What have I been up to: My story of alternate learning and living
This post series is an attempt to share my personal journey, how it has shaped me into who I am, how I see the world, and now what matters the most to me.
In the summer of 2013, I decided to drop out of college. Like any tech and startup enthusiast in India would do, I moved to Bangalore, the silicon valley of India. While browsing, I accidentally came across a space for creative folks(art/tech/startup people) called Jaaga. I didn’t have any hard skills, not enough money and didn’t know anyone from the industry. Jaaga seemed like the perfect place to hangout hoping that I would meet new people while I learn things online. Back then anyone could join Jaaga for just Rs.500, if the fee was any fancier I wouldn’t have met some amazing people that it gave me access to.
After 6 months, Jaaga started a year-long residential program for aspiring software developers in a farmhouse outside Bangalore. The idea was to use internet-based resources to learn software development skills while doing projects with peers. I spent the entire year there getting better at hard skills and made some amazing friends who now are part of my inner circle, it’s a treasure to have. At this point, I had sort of became a software developer.
My journey at Jaaga made me realise the value of accessibility, community and a physical space.
The tiny things that makes an organisation/service accessible to people at right time can open new opportunities and impact individual lives. Internet, essentially, is one such amazing service.
Learning in a community like Jaaga, it was easy to exchange and work on ideas. We rubbed things off and learned a lot from each other’s experiences. It was very satisfying to see other people grow with me. Communities give us a sense of belonging. The relationships that we build in our communities impact our lives more than anything else. At least, its a lot of fun to just put together a bonfire.
Physical spaces provide the environment for conversations and collaborations. Bringing diverse, like minded people under one roof is of immense value. Physical spaces are enablers. Softwares scale well and have tangible outcomes, physical spaces don’t. The value that physical spaces provide is mostly intangible and we seem to ignore its importance. Coliving spaces/communes have a lot to offer.
At Jaaga, I understood a lot about how people learn, what helps and what doesn’t. I learnt about the role of resources, mentors, and projects. I built a nice mental model of how learning should be approached in general. I developed a deep sense of satisfaction in seeing others grow and also how 6–12 months of learning in a community can impact an individual and even their families multidimensionally.
After leaving Jaaga, I started doing freelance work. I was happy to use the newly acquired skills to make some money. Soon I realised that what I was working on were just projects and couldn’t relate to their actual need/purpose. Freelancing definitely gave me a lot of freedom with respect to where and how I work but it’s not so much fun to work on problems alone. It wasn’t fulfilling work and I didn’t see myself doing it forever.
I happened to join Hashnode, full time as its first employee. It was a great first job! I learned a lot there, grew stronger technically. I was interested in seeing how people learn and grow in a community, Hashnode was essentially building such a community online, so I could relate to work and it was fulfilling. What I really liked was the experience of working in a small team driven by a purpose, it reinforced my idea of work and small businesses. However, it was very intense and taxing; my body started showing signs of burnout and stress. At the same point, I was getting frustrated with the crowd and city life.
Building a team
It was one of my childhood dreams to live with my school friends in the Himalayas(I love hills, its people, the adventure and inspiration it brings, and relatively laid back life). At this point, my school friends were graduating from their colleges and like any other recent graduates they didn’t have many technical skills. 4 of them came to Bangalore, we saw it as an opportunity to help each other up-skill and potentially start doing services work together.
A couple of months later, we decided to move to Rakkar, Dharamshala as it was in hills and had a tiny tech community. There were two main reasons why we made the move apart from the love for hills and the will to stay in nature.
- Cost Cutting
One of the main tenets of starting things up that I learnt from Freeman. Bangalore’s rent etc. is almost 2.5x as compared to Dharamshala. It gave us a longer runway even if we were not very economically productive. Thankfully, we had saved up some money.
2. City stagnation
I feel that there are two main things that city offers- access to better infrastructure, services and access to people, a broader community. I have been a minimalist, of the kind that doesn’t need a food delivery service. All that fancy infrastructure/services doesn’t really appeal to me especially when it comes with other items of baggage like the crowd, traffic, bad air quality etc. For e.g., simple things like just getting access to a playground for an hour requires booking a space 5kms away from your stay. Think of all the services you need for it to happen, a playground booking app, a taxi hailing app; 40 minutes of commute and some money! I realised we have complicated our lives in cities and need more and more services to solve them, something that can be fixed by just moving to a place with lesser baggage.
Regarding access to people, after a point, I wasn’t really meeting new people regularly. Most of events and meet-ups didn’t make sense. Still, there is value in that part of city life and I knew I would miss it a bit. However, I felt like if I had to really reach out to someone I would just mail them.
Anyway, for the next 10–12 months, we went through a reasonably intense exercise of up-skilling. It was a lot of fun, I learnt a lot more about learning and I was doing what I really enjoyed. We made plenty of mistakes too. We did a bunch of activities, internally and externally, to learn everything we could. I guess I would need another blog post to explain all that. To sum it up, we did some services projects, tried building small products, did events, took over a local community space, and are currently doing another event. It has all been great a experience! We could afford the whole experiment because we had savings. Cash is a big enabler, it buys time for experimentation!
After all of it, I believe what I really enjoy is spearheading these learning communities. I really like to see people grow and build things.
UPDATE - Now, we are doing AltCampus to address the problem closest to our hearts.