I am always thrilled to see great entrepreneurship in various parts of the world that are off-center. Well, here’s a great one from Detroit.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Amjad Hussain: I was born in a very small village of Pakistan.
Sramana Mitra: Where in Pakistan?
Amjad Hussain: A town about a hundred km south of Lahore.
Sramana Mitra: At what point did you come to the US?
Amjad Hussain: Both my parents were school teachers. We were financially dirt poor, but somehow my father had acquired wisdom. He was not formally trained himself, but he had a lot of knowledge in mathematics. When he migrated from India to Pakistan during the nonsense partition in 1947, he was 15 or 16 years old.
Back in India, he had access to a mentor who taught him a lot of mathematics. He probably developed a lot of that on his own. I felt extremely attracted towards that. He was very willing to teach me. I was very willing to be taught. That turned out to be really good. I ended up learning a lot of mathematics. I went to Lahore to get my engineering education. From there, I went to UK and then came to US.
After going through a lot of graduate education, I realized how much he knew. He’s no longer alive. It’s a mystery to me how he knew all of that but somehow he was one of those naturally-born mathematicians. That had the biggest impact on me.
In Pakistan in the 80’s, you become very entrepreneurial if you don’t have money but have dreams. My mother ran an academy. I taught students in there. We would all have to work to put food on the table. I’m not saying all that to gain any sympathy. The key point of that is that I learned very valuable skills of living with very little resources or how to bring meaning into existence with almost nothing. Some of that early childhood training came very handy.
Sramana Mitra: You learned frugality, which is an incredibly useful and important thing to learn.
Amjad Hussain: I finished the pre-university system of Pakistan fairly early. Back then, there were two tracks in the Pakistani education. If you have money, you could go to a private university. There were all these great universities built in the British India era that were left behind. I got admitted as a result to Pakistan’s top engineering university. You take an entrance exam and they place you based on how well you do.
Back then, even though I wanted to do something else, I got placed into an electrical engineering program, which turned out to be really good. I did that. One thing that has not changed in all of this is, I still had no money. I went to UK. I studied during the day and worked at night to make ends meet. I did my graduate studies from UK in Artificial Intelligence. From there, I came to the US. That is my journey from this village of Pakistan to US.