This blog chronicles my journey of highs and lows, of yeses and nos, of successes and failures. It’s a long story. Before we begin, go and get some coffee. I’ll wait.
Before I dive into bragging about being a Microsoftie and what is life at Microsoft all about, let me ride you through my journey in life so far, my thoughts as a child which inspired and helped me to become what I’m today, choices I made at various stages of my life, which I sometimes adore, sometimes regret. But if you ask me, “Am I happy today?” I would probably say “Yes”. Sometimes life is not all about making choices. Sometimes choices can go all wrong. But what matters is how you react to those wrong choices. Whether you keep on cursing God or whoever played a role in making that decision or you bounce back by working continuously until you make it right. Failures are important. It tells you that you are not invincible. It tells you that you are human. It’s okay to fail. Harder you fail, harder you work and sweeter the success is.
It was a hot Tuesday noon. Sun was at its peak and I was almost sleeping. A question suddenly broke my reverie.
“What do you want to become when you grow up?”
This question was asked by my class teacher Nripesh Sir. He was expecting each of us sitting in the classroom to have a goal in life. Some said doctor, some lawyer, some engineer, some even said a SOFTWARE engineer. I didn’t know what a software engineer work was. All I had heard was Bill Gates. Thanks to the local regional newspapers that keep on publishing about him. That he is the richest man and he founded Microsoft. And Microsoft develops software. So I was under impression that if I wanted to become rich, the formula was to be a software engineer. I always day dreamed about becoming a Microsoft engineer. Little did I know that once an imagination would become a reality.
An innocent small town boy who had never left home except with parents and siblings on summer holidays, was so much excited to explore the outside world although he had no clue how he would survive alone. Like many kids, he had heard about IIT being a very prestigious college. He was sure that his life would be set if he scored a good rank. But how? He had failed twice in Bansal Classes(an institute offering IIT entrance preparation) entrance test. He started having very bad feelings about his capabilities. His mother always praised how much intelligent he was since his very childhood. May be academics and competitions are two very different things. Needless to say, his parents had very high hopes from him. Somehow he got scholarship in Narayana IIT Academy. He was going to study in the capital city of the country, New Delhi.
Year 2008, May 30
Our small town boy was no more that innocent and childish. He had learned many things in life. Unfortunately, not that thing for which he had spent his parents’ hard earned money. All thanks to the world of internet he had been exposed to and 100% bonus offer in cyber cafes. He had just passed higher education, failed to score any rank in IIT-JEE and ready to face taunts of his relatives and neighbors.
Year 2008, June onward
Everything seemed to be lost in his life. He had lost an important match. But even Sachin Tendulkar sometimes doesn’t play well when it’s not his day. May be he should give another try. In the last quarter of the year, Super 30 conducted its test. It was a huge opportunity for him to bounce back. After all, his cousin brother was pursuing bachelors from IIT – KGP and he had too learned the tricks in Super 30. Months of patience and four rounds of test paid off. He had made it. People around him had started recognizing his potential.
He didn’t join Super 30. He knew life won’t be easy there. He would miss delicious cuisines. And if he was able to crack Super 30 which gives near to 100% success rate, why can’t he crack IIT entrance on his own?
Note: Super 30 is a non-profit organization providing free food and education.
Fast forward 7 years, It was time to choose a college which would shape my career and hence my life. A 4 years of time was to decide my next 40 years of life. Sadly, I didn’t have any good option. I was in waiting list in JEE and couldn’t score a rank in AIEEE which could secure me a good college. I and my friend Kanhaiya were just scrolling through the placement records of colleges in our league. I was able to score 3 digit ranks in SRM, CUSAT and KIIT. And the one news locked our tired eyes –
“MICROSOFT selects eight students from KIIT”
and the content highlighted –
“Microsoft personnel making round the country’s premier institutions for hunting the talents to join them, were ecstatic finding the fountain of talent in KIIT”. The news is below:
That was it. If Microsoft visits a college, it couldn’t be that bad. We had locked our choice. After all, this is what we wanted all along. This is what I wanted all my life.
Even 2008 recession couldn’t affect my decision. My choice was so BOLD that even though people around me were opting for non-computer science streams, I was stuck with my decision of moving ahead with CSE in the counselling. Funny to hear, I was the first one (All India Rank 435) to register for CSE stream.
They say, “It’s never easy to get what you want. And if it’s easy, your goal is not BIG enough”. For a guy who was seeing a laptop first time, it wasn’t easy to get adapted to coding and problem solving world. It was frustrating, challenging and no less than a nightmare. When his friends used to code a simple problem in 10 minutes through 3 different approaches, he struggled hard for 3 hours for the easiest approach. All he knew was if he wanted to be the best, he had to work fucking hard and manage his time smartly.
Partners in crime
It was a long train journey. There is nothing much to do when you are traveling with a friend who is crazy for Physics, Electronics and Probability. That crazy friend was Aakash, my roomie. Since third semester was about to commence, there were many known faces traveling in the same train. Aakash introduced me to a guy named Abhinav. He was the guy I had heard about from few of my friends. He was famous for applying his learnings to create small games.
