Rida Assaf: Computer whizz gone international

Though strongly considering Google Europe as a career choice, he knows part of his heart will always be in Lebanon.
by Ghadir Hamadi

12 March 2018 | 14:35

Source: by Annahar

  • by Ghadir Hamadi
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 12 March 2018 | 14:35

This undated photo shows Rida Assaf at Google NYC. (Photo Courtesy of Rida Assaf)

BEIRUT: In the globalized world of technology, Rida Assaf has through hard work, and native smarts, found that the world is his home.

He studied Computer Science at AUB, followed by a fellowship in Western Michigan University, a fellowship at the University of Chicago, then an internship at tech-giant Google in New York City, followed by yet another internship at Google in Zurich.

Growing up in Beirut, Assaf was always tinkering with technology even at a young age.

“I was always seen walking around with a camera, even before it was cool,” he told Annahar.

Assaf has always been a vivid reader who takes an in-depth look at how various tools, objects, and technology work. Computer Science seemed like a suitable major to pursue for Assaf.

Shortly after finishing his Bachelor of Science, an opportunity presented itself in the form of a fellowship at Western Michigan University in the United States of America; he jumped at the chance.

There, the growing tech-virtuoso spent his days immersed in his chaotic life as a Masters’ Student, teaching assistant, and researcher, telling Annahar that his life had become “focused on gaining knowledge.”

As Assaf was doing his research work in high performance-computing, particularly High-Energy Physics program, he was met with another opportunity of a fellowship at one of the top ten universities in the US, The University of Chicago.

The opportunity was a Ph.D. program, and so Assaf packed up two years’ worth of his life from Kalamazoo into suitcases and boxes, and traveled across states to study, teach, and do research.

“UOC is full of some of the most incredibly intelligent people I’ve ever met. Some even joke and refer to it as a ‘superior intellectual bubble,’” Assaf said.

Chicago is also known to be one of the most bustling and lively cities in America.

“In Chicago, I was surrounded by more people and there was so much more to do, see, and meet. The students I taught there were amongst the smartest people I’ve ever taught,” he said.

During his stay at UOC, Assaf worked on a Cancer genomics project with a team of researchers, developing treatment tools and hoping to detect genetic markers that would help predict the patient's response to a certain therapy and thus provide personalized patient treatment.

While involved in all this life-changing study, and amid pursuing his Ph.D., Assaf was offered an internship with one of the most famous technology companies in the world: Google.

Assaf insists that at Google, corporate hierarchy doesn’t exist. “Our host referred to the interns as guests visiting the corporation and not as his inferiors,” he noted.

“I remember on my first weekend in New York, I was working late and the manager walked in and handed me Time Out magazine and urged me to look for places to get out and see,” he said.

Like many tech-company campuses, Google New York has a game room available for employees to let off some steam.

“At Google, the only person you’re in competition with is yourself. We all work as teams with a set of weekly tasks to accomplish. Google is more task-orientated than time oriented. We are free to come in and leave as we please, under the condition of finishing our tasks on time,” he told Annahar.

Assaf laughingly confessed that the only time he ever came in before 9:00 a.m. was when he wanted to eat at a certain cafeteria that makes the “best” pancakes at Google.

“You wouldn’t walk a few meters before coming face to face with a micro kitchen filled with all kinds’ delicious treats and snacks,” he said.

During this time, Assaf fought homesickness by visiting family and friends back home often. Now, for time being, Assaf has settled back in Lebanon to finish up his Ph.D. dissertation online at the UOC, and to teach Computer Science part-time at AUB.

In summer of 2017, still something of a globe-trotter, Assaf accepted a second internship at Google, but this time in Zurich-Switzerland. He completed this with flying colors.

Though strongly considering Google Europe as a career choice, he knows part of his heart will always be in Lebanon; and his family has his back, and weekends of home-cooked dinner are always just a plane flight away.

“To me success is relative, sometimes being around the people you love is success,” he told Annahar.

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