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Fathy Rashad: A Self-Starter Who Creates Opportunities for Himself

Fathy-Rashad-1.jpgWhat would you do if the subjects in school don’t interest you? Muhammad Fathy Rashad ‘s school lacked opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), so he decided to self-study and sit for the O levels at 15 years old. He passed it and was accepted to study engineering at Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS (UTP) when he was 16, making him the university’s youngest student.  

It Started with Hacking

Fathy is someone who doesn’t wait for things to happen. He goes after what he wants. His interest in computers started at around 11 years old. Attracted by the image of cool hackers in movies, he wanted to try hacking. “With some help from Google, I managed to hack my friend's Facebook account. I told him about it later, of course,” shares Fathy.  
Spurred by this success, he taught himself programming, but there was only so much he could learn from googling. It was only after studying at UTP that he made significant progress — enough to publish two mobile games on Play Store when he was a foundation student.

Although Fathy had a huge interest in computers, he initially chose Mechanical Engineering (ME) as he wanted to do robotics and felt that he could study Computer Science on his own. However, he soon realised that he enjoyed Electrical Engineering (EE) more than ME. In his second year, he switched to Computer Engineering — which was a mix of EE and Computer Science.
Besides studying, Fathy also used his time at UTP to develop his public speaking skills through the university’s events and club activities. He also got to practise academic writing as many subjects required technical reports.
Collaborating on the International Stage
Fathy-Rashad-2.jpgFathy is most proud of the conference paper he co-published with Assistant Professor Faez Ahmed of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) when he was 20 years old. The paper titled CreativeGAN: Editing Generative Adversarial Network for Creative Design Synthesis was presented at the International Design Engineering Technical Conferences & Computers and Information in Engineering Conference (IDETC-CIE 2021). It introduces a method to enhance the creative capability of generative machine learning (ML) models. 
He explains, “ML has a certain degree of computational creativity to generate new data such as images, music, and product designs. However, generating a truly novel or unique design remains a challenge. Our paper attempts to enhance the creative capability of ML models by identifying components that make a design unique, and modifying the generative model to generate designs with unique components. This is demonstrated through the generation of new bicycle designs with unique frames and handles.”
The 10-month stint with MIT was an eye-opener for Fathy as he didn't even know that undergraduates could publish conference papers. “I hope my achievement inspires other students to pursue research opportunities early in their studies.” 
He continues, “In the US and other countries, many students would join a lab in their first or second year to help with research and potentially publish a paper. By the time they graduate, they would already have published several papers.” 
Learning Through Working 
Fathy credits UTP’s internship programme for equipping him with research and ML skills. He was attached to ViTrox, an electronics factory in Penang for seven months as an industrial trainee. ViTrox designs and manufactures vision inspection systems and equipment for the semiconductor and electronics packaging industries. 
Elaborating on his experience, he says, “I got to discuss research papers with my senior colleagues, especially the ML experts. This was extremely useful as online resources that explain research papers were very limited.”   
Fathy advises students to treat internships as a critical part in their journey towards entering the workforce. “Internships were essential to my growth as a developer and engineer. My first internship was during my first year, as a software engineer at Fave — a fintech startup at that time. My experience there gave me the confidence to start freelancing as a developer in my second year.”
Asking for Opportunities
When queried on how students could get the most out of their internships, he answers, ”Be proactive. Some companies have little expectation of interns, and give them less responsibility or just simple tasks. If you think you’re capable of more, let your supervisor know. If there’s a project you’re interested in, or something you want to share, present or propose — speak up.”
He gives an example, “I noticed that there were very few online resources that explained the papers that I was reading, so I proposed to blog about what I learned. This led to the company launching a technical blog. I also asked my supervisor to allow me to work on a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) project even though I had no knowledge of GAN. It became the main topic for my research with MIT.”

Although Fathy is barely out of university, he has already built an online presence for himself. He explains why, “It would have been almost impossible for me to get the chance to collaborate with MIT if I didn't have my portfolio or blog as the professor would not have been able to find me. Thanks to my portfolio and blog, I was also able to get other opportunities such as clients, speaking invitations, and job offers. Hence, I encourage students to build their online presence through an online portfolio, blog, or even a social media to expose themselves to more opportunities. The book Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon explains this topic quite well.”
What if one has doubts like being not good enough to put something out for public consumption on the internet? Fathy’s answer is, “When I started writing, I was worried that I wasn’t qualified enough to write as I was still a student. What if I shared something wrong? I could be spreading misinformation. Also, should I improve my writing skills first? In the end, I decided to be upfront about my qualifications and the fact that I'm still learning.”
As a parting note, Fathy stresses on self-learning and the drive to keep learning. He says, “I use social media to keep myself updated on the latest technologies. Occasionally, I experiment with these technologies through my side projects or hackathons. Be a self-starter.” 

Published: 15 November 2021