Michael Ascharsobi is a recipient of the UTS Diversity Access Scholarship.
I had to leave Iran when I was sixteen years old. I was part of a small religion in Iran. When they found out who I was and what was my religion, my parents were like, "You have no idea. It's going to be, either you're going to convert, or you're going to die."
I actually didn't know where we were heading. After about seven days at sea we were arrested by Australian customs.
When we were released after two and a half years, on my first week, I went to Centrelink. They said, "You can't go to university because you need to pay all the fees up front," which is impossible for a refugee coming to a new country.
The scholarship pretty much took care of all the fees of studying at university. I was pretty much told, "You just turn up. You don't have to worry about anything."
The difference that the degree has made to my life... It's gone from not being able to get a job to having five offers from five big companies in the world. At the moment, I'm a technical program manager at Google.
The scholarship pretty much changed my life entirely. I don't know what I would have done if that didn't happen.
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Michael Ascharsobi -- UTS Information Technology graduate
At 16, Michael was forced to seek refuge in Australia. He was accepted into UTS on a scholarship and now works with Google.
Michael Ascharsobi's first encounter with a computer was in a detention centre with his family, seeking asylum after escaping from Iran.
After receiving a scholarship from UTS and graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology and Master of Science in Internetworking, he was snapped up by Google.
Michael Ascharsobi clearly remembers his first encounter with a computer. It was 2001; he was 16 and detained at the Woomera Detention Centre in South Australia with his extended family, who were seeking asylum after escaping from Iran. A computer room at the facility provided detainees with access to four PCs, and he taught himself computing through trial and error during confinement. He had always liked to tinker. “I was just very curious how anything electronic worked,” he laughs.
A UTS Bachelor of Science in Information Technology and Master of Science in Internetworking graduate, Ascharsobi now balances work at Google, where he’s currently reimagining the entire customer support experience, with teaching a Network Fundamentals course at UTS.
As a child, Ascharsobi was chosen to represent Iran in an international mathematics competition, but those plans unravelled when it was discovered that he followed a religion not recognised by the Iranian government. An ultimatum was given: convert your faith and leave your parents, or face death.
“It was like a very fast-paced action movie, just surreal,” he recalls of the moment his family fled the country. Intercepted by Australian customs after a week at sea, they were transported to Woomera and remained there for two and a half years.
Ascharsobi became friends with the guards, who helped him learn English. Although the detainee PCs were not connected to the internet, featuring only basic applications like Microsoft Word, he spent up to 10 hours each day “poking around” on them.
Granted a Temporary Protection Visa in 2004, Ascharsobi was awarded a scholarship to study through UTS Giving – a program that delivers positive social change by assisting disadvantaged students achieve their educational goals. He found the university environment daunting at first. “I wasn’t confident at all. You second-guess yourself”. Ascharsobi initially considered quitting, but credits the course coordinator, his lecturers and tutor for encouraging him during his studies. “We’re still friends after 11 years,” he says. He continued his studies by completing a Master of Science in Internetworking.
Ascharsobi believes the personal learning experience created by UTS’s breadth of relevant and practical course content, as well as the contacts he made through its industry partnerships, were invaluable for his career. “Before going to university, I couldn’t even get a job. After UTS, I had five job offers, and I didn’t know which one to take!”
“I joined Google as a Customer Support engineer but started doing software development because I had that background; I could read code. Recently, I moved into a project management role, which was again covered as a part of my degree.” Industry events helped build contacts and create interview opportunities, so the transition to work felt seamless.
His experience of student life at UTS has been inspirational in informing the way he teaches the next generation. “I tell the students that I’ve been here, I’ve done what you’re doing. I try to make it fun,” he says. “It’s collaborative. I like to say: I’m not going to give you water. I will lead you to the fountain, you’re going to drink and have as much as you want.”