International MIS Standout Has a Love for Using, Explaining Technology

January 28, 2014
Omar Altayeb

You don't always have it all figured out the first time around. But there's nothing wrong with that. What matters is that you find a path you love and walk boldly, eager for opportunity.

That's exactly what senior management information systems (MIS) standout Omar Altayeb has done.

After his high school graduation in 2007, Altayeb headed straight to medical school. In his home country of Saudi Arabia, there is no such thing as "pre-med" for students to test out the field. But after two years at Batterjee Medical College, he felt it was time for a change.

"I decided that (med school) wasn't a good fit for me," Altayeb said. "My parents suggested that I should go to the states to study. It just so happened that my younger brother had just graduated (high school) at that time and he was accepted here at WVU. So my mom said 'Go take care of your brother,' and so I did."

Although studying medicine was not his cup of tea, Altayeb had enjoyable experiences during his time there, both as a founding member of the Toastmaster's Club, a public speaking club, and as a summer intern completing computer-related tasks. He did not know it at the time, but these experiences were setting him up beautifully for the future.

Toastmaster's allowed him to become comfortable speaking in front of audiences (an average of 50-60 people came to each meeting), and he was able to explore his love of computers and technology during an internship in the summer of 2009. A new research university, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) was being established, and Altayeb was one of the interns assigned to help with the inauguration ceremony.

"They liked that I had good English," he said (he's been bilingual for as long as he can remember), "so they wanted to put me on the phones to call guests. But at the time I was still shy so I told them I'd rather do something with computers. They had me do data entry at first. Little by little, they had me work with their online database. The manager gave me more tasks and made me responsible for my whole group," he recalled.

"Whenever there was a problem with the computer, I knew how to fix it. We had guests from all over the world. We had world leaders there, including the King. It was something humongous. It was a lot of late nights and accommodating special requests. But I enjoyed the pressure of the work, making it all happen."

Later on, when Altayeb became a Mountaineer, he was able to put these skills to use. Initially, he studied computer science. But after taking a few classes, things still didn't seem quite right. Unsure of whether it was the course material or the assimilation to a new culture that was causing him to feel stress, Altayeb took the suggestion of a friend who recommended he talk to Dr. Graham Peace, Chair of the MIS Department.

"He was fantastic," Altayeb said of Peace. "The way he explained (MIS) to me was so fun — we are basically the bridge between tech people and business people. That idea really sparked an interest in me and I decided to go for it. It has been an amazing experience. I had been to the states many times and always dreamed of being here for a long period," he said. "When I first came here, it was a bit of a culture shock. I immediately picked up that WVU is a place where if you work hard, you will be rewarded for your work. I work as hard as I can to make my parents proud."

In his first semester at B&E, Altayeb took database structure.

"It was just amazing. I had so many questions and Dr. Peace was so helpful. He would give us fun problems as a puzzle. There was also drawing involved, which I love, so it was really fun for me," he said. He explained that becoming close with faculty members such as Dr. Peace has been helpful in regards to finding volunteer and internship opportunities.

For example, because Altayeb enjoyed the material so much, Dr. Peace suggested that he assist with TEKids, an organization in Morgantown comprised of teachers, volunteers and working professionals in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) industries who actively collaborate with schools, businesses and organizations to instill technology skills into children. He volunteered at TEKids throughout the summer of 2013.

"We went to elementary schools with a class of 20 kids, grades 2-4. Basically, we taught them different things about technology," Altayeb explained. "For example, one class was data mining. We taught kids how to use Google Drive. Some of these kids just pick it up like it is nothing. I was very impressed. I remember this one kid who was like a walking bank of information — and he's only in the third grade. It's kids like him that make me want to teach more, to see what else they can do," he said.

Altayeb's volunteer hours led to an internship opportunity at M&S Consulting, the company that sponsors TEKids, in the fall of 2013.

"(The M&S internship) has really prepared me for a job in the field. I did lines and lines of programming. Another intern and I built an application and they launched the product. It feels really good to see something you have built work. When it comes to programming there are so many things that can go wrong. You must be careful with security issues, with bugs, and the user interface. There are so many factors that can be stressful, but (M&S Consulting was) pleased with the product."

Altayeb finished this demanding project while keeping 19 hours of coursework — no easy feat. But his willingness to work hard and take advantage of opportunities has been rewarded with a sense of accomplishment.

Altayeb, who also serves as an officer of the International Student Organization, is set to graduate in May 2014. Although he feels quite prepared for a job in the field of MIS, he is reviewing graduate school options, including B&E's MBA program. But just in case graduate school doesn't pan out, he's been doing some job searching, too, noting that he is leaning toward consulting.

"I'm looking for a career that involves traveling and meeting new people. My favorite thing about MIS is explaining something to someone. Coming up with an idea or technology, and then going up to someone, showing them and getting them excited about it," he said. "That's something I really look forward to."