How an Architect from Sudan Came to Study Software Development at MIU

Interview: Mohamed Alfidil Hassan
By: Christine Albers

Meet Mohamed Hassan, a student in the Masters of Software Development program at Maharishi International University (MIU). Mohamed emigrated from Sudan in 2016, with green card in hand, to seek a better life and career opportunities. We borrowed some precious time to learn about Mohamed’s journey that led him to choose the Masters in Software Development program – and why he’s glad he did!

Mohamed, what was your driving force to come to the USA?

I’m from Sudan, where the government is not as stable as the U.S. Some parts of Sudan are still fighting so the stress level is high back home.  My goal was to gain higher education and a good career which would allow me to bring my family to the USA.

What was it like when you arrived in the USA for the first time?

I won’t say coming to the USA was a breeze. It’s not as easy as you think and you have to be prepared to work hard. My degree was in architecture, and I had my green card, so I searched for jobs in that area. However, the job search was difficult, maybe because I didn’t know how to write a resume that is accepted widely in the US, or I had a foreign education, or it was something beyond me. I realized I needed time to adapt and improve my language. Eventually, I landed a customer service position in the airline industry, where I worked 3 jobs and 14-17 hours a day to buy a car, pay for a place to live, and have a decent life.

How did you hear of Maharishi University (MIU)?

From the beginning, I wanted higher education, but I was working hard to support myself.  Every time I applied to a school they required TOEFL classes or English classes. U.S. schools are very expensive, so I decided to study English by myself at home. At some point, a friend in Iowa called to tell me about MIU and said, “You have to apply to this school. It’s a new thing – a one year program – and it’s going to be interesting. It’s a software development program which is IT.”  I said, “Me? Study IT? I’ve worked with software programs in architectural design, but I don’t have experience in software development.” He insisted, “They don’t require experience. Just try it. You have nothing to lose.”

I didn’t pay attention but he kept calling and saying you need to apply, and he was applying. Meanwhile, I researched IT and the job market and saw that this is the future. The market is fresh for IT with lots of job opportunities. I was opening up to the idea but terrified of borrowing the tuition money.

Coincidentally, I met a man from the Sudanese community.  Every time we met, he said, “You need to go to school. Don’t waste your time.”  I told him about this school in Iowa and he asked, “Do they do meditation? This is the same school I graduated from 10 years ago! I’m not going to say anything to you but this, ‘Stop everything and just go. This is your time. You should take this chance and go. And don’t laugh at the meditation; you’re going to need it.’”

I knew if I didn’t do something I would be stuck in that life, working 14 to 17 hours a day, 7 days a week, and trying to support a family.  “Okay,” I said, “I’ll apply but I might not pass the technical interview.” He said, “Just study and you can pass it. The interview only shows if you have a logical mind and the problem-solving skills needed in coding.” I decided to take the chance. Although I was working long hours every day and had no time to study, I crammed and pushed myself.  I have no idea how, but I passed the technical interview and gained acceptance for the program! It was my opportunity to start a new life.

How did you feel about leaving Virginia and coming to Iowa?

I lived in Virginia since I arrived in the USA and have friends and family there. Then, right before leaving I was promoted to a supervisor position at work, so it was a tough decision. I worked until the day I left for Iowa and had to move out of my house, sell my car, and my furniture. When I got to Iowa, I had to start everything over again from zero, no car, no income, and I was supporting myself with the money I had saved. The first bit of time was challenging, but I knew this was my only chance to create a better life.

As a former architect, how was the transition to software development?

Software development is nice, it’s interesting and beautiful, and I enjoy working with computers. The fun part is that it is challenging, and I love dedicating myself to something that stimulates me intellectually.

Do you feel you are getting the knowledge you need to land a good job?

Our professors are knowledgeable and current on everything, so we are getting all the learning we need that is up to date for the market. My teacher will say, “These updates on the programming and functionalities came out two days ago. This is the way to do it now.” So I feel confident I can find a good job and have the latest knowledge.

Has meditation helped with your studies?

Before MIU all I knew of meditation was from movies and TV shows. I learned Transcendental Meditation ™, and we had to take the Science and Technology of Consciousness course, which was new and different. It was fun and weird at the same time. But honestly, I have no idea how, but the meditation works. If I’m tired or nervous or even panicking before exams, it helps. Meditating for 15 or 20 minutes settles me down and helps me focus. I think it will help when I graduate, move to a new city to start a new job, and have to learn everything about a new company and environment.

Plus, everybody I’ve met from this community who meditates looks healthy and young. My landlord is 75 years old and looks great.  I asked how he looks so good and he said he’s been meditating for 30 years. I even told my mom about it. I hope that she and my dad can learn Transcendental Meditation ™ too.

What is the greatest benefit you’ve gained from this program?

I’ll say the knowledge, the opportunity to change my life and get a decent life in the U.S. – for me and the family I’m trying to establish. To study for one year and get an interesting and challenging job that starts at $65,000 (instead of $40,000), work 8 hours a day versus 17 hours, and have paid holidays and health insurance, that’s great!

What advice would you give to anyone applying for the Masters in Software Development program?

Well, this program isn’t just for international students, but there are a lot of us, and I know the problems they face when coming to the U.S. Like me, many students have to work 14 -17 hour days with minimum wages to support themselves, and they have college degrees. It’s natural to want a better life and MIU provides this chance. But they have to be willing to study hard, stay dedicated and focused, and they will be successful. And like my friend told me, “Don’t laugh at the meditation. It will help them in their studies.”

Mohamed graduated from the Masters of Software Development program in August 2020 and landed a position as a JavaScript software developer at Leepfrog Technologies in Coralville, Iowa.