We've got some new talent in our team! Meet Osama, Mohammad, our “humble developer” as he calls himself. We spoke with Osama about technology, democracy and his journey all the way from the big city of Islamabad, Pakistan, to Tallinn, Estonia, where the entire population of the country is about the same as in his home city.
Photo: Osama Mohhamad, our newest recruit. Private collection.
Tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up in the field of technology.
In third grade computer class, I was introduced to writing code to build websites. The fascination of seeing the creations come to life and realising the powers of the websites I interacted with at that time was so motivating that it stayed with me, and it encouraged me to learn and experiment more with it. This sense of wonder had a big impact on me and eventually led me to study computer science.
As a result of my fascination with technology, I decided to complete a certification in web design from CODE (a web design organisation). During my Bachelor studies at Air University, I also joined the Air University Cultural Society, which has the goal of providing a platform for students to exercise their skills in organising events, workshops and leadership. Being part of it all, and actively co-creating events, workshops and leading a team, helped me realise the power of leadership and determination. This eventually led me to stage large scale events with participants from all over the country.
At the same time, I became involved in many other activities, such as debating society, Model UN and others. Thanks to all these experiences, I received an offer from Obortunity Consulting where I worked with various NGOs, governmental organisations, embassies and private companies. I also had the opportunity to work with international projects connected with design strategies and info-tech planning. I have also been involved with major organisations such as the National Defence University (Pakistan) and Centre of Excellence (which is a part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor). After leaving Obortunity, I continued working as a freelance consultant and web developer for a while. During this time, I worked with ASK Development (a Human Resources organisation in Pakistan), Synergize Health Center (a medical institute in the USA) and MPR FCFA (an NGO serving multiple countries in Africa with headquarters in Australia). I graduated to leading multidisciplinary teams and delivering web and mobile development projects of all types for clients from all over the world. This also made it possible for me to build amazing learning management systems and CRMs. I gained a great deal from this experience and became much better equipped for the future challenges of the 5th Industrial Revolution.
As a young professional managing a team of 60 people, what were your main learning experiences? Were there any mistakes you made that you would no longer make?
Working alongside people from different backgrounds made me realise how fragile the mind is. It taught me to exercise empathy even more, and to change the traditional working culture. For instance, I started to use knowledge sharing, games, co-creation and the practice of empathy in my team. I saw how the team members evolved a great deal, started to learn on their own and began to develop as leaders.
There are always mistakes and one of my main ones was not giving enough time to the individual team members to give them the chance to validate their ideas and in motivating them to push further. This sense of instant gratification is a great motivator; despite being engaged in many business verticals, I believe this was the most important and I would always prioritise this over anything.
Having worked in Pakistan, living in a big city and having a corporate lifestyle, how did you “end up” in Estonia?
The first time I heard about Estonia was from a friend, who spoke very highly of the country as he was studying here. While researching, I connected so many points that reflected my ambitions, values and ideas due to my past experience with government organisations and NGOs. Seeing the impact that could be made motivated me to come here and study from the best in terms of e-governance. From Pakistan, I attained a BSCS degree with a specialisation in Machine Learning. I am currently studying for an MA in Open Society Technologies at Tallinn University. In Pakistan, a few years ago, they launched a program that is helping to create a digital Pakistan and develop e-governance. I hope to learn a great deal. At this stage, I have only been in Estonia for seven months.
What does democracy mean to you?
For me, it is freedom of expression and fair dialogue. I’m not very fixated on opinions and am quite open-minded. Pakistani society is very complex – different societies, languages and religions. When this topic comes up, it’s hard to grasp what democracy means. For me, it’s communication, being open and transparent.
What democracy definitely is not for me is elitist powers creating bubbles and keeping people away or uninformed about what’s really happening.
What motivated you to join Citizen OS?
As I was searching for my next professional challenge, I learned about Citizen OS in my Civic Engagement master's class taught by Sara Sinha and Anett Linno. I became more certain of its relevance when I learned about the organisation and its values and how they connected with my experience and current studies. I wrote to Anett about my interest in working and gaining knowledge from there, which eventually led me to become a Humble Developer at Citizen OS. My focus has been on the nexus of technology, research, design and the 5th Industrial Revolution. I am always motivated to learn and experiment with what’s new, staying up-to-date with the latest and greatest, improving and polishing my skills, and adding value through co-creating.
Citizen OS is not a big corporate organisation and works not for profit but for democracy. What do you see as being the benefits and risks for democracy with the rapid development of technology?
Technology plays a huge role in our lives. I think our democracies are still quite traditional, while technology has progressed at such a rapid pace. It’s hard to keep up with this and connect to democracy in a sufficient way. There’s still a lot of catching up to do. In my opinion, technology is not mature enough yet to support democracy. On the flip side, democracy hasn’t been merging with technology well enough either. One or the other – or even better, both – will have to evolve. Maybe Citizen OS can bridge that gap, which is also something that motivates me. To see how I can contribute to the better merging of tech and democracy. However, I see that there is not enough investment, attention and money in civic tech. I think there hasn’t been enough motivation. There needs to be a strong voice and push to make this happen. The traditional systems do not pay enough attention to how technology influences democracies and how democracy should evolve. The gap will remain until people have enough drive to change it. Whatever marketing strategy you see in technology, it is mainly about focusing on getting as many people engaged as possible to generate profit.
I also think the issue is that in many cases it’s not seen as an important and pressing issue. Nobody remembers the second person or the second topic. Think about Neil Armstrong. How many of us remember the second astronaut who stepped on the Moon?
What do you think is needed to create that demand?
Education. We have a word in the Urdu language “Shaoor”. It means people are able to learn so much that they can start to think on their own and make accurate decisions in their own minds. I believe that young people have the capacity to be very humble and supportive. We have to trust them with these changes and be a guide through the chaos of information, and also to be the helping hand. Using education to help them be wiser and better at making informed decisions hopefully directs them in favour of the community.
I'm going to challenge you a bit here now. Technology can create even bigger generational gaps. How do you see technology uniting both communities and different generations?
The viewpoints of generations should compliment each other, and create more understanding and better decisions. Different voices within society should compliment each other in a very open way. Whichever way the decision goes, it should be debated. This is also one of the reasons why the mission of Citizen OS resonated with me.
How democratic is representative democracy in your mind?
In my experience, representative democracy is partially transparent. Once every five years you hear all the opinions, promises and deliverables, based on which you make your decision and for five years you are basically stuck with whatever decisions the elected people make. Of course, there are NGOs and some individuals who keep tabs on the politicians and government and challenge them, but this accountability is hard to maintain if the elected representatives are making sure that there are no hurdles in their way and remain steadfast. If technology can make civic participation more structured, direct, open and simple, participating in democratic processes could become more accessible, which would in turn lead to a positive change for the community as a whole.
Thanks so much! And how can people get in touch if they're interested in connecting with your work for Citizen OS?
You can always contact me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/mosama1/ and reach me at at firstname.lastname@example.org.
+372 504 1258