YTL Fellow Spotlights: Ahmed Haj Ahmed and Siham Tamisili Khanji

In July, I had the honor of participating in a “Careers in Product Panel” for Young Tech Leaders of the Middle East. Michelle Lee founded the program with the “the vision of expanding technological opportunity to more people, especially those coming from vulnerable backgrounds.” You can read more about the program’s background and goals here.

For three weeks in July and August, 24 fellows (selected from 300 applicants) between ages 18 and 25 took part in leadership skills workshops, human-centered design training sessions, and panels with leaders, founders, and entrepreneurs from around the world. They had the chance to turn their learnings into action by creating a human-centered design project, tackling any real-world issue, culminating in a final presentation to a panel of judges.

Suffice it to say participating in the panel, and following the progression of the program, was an amazing experience for me personally – and just another reminder of the innovative talent that the MENA region has to offer.

One of StartMENAUp’s goals is to highlight the current and rising tech stars coming out of MENA, so it’s a real pleasure to share these short profiles of two of the program’s participants – Ahmed Haj Ahmed and Siham Tamisili Khanji!

Spotlight 1: Ahmed Haj Ahmed

1. Tell us about yourself.

I’m Ahmed, 20 years old, from Syria. I was born and grew up in Saudi Arabia and currently live in Turkey. I’m currently applying for colleges and scholarships abroad to get an undergraduate degree in computer science. I’m very interested in entrepreneurship and technology, specifically artificial intelligence, machine learning, programming, and data science.

2. Why did you want to participate in YTL?

To expand my knowledge and bolster my understanding of leadership and technology, and to connect with amazing people who also have interests in leadership and technology.

 3. What is an issue in your community that you care a lot about?

Lack of access to education for refugees. Personally, I finished my high school in 2019 with distinction; I was in the top of my class and got great scores in the college entrance exams. I really wanted to get an education and stand up tall once again to achieve my dreams. However, I wasn’t able to continue my education due to financial hardships. 

Indeed, I have heard stories about millions of Syrian students who were forced to drop out of school, losing their education. I did not want that to be my fate or the fate of my fellow refugees in Hatay, Turkey. So I founded an initiative to empower refugee students. I began tutoring students on a variety of topics such as basic English, math, programming, college applications, and career development, believing that only collective action can improve my situation and the situation of millions of displaced students around the globe.

4. Tell us about the human-centered design (HCD) project you created. 

It’s very obvious how effective fake news is nowadays. And we firmly believe that access to information is vital for democracy. By incessantly hacking the truth, fake news is bleeding democracy through a thousand cuts. We found that our world desperately needs a way to discern truth from fiction in our news and public, political, and economic discussions. Thus, we decided to create a project that helps the user spot fake news using artificial intelligence. Through a free app that can be downloaded from the Apple Store or Google Play, users can verify content by sharing an article in one click.

5. What was your favorite part of the program?

My favorite part of the program was the final presentation day. It was an incredible moment sharing our project and seeing our mates’ projects after spending tens of hours working on them, receiving and giving all the support, and receiving the feedback from the judges.

6. Who was the most memorable speaker and why?

All the speakers were super inspiring, and I was very honored to meet and connect with them. In fact, as a refugee who’s struggling to get an education, one of the most memorable speakers for me was Marcello Bonatto when he talked about his journey in education and what motivated him to found Re:Coded. I was really amazed by the positive impact Re:Coded has had on refugees in the region.

7. What is the most valuable lesson/takeaway from the program?

The program was full of valuable lessons and outcomes. And, fortunately, I believe that I took advantage of every second of the program; the outcomes of the program were much higher than what I expected. From the HCD sessions to all the wonderful workshops to the speakers’ panels to the amazing community, the YTL program is one of most valuable programs I’ve ever attended. I’m more than grateful to be a member of the YTL family.

8. What do you hope to do after the program ends?

I want to apply the lessons I learned through the program, from HCD to all the workshops, to my current and future projects, and to stay connected with the amazing YTL family.

9. Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

I see myself with at least an undergraduate degree working in a big tech company or starting my own start-up.

10. What’s your hidden talent?

I think my hidden talent is the ability to adapt and learn anything; with a little bit of time and hard work, I can learn about any topic I’m interested in learning about.

Spotlight 2: Siham Tamasili Khanji

1. Tell us about yourself.

I am Siham, 22 years old, from Tripoli, Lebanon. I studied Communication and Electronics Engineering and graduated in June 2021. I am currently shifting from engineering to the management field and am pursuing a career in project management. I really enjoy the tech field. I am super curious about anything new. I am also a reader; books are more than words for me, and living one life isn’t enough. 

2. Why did you want to participate in YTL?

I believe a good project manager is a leader; this was the first reason to participate in the YTL program. Yet during the application process, I started to see myself in this program from a value-based perspective. I believe that technology is here to serve the human being; that is why we should always put the human first. Second, one person cannot change the world, but we can change someone’s world by giving them an opportunity to learn and practice what is learned.

3. What is an issue in your community that you care a lot about?

The lack of motivation and knowledge, especially among teens. I found this problem mainly among university students, and one cause of this problem is the lack of deep learning. We as a community do not learn to think for ourselves. 

4. Tell us about the human-centered design (HCD) project you created. 

My HCD project addressed the above issue. My team and I thought about something to enlighten teens and give them knowledge in different fields, as well as a tool to discover their passion. Passion will make anyone motivated enough to learn and take action. Using the HCD process, the solution became Guided, which is a mobile app that serves as a collective database, connecting people who are curious about every field to the specialists in those fields.

5. What was your favorite part of the program?

The whole program was great! Attending workshops, learning about human-centered design, and meeting new people from around the world was really amazing and made me feel refreshed. Yet the best part for me was turning my learnings into action; the idea of being able to learn and practice at the same time in a short period of time was astonishing. I learned a lot in those three weeks, more than I ever imagined. In addition, I really enjoyed the HCD process during the project. I was surprised by how things change from one step to another.

6. Who was the most memorable speaker and why?

I mostly remember Rusty Gaillard and his brilliant presentation because he is a public speaker and knows how to do it! I absolutely can’t forget Meltem Naz Kaso Coskun and how informative and straightforward her lessons were; her teaching skills were really remarkable. And lastly, I can’t forget the panelists, especially Marwan Abdelhamid. He did a great job in inspiring me and made me want to do more.

7. What is the most valuable lesson/takeaway from the program?

There is no one valuable lesson from the program; there are hundreds from all the workshops and sessions. During this program, I discovered myself and my values, and how to communicate with strangers and people in general. I learned how to apply critical thinking skills and realized I can be a good public speaker. And most importantly, I learned how to apply the human-centered design framework to solve problems. From now on, I will apply HCD to every step in my life.

8. What do you hope to do after the program ends?

After this amazing experience, I will continue my job search process, and I will not stop learning. Now I know there are a lot of topics to discover and know more about.

9. Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

After 5 years, I can see myself as a project manager at a big tech company, managing the workflow, organizing the team’s work, and leading a cool team. I will also be helping youth in the Middle East by volunteering in programs similar to YTL. After 10 years, maybe I will make my dream true and be a project manager at Google.

10. What’s your hidden talent?

I have the ability to push myself forward and stay motivated despite the circumstances. I also write cool book reviews on Instagram.

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