Hi, I'm Ahmer

I use my background in Computer Science & Literature to research and design interactions that bring the 'fast' world of digital technologies into dialog with the 'slow' world of reflection and contemplation. I'm currently a second year Ph.D. student at UW's department of Human Centered Design & Engineering. Prior to this, I was a technology and development consultant in Pakistan.


I'm a researcher and software engineer working on digital tools to support social practices for learning meta-cognitive skills.

My 3-year professional goals include gaining more experience and recognition as an HCI researcher. I also want to become a better design thinker and educator in this space (i.e. get more comfortable at things like brainstorming, prototyping and modeling solutions).

Work Experience

2015 - Now

Research Assistant @ University of Washington

from 2015 to present day

- Emerging Capacities of Mass Participation Lab

Studying how online crowds on Twitter engage with rumors during crisis events such as hostage-situations, riots and false-hijackings.

Currently, I am examining what motivates people to engage in different patterns of behavior when it comes to correcting information in these environments. I first reconstruct these patterns by analyzing large social data-sets, and then talk to the people who demonstrate them to understand what drew them to correcting information in those specific ways.

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- Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education

Mapping practices that support reflective thinking by students in higher education. I help synthesize and organize these findings into field guides that provide realistic, local use cases.

I am also studying the resources and resistances students bring to these reflective and contemplative practices.

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Summer 2015

Summer Intern @ Yahoo!

from June - September 2015

Mail - Antispam Team

Using tools like Hadoop and R, I carried out correlational studies to explore relationships between certain user login behaviors and mail-abusing behaviors. This was done to support feature engineering for machine-learning classifiers that need to work fast and have low false positive rates.

Fall 2014

Teaching Assistant @ University of Washington

from September to December 2014

Experimental Research Methods

Helped teach a masters level course on using quantitative research methods for user research. Apart from evaluating assignments and helping students troubleshoot their experiment designs, I delivered tutorials on statistical softwares like R and SPSS.

2013 - 2014

Senior Software Engineer @ Carefully Crafted

from October 2013 to September 2014

Acted as team manager and senior developer for a start-up web-consultancy which focuses on establishing online products for early-stage start-ups.

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Summer 2013

Individual Contractor @ United Nations Development Programme

~ from August 2013 to November 2013

Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme (PFIP)

Helped research and write a strategy report on the use of mobile-banking to promote financial inclusion in Papua New Guinea's rural areas.

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2012 - 2013

Chief Technology Officer @ Developyst

from July 2012 to July 2013

An old startup I helped co-found

A startup helping the Pakistan education sector deploy sustainable, open source infrastructure to citizens with open data.

As CTO, I managed an eight member technology team and had a role in handling a wide range of business activities, including fundraising, product development, engineering, human resources, and day-to-day operations across multiple locations.

Whilst the company and website are now defunct, I can offer you a peek into the past if you're curious.

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2011 - 2012

Consultant @ The World Bank

from November 2011 to July 2012

ICT Sector Unit

Studied coordination and information practices around the monitoring and evaluation of public schools and health facilities via interviews and observations at the Punjab Directorate of Staff Development and Lady Health Workers Program.

I used what I learned from others to help design, develop and deploy pilot interventions that got information to decision-makers faster, more reliably, and in a more usable manner. The intervention involved field staff being equipped and trained to use low-cost Android smart-phones that could pipe data to online systems faster than the traditional paper-based model.

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2010 - 2011

Research Assistant @ Lahore University of Management Sciences

from September 2010 to June 2011

Smart Grids Lab

Produced research that delivers up to 15% more cost effectiveness than state-of-the-art independent DSM and economic dispatch models for a neighborhood by devising and evaluating a genetic-algorithm based technique which provides an integrated methodology for optimizing DSM and economic dispatch in a localized setting.

Helped engineer RFID based smart-plug solution for low-cost remote monitoring and control of household electrical devices by creating software interfaces and programming micro-controllers in C.

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2008 - 2012

Teaching @ Lahore University of Management Sciences

At various times from August 2008 to May 2011

Greek & Shakespearean Tragedy

Literary Theory

Introduction to Literature

Evaluated student theses and assisted students in crafting defensible theses and with general writing. Delivered a course lecture on the subject of Deconstruction as a Literary Theory for multiple course offerings.

Graph Theory

Co-taught a Junior level undergraduate course offering of Graph Theory. Designed and delivered 12+ lectures using a pedagogy of discovery based collaborative learning.

Computing Structures

Co-taught an introductory level programming course.

2008 - 2009

Part-time Web Developer @ TimeSvr

from May 2008 to April 2009

Developed back-end functionality modules in Ruby on Rails that enabled users to specify their personal preferences and confidential information, improving the quality of service, and created basic reporting mechanisms to monitor the performance of twenty company agents.

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2014 - Now

Ph.D. Human Centered Design & Engineering @ University of Washington

from September 2014 to 2019 (expected)

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2010 - 2012

M.S. Computer Science @ Lahore University of Management Sciences

from 2010 to 2012

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2006 - 2010

B.Sc. (Honours) Computer Sciences @ Lahore University of Management Sciences

from 2006 to 2010

Minor: Social Sciences

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Grab a Copy of my CV




My constructivist views on technology nudge me towards research through design and qualitative methods. When possible, I also really enjoy using a mixed-methods approach where the quantitative analysis of large datasets can play a synergistic role in answering questions.


I'm not a designer by profession but I want to get better at it. My experiences in HCDE and the industry have taught me the importance of design thinking and using paper-prototypes to test my ideas before building.


I view programming as a digital craft. I use my software engineering skills to support my research activities and as a medium for building probes and high fidelity prototypes. If you had to put me in a box, I'd be most at home with Ruby on Rails, Python and Javascript.

Qualitative Research

Quantitative Research

Software Engineering


Writing & Technical Communcation

Visual Design


  • Arif, A., Shanahan, K., Chou, F.J., Dosouto, Y., Starbird, K., Spiro E. (2016). How Information Snowballs: Exploring the Role of Exposure in Online Rumor Propagation. To appear in ACM 2016 Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2016).

  • Arif, A., Javed, F., & Arshad, N. (2014). Integrating renewables economic dispatch with demand side management in micro-grids: a genetic algorithm-based approach. Energy Efficiency, 7(2), 271-284.

  • Atman, C., Arif, A., Shroyer, K., Turns, J., & Borgford-Parnell, J. (2016). “Spend another day in our class talking about this research please”: Student insights from a research-based design thinking exercise. Under review for Design Research Society (DRS 2016).

  • Starbird, K., Spiro, E., Arif, A., Chou, F., Narisimhan, S., Maddock, J., & Robinson, J. (2015). Expressed Uncertainty and Denials as Signals of Online Rumoring. Proc. of Collective Intelligence.



Studying practices that support reflective thinking by engineering students.

Rumors in Crisis Social Media

How do people correct themselves and others on Twitter during crises?

Antispam @ Yahoo

Studying login patterns to identify mail-abusing botnets

Monitoring the monitors

Using smartphones for public-sector reform.

Mapping Pakistan's education crisis

Using open data to drive change.

Microgrid power optimization

Using Genetic Algorithms for demand and supply side management.