We were alike in some respects, no prior coding background, big foodie and fan of TV series Crime Patrol. The only difference was that I wanted to build something, and he was already doing it. I was hugely inspired from what he was doing. From that moment onwards, we developed few projects together, studied together and prepared for companies together.
Curiosity: The most powerful thing you own
It is said that knowledge and skill when not applied tend to fade over time. My dad always used to say, “If you have got a gun, you must know how and when to use it”. Curiosity is the most powerful thing you own. It lets you wonder about things in the wildest possible imagination and opens your mind to seek for answers. While I was killing time at home in the summer break, my dad upgraded Samsung phone from Micromax. There were more than 600 contacts saved in the older phone and unfortunately for us, Samsung failed to support the contact backup file created in the Micromax. I wrote a small program to convert the backup file into something that Samsung could understand. The job that could have taken hours of man efforts without guarantee of accuracy was done in thirty minutes. That day my dad realized the true potential of programming. This might seem to be a very naive thing today. But believe me, I felt very proud of myself. If you learn something, you must be able to apply it in day to day life.
It was the time when I always had a feeling of something burning inside me. It was passion. Thanks to my DAA teacher Biswajeet Sahoo Sir and C++ teacher Narayan Sir who exposed me to the beautiful world of Algorithms and problem solving. I never looked back. I kept on practicing from various online sources. It was the time when I came across GeeksforGeeks, an online portal created by geek for geeks. I just fell in love with the way it presented the problems. The more time I invested into it, the more I learnt. No other teacher had taught me that many things than GFG did.
First milestone towards success
Harry… Harry… Someone was calling me. Oh! I had just slept. Aakash wanted to tell that a college in Bhubaneswar was organizing a coding competition. Many of our friends had already left for registration. Somewhere between awake and asleep, I agreed to give it a try. We registered ourselves with team name “e-Programmers”. There were around 200 teams participating in the contest and best 2 teams were to be declared winners. 5 hours of coding and hell lot of frustration, we had lost our hopes. Already 4 teams had left with smiley faces which meant we were done.
The next day we got call from Silicon Institute to participate in the result announcement ceremony. And then they announced… Whoa! That feeling was beyond words. Abhinav’s team came first and mine second. Yes, we were the best two performers.
That day, I felt a tiny angel with little wings flying around me, clapping for my Lilliput success.
One evening, there was a notice from some company asking for submitting projects. The chosen ones were to be given some kind of recognition. It was a fantastic opportunity to add another line under achievements section in resume. My college didn’t witness (m)any good companies and it could help in showcasing skills when applying off-campus. Things went south when my friends signed up without me. There was weird and nasty rule that we could only register in group of three, no less, no more. I was broke. I lost sight of the goal I was chasing for that long. This was one such incident which compelled me to look life from a different perspective altogether. It taught the importance of being independent and doing things on my own. Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted can teach the best of lessons. You either rot or shine. It was the trigger of my journey at GeeksforGeeks which helped me to keep focus and not loose my sane.
Sometimes you would find the goal is too far,
Sometimes you would find things to be falling apart,
Sometimes you would feel everything is wrong,
Sometimes you would feel sadness in every song,
Sometimes the world around would seem to down you,
Sometimes noone would understand what you’re going through,
Sometimes your friends would leave you alone,
Sometimes your sorrows would break you bone by bone,
Sometimes you won’t be able to think straight,
Sometimes you would lose faith in your fate,
Sometimes your every effort would seem to fail,
Sometimes you would be left frustrated as hell,
Sometimes you would feel like ending up your life,
Sometimes you would feel you have no choice,
If you’re fond of roses my friend,
Of the nearby thorns, must not you be afraid,
You must believe in yourself and be strong,
You must fight back and right what is wrong,
Push harder, try again,
Whatever you do, must not you loose your sane.
Copyright © 2017, Aashish Barnwal, All rights reserved.
It takes courage to say NO to fame
One fine evening in November 2011, I rushed into neighbour’s room for something related to assignments. That’s when I found him reading a book which looked interesting. 2 days later I got it from Flipkart. It wasn’t long that I was fascinated by Narasimha’s book. It presented problems in increasing level of difficulty. The most exciting thing was that once you feel accomplished after solving it with one method that you thought was good enough, it would show you 3 more ways to solve the same problem. It was kind of crazy.
Narasimha’s life was inspiring. He had worked at good companies and then decided to seek a new challenge. Call it weird or ambitious, but I take deep interest talking to people who have achieved what I dream to be.
It was a lazy afternoon when I got a chance to talk to him about the book and the project I should do in final year.
“Java is an ocean. You can do a lot there.”, he responded.
“BTW, what do you feel about the price of book?”, he further added.
“To be honest, I feel it is bit costly. 375 INR would be okay”, I tried to make my tone as soft as I could. That was when he talked to the publisher and everyone in India was able to get it in 25% less price than it was.
Few days later, I got another mail from Narasimha regarding my contribution to his new site CareerMonk. He was asking me to write articles the way I was doing on GeeksforGeeks.
“You would be featured in future editions of my book.”, he put the icing on the cake.
Problem was that I wasn’t an article machine. It takes lot of efforts and time to compile each one of them.
