I am looking forward to lunch with people and seeing friends in corridors

We spoke to industrial engineering and management student Yacquub Moalim Ali about solving complex problems, the perils of watching hours of YouTube by mistake and how social distancing effected Ramadan this year
Yacquub Moalim Ali
Yacquub Moalim Ali, photo Matti Ahlgren

What do you study and why?

Strategy and venturing, and I want to emphasize that I really love it. I found the whole subject of Industrial Engineering and Management very compelling because when I was in secondary school I really enjoyed technical subjects, like Maths and physics, but I also had some business courses, and I was really looking for a way to mesh these two things. The more I got into it, the more interesting it became for me. What I find compelling is not just the combination of these two subject areas, but also seeing these big complex problems, and trying to break them down into small pieces to solve them. This is one the main reasons I decided to specialize in strategy and venturing. I had done my bachelor’s degree at Tampere University of Technology, but chose Aalto for my masters specifically because I could major in Strategy and venturing. 

How is dissertation work going in coronavirus?

I don’t know if lockdown has made it easier or harder to write a thesis. When you start doing your master’s thesis you just have to sit down and write it. Although this demands discipline, the fact that I’m at home and my bed is maybe 3 metres from my desk makes it quite hard to find the discipline. My worst enemy is YouTube, you think you’ll just watch one video and then all of a sudden like an hour has passed and you’ve just been sitting watching videos, so it’s really important to maintain that discipline! 

What’s your dissertation on?

I work for a cybersecurity company – which is a complex domain: there are many different products for many different solutions, it’s quite dynamic and everything changes all the time. I’m looking at “what would be the value added for our customers if we had broader solutions rather than specific point solutions.” So instead of selling to the customer a single, very specific technical product, they could instead get a wider solution to cover a larger portion of their problem domain. Thus, I’m looking at the possibilities in combining the existing product portfolio? 

What are some highlights of our time as a student?

I have so many good experiences from my studies, when I think about my whole university career, I think that there are so many things that I have done and I’m so happy that I’ve done so many things. When you start your working life, you don’t have the possibility to do all these sorts of things. I think the highlight for me would be my one-year Erasmus exchange to Grenoble in France. It’s a city right next to the Alps and I fell in love with it. I’m a person who usually likes to stick to the flat ground but I had to try the Alps. It was amazing! We did hiking during the summer and then downhill skiing when it snowed. The whole experience was great as it was outside of my comfort zone. Although I had studied French since the 5th grade, I was annoyed at the fact that I still could not properly speak the language. Therefore, my objective in France was to really learn the language. In fact, I really did jump into the deep end, as approximately 60% of my courses were held in French. It was great to see how quickly I was able to adapt.

How has the last year been?

I feel we’ve been in the corona situation for so long it is difficult for me to think of meetings where we would “meet” physically and go back to what used to be the norm. There are many good things about working remotely, I don’t need to get up at 6am to be in work for an 8 am meeting anymore! But simultaneously you miss all the informal discussions you have, like when you bump into people in the corridors and around the office. They have pretty much been cleared out. I have started to go to the gym more regularly. I am very close with my family, and I’m staying in touch with my friends as well, even if we don’t meet up physically so much at the moment. To help others I’ve been calling my friends to go for walks, and if they’ve gone into lockdown taking them food and things 

How has social-distanced Ramadan been?

This is the second Ramadan during the pandemic. Ramadan is a bit like writing a master’s thesis, it has an element of focus and determination about it. But it’s not only that, it’s about community and going to the mosque together, and the lack of that has been quite tough: the fact that you can’t break fast together, go to the Tarawih prayers (in the evening after breaking fast) with the whole community. I am quite lucky in that I am not alone; I break my fast with my family but there is still the element of community missing. I am hoping that as society is opening up slowly, we will be able to meet each other more. Hopefully the weather will keep getting better and we can do more things outside too. Last year we had Eid celebrations outside – luckily it wasn’t raining and it worked really well, we were able to have the community element and the most important element, the prayer itself.  

What do you predict for the future?

I am most looking forward to eating lunch with people, having people to chat with over meals and bumping into people in corridors of campus. That used to be so nice! I also miss the banter during lectures and study sessions. I’m really happy with how well the teachers have adapted to doing everything virtually. When you study industrial engineering one of the most important things is having discussions and understanding others’ points of view, and I think teachers have done an amazing job making this happen remotely, harnessing the digital tools for making this still to happen. But I still think it would be nice to be in the room with people when they argue their points, because using zoom and teams means conversations can’t be as dynamic. If 5 people are talking with each other, via teams it has to be one person speaking and that person ends, then another person speaks, and then a third person has to raise their hand, and to a certain degree this is quite limiting as it’s not like a natural conversation. If you go to a party for example, you don’t have just one person talking to 10 people standing silently listening – I miss communal communication! 

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