This is a guest blog post from App2Action Challenge project coordinator Rasha Al Hawash.
Through participating in the App2Action challenge, two Palestinian students studying information technology at An-Najah University in Nablus, Palestine, were given a “lifetime opportunity” – as they described it- to experience the United States, learn about new technologies at the ESRI Users Conference, and be among similar-minded students and professionals in the US. According to them, this is the best experience they have so far both on the professional and personal levels; and it was the first time they have travelled to the US!
For a first-year and a third-year IT student coming from a country that was only recently approved to have 3G, there is a lot to experience in the US at a technology-sector conference.
Radi Barq, winner of the first prize of the App2Action Challenge described what is different and important about this experience by saying “… this was the best experience I have ever had; it opened the world to us, it showed us where IT sector development has reached." Radi learned about the ESRI platform and its applications for the first time at the conference. “If I knew the wide area of its application and the many features it can provide, I would have considered using ESRI in the App I submitted for the App2Action Challenge”. Radi attended 5 sessions during the conference, however, what was more important to him was networking with and meeting IT professionals.
This experience has granted them the opportunity to learn advanced applications of the technology in various tracks of life, various sectors and fields; including governmental sector. “We were glad to try Microsoft glasses and to learn about the virtual reality, plan without pilot, which are all built based on GIS systems,” Mohammad and Radi explained.
Mohammad added, “I found out about ESRI first during the Tech Jam event arranged by ICMA at An-Najah National University last December. Then I used online resources to learn how to use it." Mohammad explained that most of the ESRI features he knew about prior to the conference were the basic ones; during the conference he learned a wider range and he could had benefited from them in designing his App for the App2Action challenge.
Another important thing was highlighted when Radi said, “as I am still a student, I never worked before in a professional environment. This conference has granted me the opportunity not only to network but also to learn about companies’ organizational structures and hierarchies at information technology and other companies; this also helps in developing an idea about IT career path development and advancement."
For Mohammad, returning to Nablus was the most difficult part. After spending an exciting week of learning and exploring in the US, coming back to a developing country can never be smooth. Mohammad enjoyed walking around the city; being lost and having to find his way back to the hotel. “To us in the West Bank, we do not have the ability to use technology to find our location or direction! My Google Maps App did not work correctly and I was not able to use it to find my way to the hotel." In the West Bank, GIS usage is very limited and as a result of not being familiar with using such Apps, Mohammad had to ask people to direct him to his destination.
What was special during my conversation with them is the excitement that is still on their faces and in their voices while talking about this unique experience. “One week is not enough for such trip," Mohammad said and Radi agreed. He added, “We were eager to visit many places, mainly those that are related to science and technology. We visited the science museum, historical places, walked around the city and experienced the nature there.” Radi found the museum visit a special one for him, as he was able to see many aspects of science and their history.
Before even starting their career life, the two ambitious university students have started to think about their career path and as this trip has opened their eyes to many opportunities in the IT fields outside Palestine; they realized how limited their opportunities are in Palestine and how big their dreams are and have become.