I wrote this post last September as a reflection essay for my Design and Manufacture class at Stanford. Reposting this again so that it can serve as a reminder of the things that I want to restart doing.
A blank slate, and the uncertainty that comes with it is something that I have been yearning for since the past several years ; a blank slate on which I can shape up my ideas, thoughts and combine them with the correct mindset and required skills to truly achieve what I want to in life. I was born and raised in Karachi, the largest and arguably the most diverse city of Pakistan. Witnessing the city’s stark inequalities while growing up made me aware of how the lottery of birth pans out, and since an early age, I felt a nagging sense of doing something meaningful to improve the lives of the less fortunate. While studying computer engineering in college, I continued to explore the space of design thinking, especially in the context of creating services for people at the bottom of the pyramid in the developing world. I developed a working prototype for a low cost water purifier in urban areas, and my work was featured by Acumen, an impact investment fund that works in Africa, Asia and South America. This exposure enabled me to land a job as a computer programmer/researcher/product manager at a startup working in the financial inclusion and agriculture technology space in Sierra Leone. Over the next three years, I worked on a wide range of projects, ranging from advising the government of Liberia on how to make their government processes more data driven and transparent, to piloting an infectious disease surveillance system in Sierra Leone, and building a mobile phone based savings product for subsistence farmers. At Stanford, I want to improve my design skills and focus towards building products and solutions that can improve the delivery of life saving medical care to people living in remote areas in Pakistan.
My hobbies are reading, writing, listening to music and street photography, although I have not been involved with them as much as I would ideally like to. On weekends, I can usually be found engrossed in my books with a journal nearby, penning down my thoughts on how I interpret and perceive different situations. My favourite genres are science fiction, current affairs, philosophy and economics.
It’s interesting how life experiences and circumstances end up shaping one’s outlook. Hobbies, passions and fortes that were once second nature end up feeling completely alien and foreign, which is exactly what happened to me while being away from home for almost seven years due to college and work commitments. I listen to way less new music than I used to, I read fewer books, and it takes an effort to clearly articulate ideas and thoughts that aren’t technical in nature. I also feel a disconnect from the concept of “home”; in some ways I feel that I do not understand the people and the place where I am from, frustrated at the general pettiness in thinking and narrow-mindedness that is unfortunately present there. At times though, I miss the place and its people, and the “inner voice” that is only triggered by a specific place and the memories and mental images that one associates with it. I hope that the next two years at Stanford will help me to make a hard reset, and rediscover the inner voice that got lost amidst all the mundane activities that encapsulate ‘adult life’.
At Stanford, I want to build a strong design acumen in both physical as well as digital mediums, and nurture the skill of translating ideas into tangible prototypes. I am passionate towards using human centered design to build products and services that fulfill critical needs of poor people in the developing world, and am immensely excited at the intellectual rigor that Stanford would provide me to achieve this goal.