Omar Zaarour received his Bachelors degree in Computer Engineering from An-Najah National University (NNU), West Bank, Palestine and Bilkent University (BU), Ankara, Turkey graduating with high honors. In September 2012 he joined the Master of Computer Science program at University of Calgary in the Database and Data Mining group under Prof. Reda Alhajj's supervision.
Omar is a recipient of the prestigious scholarship "Alberta Innovates" in the field of ICT in Alberta. He is a member of the two teams, SANO and YouSave, which ranked in the top three teams in the Canadian competition of the Microsoft Imagine Cup. The former team received the KFC Innovation award in the Imagine Cup finals in Russia in July 2013. During his work with Professor Alhajj, even before coming to Canada, Omar published many works in prestigious journals and conferences.
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Can you profile your top three educational successes and why they are important?
"....I was selected in my undergraduate program in computer engineering for a scholarship to attend Bilkent University in Turkey....Getting the Alberta Innovates — Technology Futures scholarship alongside the acceptance offer from the University of Calgary....Being part of the team that won the Imagine Cup 2013 within Canada and one of the categories at the world finals in Russia...."
Why should faculty and students get involved in the Imagine Cup?
"....Imagine Cup (and similar competitions) may be the best way to apply the theoretical research and something tangible that benefits the world...."
Omar describes his experiences at the finals in Canada and in Russia.
"....In Canada we competed against hundreds of other entries from all over the country. Getting the first within Canada was a great step to the harder one in Russia...."
Describe your top placing winning projects for the Imagine Cup and what made them special?
"....The YouSave idea is a mobile application that lets the user save his money and time and fuel while buying products from stores. The SANO idea is a comprehensive application that monitors the users' sitting time in front of computers and provides them with exercises...."
Provide some special technical tips for developing using the languages you prefer most.
"....Generally if you like a programming language you should keep yourself up-to-date with the current advancements in this language.....Many programmers know how to program when you tell them what the algorithm is, but the hard thing is to have the necessary science and research experience before you learn how to program....To have a broader view of what is happening in the programming field you should not limit yourself to one language all the time...."
So what are some of your favorite languages?
"....My favorite languages are mostly .Net languages like CSharp and VB.Net, but I also program in Java and C++...."
From your perspective, what are some specific best online resources to use as a developer?
"....Many of these resources come from other programmers' experiences which can prove to be very useful....I use a lot of Microsoft products in my research and competitions. I prefer DreamSpark that contains access to a huge number of free technologies for students and researchers...."
All the major corporations, for example, use the ACM Digital Library. Did you find the digital library of some use?
"....The sources that I mentioned before are for technical tools and technical resources....I have publications in the ACM digital library and if I need access to theoretical research that can help me in my projects or competitions of course I will use this library to get some papers...."
What special technical tips can you provide when developing apps?
"....Make sure the idea is unique and attracts users....Don't limit yourself to one platform or technology for the final product....If the idea is simple, don't make the final idea complicated....Start simple by issuing the first version with limited features and seek people's opinions and feedback and try to learn from them for the next version...."
What are some major challenges when developing apps?
"....The major challenge is not the technology; the idea is the most challenging....The low hanging fruits are not there anymore so if you get the right idea at the right time with the right team then you guarantee your success...."
What special developer techniques are you using in your latest app?
"....In our latest application the main thing we practice is using many technologies integrated with each other. This type of technology integration is not easy in the beginning because you can find other alternatives for each part of the project and you have to decide other technologies that serve you the best. ..."
What are your recommended Microsoft technologies and why?
"....Normally I used to work only with Microsoft products. I stopped for awhile since they were not free but during the past few years I went back to using them heavily after Microsoft announced the DreamSpark initiative where everything is free for students and researchers...."
Are there special people that you follow in the marketplace to help in your development, special sites where there are templates, special media channels that you use or any other kinds of resources that you could name and recommend to others?
Do you feel computing should be a recognized profession on par with accounting, medicine and law with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility, public accountability, quality assurance and recognized credentials? [See www.ipthree.org and the Global Industry Council, http://www.ipthree.org/about-ip3/global-advisory-council]
"....Computing and ICT in general should be developed as a very well-defined profession. Only in this way will it be possible to contribute in an organized, responsible and accountable way to the roots of every single other profession...."
Omar shares some stories (amusing, surprising, unexpected, amazing) from some of his speaking, travels and work experiences.
"....One of the amazing moments that I experienced in Canada is going to Niagara Falls and getting hit by the water (while I was 20 meters away from the Falls)...."
If you were conducting this interview, what 3 questions would you ask, and then what would be your answers?
"....What other things can result from knowing other people in competitions such as the Imagine Cup?....How does your research benefit you in such competitions and on the other hand, how is your research affected back?.....How is teamwork a key in winning competitions?...."
What were the qualities in your supervisor that really inspired your team?
"....Basically Prof. Reda Alhajj knows how the people in the business side think about products more than we do, so he was always giving us input on what to do....He mentored us every step of the implementation process and we followed his direction because we believed that he had great experience in this subject...."
Omar, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your deep experiences with our audience.