Growing up in Ethiopia in the ’60s and ’70s, Abdi Ahmed and his friends called hand-held calculators “computers.”
Today Ahmed, with multiple computer science degrees from Azusa Pacific College, owns NetServe Systems, an Irvine software programming and network management firm whose client list includes American Honda Motor Co.
Ahmed will be among the black inventors, scientists and doctors honored at the Orange County Black Chamber of Commerce annual banquet Saturday at the Anaheim Marriott Hotel.
Recently, Ahmed talked about the road to success that technology has paved for him.
Q. How did you get your start in computers?
A. I came to America in 1983 (at age 20) to get an education. I took one class in (Pascal) programming, finishing a year’s course in four months, and I loved it very much.
I opened the Yellow Pages and found that Apple had an engineering lab in Garden Grove, so I went there and applied for a job. I didn’t speak English very well. After some effort, the HR person told me, “We don’t have anything available today.”
So I went back the next day and asked again. And I went back the third day. They gave me a test and I passed so they hired me.
Q. Why did you start your own company?
A. In 1996, I put together NetServe Systems. I grew up in a household with a father who was very entrepreneurial. He had a little grocery store.
He used to say, “You’re only something when you work for yourself.”
Q. This year’s black chamber banquet honors black scientists. Have you been influenced by any of them?
A. I was much impressed by Dr. (Charles) Drew, who developed the blood bank that revolutionized medicine. And Dr. Mark Dean, an IBM Research vice president (the first African-American to receive an IBM fellowship), always impressed me with his understanding of computer hardware.
Q. What is the future for the next generation of scientists?
A. I belong to 100 Black Men of Orange County. We do a lot of mentoring of students. I was discouraged at first because they all want to be professional basketball players or rap stars. We explain that they have a better chance of being successful in science, and at first, they looked at us like we’re crazy. But after three or four years, they’re starting to get the message.