I am 26 years old and looking back over time, I realised how much time had taught me and how much I had changed with it. Whilst I still have a lot to learn, I thought I should share my experience across, the mistakes I made and the steps I took to correct them. While most of the time, you need someone or something to hit hard in the head and tell you that you are doing something wrong I learnt most of it by doing loads of mistakes. And I am lucky that I had lots of instances like that.
Computer — My first love
I still remember some flashes — the moment I first saw and used a computer. My father had taken me to his office (The Hindu, Thiruvananthapuram) when I was around 5 years of age. He made me sit in front of a PC and let me play a game (I remember that it was a black and white screen with a maze which I had to navigate) and I was completely in awe of it from the moment I saw it.
Then, every time I go to my cousin’s place (once in 2 years), I would sneak through to their Windows 95 PC (something like what you see in the picture) and would meddle with it, draw stuff in Paint, play with the animated characters in MS Word (Clippy, Merlin, Rover and Links) and do random stuff and spend my time enjoying.
I still remember the Dial Up modem we used in the early days. It was a mess when you compare today but still it was a boon to us in the early days.
Not only did this amaze me, but I spent most of my childhood watching cartoons which I still love till date — Tom & Jerry, Flintstones, Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, Johnny Quest, Swat Kats, Batman, Spiderman, Heman, Looney Tunes, Scooby Doo, Jetsons, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and the list goes on..
All this gave me the privilege to live in my own imaginary and creative world and soon I realised that technology has always been a tool which brought this closer to me and made my life colourful.
And to add to this, I was a classical singer — while I learnt music for close to 8 years, I was hooked too much towards pop & instrumental music.
Starting off as a developer — My School Days
My love for computers brought me very close to programming from the very early days. We played around with Paint, MS Excel, Word, and then we gradually started learning and programming in Visual Basic, Foxpro, C++, SQL, HTML and that is when I realised how I can draw my imagination as code and I kept doing it while I hated other subjects except computer science.
Then came in Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to our school when we were doing our High School and gave us projects to work on as part of their 2 month workshop in the school, and I worked my ass off day in and out (my project was to make a Telephone Management System) not only because I loved it but I had a thought that I would be able to sell it. But I got some hard lessons from it. We were divided into many teams and I had implemented some innovative ideas in my project which ended up getting copied by other teams and they ended up winning the prize with some extra help from others while we ended up loosing (source code here). This broke me real bad but that is when I realised that I had to do a lot more than what I had been doing to compete in this world. Then they took us twice to an event called TCS IT Whiz and I worked my ass off and ended up loosing and I realised, its still not enough but I didn’t know where to look out for help and then came my board exams and time passed by.
And to add to this, I was a table tennis player but I was asked to drop it since my grades came down as my focus was on sports and programming rather than studies (sad face).
Experiencing the world — My college days
I was under the grasp and protection of my parents till my school days but all this changed suddenly and I almost had the complete freedom to do whatever I wanted while there was still one problem. I joined Electrical & Electronics because it was the time of recession (2010) when I had joined with people around me (parents, relatives and strangers) driving me away from computer science and I was naive enough to comply to what they said and while it took a huge toll on me (people close to me know what happened-this needs a separate blog post), it also made me like an unbreakable rock since I had suffered too much pain that everything became just another problem for me in life. To keep my interests alive, I was part of various clubs in the college, helped organise events and even hosted some of them.
I started off my first startup by accident (it was called Tech Ahoy). I was elected as the class representative and I needed some way to distribute the materials shared by professors. While mail was definitely an option, I needed some better medium to do it, then came in my developer mind and that is when I developed my first website (initially with a website builder — Webs) and then I gradually started coding it all by myself and came up with a basic and immature website with a yellow background, red font and what not! And suddenly it picked up with an average of 5 or 10 visitors per day (more the day before exams) and this made me a lot more enthusiastic since till now, no one had ever used what I made. And, I started working more.. But….
I lacked focus!
I was living in the excitement and enthusiasm I had got, that I never realised what I was doing. I basically wanted to become famous, rich and conquer the world with what I know. So, you would have probably already predicted what would have happened.
I miserably failed!
Since I was in college, I took permission, conducted recruitment as a club, formed a team of close to 120 people with the help of my friends, ventured in almost every field-software development, web development, graphic designing, animation, marketing & publicity, SEO and almost everything else we knew.
It took a huge toll on my studies too since I was putting too much focus on this leaving aside my studies and it was too much to manage for me since most of my time was spent on debates with my core team which was around 10 in number and all of them being friends made things even miserable for me — it was a tough lesson for me, don’t have your close friends in too close to your company, It is difficult to handle.
We gave training to all the recruits for close to 4 months and then just when we thought we would build something great and interesting, we realised that there was a lot of attrition, people started focusing on college, some had come there just for learning stuff but we still had good set of people (some of them whom I am still touch with till today) and due to a lot of reasons, my core team started leaving and it was getting difficult putting a lot of pressure on me and my academics that I had to shut it down without any notice to anyone who had worked with me. It was really difficult. There is more to this which I will share in a separate blog. You can find some details on the same here.
Friendbus — My Next Startup
While I did learn a lot during my college days, my immaturity didn’t stop there. I kept making mistakes, now it was with a new social networking website I had made. I wanted to be the next Facebook, in fact way bigger than them, just cause I had the technical knowledge on how to get it done and I wanted to become famous (sad face). So, I sat for few months and worked on my social networking website, Friendbus and while the development was complete, I realised that I had made a lot of mistakes along the way and I shut it down just 2 weeks after launch. The code is open source available here.
