Yassmeen Mohamed is a good example of what a 21st century “knowledge worker” looks like. She’s on the payroll of more than one company whilst working on her own projects in her free time. Her day-to-day jobs are multi-disciplinary, highly independent and require continually learning new skills and technologies. She wears more hats than Stewie: developer, researcher, UX designer, project manager, artist, and more.
Yasmeen is co-founder of Wunderground (a mobile platform for discovering independent and underground events) and works at JuiceLabs (a tech incubator in Cairo) and ThePlanet (a creative agency that’s worked with dozens of businesses, from Sodic to Nokia). She’s done a lot besides, including working for a spell for Twitter in San Francisco.
“Say ‘yes’ until you have enough work to say ‘no’.”
“Travel. Don’t just think about travelling. Do it.”
“The best teacher is experience…get out of your comfort zone.”
“I’d recommend everyone learn how to code because it develops a pragmatic mind, able to analyze and problem solve, which can be helpful to any career.”
“Project management and operations is an incremental science. Read; practice; learn.”
“One of the best ways of getting experience is to volunteer. You can volunteer as a project manager at an NGO to tackle real life projects.”
“Self-study if you’re committed and know how to organize and commit. Otherwise try to find classes. That also has the benefit of meeting new people and exposing yourself to new opportunities.”
“I’d suggest making it a priority to develop communication skills.”
“Always keep a hobby. Always. It could be painting, playing music, whatever. Something to escape from stress.”
“Don’t be fooled by ‘the grass is greener’ thinking. Egypt is an alright place to be.”
Yasmeen is somebody to learn from if you are a technologist interested in the “other side” (business, operations etc.), or if you are a non-technical person interested in learning code or working with techies, as she straddles both worlds in her various jobs.Four key takeaways from the interview:
1. Overcome Egyptian “Title Lust”.
2. Say “yes” until you have enough work to say “no”.
3. Travel. Don’t just think about travelling. Do it.
4. Don’t be fooled by “the grass is greener” thinking. Egypt is an alright place to be.
In this interview we focus mainly on Yasmeen’s role as Operations and Project Manager at ThePlanet. Her role at the creative agency is like that of momma bear. It’s a “higher viewpoint” position. If the day to day running of a business is like a team of machete wielding hackers sawing through the jungle, Yassmeen’s role involves climbing up trees to observe the savannah of terrain, looking into the open, unknown future and making sure the team and business are prepared for it. She isn’t buried in one particular project, but rather moves resources around to different teams depending on what’s necessary to effectively hack through the jungle. They don’t really have job titles at ThePlanet, but colleagues refer to her as “saytara” (the headmistress). Here’s Yassmeen:
What does Operations Catalyst Mean? What do you do?
“My main work at ThePlanet and Juice Labs is in operations. I’m responsible for all the Business, Technical and Logistics operations. Essentially, I help other departments set up healthy processes and make sure they achieve their main goals. I help track of progress, create feedback loops and build overall structure to the project a team is carrying out.
On a typical day I’m either making sure a team or team member is on track to deliver a proposal, or I’m taking to other teams to see if I can be of assistance, or I’m learning something new. I spend 70% of my time on business challenges, and 30% on technical stuff.
ThePlanet is a flexible environment to work in. I’m free to pick whatever tasks I want. There’s no judgments, or authoritative hierarchy like you find in many pre-internet companies. Just real people committed to making their projects successful.
My technical background helps me work as an operations and project manager, even though the job doesn’t necessarily call for it. It differentiates me and helps me get out of routine thinking.
I’d recommend everyone learn how to code because it develops a pragmatic mind, able to analyze and problem solve, which can be helpful to any career. You can learn minimum requirements quite painlessly through online courses like udacity.com. You can also use coursebuffet.com to browse free online courses from many other good providers.
The best teacher though is experience, though you have to combine it with knowledge from books. Read about different topics, meet different people, experiment. Solve puzzles, take part in debates get out of your comfort zone.
One of the best ways of getting experience is to volunteer. You can volunteer as a project manager at an NGO to tackle real life projects. Project management and operations is an incremental science. Read; practice; learn.
But people have different skills and I realize you can’t force everyone to code. Being able to negotiate and close the deal is an important skill, and some people’s brains are programed to think like this, and coding would be unnecessary agonizing to learn. It would be more beneficial then to further develop negotiation skills and be an expert in that area of business.
I’d recommend all people learn more about project management methodologies, in particular Agile. I’d also recommend the books, One Minute Manager and Who Moved My Cheese.”
What did you learn from working for Twitter in San Francisco, and what are some differences between Cairo and Silicon Valley?
