Ali Almossawi, SDM ’11: Technical, Entrepreneurial, and Creative Mojo

Ali Almossawi By Ethan Gilsdorf
April 21, 2011

MIT SDM student Ali Almossawi, who hails from the Kingdom of Bahrain, accomplished a lot before joining SDM.

He began coding at 13. One of his earliest software applications, which he wrote at age 16, was downloaded over 100,000 times, featured in a book on JavaScript, and earned him his first paycheck. "Come to think of it, I don’t recall ever cashing it," he said.

He also spent four years as a systems development project manager for Bahrain’s Labor Market Regulatory Authority. There he helped develop the government’s "Expatriate Management System," which integrates the processes of five major government systems and manages the data of about half a million expatriates and over 60,000 companies and their branches.

In spring 2009, along with his brother, Hussain, he co-founded Skyrill.com, a creative firm specializing in design and development. In just two short years, the firm has served high-profile clients such as Olgilvy and Mather, Adidas, and NBA players Derrick Rose, Allen Iverson and Tyrus Thomas, plus garnered over 12 awards and honors for its work in branding/identity, web design, photography and print.

Steeped in all that technical, entrepreneurial, and creative mojo — and already armed with an MS in software engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and a BS in Computer Systems Engineering from the University of East Anglia — Almossawi didn’t see himself returning to grad school. "I had a misconception that management was something I could pick up through experience and common sense."

This changed when he learned about MIT’s System Design and Management (SDM) Program from a friend. "I realized there is still plenty to learn in the classroom and that I could integrate engineering and management, so here I am," he said, noting that he and his wife, a physician who is preparing for her U.S. medical licensing exam, currently live in Cambridge.

Now he believes that the SDM environment is uniquely engaging. "The members of my cohort have impressive work experience, some spanning decades. Getting to know and work with them has been the most rewarding part of the program so far. I feel that I’m learning as much from my cohort as from my classes," he said.

And he continues to do a lot. In addition to taking courses such as Systems Optimization and Product Design and Development, Almossawi concurrently holds a research assistantship where he works with the IBM Watson Research Center analyzing the design of complex software systems. Working with MIT Sloan Professor Alan MacCormack, Almossawi is studying the implications of modularity in these systems, primarily by gauging the ability of various metrics developed by Professor MacCormack and his colleagues to aid in predicting defects.

"The work being done by Professor MacCormack and his colleagues is particularly interesting: they have developed quantitative metrics to visualize and measure the effects of technical debt in complex software systems. The general intuition is that the less modular a system is, the more difficult it is to find and fix defects. In most companies, a lot of hand-waving is done in this area."

Almossawi would like his research with Professor MacCormack to form the hub of his SDM thesis, given its relevance to his interests and experience.

But that’s not all. With SDM colleagues Saujanya Shrivastava, Vivin Nath and Sarvesh Saodekar, he participated in January’s Facebook Hack-a-thon, a coding competition judged by Facebook engineers. His team came up short, but when he entered the Samsung Innovation Challenge with colleagues Saujanya Shrivastava, Amit Limaye, and Karthikeyan Rajasekharan, his team’s design for product connectivity in the home was named a finalist and they got the opportunity to present their concept to Samsung executives at the MIT Media Lab.

Despite all of the above, Almossawi is still running Skyrill.com with his brother. "I’m already applying what I’m learning in SDM to our company," he said.

Ali Almossawi
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography