For the majority of teenagers in India, especially when you are from a science background in class 12, their real-life journey starts from JEE coaching centres. The most common advice that an average student gets is “Join these coaching centers, crack JEE, you will be successful.”
I am sure most of them might have had a similar experience. I had to join these coaching centers after working hard for two years, but unfortunately, I didn’t have a result as expected and luckily got admission at CUSAT for B.Tech Computer Science Engineering. After taking admission I had so much confidence and motivation that I will be able to learn so many things from college and hoped I might be able to learn a lot of industry-required expertise from classes. But later on, I realised that participation in various events helped us leverage our skills more.
In the initial days I was worried about how I would start learning to program. Most of my classmates had a CS background, and they were able to understand it very quickly and answer the questions asked by the faculty. I started feeling nervous and less confident. This insecurity in me in turn made me explore and learn new things. Initially I was confused on where I should start from. To find the answer I started googling and tried out anything I found interesting. I talked to my friends and classmates, and they also helped me a lot.
One day one of my friends told me about an event happening at Infopark Cochin, conducted by GDG Cochin. It was a great experience and I met students from different colleges. From there I started networking. Later on they added me to a Whatsapp group and we started our discussions over there. What I noticed about them was the fact they were always ready to help. Even if they didn’t know something they had an insatiable curiosity in them to learn about it, which I found really admirable. With the help of these people I got to know about different events happening around the city. For some programs I even got referrals and free tickets!
By attending more events I gained a lot more contacts and friends in this field. This helped me improve my knowledge about different tech domains and I started learning new things. From being an attendee, I went on to volunteer for different events. One of my first volunteering experiences was for DebUtsav, conducted by the Student Developer Society. From there I met some amazing people supporting the ideology of free and open-source software. After the event I was really motivated and started reading about different gnu/Linux distros and tried installing some of them and helped my friends with the same. After attending some events and interacting with people, my confidence built up. I started taking some sessions after the class or during weekends, and my friends were surprised that I had improved a lot and kept guiding me with more suggestions. For conducting events we got support from CITTIC (Centre for Innovation, Technology Transfer & Industry Collaboration) — The startup incubator at CUSAT, and they provided us space and resources for conducting different programs.
Usually, every weekend I used to be busy with events. From my contact circle, I got to know about TinkerHub Foundation and attended their programs. TinkerHub Foundation is a non-profit organization created to promote tech-talents. From Tinkerhub I met some people who were highly passionate about helping others. These people encouraged me to explore different domains and even helped me get started with it.
My seniors were also of great help to me. The Association of Computer Science Engineering Students (ACES), in our college, organized ‘Session@4’ programmes — a series of classes that helped us learn about different aspects of technology. It helped me learn the basics of computer programming. During our tech fest Dhishna, I was so excited about contributing but I didn’t know where I could contribute. After talking to my seniors I learnt about different teams like the tech team, media team, sponsorship team, and so on. I attended the meetings of a few teams and gathered some ideas on their working. I liked the media team so I talked to the head of the media team and told him that I was interested, but didn’t have enough experience in designing. He was quite chill and asked me to do a sample poster for a competition to be held soon.
I referred to some event posters and started working on it. The next day, I showed him what I did. I knew it was a bad design and thought he might tell me off, but instead, he looked at it and suggested on how to improve on it, showing me a lot of websites. He also taught me some basic techniques and asked me to work on sample posters. I did as he said and received more suggestions from him. He even came all the way to my hostel, to help me out. By simply volunteering for an event, I was able to learn some poster designing, that helped me design posters for other events.
By this time I started contributing back to some communities and got an opportunity to conduct a program called py-lad, which was meant to help students learn python remotely by providing resources and mentorship. For that, I had to make a site, so I used google sites in the beginning and later shifted to a WordPress site. We then released the registration forms, arranged mentors and presented this event during its launch. Initially, it had so many registrations and I had to email them about this event and the related information. I had to explore a bit and found different ways to automate the emails and scheduled emailing at different times, collecting feedback, and learnt the difficulties faced in conducting an event. Even though the program wasn’t as successful as expected, it gave me opportunities to explore, learn and talk to different people.
In our second year, we again had our tech fest for that academic year and this time I got the opportunity to contribute to the tech team. We sat in a room for a few months and started working on the web sites. We had other events to be held before Dhishna (our tech fest). These included a 24 hour hackathon — ‘Make-a-ton’ and a gathering of tech-enthusiasts and experts in the technical field — ‘Innovators’ Summit’. These events not only improved my technical skills but also helped me learn how to organize an event and helped expand my network of friends.
After exploring and talking to people, I understood that learning should be continuous and enjoyable. And the fastest way to learn something is to actually work on implementing it or by practically solving a problem!