Hsoub Academy aims to be one of the premier educational resources for Arabic speakers interested in web development and other related technologies. It was developed through a particularly lean approach to offer the average Arabic speaker an affordable online learning experience - with a unique employment guarantee. QRF sat down with Mohammad Abras, the Director of Hsoub Academy to learn more about his experience.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
QRF: Thank you for being here with us. We are excited to learn about your journey. Can you tell us about yourself - what is your story?
The first thing you need to know about me is I’m passionate about open educational content and the development of the Arabic web. I worked in computer networks for 4 years, but due to the challenging situation in Syria I transitioned to doing software development - especially as a freelancer. I self-learned software development through books and open educational resources online - it wasn’t easy but I finally got there in 8 months. Hsoub Academy was actually one of the resources I used to teach myself software development early on.
I joined Hsoub a little over a year ago. When Hsoub Academy started off, it was an educational blog and I was actually one of the freelancers that contributed. One day, there was a post about an opening for a project manager at Hsoub and that was the beginning of my journey..
To give you an overview, Hsoub Academy has 3 components - articles, books, and courses. The first two are completely free and the courses are our source of revenue and are really our path to sustainability. We have over 3500 articles, 11 books and 4 courses - that combine both theoretical and practical components of different aspects of software development. Our four courses cover software development and programming. We started with front-end development. We recently launched course on PHP, mobile application development, and Ruby on Rails. We hope to expand to other areas in the future.
We have over 250 paid customers. Each course costs $160. Learners get course support throughout the learning process and after graduation in helping them secure their first project - which should cover the cost of the course. If they aren’t able to cover the cost of the course in 6 months, we give them a full refund.
QRF: It’s great to see that you are able to offer learners a refund if they are unable to secure the initial investment in the course. We are sure it isn’t easy to be able to offer such a service. What are the biggest challenges you are facing today?
Our biggest challenge is the lack of a clear coherence or consensus among Arabic speaking learners around key technical terminology in the area of software development The lack of clarity creates confusion throughout the learning journey.
This challenge is further compounded by the fact that software development is an area that is rapidly evolving which means we need to constantly update our content - and the risk that some of the content would become obsolete even before there is consensus on the needed terminology.
QRF: What are the key lessons from your journey so far?
One of the key lessons for Hsoub Academy has been the importance of getting user feedback as soon as possible. User feedback has ensured that we are able to create engaging learning experiences. On this same note, while customer feedback is important, it’s important to be discerning and isolate any idiosyncratic preferences that are not necessarily representative or needed for scale. It’s important for startups to create a balance between the aggregate data and the personal user stories.
QRF: Most education entrepreneurs enter the space with the goal of creating a positive impact in addition to healthy returns. How do you balance mission and profit at Hsoub Academy?
We focus on quality in everything we do, and offer a lot of content for free - especially the content that’s relevant to the entire community. We believe that helps us strike a balance between mission and profit.
QRF: What recommendations or thoughts do you have for improving the state of educational innovation and entrepreneurship in the MENA region?
I have two recommendations. First, it’s important for policy makers and other decision makers to unify efforts around creating technical resources and tools that are open source and on top of which entrepreneurs can build innovative products. Second, and on a different note I think it’s key that education systems across the region start introducing programming into the curriculum so we can create better and more tech-savvy entrepreneurs.
QRF: Thank you for your time and insightful answers. We wish you an the team the best of luck going forward.