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A Brew of Realities—Sitting down with Faizan Akhtar

The student council of MIT, Manipal teamed up with Microsoft Learn Student Ambassadors to organise a workshop on building powerful mobile apps with mixed reality. The event enabled the students to connect with Mr. Faizan Akhtar, a Microsoft Student Learn Ambassador and a mixed reality evangelist. The MIT Post had a chance to converse with Mr. Akhtar and discuss further about the field and the future prospects of the domain.

Computer science has managed to entrench itself across various seemingly unrelated domains while constantly revolutionising technology. How do you think mixed reality fits into such a future?

Mixed reality is one of the domains that will be used everywhere in the upcoming technological advancements. It is known to be a part of exponential technology. Exponential technology always has a trend, and we understand it as six Ds. The first one is digitalisation. This is the time when the technology has just been introduced, and something which was happening physically is now automated. The second phase is the deception phase, where we think that nothing is happening at the ground level. It sounds like an impractical theory that geeks or techies are blatantly advertising. The third is the disruption phase, then comes demonetisation and marketisation. When people find a way to use the product effectively, its popularity starts rising. We have witnessed a similar case with mobile phones. It was introduced in the nineties, and the market did not respond enthusiastically to the technology. But in 2001, a larger group of people started using mobile phones, which encouraged the masses to explore the technology. In 2003, there was a widespread realisation of the significance and efficiency of a mobile phone. Then, in 2013, there was a massive disruption that caused a sudden increase in demand for mobile phones as the device became an inseparable part of everyone’s life.

Similarly, exponential technology such as 3D printing and artificial intelligence has a significant role in the future. Mixed reality is starting to follow a similar pattern. It can be applied in various domains, and it is currently being used in fields such as education, medical, retail, and remote access to factories. A customer looking to buy a sofa for his house does not need to be apprehensive about whether a particular size of the couch might fit into his house, or whether the colour might spoil the aesthetic, because, with mixed reality, he can bring the virtual 3D sofa to his home and make the perfect purchase. This is an actual application of mixed reality. If a factory manager is at home for the weekend and the workers run into some trouble, mixed reality can provide a great medium where the manager is able interact with the workers in a virtual space by sitting at his home. I am sure that in the future, mixed reality will be an inseparable part of our lives.

Could you describe the path that took you from being a novice to a mixed reality evangelist?

My journey has been effortless yet enthralling. When I was in my third year of engineering, I had to select a topic for a seminar and present it. I saw some of my seniors reading about Hololens. I suddenly garnered a keen interest in knowing more about it. I’m a person who is not very inclined towards Artificial Intelligence or Machine learning, even though they are great domains. Back then, I always wanted to work with projects related to UI, UX, and create something with virtual reality, but I was unaware of mixed reality. I started asking my seniors for more insights into the field, and since then, my learning has been inexorable.

A field like computer science gives learners the option to develop their skills at any age and through any platform. As a result, while some learners choose to opt for a college degree such as a master’s program, several others pick up the required skills through an online course, boot camps, or YouTube tutorials. What path would you recommend students follow to pursue the field of mixed reality?

I believe this depends on the learner and the goals he wants to achieve through mixed reality. Some learners are interested in developing the application and some of them are just interested in learning more about technology. Both of these have different paths. Those who are interested in learning about the technology need better knowledge of the topic because the technology is not governed by a single subject. It has many pictures behind the scenes, like spatial mapping, computer vision, and human-computer interaction. Several domains can be explored. Someone interested in knowing more about these domains should pursue a master’s program after their bachelor’s degree. Coming to the application part in mixed reality, there are various open-source resources. The internet has multiple Microsoft documentations and several organisations have started looking into the technology and boast some good research work on the web. If the ultimate aim is to make an app for a potential customer, then just like any other skill, there are tons of tutorials out there.

Where do you see yourself in the next ten years? What are your future goals?

My goal has always been giving back to the society and building a healthy collaborative community around me that can help each other in solving social problems. Throughout my journey, I have aimed to make myself an asset. In the next ten years, I see myself working at my dream firm, which is Microsoft, especially in the Microsoft mentor program. I want to work there to gain some experience and enhance my skills so that I could use these skills to solve social problems around me. I believe it is crucial to build a cooperative society instead of a dominant society. A harmonious society reduces competition, and a lot of intelligent minds get to work together rather than working against each other. While working together, we share different perspectives, which helps us explore many solutions to a problem, through which we can get the best answers.

You have experience working for several organisations across various domains, and the vast network you have managed to build is commendable. How has this journey helped you grow?

Networking has helped me a lot. Learning a skill is one part of learning—getting validation is the other part. Networking allowed me to reach out to many people. Connecting with more people helped me get a lot of perspective and solutions. I was introduced to different views when I was working with people and had the opportunity to discuss my ideas with them. I realised that there are many solutions to a problem, and when you don’t share your thoughts, you stay fixed on one path which hinders your growth because you can’t think beyond a specific idea. I always do and would always encourage everybody to strengthen their network because it helps. Networking is as significant as learning and creating a project.

It is presumed that writing complex programs in Power Apps can be destructive for the whole system, with minor changes having the ability to negatively impact the architecture of an application. How do you think Microsoft aims to overcome these limitations in the future?

Whenever it comes to power apps, it is always related to minimal coding. As for the entire platform being disrupted, I would say it is evolving every day. Several talented individuals and many others at the Power Platform are working hard to improve both platform and file apps. As time passes, there will be a lot more progress in this field.

Featured Image Credits: Student Council,MIT