I asked him a simple question, “What am I going to get apart from name?”. If it is the fame I was concerned about, GeeksforGeeks was giving me enough. Besides, internet wins over hard copy any time of the day.
“Unfortunately, I am not in a good financial state”, he expressed his concerns.
I said, “Sorry! I would like to continue my association with GeeksforGeeks”.
Today when I look back to those olden days, I must say that integrity is something you can’t wear off. I could have easily contributed to both. But that won’t have justified my contribution. I wanted to make a difference and I was already doing it.
I was looking for a summer internship. Theory of Computation teacher Vidyadhar Sir announced in the classroom that there was an opening for Natural Language Processing intern in IIIT Hyderabad. So if anyone was interested, (s)he could contact him for further details. Well I met him post class hours asking many questions related to intern position and his views about the importance of that in my career. He suggested me to hunt down this intern offer only when my interest lied in higher studies and research field. “Why do you not prepare for something that looks for guys with strong coding and problem solving skills?”, he asked. Like Microsoft and Google.
Moderator at GeeksforGeeks
Today when I look back over my life, I just can’t believe that a person can be that insane to chat 10 hours a day and that too only technical stuffs. Yes, this can happen when two crazy people with similar mindset meet. While solving problems on GeeksforGeeks, there were few articles that were so well compiled and informed that I just couldn’t help myself but to contact that guy. I shot him a message on Facebook and this is where we connected. I was very active on GeeksforGeeks. And he was kinda impressed with my thoughts and approaches of solving problems. Our discussion trails were everywhere – Facebook, Gmail, Quora, CareerCup, GeeksforGeeks, StackOverflow. I had never met anyone with so much knowledge, zeal and thirst for coding & problem solving despite the fact that he was an Electronics graduate. For him, problem solving was a time pass. My passion grew with time. Every discussion with him reminded me how little I knew and I needed to manage time smartly and keep my learning curve steep. I started practicing insanely on GeeksforGeeks, CareerCup, LeetCode, SPOJ and other online portals. Few problems took me weeks to solve. I solved problems that were pending since more than 6 months in the discussion forum. That’s when it all started. My solutions started publishing as GFG articles, one after the other.
GeeksforGeeks was growing fast. They were looking for someone who could participate actively in the discussion forum, point out improvements in guest articles and write unique content to enrich the site.
One evening, I got a mail from Sandeep, GFG founder asking if I would like to join the team. I couldn’t think of a single reason why I shouldn’t. GFG was already impacting many lives and it could help me to connect with other geeks. Although it was a non-profit initiative, I was willing to join. I was just 22 and it was the best time to learn and grow. In short, it was a time when my thoughts were not aligned with Joker’s.
But, it was so good to see my name on GFG About us page:
Placement talks were all around the hostel corridors and hallways. Even scorching hot summer couldn’t lessen the spirit. Everyone seemed crazy.
15th August, yes that’s when first company visited our campus. Aricent was kind of mass recruiter, but better than mass recruiters like TCS, Wipro. At least this is what we were foretold. They conducted a written test, a group discussion, a technical interview lasting 45 minutes followed by an HR interview of 25 minutes. Written test had aptitude, English comprehension, vocab, technical each with individual sectional cut off and individual time allocation. They asked almost everything (C, C++, OS, DBMS, Digital Electronics, Microprocessors, Comp. Org. & Architecture and DS) in technical interview. I think their goal was to cover breadth and not depth, because when I thought I was doing well in DS, my interview was over. The HR interview was very unique and I didn’t expect such weirdo questions. Questions like “5 uses of a ball-pen except writing” or “What do I feel when I look myself in the mirror every morning?” or “Tell me a secret of yours which noone knows about, not even your parents or siblings” needed quick response. Final result was announced on 17th August. 151 had made it.
It felt good that I had somehow made it to Aricent. I was skeptical at first because of two reasons.
- I didn’t want to work in a networking based company. Networking was never my cup of tea not because I couldn’t learn it, but because I didn’t like it
- I had demonstrated good coding and DS skills. I was asked twice that why am I not targeting big MNCs like Microsoft and Google. It was very likely that I would NOT join Aricent if I get a better offer
Although Aricent was a good start, it offered very less salary. It could never fulfill my necessities. With 6 lacs of education loan on head and frequent reminders from bank manager to keep sanction letter always in pocket in case it helps me to concentrate whenever I lose focus, I needed to do better. You can say the reason being my passion in coding and problem solving. But the truth was that I had to pay 21k per month to the bank. This scared me more than anything that with so less salary in hand, how was I going to survive in inflated cities. I was simply not happy with Aricent.
One fine evening, there was a notice from placement department. Microsoft was to conduct first round written test on 1st September. It was perhaps the biggest news for the college and aspirants alike. Everyone was buzzing about it. Why shouldn’t they? After all, Microsoft was visiting the campus after 5 years. Nothing could make me happier. The time had come to showcase my hard work and my experience which I had garnered through the years. Lady luck had finally shone upon me.
To be continued…
Signing off for now. Hope you enjoyed reading this. Everyone has a journey. Well this is my journey. Next part is here: