Authored by: Ir. Dr. Shafishuhaza Sahlan
What is open source?
Open source, by definition, is a source code for which the original source code is made freely available hence can be easily modified and distributed. On 8th June 2021, it was privileged for Center For Artificial Intelligence & Robotics (CAIRO) Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), the COE robotics Malaysia, to have Mr. Sharuzzaman Ahmat Raslan sharing his personal experience on being the early pioneers of open source advocacy in Malaysia.
A laid-back gentleman, Mr. Sharuzzaman shared his experience through an interesting and inspiring talk called Evolving Continuously: How to become a real-life Tony Stark, in the CAIRO Professional Talk session. The Professional Talk was moderated by CAIRO Fellow Member, Ir. Dr. Shafishuhaza Sahlan. Although the talk was not directly related to AI, robotics or Automation, i.e. the niche area for CAIRO UTM, the application of open source is actually highly relatable.
Digging more into Mr. Sharuzzaman background, throughout his 17 years of working experience as a Linux and open source technology expert, he has worked in numerous multinational corporations such as AMD, Shell, T-System, Dell and Logica. Among others, he is a certified Solutions Architect for Amazon Web Services (AWS) both on associate and professional levels, an associate-level certified AWS Developer, a Novell certified Linux Professional, an ITIL V3 foundation and Red Hat certified Technician.
With his unmeasurable experience, he had come up with a list of significant characteristics that represent a self-evolving person, which was based on his own experience. In his inspiring talk, he had related these characteristics to a well-known character from The Avengers team of the marvel cinematic universe, Iron Man or Tony Stark.
The first characteristic was related to having a good income and personal wealth (#1). Having money is a start to your self-evolving process. Being a billionaire like Tony Stark has its advantages, on designing and building anything he desires. Having a good career ensures that one can go further in life. There is nothing wrong to have a lot of money by knowing how to use them. Mr. Sharuzzaman had emphasized in his talk, “It is not wrong to be wealthy, but you must make sure the way to be healthy is through ethical means”.
Secondly, a self-evolving person should have the characteristics of a philanthropist (#2), i.e. a person who seeks to promote the welfare of others, especially by donation of money to good causes. Tony Stark, being a philanthropist, built a headquarters himself, does not ask for donation from the government, instead used his own money. On the other hand, as a Muslim, the devout are encouraged to perform sadaqah i.e. giving to others continuously, not just financially but through sharing of knowledge.
Thirdly, one should have a continuous learning attitude (#3) to be able to evolve. Tony Stark has his own knowledge library in the form of artificial intelligence (AI) which he named J.A.R.V.I.S. For common people, the internet can be the knowledge of a library. Wikipedia, the worldwide web contains an abundance of information that is just at our fingertips which we should fully utilize to gain as much knowledge as possible.
Fourth, was to continuously improve ourselves (#4). For Tony Stark, his continuous improvement was represented through his armour design. In other words, as a person, one needs to continuously improve to face any problems or barriers that may come throughout one existence. Mr. Sharuzzaman had visualized this continuous improvement characteristic using two equations, which are 1^365 and 1.01^365. When considering the first equation, in one year, there are 1^365 = 1 improvement done in one year.
However, when the second equation is considered, you are making 1.01^365 = 38 improvements in one year, i.e. a small 0.01 improvement every day will result in a total of 38 improvements in one year. Hence, a ‘little’ change will result in tremendous change when you do it consistently. One way to keep improving ourselves is by learning new technology and gaining experience throughout the process.
The fifth characteristic was by finding peers who we can comfortably talk on technical matters (#5). Just like Tony Stark, he has Hulk or Dr. Bruce Banner as the peer he can have a conversation comfortably on technical matters. However, if we are unable to allocate one, we can join any existing technical groups, related to your area of interest. For open-source areas, Mr. Sharuzzaman had recommended DEVhub (developershub) in Telegram. Mr. Sharuzzaman himself is a member of DEVhub, along with numerous experts of similar areas, who are always ready to help.
For the sixth characteristic, it was identifying a good mentor (#6). Mentors do not necessarily need to be those who are more intelligent than you but someone who has more wisdom which can give suggestions for you to move forward. A mentor should be someone who can give you insight on what you are going to do in your future. One suggestion from an open-source expert was for you to go out of your cocoon and join an organization. For example, our Ministry of Health is currently in need of volunteers to assist them in performing vaccination for allocated PPV (Pusat Pemberian Vaksin), all over Malaysia. Make ourselves available and volunteer.
Another important characteristic for a self-evolving person is to find our support (#7). Referring to Tony Stark, he has the support of his co-worker who later became his wife, Pepper Potts as well as his bodyguard, Happy Hogan. These supports are family and friends who will always be there no matter what or in any situation, so find them and treasure them.
The eighth characteristic was to find our mentee (#8). Regardless of where you are in life, there will always someone that can learn something from us. We need to find others like this person and become their mentor. As a simple example, for a fourth-year student in a university who is graduating soon, there will always be someone at the SPM level who has just started learning how to program. As a mentor, we can teach him/her how to program at the current stage, so that when the mentee finally enters higher education, the mentee already became a mature programmer.
In other words, the mentee has started early in programming his/her life journey. We should able to identify this kind, who in our opinion has the capability to evolve, even if he/she does not require your help at the moment. We should keep he/she in our radar and always readily available to help them, anytime.
The last characteristic for a self-evolving person, according to Mr. Sharuzzaman was to join a like-minded group (#9). This like-minded group is a group of people who understand each other, share the same target or vision as we are. However, if such group does not exist, we should create one instead.
After explained all the nine characteristics, Mr. Sharuzzaman had agreed that these characteristics are actually those characteristics that he identified throughout his journey as an open source expert to reach where he is now. Mr. Sharuzzaman had recommended that the best time to explore something new is during our university years.
He has started the exploration on opensource himself during his second-year in university, as an electronic engineering graduate, who did not have anything to do with open-source or related subject matter. However, his inquisitive nature (#3) had led him to explore Linux, an alternating operating system besides windows. From there he spent hours in the IT lab. He considered himself as a ‘techie’ or ‘a person who is expert in or enthusiastic about technology especially computing’. When he started explored more on the subject matter (#4), he had managed to learnt more and made numerous network connections.
He even joined a Linux yahoo group (#9), a Malaysian-based group that full of experts in the related field. During that time, his curiosity has made him asked a lot of technical questions in the group, which slowly portrayed him to the members as someone who are consistently learning and always looking for answers.
Looking back, it was the time when he realized the experts has helped him a lot and he did the same to others (#8), offering help whenever he can has helped himself grow more. There is a saying that, between two people, if each has an apple and each gives that one apple to the other, each people will still end up with one apple. However, if knowledge was shared between two people, each one will earn two different knowledge.
According to Mr. Sharuzzaman, when he was a fourth-year student and actively participates in the Linux Yahoo group, a CEO of an open-source company contacted him inquiring whether he has graduated. Since he was still a student, the CEO offered him a job once he graduated. Eagerly agreed, once graduated, our open-source expert went for the interview to landed his first job!
Alas, he was disappointed because according to Mr. Sharuzzaman, the interview was too simple that he later questioned the CEO on his credibility as an employee. The CEO however, laughed this off, as he was the one who instructed Mr. Sharuzzaman’s interview panels to not ask our open-source expert on technical matters, but merely personal matters.
For our information, apparently, throughout the two years Mr. Sharuzzaman spent in the like-minded group, asking questions consistently, has portrayed himself as someone who well-versed with the exact subject matter that the CEO was looking for, therefore hiring Mr. Sharuzzaman to his company was just a matter of time.
The CEO and the rest of the like-minded group members were actually evaluating Mr. Sharuzzaman the whole time when he was there without him knowing. That was why the CEO has no doubt that Mr. Sharuzzaman will excel in his open-source company, which requires someone with expert knowledge of Linux. So, ladies and gentlemen, keep that curiosity high to know the current situation for your advantage.
Mr. Sharuzzaman did not stop there and kept on exploring new technologies including cloud technology in 2015. At that time (until now), Mr. Sharuzzaman was considered as one of the early pioneers of open-source advocacy in Malaysia. Following that, in 2016 and 2017, he landed a big opportunity with Amazon Web Service (AWS) in Sydney Australia. A man true to his words! When we are brave enough to go outside of our comfort level, we may end up doing things that we do not expect. Opportunities that you do not comprehend.
His last advice to those listening was to continuously improve themselves to grab the opportunities that come and remember If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together. Remember to always have curiosity and use that to know what is happening around as well as to know something new, observe and think how it works, and how it can help us in the future. Be the Conduit of that knowledge./ Department of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation)