Alhamdhlillaahi! What a year has 2023 been! It went by so fast. Seems like as you keep getting older, time moves faster. Now that I’m 30 I should expect this I guess.
2023 had been a year of change for me and for the Maldives as well. After 5 years, we finally elected a new president in Dr. Muiz, which was an unexpected (yet totally expected) outcome. In 2023, the world had dropped into yet more chaos, especially, with the start of Israel’s genocidal war on Palestine. Anyway, you can read more about those events elsewhere on the internet. Here let’s recap how my 2023 had been.
The year had started with the start of the 2nd semester of my Masters degree at University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Early in the year, the days were still short with some of my evening classes happening after sundown. But soon as spring and summer rolled around, the days started getting longer, with the sun setting as late as 10:30PM in the middle of summer! In March and April, I experienced my first Ramadan away from family. Despite missing the food from home, it was a much better experience than I expected, with St. Andrews Muslim Students’ Association (StAMSA) organizing free iftars 3 days a week. I also got invited to iftar by a few friends a couple of times as well, which was a lovely departure from eating alone in my flat. During these iftars, I met several interesting people from around the world who were fellow students, staff or residents of St. Andrews. I also brought along some of my Muslim and non-Muslim friends to the iftars which they seemed to enjoy quite a bit. For suhoor and on the days that I couldn’t land a free iftar, I resorted to ordering from Deliveroo, which was an expensive endeavor but definitely better than the frozen meals I was eating prior to that. I think the hardest part of Ramadan was the long daylight hours, with the sun setting as late as 8:30 PM by end of the month. It was definitely a different experience to fast in a non-Muslim country where everyone else is merrily eating around you. But I felt like they had a certain level of respect for people who are fasting. Case in point, one of my most memorable moments from Ramadan was when I went to Glasgow for a reception for scholars in Scotland. The university had arranged a taxi for us and a lovely lady from the international student recruitment office were in charge of us as the university representative. Scotland was playing in the UEFA qualifiers at Glasgow on the same day, so the roads to Glasgow were packed, making us arrive at the reception just when it was ending. When the lady from the university found out I was fasting and since there was no real food at the reception, she arranged with the university to buy me and the rest of the students on the trip food from a halal takeout place in Glasgow on our way back to St. Andrews.
After 7 years of studying, Alhamdhlillaahi, my wife finally graduated with her MBBS degree in 2023. She had finished her final exams in April and came over to Scotland to visit me for 3 weeks in May after my 2nd semester ended. During her visit, we were staying in Dundee at an apartment I had booked. Since the apartment had a fully equipped kitchen, we decided to try our hands at cooking. Initially my wife was annoyed at me trying to help her in the kitchen, but then I wanted to show her I could also cook (despite never really cooking in my life before). So I watched the steps she was doing and figured out how to cook a cheese omelette on my own. After that I cooked fried rice for her. What I learned was cooking any dish essentially just involved cutting some onions, sautéing them and mixing in some meat and sauces. So, after my wife left, with my new found cooking skills, I ended up cooking several dishes on my own in my flat with halal meat delivered online. Some of the dishes I cooked were; chicken spaghetti, beef lasagna, tuna macaroni, stir fried beef, peri peri roast chicken, chicken fried rice, chilli sausage, wagyu beef burgers, turkey bacon spaghetti. With this new cooking habit, I ended up gaining back around 5 kilos I had initially lost when I first went to UK! After I came back to Maldives, I found out we didn’t have all the convenient cooking equipment and ingredients here as compared to UK. For example, in Scotland I used to cook with white onions, baking potatos and different spices like oregano, cajun and paprika. As for equipment, in my home in Maldives I found out we didn’t have oven mitts, chef knife or a good cutting board. So, in Maldives I haven’t been cooking much.
2023 was a big year in my academic journey. I decided to do my Masters dissertation on Dhivehi Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR). The project turned out to be quite successful, and I was even able to write my very first academic paper on the subject, presenting my findings at the International Conference on Natural Language and Speech Processing (ICNLSP) 2023. I’m currently waiting for my paper to be published in ACL Anthology. After finishing my course in August and getting my results in September, Alhamdhlillaahi, I was delighted to find out that I had scored the highest from my course and I would be receiving the School of Computer Science medal for MSc in Artificial Intelligence! When I finally graduated in November, it was nice to catch up with my friends back in Scotland.
One of the biggest changes in 2023 for me was moving to Hulhumale’ from Male’. After spending 1 year in Scotland, I came back to Maldives in August. Initially I was staying in the same apartment in Male’ I was staying before I left for UK. Since at the time my wife was working at Hulhumale’, everyday I had to make long trips back and forth between Male’ and Hulhumale’ to drop her off and pick her up from her duty. After 1 month of this, my family finally got handover of an apartment from Hulhumale’ Phase 2 that we had applied for over a year ago. We had to spend another month on finishing works for the apartment and finally in September we moved there with the works partially completed. This was a huge change for me as now I had to do a 20 minute commute to work everyday instead of the short 5 minute ride I had in Male’. Despite the long driving distance, I found Hulhumale’ to be much more pleasant, without the heavy traffic and congestion in Male’.
