TechHub Talks: A Conversation with Muzammil Arif


By Sheharyar Arif (TechHub Fellow)

Often we read about how technology has eliminated the divide between the educated and uneducated, privileged and under-privileged, genders, race and religions. So, we decided to sit down with one such individual who is the living embodiment of this idea, Mr. Muzammil Arif!

An intermediate drop-out, Muzammil is a first-generation tech-entrepreneur who started off his career as a lab attendant in a private college at a mere Rs. 2500/ month. Sitting through classes during his free time and going through tutorials online, he discovered his passion for coding and, subsequently, freelancing. Even though his family didn’t approve of his love for technology, he persevered.

Muzammil’s story is truly inspirational; this PHP tech expert now works on his MacBook Pro and employs a team of six freelancers with diverse skill sets. Here is a look into his journey towards success:

Tell us about your academic background and your initial journey.

I don’t have a fancy official degree to show off. After Matriculation I got admission in Intermediate studies, but I absolutely hate Biology. So, the result was that I dropped out. I got my first job as a hardware lab attendant in a private college at Rs. 2500. After almost 3 years they bade me farewell by suggesting that I should rather start my own work instead of continuing there. When I resigned from that job my salary was Rs. 25000.

You said that you did not really pursue studies after matriculation, then how did you learn all these technical skills?

When I was recruited in the college as the lab attendant, there were around 40 computers there and it didn’t take much time to set them up. So, after getting done with the assigned work I would sit in classes and learn whatever was being taught. With the passage of time, I was promoted as a teacher in the same college. After 3 years when I resigned I was the Vice Principal of that institute.

So, how were you attracted towards IT then?

I bought my first computer after matriculation and interestingly I broke it on the 4th day due to my incessant experimentation. It had a 10GB hard drive which I stuffed with audio tracks and when it popped a “disk full” notification, my eye caught the C Drive –where all the required system files are located– it had files that didn’t interest my concern so I deleted them which ended up restarting the system to a corrupted state. Well, I got it repaired from a shop nearby. The same thing happened many times which led me to conclude that instead of wasting money on repairs, I should learn the trade myself. That’s how my love for computers began.

How did your family respond to your decision of pursuing freelancing as a full-time career?

My parents did not know what a computer was; everyone in my family is into small businesses. So yes, the family did oppose at first. In fact, initially I used to cover myself and the computer under a blanket at night, even in summer, so as to avoid catching attention of the rest of my family members. However, once the money started to flow in, they gave in and allowed me to follow my passion.

Did you get your first gig easily? Because there is a perception that you have to put in a lot of effort to get your first project.

I did my first project online for a mere $50. Now I wouldn’t take projects of such scale at even $500. That may give you an idea of how a freelancer starts off. I had been doing projects for local clients long before that for 10-20k per gig. I made a full-fledged website for a school with a complimenting accounting software for just 6k.

How did you choose PHP as your specialization?

While I was enrolled in a short course of web designing in an institute, the instructor suggested that PHP developers earn a lot; the starting salary is 40k. I was earning 15-16k from my job during those days. So, I started learning PHP. Although I do know other programming languages as well including C, C#, VB, Java, JavaScript, Swift and Android, I have worked in PHP so extensively that now I consider it my area of expertise.

I was told that currently you have several freelancers in your employment.

Currently I lead a team of 6 professionals who have diverse skill sets. I have 2 PHP developers, a full-time employ who works in SEO (Search Engine Optimization), a freelance content writer and another freelance social media manager. Other than that I have a Quran academy with the name Al Quran Schools (alquranschools.com), which I run with my friend. The academy has around 250 students.

In your opinion, how important are co-working and community spaces for freelancers?

I think that co-working spaces are extremely beneficial. One can freelance privately, no doubt, but here you get a sense of community. It also speeds up the learning processes; here you can learn in few months what would otherwise take a year. But it is not a grab-bag candy game where you get everything and give nothing back in return. You learn from someone and then you are supposed to transfer that knowledge to someone else. I believe that a community can only grow if you are willing to share your knowledge with each other; it’s quid-pro-quo!

Do you think that there is a sense of competition between local freelancers?

As far as competition goes, there are thousands of projects at a given time on each portal. Hundreds of thousands of people bid for these projects daily. So if the person sitting next to you bids for the same project, it doesn’t make much of a difference. In my experience, most of the freelancers understand this and, therefore, there is no competition other than in a healthy sense of the word.

And have you ever felt a sense of regret, as in that perhaps you are in the wrong business?

Never. I fought with my family to work as an IT professional. I had to start from scratch and naturally I faced a lot of difficulties. Despite that, I have always believed that this is what I was made for.

So now what are your plans for future? How long are you going to pursue Freelancing?

Not more than 5 years, at least that is the plan. Maybe I’ll have a software house where I see myself as a manager who directs people with diverse skill sets to execute high-end projects. I read somewhere “If you can’t find a way to make money while you sleep, you will work for the rest of your life.” So yes, I guess the idea is to be able to roam around the world and enjoy my life while finding a way to ensure stable cash flows.

Note: Muzammil can be reached via his website at www.gfsoul.com

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