Alumni Focus: Ahmad Al-Showail

- By Lulwah Shalhoub, KAUST News

KAUST alumnus Ahmad Showail has recently been appointed dean of the College of Computer Science and IT at the new non-profit university in Madinah, University of Prince Mugrin (UPM).

Showail graduated from the computer engineering department with honors from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) in 2005. The Madinah-based alumnus started his career as a computer engineer in the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) before developing an interest in academia. This led him to teach at Yanbu University College at the Royal Commission in Yanbu before joining KAUST in 2009 as a member of the founding class. Showail also took part in the University's first graduation ceremony.

"It was a dream to get a quality education close to home, so I decided to pursue the opportunity and study at KAUST," Showail said.

He then continued to study for his Ph.D. in January 2011 in the University's networking lab before defending his thesis in November 2015 and graduating officially in February 2016. He specialized in wireless networking.

While studying for his master's degree, Showail took several courses from a variety of specialties until he found the path that seemed right for him.

"When studying for your master's, make your choice of courses as wide as possible. If you take a course in a specialty and you like it but are unsure, work on a directed research project under a professor's supervision. If you like that, then focus your master's thesis in that field and then onto your Ph.D.," he noted.

Throughout his postgraduate journey at KAUST, Showail had the chance to participate in world-class conferences that expanded his knowledge and his network. Showail published eight papers during the course of his Ph.D. study.

An essential experience

Experience in a startup university gave him a better understanding of the challenges that new universities face in their early stages.

"We [at UPM] are definitely following in KAUST footsteps. I want students at UPM to receive a world-class education while they are based close to their families and I hope to be able to offer that utilizing my expertise and knowledge of the industry," he said.

Aside from his academic focus at KAUST, Al-Showail has developed a startup called "Zayer" (Arabic for "visitor"), which is a cloud-based platform that allows visitors to Madinah to take an educational tour around the city. While at KAUST he participated in the TAQADAM startup accelerator program delivered at KAUST in partnership with SABB.

"Follow your find what you like, you need to experiment," he said.

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