Professor Asaad Saad, beloved Director of the Master’s in Software Development program at MIU, receives such extraordinary reviews from his students that we were eager to sit with him and learn why they speak so highly of him. Is it his philosophy of teaching? Or the artist that he sees in every student? Let’s find out.
Interview by Christine Albers
Asaad received his Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering from Aleppo University, Syria, in 2001. After graduating, he worked on many web development projects at businesses and government industries for 15 years. During that time, Asaad worked and lived in Lebanon, Jordan, and Abu Dhabi. His last position, before coming to the USA, was with the Ministry of Interior in Abu Dhabi where he worked for 7 years until he made the life-changing decision to come to MIU.
CA: How did you learn about MIU, Asaad?
Asaad: A friend in Abu Dhabi told me about the Masters in Computer Science program (ComPro) at MIU. He said, “Let’s try applying together and see how it goes.” I wasn’t that interested, but I took the ComPro entrance exam and gained acceptance to the program. Somehow my visa was delayed and I continued working at the Ministry which I enjoyed very much. I was living my life and almost forgot about ComPro when I got a call from the embassy saying that my visa is ready. My friend was already at MIU, so I asked him about the program before making my decision. He said, “Come now. It’s a change that you should make in your life.”
CA: That’s very interesting as so many students say the same thing. A friend will tell them, “Drop everything and come,” and it changes their life. So, did your friend give you the nudge you needed to come to MIU?
Asaad: Yes, he influenced me, but the situation in the Middle East was also a factor as it was complicated at that time because of the raging war in Syria. I hadn’t been able to see my family for two years while I was in Abu Dhabi. I was losing hope about doing anything in the Middle East and thought maybe it was a good idea to make a change and go to the United States. So that, combined with my friend’s encouragement, motivated me to come to MIU.
CA: You started at MIU as a ComPro student. How did you go from being a student to running the Master’s in Software Development (MSD) program?
CA: How did that lead to becoming the Director of the Masters in Software Development (MSD)?
CA: I hear so many great things about you from your MSD students. What do you love best about teaching?
Asaad: Nothing compares to having the ability to help students make positive changes in their lives. I may have some hard times in my life, stress, etc., but when I get feedback from former students who reconnect with me and tell me what a big impact I had on their professional lives, I know I am doing the right thing.
CA: Do you have a philosophy of teaching?
Asaad: I enjoy giving and I also enjoy simplifying concepts. I’m not the kind of teacher who goes to the lecture and reads something and leaves. I make sure that by the end of every lecture, every student has absorbed the concepts. I will explain any concept a million times until everyone understands it.
CA: Is it harder for MSD students because they don’t have a computer background?
Asaad: Any students who succeed in MSD find that coding is a natural talent. Coding isn’t hard. They don’t have to study a lot of math before they can become programmers. It’s a lot of work, but if they are persistent and have the aptitude they can succeed and it’s enjoyable if they love programming. I see coding as an art, really.
CA: Can you explain why you see coding as an art?
Asaad: Computer code is like notes of music in a music score. If you give any piece of music to different musicians or even an orchestra, each plays it in their way. They translate that piece into their own feelings and emotions during the performance. You never hear the same performance more than once. For instance, when I play the violin, I play differently every time, depending on my emotions.
Similarly, when I look at my students’ coding, I see each one as an artist, creating code according to their own creative instincts. There’s an art to coding, just like music. That’s the beauty of computer science.
CA: You obviously have a great love of music and I understand you are an accomplished violinist.
Asaad: I studied music as a child back in Syria. My sister and brother went to a Russian music institute and I studied violin for 6 years after school hours. My parents loved music and encouraged all our family to play instruments. My sister played piano, my brother played clarinet, and I chose the violin. I played with the Chamber Orchestra in Aleppo and the Damascus Orchestra, and then the United Arab Emirate Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra during my entire residency in the United Arab Emirates. When I came to the United States, I joined the Southeast Iowa Symphony and have been playing with them for the last seven years.
CA: How are MSD students different from students at other universities?
Asaad: Our students are always motivated, hard-working, determined to change their lives, most of them were stuck in their lives at some point for various reasons. They hear about programming and software development and it’s a highly paid job. They are looking for a change in their lives for the better, and they find this place is the best place for that change. So, when they arrive at MIU they want to take full advantage of this program and are determined to succeed.
CA: What do you think of the Block System?
Assad: The block system is pretty unique. It’s easy because the students take one subject at a time, but hard because they have to learn and study everything each day. At the end of each block, they take an exam, so there is no time to slack off. But the advantage is that each block prepares you for the next one, so it’s like climbing a ladder.
CA: What do students enjoy most when studying MSD courses?
Asaad: In the afternoon sessions the students work in groups on certain ideas and projects and they build them together. This is a very enjoyable activity for students and it’s important for them because they can add these projects to their resume, and by the time they graduate they already have a portfolio of projects to show to prospective employers.
CA: What do you like best about MIU?
Asaad: Probably the support in my department. I never had so much support in the work environment. We work as one team and we support each other in all aspects. That is number 1.
Secondly, I love the culture that we have in Fairfield due to the meditating community with the peaceful, lovely people who smile all the time. You never find this in other parts of the US, or in any place in the world. I have traveled a lot around the USA and I always feel Fairfield is home.
CA: What did you think of Transcendental Meditation when you arrived at MIU?
Asaad: I learned TM when I came to the university but I didn’t realize the benefits until about 6 months after learning. It took a while to get deep inside of me, but with regular checking, I started enjoying it more and I saw that meditation helped me in my daily life. It helped me focus, advance, and learn more. Maybe that’s why I’m successful.
Now that I have been meditating regularly for several years, I feel the benefits and have a deep appreciation for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who decided to teach meditation and start this school. I learned more advanced techniques and I’m grateful to be given this gift. When I see that students come here from all over the world and meditate twice a day, that’s awesome.
I’m an ambassador for angular framework and when I go to conferences and tell people about how we teach TM and combine it with computer science in the form of Consciousness-based education, they think it is probably the most brilliant idea ever.
CA: Do you enjoy the international culture?
Asaad: It’s amazing. I love the international culture. When I lived in the United Arab Emirates, the environment was international and I worked with people from all around the world. Abu Dhabi is an international city with a diverse environment and when I came to MIU I felt like I was home because it has a diverse international student population. Even the MSD students who are residents come from all over the world.
CA: Do you have any advice for prospective students?
Asaad: I would say, just come. Don’t think twice. This will be the best decision you will ever make. Of course, you need to have the desire and the passion for learning. The program isn’t going to be easy, but MIU will help in every way. Our graduates are so proud they completed the program and we are so proud of them. They did it! And they did it with all the help and support from MIU faculty and staff. MSD requires serious work, like any Master’s degree, but if they have passion for software development, they can succeed, and this is reflected by two graduating classes who have 100% placement in great jobs. We are very proud of our MSD graduates.