This article was published on February 15, 2010

Geeks Beyond Firewalls: A day in a life of a Syrian techie

Geeks Beyond Firewalls: A day in a life of a Syrian techie
Ahmad F Al-Shagra
Story by

Ahmad F Al-Shagra

Co-founder of, Ex-Editor of The Next Web ME, trainer, blogger, and programmer. Co-founder of, Ex-Editor of The Next Web ME, trainer, blogger, and programmer.

no entryLet’s get one thing straight, being a geek in the Middle East is a challenge, and I’m not talking about the kids in Dubai, with every major product a credit-card-away.

No, I’m talking about your average Moe, so to speak, Middle East and North Africa (MENA) resident, who has to hunt down a 2-month old PC Magazine as a kid, then grow up to live off article reviews and the occasional visiting relative/friend whom lives abroad to get the hardware.

As for leading a Techie life in MENA, and especially in Syria, in the Web Development industry, it’s not much of a challenge as it is a test of patience in the face of a thousand cuts.

While most of the Western Hemisphere starts their PC in the morning to check their mail then move on, we have to start our PC, then our proxy of choice, then our most efficient browser with proxy support (I currently Firefox because Safari & Chrome both use the OS settings instead of their own); because you learn out of experience, that a slow yet reliable connection, is always better than a fast but possibly blocked one. You also keep your emails backed up because you never know when Gmail is going to be the next service to decide you’re not worthy.

So there you have it, a bit annoyed by how slow pages load leads to phase two, disabling the proxy to do some fast reading from TechMeme. But you realize that any content describing or related to video content hosted on YouTube will make no sense, because the firewall reaches deep into the pages, and blocks them from you. Kinda like the Russel Peters Punk’d article on Shareables published by Khaled earlier.

So after that lovely morning gradually dissolves into Ultrasurf, or Tor, you start some research or coding, depending on this weeks task list, only to discover the recent Java update is mandatory to get that crucial piece of info you need to mark it done. But you remember, Java doesn’t even use the Windows Internet Options for connecting to their servers, which means you need to take it up a notch and run Hotspot Shield – which is basically a Windows Service that functions as a Virtual NIC+VPN, and gives you a shiny new US based IP address, with excruciating low speeds, and ad saturated pages to go with. All of this in order for you to download a 30MB file in 50min, with constant prayers that the service doesn’t re-establish the connection to assign you a new IP address and with it, and a definite new download.

To end the day, I start writing for one of the places I usually contribute to, like The Next Web ME, so I fire up the notebook one last time before I hit the sack, head to the login page, and pow, another page that won’t load unless given the sacrifice of proxy on the alter of bandwidth. So I disconnect from my apartment’s dial-up connection since the ADSL subscription takes a month to get setup and too many loopholes to jump through, and sleep, knowing tomorrow, if it rains, things will probably get worse.

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