I just kept focusing on functionality, did not think about usability. And I wrote most of it myself in PHP, did not stick to any specific framework but rather wrote almost all the code myself without following any standard conventions, rather invented my own conventions, did not think about the market, and messed it up. My passion for Gaming also interfered a lot in the development of the product — I have an article on that here.
Ramco — My First Enterprise Exposure
Before joining Ramco, I had been working all by myself with no one to put a check on me, and without anyone to mentor/guide me. But now, things changed a lot. I had my ex-boss (Mr. Sandeep Ray) alongside pointing out the rights and wrongs, and with good technical experience he was able to guide me in the right direction, and gradually I understood how a production grade product is made, how much important it is to have a usable product and how to keep working and think outside the box even if you are pushed back. Yes, it did come along with frustrations! Code Review
This was equally interesting and frustrating for me initially. Before joining Ramco, I had no one to review my code, no one talking about how bad I had written the code, nor did anyone suggest how code should be written. But now, the code keeps getting thrown away if it does not meet the standards, and I had to re-write it each and every time till he got satisfied. One of his statements were that “A product should be of California Quality” by which he emphasised the level of professionalism and attention to detail which is to be given while developing it, which usually existed in products developed from the valley.
This made me a better developer and soon, I came to love with Node.js, MongoDB and the JS ecosystem which I had ignored so far. The products we made went through several iterations. Trust me when I say this, we worked on the Signup/Sign in flow close to 15 times iterating each and every time and finding ways to make it better and usable.
This was a great experience since this was the first time I had actually build a production grade web app, mobile app (Android & IOS), Chrome App & Extension, and even developed integration for products like MS Teams, etc.
Not only this, I also got to work on a chat bot for Enterprise — JLT (Just Like That, Now Chia) — I restructured the project, developed evernote and asana integrations and made the landing page for the same. Quite a lot of work but I didn’t feel the pressure at all since I loved it. While in this team, I did not have a specific role but was a full stack developer all platforms, worked on architecture, was involved in some pre-sales and was also in support where needed.
Then due to some reasons, I got moved to NGT (Next Generation Technology), a research and development corporate division of Ramco and things became even more interesting. I got a new boss (Mr. Narayana GJPV). Initially, I was skeptical seeing his age when I joined but then I quickly realised that I was totally wrong and that he is an amazing person to work with and I had a lot to learn from him as well — how to stay chilled out even with a lot of work (he was, and still is, an insanely busy man), how to never stop reading — I have seen people loose interest in learning once they get old since they feel that they don’t have much left in life but he spent a lot of time reading and sharing things he read with us, how to have a complete trust and faith in your boss & organisation — While sometimes it used to feel like blind trust, it was more than that. He has complete dedication towards his work, complete trust on his boss and is a great well wisher for the organisation (he has been around for 20+ years) which is quite mesmerising for me. how to work on the field — Being a senior, he does not hesitate even a little bit to actually work on the field. Apart from sharing his vision and participating in meetings, he also helps people out when they struggle with problems, and it is quite difficult to manage time like him. The business knowledge — Having worked in many verticals across the organisation, he has amazing business knowledge and that helps a lot in constructing the vision in the right way. I realised how important both technical and business knowledge is to get a product right.
It didn’t stop there for me….
Being in NGT and working with Mr. Narayana, I got the privilege to have close interactions with our CEO (Mr. Virender Aggarwal) and my life lessons continues..
I understood how important it is to find the market before doing something — While I was enthusiastic to do something which interested me, he would be equally interested in doing something which the market wants. I understood how important recognition is for employees — While we have free and natural conversations with each other, I felt happy being recognised for the work I did in the organisation and came to a realisation how important recognition is, for everyone. Stories are important — He tells us a lot of stories and interesting analogies (REM sleep, patterns in life like Benzene, Importance of entropy for the organisation, solving problems for Rainy Day, Godrej ERP systems, and the list does not stop…) and people who listen to it get the picture clearly and get well aligned with his vision. So, stories definitely are important! Never stop learning — This is something I have seen in him a lot! Being a CEO, he never stops keeping his knowledge upto date. He reads blogs, newsletters regularly and shares the same with all of us to read. In fact, he encourages us a lot to do the same. Health & Fitness — Interestingly, he follows a strict and custom diet daily, and eats proper food at the right time in the appropriate quantity. This is something I have not been able to do so far (still working on it) but the emphasis he gives on health is the reason why he is able to do all this work even at his age.. He travels regularly to and fro different countries (almost once every alternate week) and we don’t see him having any hassle due to the emphasis he gives to health and fitness. Being Receptive- I went to him with an idea of conducting meetups at Ramco, and he was so nice enough to show so much interest and initiative towards the same that we were able to successfully conduct so many of them, one after another without any issues. He was receptive and when he felt that it was for the good of the organisation, he asked us to move forward and we have not looked back since.
All this experience has even helped me to guide my team in the right direction, and yes, I am still learning.
While I can go on and on, may be will do it some other day. It is very important to do a self assessment at regular intervals to keep yourself in check. So, if you have a story to share, write it down and share it with me. Will be happy to be a part of your story too. Until then, see ya!