It takes weeks to get Muhammad Tayyab Asghar to sit down for an interview. Initially we chalk this up to a certain strain of modesty but when he finally consents to talking about himself it is immediately apparent why the delay occurred. Tayyab is quietly brilliant and genuinely focused on his work. He is, it is clear, not a man who gives his time to something unless he can give it his complete and utter focus. This is why he is the perfect fit for Technology Manager at Knowledge Platform, a designation that requires him to continuously develop and implement new products. He is also the one of the main people driving the development of Ultrabot 10, one of Knowledge Platform’s main offerings.
Tayyab brings an unnerving focus to the interview. He is thoughtful, honest and sometimes reticent, refusing point blank to answer questions he thinks are irrelevant. Here we sit down to talk about his goals, his passion for software development, what he thinks the future for KP looks like and his reputation as the company’s toughest interviewer.
Can you tell us a little bit about your educational background?
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Software Engineering and a Masters in Software Engineering. Both from Bahria University.
You graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Gold Medal when you got your Masters. Can you tell us how that happened?
I have always felt that knowledge and concepts should be understood and applied. I didn’t really go in much for only theory. In fact, I used to read the course content before the semester started and then spend the semester practising what I learnt in the books.
Then a professor said something to me that struck me. He said, “There are people who know their stuff and then there are people whose degrees say they know their stuff. You [Tayyab] know your concepts but your degree doesn’t convey how well you actually know them.” It was all the motivation I needed. I set my mind to achieving academic excellence then and worked hard for the summa cum laude distinction and the gold medal.
So Software Engineering has always been a passion?
Yes, you could say that. I got my first computer in 1998 and remember I tried to develop something like the Paint program, which was so basic then. Back then, I didn’t get very far because I didn’t know too much about development.
As I grew older, I did my research. When it came time to pick a career, I had to choose between hardware, software and computer engineering. Pakistan imports most of its hardware and chips. I felt like there was the most scope for me to grow in software engineering, and I think I made the right decision.
How long have you been at Knowledge Platform?
I started here in January 2015, so I’ve just passed the 2 year mark. I’ve worked with various other organisations before this and have had the opportunity to work with teams from Europe, the US, the UK and basically all over the world. Knowledge Platform is an international company so I feel like I can bring my experience of working with international teams to the office here.
I have worked quite closely with geographically distributed teams in the past and this has allowed me the opportunity to understand differences in organisational cultures. I also honed my collaboration skills by working with people from different places around the world.
Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like working with people from different cultures?
I think everyone should work with people from different cultures. It really broadens your world view. For example, in Pakistan, we don’t really have much of a culture of celebration. People move from one achievement to the next, sometimes very brilliant people, but they don’t really talk much about their achievements. This is because as a culture we put aspects of their life under a microscope (i.e. he achieved this, because this happened in his/her life). Other cultures celebrate and buoy up success. They feel for the individual a bit more. Sometimes it’s good to take the positive aspects of one culture and try to bring them over to yours. It can be quite productive.
How does this transfer of positive aspects of a culture translate to your work here in Pakistan?
(laughs). Well, increasingly, I try to hire people who are very good in the Analytical part, have a broader skill set which includes critical thinking, intuitiveness, creativity, problem solving. I also think that the ideal candidates should be persuasive and good communicators.. Anyone can learn how to use a language or a framework. It just requires hard work and getting use to it, but the above mentioned skill sets help you stand out..
I also think it’s important to remember that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. You can and should utilize the best part of a person. As a manager, it’s my job to ensure people work in a way in which they are assets and not liabilities. To find assets for companies we should focus on building people’s strengths and minimizing or overcoming their weaknesses in the workplace.
As an interviewer capacity at Knowledge Platform I look for these softer, or at least less immediately visible skills in people, which is a bit of a novelty for people interviewing for technical positions. I also know a lot about Myers-Briggs personality types and use this as a tool very often. I think actually I can tell what Personality type people are.
What personality type are you?
(laughs) Let people decide that.
Who is someone you’ve learnt a lot from?
You know, at my previous company (TEO), I worked with a manager from Denmark. He was the most pessimistic person I’ve ever met, till date. I guess because of his pessimistic nature he foresaw problems before they occurred or he saw solutions before they even needed to be implemented. He said, if you solve a problem with a strategy, find another way to solve it again with a better strategy. Eventually the strategy you adopt should be optimized. In terms of writing code, his mantra was Optimize on the first go. The experience was useful for me and very, very challenging. It taught me to be on my feet, think continuously and always try to improve.
And the work you’re doing now, does it allow for this kind of approach?
One of the best things about working at Knowledge Platform is that the company gives me free reign. I’m absolutely free to work on technology domains and the trust afforded to me on the technical side means I get to experiment a lot.
While I’ve been here we developed Ultrabot (10) Corporate and Education, changing all base line technologies in the process. We’ve almost made a technology shift and are now continuously innovating. We have some work to do in terms of improving our processes, but I think we’ll get there.
Can you tell me a little bit about your team and how you’ve all achieved so much?
We created two different products within a year; one for Education and one for Corporate. We could not have achieved this without everyone contributing and working very hard. Sometimes the team has worked for months on weekends to meet deadlines: no weekends for a month and no one complains. We could not have achieved anything without every single member of the team pulling their weight, and I’m so grateful for that.
And where do you see Knowledge Platform in another ten years?
I sincerely believe that we could easily be the leaders in Learning Management Systems for Education in the Asia region in the coming years. That’s our strength, and we’re pushing hard to get to the top. I’m sure we’ll get there as long as we stick to our core values.
Speaking of values, what are the top three values you hold dear to yourself?
Life and work constantly pushes and pulls us in different directions. In order to get through this, values are very important and our values help & guide us through these challenges.
Honesty is very important to me. I also think it’s equally important to keep your words. Deliver on what you’ve promised to someone, whether it’s to an organization, or to another person. Challenging and being challenged are vital values. These three are on top of my list, but it does not mean others are not important. Each value has its own significance.
And what do you like to do for fun? Or even how do you relax at work?
I play football, I spend time with a small group of family and friends. I have 3 kids (one son born this January, a 2 year old son and a 4 year old daughter). My daughter asks a lot of questions and I do spend a lot of time answering them (laughs). On the weekends, my wife says the kids are mine (laughs).
At work, I try to always take the stairs. And sometimes we go out for lunch, or play table tennis in the office. I also spend some of my time joking around with my colleagues.
Finally, where do you see yourself in ten years?
(laughs) you know when I was younger, I would have answered this question quite readily. Now I’m at a stage where I think I should keep my mouth shut. I’m hoping to achieve a lot more, but I’m happy with my life right now and feel blessed. I’d like to spend some time savouring this period of my life.