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Software is not magic. Crack it like Aswin!

It was 2013, and Flappy Bird was the most viral thing on the internet. During boring summer vacation, Aswin Ganesh decided to see if he could make the game himself after reading an article in the newspaper about how a group of friends from Kerala re-created the game in a single night. He read about html and JavaScript for the first time, as well as ActionScript and how Flash was dying. Aswin did get demotivated and postponed learning things for days and weeks at a time, but eventually, he managed to muster enough effort to finish the game.

He had managed to clone a game that was probably earning its original creators thousands of dollars a day. That was when Aswin first started considering programming as a possible career option. He made a few more incredibly basic games (check Github profile) that summer, and by the time he reached a point where he had to decide my college path, Aswin had a sure choice in mind: Computer Science.

That interest grew in him, and unsurprisingly, he took to coding and more. Read in his own words, all about his journey.

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As a middle-schooler, I lived quite far away from my school and from most of my friends, so I had a lot of time at home with nothing much to do. Basically, to kill time, I began playing games on a really old and cheap desktop my father bought back when owning a computer was still new in a lot of households where I lived. My parents were quite wary of the “new technology” and I still remember arguing with them to let me spend more time on the computer.

Thankfully, my parents were willing to budge a little bit, because not long after, we got dial-up internet and I started playing a few tiny games that supported modding (Little Fighter 2 and The Powder Toy come to mind). That is when I had my first experience with programming, or I guess editing files rather because that’s all I did - edited some game files to change some sprites. I could see that what I did change certain things in the game - and for the first time I realized that software was not made of magic, but was created by real people who put together words and files in a special way that made it into something functional. That’s when he re-created Flappy Bird.

But it would take many more years and both a change in hardware and internet speeds before I really started programming, outside making calculators and finding the prime factors of numbers using basic C++ taught at school. But as I began life at Model Engineering College, Kochi I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had a similar story. I found many more peers who had a genuine interest in coding. At first, I thought of it as competition; I wasn’t sure if I would survive in a pool of skilled people. But as the last two years have shown, these people became my best friends - both inside and outside the college - and we constantly motivate each other to learn more and become better, while teaming up frequently for various events and challenges.

The college also presented opportunities that I’ve never had before. I literally could not find even a single high-school level coding contest before, but now every techfest had coding events in all kinds of flavours. There were hackathons, quizzes, and workshops. I attended everything I found interesting with my friends, and even though I lost nearly all of the initial wave of competitions I went for, the experience I gained was invaluable and has given me many wins since. (Don’t be fooled - I still lose more than I win, but I think what matters is that we become better, not just at coding but also at working as a team, at decision making, and at planning out a project, regardless of whether it is a loss or a win in the end.)

chaayam_poster

I also got an opportunity to work with Zulip, an open source productivity-oriented chat application - as part of Google Summer of Code, the annual event conducted by Google to encourage contributions to open source. I would encourage everyone who is interested in programming to try applying for this, because the experience we get once selected is something that we will not receive from anywhere else, probably other than doing a programming-based internship with a company for a few months at least. I thought I knew git and version control before, but only after I started actively contributing to Zulip I realized how much more complicated and thorough a real programming workflow can get. I spent almost the same amount of time reviewing code and discussing with others working on Zulip about my code as I did doing the actual coding, something that was quite new to me since all my projects till then was the work of me and a few close friends. This meant that when my code did get added to production, it was the best possible version of it with so many minds involved in reviewing and making sure everything was right.

chaayam_poster

Into my third year in college, I am still very much figuring out many things both in my life and for my future career, and at this time I’m seeking summer internships much like a typical engineering student. But if there is anything I’ve learned it is that we should confidently seek out opportunities, try to meet and work with similar-minded people. Never let failure bog you down.

chaayam_poster

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