Today we have in our guest seat another alumnus of EME College, NUST (De-17 CE, 1999) Abu Bakr Nisar Alvi who is currently working as a manager at PMO (NESCOM). His profile shoes an exceptional zest for making a difference through his knowledge and expertise. Getting the white collar jobs in a multi-national isn’t a landmark achievement for fresh graduates … there are many more dimensions of the whole picture which one must consider before making career choices! Mr. Abu Bakr’s interview provides insight for the readers by presenting a profile from the nation’s largest R&D setups. Let’ have a chat with him.
Which memories of E&ME College do you cherish? If you go down the memory lane which incident would you like to share with your readers.
Mr. Alvi vividly recalls so many good memories of his times at NUST and he still cherishes almost all of them. For him getting to College was a surmounting challenge as he lived far off and had to walk 2km and change 2 buses to reach college, and for this he had to get up before fajr at 7.15. He even enjoyed this experience of hanging on bus doors and listening to weirdo music. He relates a very interesting incident from his college days:… in the 2nd semester. It was 2nd sessional time and one of the teachers mistakenly brought the exam paper to the class in his notes. This was noticed by 3-4 students sitting in the front row and the news spread very quickly in the whole class. Now obviously everybody wanted to know what was coming. We had a 2 hour lecture so the break in between the lectures was very crucial. It was decided during the class that a couple of students would engage the teacher in some talk and the class senior would use this to his advantage and get hold of the paper, which he did. I don’t remember whether it was photocopied or was jotted down on a paper during the class. Anyways, at the end of the class the paper was with us. So a massive combined study effort took place and everybody was at peak preparation. The most ironic part came when everybody sat down in the examination hall and the first one to get the question paper was the class senior. He took a glance at the paper and by looking back nodded his head with a big smile. The whole examination hall burst into a huge laughter which the invigilators failed to understand. We had one hell of an exam that day and I still remember when the result came the class average was 97% and the teacher was shocked. He was very impressed and surprised at the result and his one sentence I will never forget was ‘Lagta hai paper out ho gaya thaa!’ The whole class burst into laughter but again it was us all who knew what the reason for laughter was. I feel it was the most naughty and memorable incident of my college life.
Tell us briefly about your career and the factors/reasons for the choices you made along the way? Would you recommend fresh grads to pursue similar career path of academia? If yes why?
I would remind my readers that the time of Mr. Alvi’s recession was times of recession (worse than now). It was the dot.com bubble burst. Most of the seniors i interviewed who graduated in this time took up research careers at Enabling Technologies- ET (Dr. Shoab … case). So Mr. Alvi started with internship at ET and later applied at PMO which was not a part of NESCOM at the time. So now in his own words:
After graduation I started applying again and was selected in Mobilink Lahore. I always looked upon Dr. Maud as my mentor and his advice was the last word for me. I got a call from PMO the day I received the green signal from Mobilink. I went to Dr. Maud’s place and he told me to join PMO as this would give a chance to apply my engineering skills and contribute towards the national cause at the same time and so I joined PMO.
(Dr. Maud was the HOD EE at E&ME and one of the finest professors ever this college has seen! I’ve heard so much about him. He’s currently dean at UET)
After joining PMO, I felt very soon that I have 2 options. One to sit back and take this as a normal government job and the other to engage myself in projects of huge national importance, which otherwise will be procured from abroad at the expense of huge national exchequer. I opted for the 2nd option and was lucky to be a part of a very dynamic team. We completed a project of prime national importance from indigenous knowledge and resources that after a long period of trials was successful, by the grace of Allah Almighty. This saved an amount of about US$ 5 Million to the national exchequer. The project was inducted in the army and is the backbone of our strategic defense system. Now it is more than 10 years to the day I made the decision to join PMO and I have no regrets on this decision of mine.
(So folks be patient in recession times… there is no harm in doing R&D for start. You will eventually reach where you want. I know plenty of managers in telenor, mobilink and many more who started from R&D).
Like all careers there are difficult and hard times that come along the way. In government jobs things can become very frustrating as there is a lot of ‘red-tape’ associated to various decisions. My biggest asset during these times was perseverance and No-fear approach towards my work. The biggest motivation for me has always been the goal to achieve self-reliance in the work that we do. We cannot afford to let this poor nation suffer just because we cannot develop anything from our own resources. This motivation is still the driving force behind the work that I do and although many people have their difference of opinion, I urge myself and my fellow team members to stay motivated.
As for young graduates, I would recommend them to join us and similar organizations if they have the zest and energy to contribute towards national goals. Nowadays, because of this media growth, I see lots of young people saying a lot of good things but saying is one thing and doing is another. So my message would be to all those who can contribute something as a graduate engineer, is to come forward as this is the right platform.
How has being a College of E&ME Graduate helped you in your career path?
College of E&ME taught me two very important things in life, Hard work and comradeship. I think these have been my greatest assets as I worked really hard in my job and the comradeship helped my build a very strong team where the strengths jelled together and the weaknesses were overcome quickly. These two qualities I learnt because of the tough academic environment and the great bond of friendship between our course mates.
What sort of research is conducted at NESCOM? Since hardly any of it gets publicity, fresh graduates do not consider NESCOM to be a great facility (unfortunately).
I think in the media age we live in today, it would be hard to guess what sort of work is done in NESCOM. But, still we are bound by moral and security reasons not to reveal the exact details. NESCOM is one of the elite organizations of Pakistan that employs engineers from all technologies and is actively engaged in development activities related to all disciplines. Research is a misleading word as it is mainly associated with work done in universities. NESCOM has thousands of professional engineers working on various projects and are developing solutions that deal with problems of multiple dimensions.
It is generally considered (maybe wrong) by fresh graduates that NESCOM jobs are very restrictive since one cannot relate that job experience in an effective manner in one’s CV nor can one go for further studies without formal approval of the managers. How would you comment on that?
The perception is correct as far as the restriction goes because it is considered inappropriate to mention the exact application area where you have done work. But, general working experience like hands-on working knowledge of Digital Signal Processers, FPGAs etc can be mentioned anywhere and is sufficient for most people. When it come to very specific research areas then things can be a bit tricky, but I think there is a solution for this also and people have mentioned it in their CVs without compromising security and confidentiality matters. As far as higher studies are concerned, the ground position varies from organization to organization and group to group. The general rules allow at least 3 years of service and some good project work as qualification criteria for higher studies, which is fair enough. But lack of funds, project priorities etc can lead to longer timelines. I myself pended the decision by one year as I was busy in important project work. So time delay is not a big deal but again some people become impatient as they feel like they have been ignored or injustice has been done, which is not the case.
Dr. Nisar Alvi defines research as:
I think I have already communicated the general misperception about research in Pakistan. Research is normally associated with universities and which results in publications, research papers, thesis etc. But in reality hard 3-4% of university research goes into development and most of the research papers have no practical application. In normal jobs, engineers are mostly doing two types of work, development or maintenance work. In my view research requires a lot of patience which unfortunately is very rare in Pakistani universities but as more and more foreign qualified PhDs are coming back, things will improve.