“I worked for Twitter in 2014 through a program called TechWomen, organized by the U.S. Department of State. It wasn’t related to any of the jobs I was doing at the time, but the good years of experience at tech incubators defiantly helped my application succeed. I worked in the Twitter HQ with the international product team, which had over 40 people.
I guess one of the main differences between Egypt and Silicon Valley is they follow processes a lot faster over there. There is a culture of following processes. Look at something as simple as crossing the road for example. In America people generally respect the traffic lights and follow the process of waiting to cross the road, even if they think they could cross safely. Here the rule is “as long as you can get away with not following the rule then don’t.” It doesn’t matter if the light is green or red or whatever, if you can cross the road although there are cars then do it. So this way of thinking affects your attitude at work, why follow a lengthy process that you feel you can do without and so on.
Also here most businesses don’t need, or want, heavy complicated custom built software. Just business cards and a website. The needs of many businesses over there are much more complex.
I’d say here there are also more obstacles in the way to stop your idea turning into a solution faster. For example finding qualified talent to make it happen, or finding mentors to help narrow the knowledge gap. That being said, we do have a number of organizations that work on enriching the ecosystem and solving these issues so I expect things to be better in the future.
Overall there are no major differences though, it’s just a question of scale. The same things happens here but at a different pace.”
What advice would you give your 20 year old self?
“I honestly wouldn’t change anything I’ve done. I consider myself lucky and I’m grateful for the journey. There are a few things I’d reaffirm though, and encourage people around that age to do:
Always keep a hobby. Always. It could be painting, playing music, whatever. Something to escape from stress. I keep a canvas and painting tools at ThePlanet and when I feel stressed I go paint. Always keep a hobby.
Second, travel as much as you can. Regardless of the obstacles. I should have fought more to do it. Travel is an incredible mind opener. Even traveling for short periods of time exposes you to different situations and breaks routine living and thinking. You learn about yourself and the world and network with different people and cultures. Anyplace you travel too you can learn from.
Next, languages. Set a target to learn three other languages than Arabic. The benefits are worth the effort and it only gets harder the older you get. The actual languages you choose don’t matter. It’s about activating and training your brain to think pragmatically. Connecting more grey matter. Languages have the same benefit as travel. Self-study if you’re committed and know how to organize and commit. Otherwise try to find classes. That also has the benefit of meeting new people and exposing yourself to new opportunities.
None of my friends who speak more than three languages are not creative or open minded.
What other advice would you give to younger people getting into the workforce?
“There are many things I could say. One of them is to overcome “Title Lust”. A fetishism that affects many in Egypt in particular. Choosing a job with a fancy sounding title so that your mother can tell her friends you are a “moudir” or “supervisor” is “stupid”. Research what the job involves. That’s why these interviews with people in different job roles is a good idea.
Also a note about career switching and going against your original studies. If you don’t find the opportunity to work in a field you like, you should come up with your own idea and start practicing and working on it until you find an opportunity that suits you. For example a CS grad who is more into project management than code. If you apply for a PM position you probably won’t be selected as you don’t have much experience. I’d recommend you accept a CS job, where you will no doubt learn things technically and about business, then start taking on more initiatives in the company to develop project management skills. Get in the door first, then move to where you want to be.
If you really hate code and can’t stand working in technical division to begin with, go the NGO direction and get experience in project management working for non-profits. For example AWTAD, Ashoka, Care, Unisco, Injaz. Develop your skills then move to the private sector if you still want to.
Briefly, social skills are incredibly important for operations and project management type jobs. I’m an introvert by nature, but I’ve developed extrovert skills. I don’t like networking, it’s an energy drain and I’d rather focus on getting the project done, but I’ve learned how to reach out and communicate. I’d suggest making it a priority to develop communication skills. There are tons of online videos, articles and courses that can help you.
“I have a very simple life philosophy. My goal to make myself happy, whatever it takes. I know the risk and I’m taking it. That affirmation translates to all areas of my life. For example in managing projects I know myself. What I can do and how long it will take. I know I can sleep four hours if I have something to do. And I also know when to say no.
I can say “no” to interesting or cool projects because I’m honest with myself. I live by a principle that I won’t promise something I can’t deliver. If I’ve made a commitment to someone, I won’t accept other projects that could cause me to break my original promise and make the person bang his head to the wall. That’s it. I try to make all decisions by asking myself two simple question. Will this make me happy? And, will this hurt my relationship with someone else? Simple.”
Wasn’t that awesome? Now if you want to follow in Yasmeen’s epic footsteps it would be wise to setup your HireHunt profile or maybe just dive into the IT & Networking or Mobile App Developers Hunts right away.