Michael Ascharsobi clearly remembers his first encounter with a computer. It was 2001; he was 16 and detained at the Woomera Detention Centre in South Australia with his extended family, who were seeking asylum seekers after escaping from Iran. A computer room at the facility provided detainees with access to four PCs, and he taught himself computing through trial and error during confinement. He had always liked to tinker. “I was just very curious how anything electronic worked,” he laughs.
A UTS Bachelor of Science in Information Technology and Master of Science in Internetworking graduate, Ascharsobi now balances work at Google, where he’s currently reimagining the entire customer support experience, with teaching a Network Fundamentals course at UTS.
Fleeing the motherland
As a child, Ascharsobi was chosen to represent Iran in an international mathematics competition, but those plans unravelled when it was discovered that he followed a religion not recognised by the Iranian government. An ultimatum was given: convert your faith and leave your parents, or face death.
“It was like a very fast-paced action movie, just surreal,” he recalls of the moment his family fled the country. Intercepted by Australian customs after a week at sea, they were transported to Woomera and remained there for two and a half years.
Discovering new possibilities
Ascharsobi became friends with the guards, who helped him learn English. Although the detainee PCs were not connected to the internet, featuring only basic applications like Microsoft Word, he spent up to 10 hours each day “poking around” on them.
Granted a Temporary Protection Visa in 2004, Ascharsobi was awarded a scholarship to study at UTS the following year. He found the university environment daunting at first. “I wasn’t confident at all. You second-guess yourself”. Ascharsobi initially considered quitting, but credits the course coordinator, his lecturers and tutor for encouraging him during his studies. “We’re still friends after 11 years,” he says.
Making connections and inspiring others
Ascharsobi believes UTS’s breadth of relevant and practical course content was invaluable for his career. “I joined Google as a network engineer but started doing software development because I had that background; I could read code. Recently, I moved into a project management role, which was again covered as a part of my degree.” Industry events helped build contacts and create interview opportunities, so the transition to work felt seamless.
His experience of student life at UTS has been inspirational in informing the way he teaches the next generation. “I tell the students that I’ve been here, I’ve done what you’re doing. I try to make it fun,” he says. “It’s collaborative. I like to say: I’m not going to give you water. I will lead you to the fountain, you’re going to drink and have as much as you want.”