Free Bassel: Hi Oussama, tell me a little bit about yourself, your relation to Bassel and his passion for computers.
Oussama Al Rifai: I’m Bassel’s uncle, his mother’s brother. I studied systems programming in Russia (ex-Soviet Union). When I came back to Syria in 1991, I bought a personal computer. At this time, Bassel was about 15 years old and computers in Syria were a huge innovation, so for me to buy a computer I was one of only thousands. Because of this, Bassel’s mother brought him to my place and told me “please, teach him computing.” And I said, “I love Bassel, he’s my only nephew, of course I will.” So we planned a weekly schedule where I taught him not how to play games but to program. The first time he came I stayed with him 30 minutes, but I got bored so every week he came I told him “here is a computer, you have three hours, do whatever you want.” This continued for 3 or 4 months until he finally bought his own computer. He built all his knowledge about computing by himself; I literally stayed with him only 30 minutes. And after one year I was the one who started looking to him for help whenever I had computer questions/problems.
FB: So he’s completely self-taught, that’s incredible. What happened next?
OAR: Later we have what people call a computer geek. He loved programming. From 3d graphics to web design to whatever—just name it. He had this hunger for knowledge in this field and when we finally got internet in Syria in 2000, he started to jump into the available knowledge very quickly, quicker than before. He wanted to learn and teach. He started to work freelance as a web designer and he had a lot of success there with a stable clientele.
FB: Where did that lead?
OAR: I was working in a publishing company… who work on cultural projects. So I was working as a database administrator, and in Syria, if you work as an IT man, you do everything—everything related to the computer. In 2001, I had an opportunity to come to UAE, so I left the publishers. After 3 months, they called me and gave me two options: either come back and work for them or find someone to replace me. I couldn’t find anyone but Bassel. So they interviewed him and took him. After 15 days of him working there, they called me back and said don’t worry about ever coming back.
FB: Haha. He surpassed his master!
OAR: Yes, completely. Bassel was exactly what they were looking for. In addition to database administration, he did a 3d interactive guide about Palmyra city—it was very good, very beautiful, scientific, and successful in Syrian cultural communities. Even the presidential palace knew about this project and supported it—it was partially sponsored by the publisher. Bassel was one of the top guys there.