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B.Tech students love his YouTube videos

Life is certainly not easy for an engineering student, and being one, Sreeram Venkitesh did not want to crib about the system – or the lack of it. What he did was find his own solution to the problems and show the path to other students as well. That’s how he floated a YouTube channel where he breaks down the syllabus to make it easier and interesting for students. Needless to say, it was an instant hit, with students lapping up the content.

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Here’s Sreeram in his own words

I was that one kid who spent his entire school life dreaming of a career in physics-related research, but finally ended up with engineering in KTU. I had undergone some rigorous coaching at Prof. PC Thomas sir's classes and even after cracking the JEE and the Kerala Engineering Entrance exam with a rank of 641, I settled with a college closer home, just to stay a day scholar. It was a tough decision back then to drop the luxury of studying in one of the better NITs, but looking back, that choice had made all the difference in my life.

Life is all about choices, for or against.

I joined B.Tech in Electronics and Communication at Mar Athanasius College of Engineering, Kothamangalam. The expectations I had while joining an engineering course was really high. I dreamt of all the projects I would work on once I start studying technology. As you can imagine by now, with all the far-fetched expectations that I had, mainly by watching English movies, I was rather disappointed. Classes from 9 to 4 and taking notes were things that I thought would end with school life. I would still say that my first year in college was rather uneventful. Apart from making friends and reading books and exploring our college, there wasn't much that I could say I did. However, I met some amazing seniors—from people visiting Silicon Valley to students with their own businesses, their stories were really inspiring! Also, I learnt how to pronounce 'entrepreneurship' properly during my first year of college. (It’s a big deal, guys)

By the time the final exams of the first year of college were done with and we were getting ready to enjoy our official year break, my parents bought me a new laptop. This is the first time I got a personal computer for myself (other than the old PC at home) and it had made all the difference. One of the top tips I still give to my juniors is to buy themselves a laptop. I spent the entire two- and-a-half month-long vacation sitting in front of my laptop from morning till night. The things I did ranged from watching movies off my bucket list, reading about startups and learning programming. I still don't know what made me take a full plunge into coding. I believe it was interest in this little device by the name of Arduino, with which you could do some cool stuff. I knew my basic object-oriented design from what I learnt in 11th and 12th grades, so I hopped around from learning the basics of different areas like Python, Blockchain and Android development. In the end, I stuck with Android as I found it cool to be able to make quirky apps which you can share with your friends and proudly say that you made it.

Teaching myself programming from the internet, I finally realised what I really wanted from an engineering course. Going back to class after the break was really depressing. From spending all day trying to build something cool to monotonically sitting in the classroom listening to lectures all day. This was around the time where I started feeling this urgent need to do something to make the lives of engineering students better. In order to escape the monotony of the class, I started attending events and hackathons where I could meet similar-minded people and discuss cool stuff these people pursued in their free time, much like how I was into app making these days. These discussions ranged from programming to starting up businesses and to changing the world.

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It was during one of those meet-ups where I met Zameel, who had his own company (Megham Labs Pvt. Ltd) and was looking for people with experience in Android. I applied, even though I was seriously under-equipped. Soon, I was in the team (mostly because we knew each other) and also as I was really excited about working for the project, which was a note-sharing app called RoDay. I especially liked the idea of changing students' lives in such a manner. The idea of the app was something I had thought of while learning app development, even though I didn't know how to completely implement it. Working with the people at Megham Labs was the best exposure I could get. I learned a lot of things the hard way. Even though it seemed difficult for me as a beginner, joining the RoDay team was one of the best decisions in my life. Apart from learning a lot of new skills, I got the experience of what it’s like to work in a company with a group of people. It's the phase of my life which I would say has influenced me the most.

I now had a purpose in life. Even though I was unclear about how to do it, I wanted to influence the student community. Make a change so that life becomes easier for a student. I was so committed to this goal partly because of all the frustrations I faced while being a student myself. I used to listen to a lot of motivational videos on YouTube. Being a day scholar, I believed that I had to utilise each and every drop of my time properly if I were to reach my still-not-clear goals. I used to listen to podcasts and audiobooks during my daily commute to college and back home, which took around 2-2.5 hours in total. Some of the content that inspired me the most were Naval's podcast and Arnold Schwarzenegger's 'Speech That Broke The Internet'.

