Mehdi Bourahla: Building Connections Through Tech

Mehdi Bourahla’s path to UNC Charlotte and the College of Computing and Informatics (CCI) has been a long one – over 4,600-miles long across the Atlantic Ocean from the nation of Algeria, in fact.

A recipient of the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship awarded by the U.S. State Department, Mehdi is part of an exclusive group of young scholars from around the world chosen to attend American universities in the spirit of international connection and cross-cultural exchange.

Set to graduate this month with a master’s in Computer Science with a concentration in artificial intelligence, Mehdi isn’t just representing UNC Charlotte and Niner Nation, but his home country and continent as well.

“Most of the people I talk to don’t even know what Algeria is, although it’s the biggest country in Africa, so I’m kind of an ambassador here: I’m talking about my country, I’m talking about my culture. So not only am I representing Algeria, but I’m representing Africa, which is a good thing,” he shared with pride.

Thinking back to his youth, Mehdi can pinpoint the exact moment he knew he wanted to someday have a career in technology. He was six years old, watching a broadcast of the Consumer Electronics Show from Las Vegas in his hometown of Blida.

“There was a man controlling his TV with his hands, only with gestures. I said, ‘I want to do that,’” he recalled fondly. That eureka moment led him to the world of computer science at an early age — by the time he was in high school, he was developing his own video games and making websites. At the University of Blida, Mehdi was president of his school’s computer science club. He studied software engineering and ultimately earned his undergraduate degree and his first master’s.

Mehdi was a software engineer in Algeria for two years, but his passion for learning more about technology and educating others continued. He started his own video and podcast series “Newbiesoft” in 2020, which became an outlet for him to interview tech experts and break down popular tech topics of the day, from artificial intelligence to cloud computing and supporting gender diversity in technology. “In the beginning, what brought me to computer science was content creators. It was TV, and seeing content creators covering an event about technology made me love this field, so I want to do the same thing through my videos,” Mehdi said.

This led Mehdi to interview a representative from the U.S. embassy in Algeria at a tech event, who introduced him to the Fulbright program and encouraged him to apply. During this process, his Fulbright advisor told him about the innovative work happening at UNC Charlotte in computer science and artificial intelligence in particular, and he was sold – after attending an orientation event for new Fulbrighters in Ohio the summer of 2022, he arrived in Charlotte that August.

From his content creation to his academic work, Mehdi is always looking for ways to build connections. At Charlotte, his main research focus has been on using artificial intelligence to promote social interaction and all of the positive health benefits that come from connecting with others. In collaboration with Dr. Min Shin, Department Chair and Professor of Computer Science in CCI, he helped develop and prototype a new wearable device that uses AI techniques to measure and analyze the amount and quality of a user’s social interactions in a given day.

Outside the classroom, Mehdi has traveled across the United States extensively, and picked up the sport of competitive swimming with the university’s Club Swim Team. He’s swam in several meets and even completed his first triathlon. Mehdi is also an active member of the University’s Muslim Student Association, and is proud that Charlotte is a place where he is able to practice his faith freely and where his peers are eager to learn about Islam.

Mehdi ultimately plans to pursue his Ph.D. in the United States, but is thrilled to head home to Algeria and see his family in person after December graduation — “It’s been a year and a half that I haven’t seen them,” he said. “I especially miss my mom’s food!” 

When asked what tips he would give to fellow international scholars considering studying abroad, Mehdi stressed the value of actively seeking out connections, both academic and extracurricular. “I think that the best thing that I’ve done through this experience is to not be by myself,” Mehdi said. “I opened myself up to a lot of people, I joined associations and clubs and I made a lot of friends… This is the best advice I could give. And to take the most advantage of your professors, because they are always here and they’re always wanting to help.”

Photo by Amy Hart