and they had such good faculty, a low GPA could only mean one thing – that they had been lazy and had not worked hard enough – and he didn’t want lazy people on his team.
The other industry players placed less emphasis on the GPA and more on problem solving skills (which Rahim also looks for), and the ability to learn & imbibe new things and to communicate and work with teams of people.
Yusuf Jan was of the opinion that most of our youngsters spoke better English than was spoken in metropolitan cities like New York so they didn’t have to be hesitant and tentative.
FAST has started language classes because of feedback from industry that kids lacked sufficient communication skills. My take is that it is not only the language, it is the communication area that is weak - the inability of most youngsters to convey an idea in 30 – 60 seconds in any language! But then how many professionals can do that?
Some of the kids felt that there weren’t sufficient internship opportunities provided by industry and hence they lacked the knowledge of the real world workplace. One student asked why industry players expected graduates to be ready and productive as soon as they left university. Why did they not feel that it was their responsibility to train youngsters who joined their organisations for six months?
Danish Nafay of National Foods said that the corporate sector usually did not hire fresh graduates. It was only after youngsters had spent 3 years in a software company that the corporates picked them up. Mixit and TRG Tech had hired throughout the depression and continued to be on a recruitment drive – but they said they only hire the best, the smartest, thinking, indquisitive and problem-solving young minds who were high achievers and hard workers.
One thing that struck me was that the youngsters were unsure of what awaited them. Some of them had chosen computer science without actually knowing what careers were available, others didn’t know the technology landscape. Book learning is important but a holistic knowledge of the business and societal problems that technology can solve, is extremely important. This was echoed by one of the kids when he said “I am confused – tell me what I should do”.
Some of these young people were already working on developing applications and products and needed guidance and direction. Others needed career counseling.
One thing was for sure. Industry needed to increase its interaction with these young people. I know some of us speak at universities and go to view and assess final year projects but a more concerted effort is needed to keep the conversation going, and to finding solutions.
The solutions that were offered included:
P@SHA will start an online mentoring network for kids who needed advice on careers or projects
P@SHA will start a P@SHA University Chapter – the first one being at FAST Karachi
P@SHA will also start a series of regular tech talks and business interaction with universities – Mixit Technologies will be sending their team to FAST in April, TRG Tech will do also send a speaker. They have already been doing so. We will now start signing up other CEOs, CTOs and Project Managers from across the country and will ensure that regular sessions are conducted at different universities.
Asher Zaidi offered his time for a session at the City Campus and Danish Nafay also said that he would run a session.
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