When Muhammad Al-Mahdi was released from prison in 2020, he had never seen an iPhone, used Amazon, or scrolled on a Facebook feed. Now, as a Fellow with the Georgetown Pivot Program, Al-Mahdi uses rapidly developing technologies like Zoom and Microsoft applications that even the rest of the world struggles to keep up with. When asked if the transition into a technological age has been a difficult adjustment, Al-Mahdi responded with a grin.
“At first, I was either relearning things or seeing them for the first time,” he said. “It’s been a huge learning curve for me, but I’m having so much fun.”
In Pivot, Al-Mahdi swiftly acquired a wide range of technological skills. Considering the little time and experience he’s had with these technologies, the speed at which he’s learned so much is extraordinary.
“Learning about all of these new things has almost been like learning a new language from scratch,” he said. “My classes in Pivot have challenged me to learn these things fast.”
Although his use of technology is new, Al-Mahdi’s knowledge of it is not. While he was incarcerated, he had a keen interest in technology, learning about its developments by reading magazines like the MIT Technology Review from cover to cover.
“Not a lot of people read magazines anymore, at least not out here,” he said. “But in prison, that’s what you do.”
Everything he learned about technology while incarcerated was abstract. The words “apps” and “coding” had no concrete meaning in his life at the time, but he sensed that learning about them would be valuable when he returned home from incarceration.
“When it came to technologies that were really interesting, they would publish articles on them,” he said. “Some of the things I read about, specifically computer programming, I was eager to use and experience once I got out.”
Al-Mahdi was released from incarceration at the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. Although he entered a world that was locked down, he finally felt like he was free. His unique perspective helped him remain positive around his family and friends.
“The first place that I went when I got out was the gas station. That would mean nothing to most people but it was everything to me,” he said. “I just bought a whole bunch of candy and took it with me back to the car. There are a lot of things like this that people take for granted.”
Al-Mahdi’s fascination with new technologies has not gone away, and he says he doesn’t think it ever will. He still reads articles on developing technologies, but now on his laptop instead of in paper magazines. Al-Mahdi has completed online modules for program certifications to improve his computer programming skills. Now, he is well equipped to operate in an online world that has evolved so drastically from how he remembers it.
“It’s different than what I could’ve ever imagined,” he said. “What I learned from the magazines in prison was just the beginning.”
As a Pivot Fellow, Al-Mahdi says he is also gaining invaluable communication and networking skills that prepare him for the workplace. In his current internship at Deloitte, Al-Mahdi is already employing and refining these skills.
“Because of what I’ve learned at Pivot, I look forward to meeting new people and networking, two skills that have served me well at Deloitte. I’ve also been able to enhance my computer coding and data science skills,” he said. “Without Pivot, I don’t think learning all of this in under a year would’ve been possible.”