Even after spending the entirety of my second year in college attending tech and entrepreneurship events all over Kerala, I still didn't have my breakthrough innovation. I went to the point where I gave up the excitement of coming up with an idea, because it would be just for the sake of doing something. I started taking things slowly and realized that it wouldn’t work if I'm doing it just for the namesake. It was during the study holidays I figured out how I can start to make a difference. As they say that necessity is the mother of invention, this too arose one of my needs as a student—namely, the lack of proper resources. This led me to the thought about making such resources based on engineering syllabus.

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I used the money I had made freelancing and bought a graphic tablet and a small microphone and tried recording a video lesson in the style of Khan Academy's videos (I have used them a lot during my school days and had found that way of teaching really effective). So after making a video to prove that I can get myself to learn for the upcoming exams by making videos I sent them to a few of my friends and waited for their comments. After I got positive responses from my peers, I decided to release it to public. YouTube seemed to be the best choice as I myself used to spend quite a lot of time watching videos on YouTube. I uploaded my first video to YouTube on May 21, 2019. It was a 40- minute- long video explaining the entire syllabus of the subject 'Life Skills'. It was the first exam for 4th-semester students and was about 2 weeks away.

The initial responses I started getting were mixed. People asked if I was crazy to start studying for a simple subject weeks early. But as the exam was getting closer, more people appreciated my initiative and the views for my video started hiking up. I went on to make videos for all the other subjects I had for my exam. I even re-learned Business Economics, which I had already completed in my previous semester just due to the fact that a lot of people would find it useful. I had also made some memes to promote the channel and posted it in the Troll KTU group on Facebook.

All this and the exam frenzy made my channel popular, and I hit the 1,000-subscriber mark in just 15 days. All my hard work up until now had finally found purpose. I'm now pursuing my 3rd year of engineering and have over 2,000 subscribers in my channel, where I regularly post content aimed at college students from Kerala. I started experimenting with my content and started posting vlogs of the events I attend and even tried taking interviews of the people who came to speak at these events. My aim is to inspire more people to come out of their shells and express themselves. BTech education in Kerala has been considered overrated as every other person today is an engineering student who is complaining about the 'system'. I, however, wish to change the system in my own ways rather than just sit and complain. There are a lot of opportunities and communities for students, which when utilised properly can make your college life more enjoyable and your career secure. I wish to convey this to all the students out there through my videos.

Here is the link to my YouTube channel

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A quick chat with Sreeram Venkitesh:

How much time do you spent on preparing and making videos? What has the response been from teachers? Will they give feedback?

I take from a few hours to a few days for making my videos. The tutorial ones were made in a lesser time frame as I was preparing them as I was studying for my exams. Although I hadn't got time to review it with my teachers back then, their feedback about my efforts is positive. I put in more time for my newer videos to not compromise in quality.

A recent study says over 70 percent of engineering graduates are unemployed and most of them shift to other sectors for jobs. How do you evaluate the situation?

Quoting Steve Jobs, we can only be truly satisfied if we are doing what we believe to be great work. Stuff that we love to do. Everyone should pursue what they get the most pleasure out of doing, even if it’s different from their field of study. The time you get in college is the perfect period for trying out everything and finding out what sticks. I believe that taking time to find your true passion can help in alleviating unemployment.

What's the impact of hackathons and other such activities on an engineering student? Is the traditional classroom concept outdated?

Hackathons and such other events help in multiple ways. First, it gives students an experience of what it would seem like working on a real-time project, rather than just consume textbooks. Secondly, these events create a platform for meeting new like-minded people and finding possible mentors to get inspired from.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years? After engineering what next?

Honestly, I still haven't settled on a single option! I will certainly be experimenting with my channel and see where it goes. Still, it is sort of a side hustle. As a career, I probably would want to work on something related to software. I am also thinking about startups.

You have a YouTube channel and we see that you have been actively contributing content onto that channel. What is your final goal with that channel? Is it only information sharing or do you also intend to make money from it?

Although Adsense have been enabled in my channel, I'm not actively making money from my videos. And making money is not my goal with the channel too. Me being unsatisfied with the university and college life, in general broke out of the 'shell' we all have and found a wonderful community of learners and tinkerers out there. There are a lot of students who can make use of this community and all the opportunities, but still, have no access to them. My goal with the channel is to bridge this gap at a personal level. It’s not a primary source of income, although such financial benefits will help me keep it going.

What, as per you, are those habits of yours which helped you reach where you are currently?

  • Reading books. It makes you think and you'll have newer ideas
  • Networking. Meeting new people and having productive discussions with them. The takeaway can be huge.
  • Setting short long term goals. Where to reach in the next three months?
  • And last, more of a tip than a habit. Do something creative every day. Be it drawing a picture, writing a piece of code, or even trying out something new like origami or mahjong.
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