Pull quote: ‘Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.’ — Bill Bradley.

Ambition, Persistence, and Self-Motivation

With a growing economy, in a third-world country, the absence of proper education, and lack of local resources to learn about technology, persistence and self-motivation are the key factors to get a successful career, or create a successful, and strong, startup business.

Weak Education System, and Economy

Unfortunately, we have a weak education system in Egypt, one that does not build knowledge, or stimulates the analytical mind, but rather encourages memorizing information, and dumping it away on papers, leaving it behind with the final exam sheets.

It was pretty normal to find Science and Engineering grads in Egypt selling inexpensive goods in the streets, or driving taxis for a living. Because they succeeded at passing exams, but not in learning what they are supposed to learn to succeed in their career, and life. They often fail at the very first step, creating a dream!

‘Forget everything you’ve been taught in college, and start learning how you can actually do your job in practical life’. That’s the first sentence a lot of new-grads hear in their first job after college.

Hearing these stories, and seeing how we’ve got both a weak Education system that decreases the competency level of working force, and a weak market that can hardly compete with foreign competitors locally, let alone competing globally, I knew I had to learn on my own. When you do that, you have the freedom to learn what you love most, not what the education system thinks is best for you, which is often wrong.

Starting the Computer Science journey

I started reading about Computer Science, and Computer Networks in particular, took a course in Microsoft Network Engineering, and started working as a contractor in some mid-sized companies right after. I loved having the ability to tame computer systems, control them to do exactly what they’re needed to do… so I decided to learn more.

By that time, I had learned that self-study is just awesome; you read books, practise on your computer, and the results are clearly visible. I had always hated theoretical studies, and Computer Science felt like just the thing for me.

While searching for more material to study, I’ve met with a few alike explorers, and later founded a Yahoo group ( was the biggest at the time ) to exchange self-study materials, both books and videos. My library got bigger, and I met a lot of nice friends, who were also searching for self-improvement. This gave me a better chance at increasing my knowledge, and a bigger hope that there is still people who want to succeed, and know how to do just that, without blaming the education system and the economy for their failure.

All that happened while I was in secondary school, before I even joined college. #1

Spreading the culture

Through the college years, I’ve met some passionate friends, and we had lots of ideas about how to spread the self-learning culture amongst students and the community at large. One gap that we always saw between people and technology, is that they lacked a definition of what technology really is, what does it mean, what fields are there to learn about, and what potential could it have on their life and career.

We were inspired by a story about some Indian village, where a group of people learned a subject, and each one of them started teaching another group, and so on. So we decided we should try to apply the same in Egypt, a mix between self-learning, and group-learning.

We reached out to Microsoft Egypt, Oracle Egypt, and some other Tech companies, who we saw can help with providing the materials, and with teaching students about what their technologies are, and how they can learn about it.

Our attempts failed after a while, with a severe lack in resources, and some reluctant administration at college that didn’t see a potential in what we were trying to do.

So we put the event(s) on hold, and started gathering more followers and believers in what we believed could change the technical ecosystem in Egypt for good. #2

My first Startup

Eventually, we decided we needed to make our own money, so we can make our dream come true. So we started a small company that provided Web Design services, and Business-focused technical solutions. Our clients were amazed by the potential of technology, and how it can streamline their businesses, and keep track of their operations, in pursue for better profits and happier customers. We were good, so good, because client happiness was our first and top-most goal. We always thought from a client perspective; ‘How this can benefit my business?’

Pull quote: If you didn’t fail, you probably haven’t *truly* succeeded yet.

During the time, about 2008, we evaluated a few different Web platforms, like Joomla and WordPress. That’s when I fell in love with WordPress, a flexible system, with a multitude of plugins and themes, that enabled me to create websites and even applications in so much less time compared to other platforms, specially with my relatively-limited programming skills at the time.

Freelancing Journey

The more we knew what we could achieve, the more we thought about expanding our market reach. With the right communication and presentation, the sky was the limit. So we started exploring other markets, through freelancing sites and directly communicating with potential clients.

Within the technical world, and specially Web Development, only your technical and communication skills is what matters. A local developer does not have an advantage over a remote one, only who understands client needs is who wins it all.

My first freelance gig was animating a banner, making a ball spin in a basketball site, for $5. It was never relevant to my experience, but I knew I had to make the client happy so I can get more jobs from him that ARE relevant to my expertise, and that’s what happened. I built good relations with customers, some of whom actually became my friends to this moment. One of the keys to successful freelancing, IMHO, is building good relations with clients, not building a lots of clients. Good work / happy customer are the best referrals you can ever have, they speak of your quality better than you describing it.

Building experience, and the next step

The second-top goal in that period was building experience, even by compromising financials. I looked to the future, and it is always about building one’s self, not building fortunes.

That improved the experience section in my resume, which got me lots of job offers. Building a good and descriptive resume is a key factor in getting better and faster replies to your job applications. I almost got replies to each single application I made. A perfect resume on your desktop would not do you any good though, I had to make myself available through PHP and WordPress listing websites to get noticed, and apply to each single job where I saw potential, even If I had a successful job at the time, that’s how I kept myself in the loop with market demands, and got better job after another, all without compromising any relation with previous employers. #3

Contributing to Open source projects also helps getting yourself noticed, however I didn’t really contribute much to open-source until I joined my current employer, XWP, so I didn’t really make use of that, though I wish I did that sooner in my career, as it is a great way to improve as a developer and as a team player.

Current phase, and the future

I’ve recently joined XWP, a Featured Partner of WordPress.com VIP, and it has been an interesting ride so far, contributing to multiple open source projects, working with Enterprise media agencies, understanding what it takes to form a good team, and keep it playing nicely, through continuous and healthy communication, being proactive, continuous improvement, and the culture of /fives!

Healthy communication helped me overcome most of the problems that come with living in a third-world company, such as frequent electricity problems, connectivity issues. The team always understood. Mastering healthy and proactive communication helped relieve the pressure from the fear of failing expectations, which is the top most problem for remote workers.

Building the future requires keeping up to date with technologies, that’s why I’m always looking for new challenges, with the recent being learning NodeJS, and the React framework. Luckily, this isn’t taking me too far from WordPress, with the recent merge proposal for WordPress REST API feature plugin. So I’m looking forward to combining the two, to leverage WordPress flexibility, mixed by a modern display framework, and adding a few other bullets to my expertise section!

#1 I’m actually still a college student, however taking fewer subjects each year, for the sake of having a degree, nothing more. However, I plan on taking a degree from one of the open courses providers right afterwards, Harvard’s, Standford, edX, etc. They provide excellent courses that compares to what on-site students are studying.

#2 The dream is still actually on hold, after my dream-companion got shot, and later met his maker, during clashes in the recent events in Egypt. Still looking forward to do this someday, because the dream is too big to abandon.

#3 I currently work out of an rented room next to the office of the CEO of a local company I used to work for.

5 comments

  1. John Regan says:

    Shady, this is so insightful and inspiring. I didn’t know all of the struggles you’ve been through — and that’s because you are such a pro at what you do! You are a leader, a fantastic developer, and a great guy to work with. I truly hope this article encourages and challenges others to take the big leap into self-education. /Five!

    • Shady Sharaf says:

      Thank you John, really touched by your words 🙂 /Five!

      And I think most success stories contains struggles and failure points that leads into a successful career. I don’t believe success comes without failures, If you didn’t fail, you probably haven’t *truly* succeeded yet.

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