For a huge part of 2023, I was away from Maldives and my office, with the first half of the year with me being in Scotland, and even after I came back, with me being busy with moving to our new apartment and having to do a lot of travelling. Alhamdhlillaahi, despite me being away, Javaabu’s team had matured a lot and had become much more independent than before, with some projects being delivered without any involvement from me at all. However, I was still very much involved in overseeing larger projects. As the CTO, I had been delegating as much tasks as possible to the development team, with me mainly guiding the system architectures and UI/UX designs for these projects. Most of our major projects are now handled by small internal teams, with a senior developer as the lead as opposed to a single developer handling the whole project. I think this arrangement has contributed to the growth of the team’s skill and team cohesion.
One of the biggest changes in 2023 at Javaabu was the restructuring of our developers’ salaries. This was driven partially by the results of a survey I had conducted on Software Engineers’ salaries in Maldives and also mainly by the departure of one of our developers for a government job that offered a higher salaries. We increased our senior developers’ salaries substantially in July and I am proud to say that now they earn in the top 25% of developer salaries in Maldives. With this change, our salaries have become competitive with the government and state owned companies.
Some of the projects we delivered in 2023 include, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) website, Maldives Qualification Authority (MQA) website, Maldives Marine Protected Areas Portal, Maldives Budget Website and Data Portal, MV Laws website and Mobile App, and Maldives Criminal Justice System Database. One of our notable CSR projects during the year was the launching of Edhiha Portal which is a crowd funding platform we developed for a local NGO. In 2023 we also partnered with Mihaaru News to integrate our Dhivehi Text-to-Speech (TTS) system into their website to automatically narrate their articles. One of my weekend projects, DhivehiGPT, which is a Dhivehi version of ChatGPT, also turned into a huge success with a dedicated user base regularly using the website. Initially we launched the website completely free, but eventually as our OpenAI bills started racking up, by the end of the year, we had to implement a payment system for users who wanted unlimited usage. To our surprise, a lot of people actually ended up paying for the service.
My current focus at Javaabu is to pivot more towards AI and Machine Learning technologies, and release our own AI products. Currently I am trying to establish a commercial AI lab at Javaabu, where we hope to publish and commercialize our own AI research works. In Sha Allah, we’ll be making our first ML Engineer hire early in 2024 and moving on from there. I am also putting an effort towards streamlining our development workflow by modularizing our code bases and writing documentation.
2023 had been a busy year of travel for me. I started the year in January with the longest journey of my life so far with me visiting my wife in Kluang, Malaysia, all the way from Scotland. I ended up doing almost 27 hours of travel each way, having to take 2 taxi rides, 2 flights (3 flights when I came back) and a bus ride. It was nice finally seeing my wife after several months away from her. However, for half of the trip I was quite jet-lagged, with me not being able to sleep at night due to the huge time difference between Scotland and Malaysia. Nevertheless it was still worth it to visit my wife.
After Malaysia, in February I visited London for 2 days to attend the Commonwealth Scholars welcome event. It was a grueling 10 hour bus ride to London. In this trip I saw the Big Ben (the Elizabeth Tower more accurately) and the Buckingham Palace for the first time. Me and one of my friends also took a tour of Stafford Bridge, which is the home of Chelsea FC. After this trip, during my 2nd semester’s mid-semester break week, I visited the Scottish Deer Center in Cupar where I fed deer and saw different animals native to Scotland.
I did more travelling in the summer when my wife was visiting me. We went to London for 2 days, this time by flight. We took a cruise on the River Thames, rode the London Eye and visited the National History Museum and the V&A Museum. After London, we went on a day trip to Aberdeen to visit my wife’s friends studying there. We also went on day trip to St. Andrews where we had afternoon high tea and I showed my wife around the town. After my wife left, I went back to London for another 2 day trip, this time by train, to attend the UK Scholars’ farewell event. On this trip I met with other Maldivian scholars studying in the UK for the first time.
After I came back to Maldives, in October, my wife had to leave for her internship in Bangladesh. I accompanied her on this trip, first going to Dhaka for a week and then staying in Chittagong for 2 weeks. Bangladesh is much less developed than Maldives and it was hard for us to get used to the new environment. I was glad that I had friends in Bangladesh who helped us out a lot with my wife settling into the place she was staying at. One of my close friends there took us on a tour near his home town, which was a beautiful experience where we saw some lovely scenes of the Bangladeshi country side.
After Bangladesh, in November, I travelled back to Scotland via London for my graduation. My younger sister and my parents accompanied me on this trip. During this trip we went on day trips to St. Andrews and Edinburgh. My sister wanted to see snow, so I had arranged a day trip to the Highlands as well hoping we would be able to catch some snow there. On the Highland tour, we drove around 4 hours all the way from Dundee to Loch Ness. On this trip I saw some of the most beautiful sceneries I had seen in Scotland so far, with lightly snow capped mountains, Ben Nevis, and large lakes (or lochs in Scottish lingo) . It wasn’t really snowing since it was still the very start of winter, however to my sister’s delight, we encountered snow on our way back. After my graduation event in St. Andrews, we flew back to London and stayed for a day there where we visited the typical London attractions.
All in all, 2023 was a good year in travel for me, with me visiting lots of different new places.
New Years’ Photo
Enough of 2023, let’s talk about 2024 and take a moment to enjoy my New Year’s Eve tradition of light painting. This year due to the historically heavy rain on New Year’s eve, I couldn’t go out to take the annual photo. So I ended up taking the photo in our apartment in Hulhumale’ with my 7 year old nephew helping me out. You can download the full resolution image from my Flickr.
Hope you like my photo, and wish your 2024 would bring you many blessings and happiness! Cheers.