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Hussein Suleman ('02)

Alumnus Hussein Suleman

Hussein Suleman
Head of Department and Professor of Computer Science & Acting Director: School of Information Technology, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Class of ’02

I completed a Ph.D. in computer science at Virginia Tech in 2002. Afterwards, I returned home to South Africa to take up a teaching position at the University of Cape Town, largely motivated by a desire to contribute back to my country and train the next generation of computer science graduates.

My research is situated at the intersection of information and communications technologies for development and digital libraries, with interests in African language Information retrieval, cultural heritage preservation, internet technology, and educational technology. I have worked extensively on architecture, scalability, and interoperability issues related to digital library systems. I have worked closely with international and national partnerships for metadata archiving, including: the Open Archives Initiative; Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations; NRF-CHELSA South African National ETD Project; Centre for Curating the Archive; and Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative.

My recent research has a growing emphasis on the relationship between low-resource environments and architectures for archives. This has evolved into a focus on societal development and its alignment with digital libraries and information retrieval. I am currently collaborating with colleagues in archiving and curation to develop a proof-of-concept low-resource software toolkit for robust long-term archiving, especially for use in the poor regions of the world.

As a hobby, I am a maker.  My mask is a remix of an open design with some 3D printed components that I have designed and shared. 

How did the department equip you for the ‘real world’...

My real world is the world of academia. At Virginia Tech, I acquired numerous skills from different faculty members, and I always appreciated the breadth of experiences. Some taught me the absolute importance of rigor in research, while others taught me why nuance is critical. I learned a lot about dealing with people and students, but also learned to understand myself better.

I was privileged to teach two courses in the department. This experience of interacting with students and Virginia Tech systems added another dimension to my training and experiences.

Being a Virginia Tech alumnus means ...

My Ph.D. is respected in academic environments around the world. It gave me a foundation on which to build a career as an academic. It continues to connect me into a worldwide network of Virginia Tech alumni, even at my current institution halfway around the world!

Being an alumnus is a source of pride, fond memories, and lifelong connections with faculty, colleagues, and friends.

My fondest memory from my time in the department is...

Working in theVirginia Tech Digital Libraries Research Laboratory.  We were a motley crew of Ph.D. students from around the world (United States, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Thailand, United Kingdom, China, India, etc.), with the common thread of Computer Science Professor Edward Fox being our supervisor. We were also privileged in those days to host many visitors. I still keep in touch with many of them.

Our lab made use of a lot of equipment that others no longer needed, and as a result, I was exposed to a wide variety of computing platforms. It was well beyond what I expected as a student. When we eventually moved to a new physical space, we had amassed an average of seven computers for each student in the lab!

My favorite part about being the professor instead of the student is...

Cloning myself, my skills, and my values. I love teaching and developing and nurturing an appreciation of computer science in my students. I believe that it is important for students to have strong role models, especially in a part of the world that is both physically and socially distant from where most computer science work is centered. I place emphasis on both the machine-oriented aspects and the human aspects related to computer science. I teach my students how this combination is essential to change the world and bring about improvements in human development.

My favorite memory of working with Dr. Fox is...

He always walked ahead and opened the door for the group. This was a simple act that showed respect and care for others. It also demonstrated humility and helped to break down the professor-student barrier. I live in a place where automatically-closing doors are not commonplace, but I can never walk through one without thinking of the person behind me.