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Dr. Umar Saif Revolutionizing IT Industry

Umar Saif Share To Aware
With the world advancing towards an era of absolute development, every day we hear about a plethora of such personalities who are struggling and achieving to leave marks in their respective fields.

Dr. Saif has received numerous awards for his work. He was awarded Sitara-i-Imtiaz (SI), one of the highest civil awards by Government of Pakistan, in 2014 in recognition of his services to Pakistan. He was the first Pakistani to be named as one of the top 35 young innovators in the world (TR35) in 2011 by MIT Technology Review. He was the first Pakistani to receive the prestigious Google Faculty Research Award in 2011. He was selected as a Young Global Leader (YGL) by the World Economic Forum in 2010. Dr. Saif is a recipient of the MIT Technovator Award in 2008, Mark Weiser Award in 2008, IDG CIO Technology Pioneer Award in 2008 and Digital Inclusion Award from Microsoft Research in 2006. His papers have received best paper awards in ACM CHI 2013 and IEEE Percom 2008. During his doctorate studies, Dr. Saif was a Trinity College Overseas Scholar and Commonwealth Scholar at University of Cambridge. Dr. Saif received his PhD at the age of 23 years from University of Cambridge and first Pakistani to receive a PhD in Computer Science from Cambridge.

His achievements are, indeed, preceded by his educational excellence. Dr. Umar Saif received his academic training from LUMS, Cambridge and MIT. He did his BSc (Hons) in Computer Science from LUMS (1998) and went on to obtain his PhD degree in the same field as a Trinity College Overseas Scholar and a Commonwealth Scholar at the University of Cambridge (2001), after which he completed his post-doctorate from MIT (2002). Dr. Saif has worked and taught at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) as a Research Scientist for four years, where he was also a part of the group (O2S) that developed the system technologies for the project Oxygen – a $28 million project sponsored by the US Department of Defense and an industrial alliance of world-class companies including Nokia, HP, Compaq, NTT DoCommo, Phillips, Acer and Delta.

Dr Saif’s research interests broadly span the areas of ubiquitous computing, distributed systems, mobile systems, network protocols and architectures and ICT for developing world countries. Dr Saif has authored several influential publications and is a Fellow of the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust. Dr Saif’s research has been featured in popular media including platforms such as The New York Times, CNN, BBC, New Scientist, MIT Technology Review, Distributed Systems Online, Dawn and The News. His research has received grants from Microsoft Research (MSR), the Oxygen Consortium at MIT, the Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI), the US State Department/USAID, HEC and PITB.

Dr. Saif worked as a fulltime faculty member at LUMS between 2006-2013. In 2009, Dr. Saif became one of the few professors who were awarded permanent Tenure by LUMS.

Recently, Dr. Saif has worked as Chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), heading all public-sector IT projects in the Government of Punjab since Nov 2011. During his tenure as Chairman of the Punjab IT Board, Dr. Saif launched several initiatives aimed at improving citizen services for police, high-court, city district government, health and education, especially using smartphones. He led the development of Punjab Innovation Policy in collaboration with Google and launched Plan-9, Pakistan’s first and largest public-sector startup incubator. He is largely credited with revamping the intermediate and matric exam system in Punjab, after a complete debacle of the exam system in the previous year. Under his leadership, PITB designed the smartphone-based early epidemic warning system that played a central role in fighting the Dengue epidemic in Punjab in 2012, and rolled out an innovative citizen feedback model for fighting corruption using technology. PITB also led the deployment of the first Automatic Fare Collection system for mass transit in Pakistan and automated the operations of the first Lahore Metro Bus System. Dr. Saif led the development of Pakistan’s first e-learning platform, making school textbooks in Punjab freely available online, augmented with interactive learning resources.

Saif says that he couldn’t have done it without  LUMS. While talking in an interview, he said, “It would have been difficult at other universities. There are certain things that Lums has gotten right. The faculty is empowered and hiring and promotion is all done based on how research active you are.”

“I am tenured at LUMS and I cannot be fired. The rest of the universities in Pakistan have more of a teaching focus. LUMS lets me do only two to three courses a year. This gives me ample time to do my research.” Saif now joins an elite group of researchers and technologists including the likes of Google’s Seregy Brin and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

Best of all, Pakistan need not fear losing Saif to any other country. Because he has no plans to move his home base out of Pakistan. Even though he spends some time visiting other universities to get several work done.

Razzan Sehar 
Angels International College
Share To Aware
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