Alumni Profile: Oussama El-Hilali ’89
When Oussama El-Hilali ’89 first started at Ripon College, he had no clear idea of his vocational interests. But the timing was right to lead him to the world of technology.
“Like most people that first year, I was confused,” he says. But he met an “influential” professor, Kris Peters, associate professor of math and computer science, during her first year at Ripon in the fall of 1985. Peters had a broad background in telecommunications and had taught computer science at North Central College in Naperville, Ill., before coming to Ripon.
“She was very enthusiastic about the whole discipline,” El-Hilali says. “Computer science was a new offering as a major at Ripon. I got a student grant to work at the computer center, and by my sophomore year had enough credits to lead me toward a major.”
He majored in computer science and also studied French literature at Ripon – “the humanities balancing the science,” he says. “There is a story to be told about Ripon. There was this flexibility to be able to explore what’s available and to take advantage of accessing the inclinations. If you wanted to change your mind, it’s OK. You try things and you learn.”
El-Hilali says that the area of technology is evolving very rapidly and affecting every human being and every aspect of life. “One of the things I have learned to do is to see the impact of the technology both positively and negatively,” he says.
El-Hilali is senior director of engineering for EMC, a global, publicly-traded IT service (ITaaS) firm. He says data backup and storage have seen phenomenal growth. “Every three years, the amount of data in the world doubles,” he says. “It is estimated that there are 200 gigabytes of data for every man, woman and child on the planet. That’s a lot of data. We need to provide the security to secure that data. It’s an industry that is growing very, very fast.”
“You try to network and establish a good set of friends and colleagues. You research, you share your findings with your network, and they share theirs with you. There’s a lot of money being invested through venture capitalists to promote certain new technologies and new ways of doing things. That leads to other endeavors and other findings, and that keeps growing and growing.”
He says the ways data can be transmitted and synchronized has changed the way we live. “The literacy rate is what has allowed this technology to grow so rapidly,” he says. “A thousand years ago, to send a message from Persia to West Africa took three days. Today, you can do it in a few seconds. Then, there were very few people who could do it, and it was at a high expense. Today, millions can share data, and it is virtually free. It was OK to be illiterate in the past. Today, it would be a major headache. Now, everybody communicates more than just verbally.”
An example from El-Hilali’s own experience is a New York dance company, Misnomer Dance Theatre, for which he is a board member. “This is a small dance company,” he says. “It has created an audience-engagement program which I was fortunate to be able to help establish. You can order a performance you don’t have from any dance company that subscribes to the website.”
According to El-Hilali, “This is a clear way of showing how new technology includes the performing arts. It has allowed the artists to perform more and be able to have their work known and exposed outside of the traditional means, to allow individuals like you or me to experience it.”
He says online viewers also can order a flash mob performance for an anniversary, product launch, birthday or wedding proposal, and examples are featured on their website.
El-Hilali is co-author of the book, “Digital Data Integrity: The Evolution from Data Protection to Information Management,” published by Wiley in 2007. It is available on amazon.com and other outlets.
He and colleagues also recently received a patent for systems and methods for deduplicating data based on performance of a deduplication system.
El-Hilali says that the liberal arts have had a positive effect throughout his life. In the mid-1990s, when the job market was bad, he applied for a job in the healthcare industry. Even with no prior experience, he got the job. He later asked the interviewer what qualifications had given him the edge.
The interviewer told him, “I think people who pursue a liberal arts education are well-balanced and can adapt more easily.”
“That was a very important event in my life,” El-Hilali says.
This appreciation has spread among El-Hilali’s family and friends. His brother, Hilal Al-Hilali ’79 (he uses a different spelling for the family name) heard about Ripon through a friend’s father, who was an alumnus. El-Hilali’s father, an educator, approved of Ripon’s liberal arts program.
El-Hilali followed his brother to Ripon, and then their sister, Naila ’93, followed him. El-Hilali met his wife, Cheryl Unterweger El-Hilali ’91, during his junior year at Ripon. So far, three nieces and nephews have attended Ripon College from the family’s next generation.
A neighbor of El-Hilali’s in Morocco, Redouan El-Younsi ’90, was influenced to come to Ripon, as well, and now both of El-Younsi’s young sons are interested in attending Ripon.
“That’s how you build a legacy,” El-Hilali says.
To read more stories of Ripon College’s alumni, click here.