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A coding geek's stunning blitz to the top

- Raj Vikramaditya

I was an average guy in school who failed at least in one subject in each term. It was a normal day in school when our class teacher called out the name of the class topper and urged him, “We expect you to top the school and make us proud.” I was not jealous, but I felt why people would only praise toppers. Also, if the teacher told the same words to everybody in the class, even others would have got motivated. I felt really bad, took it up as a challenge and emerged as a topper my school in Science dept that year. That was the beginning of my journey.

I was always good at programming from Class VIII and I would enjoy solving them, but I did not have the same eagerness when it came to other subjects. Like every other engineering aspirant, I too had a wish to get into IITs. But then not everyone gets into IITs, and I too did not. I dropped dreaming that I would crack it as every other dropper thinks. Eventually, I ended up in one of the colleges, which had a decent placement record according to quora, but wait the best company visiting the campus was TCS here. My dreams were shattered, I used to console myself telling myself that I would manage a 30-50k salary and that it would be good enough for a healthy living.

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Our college was so famous for ragging then, that the first semester passed by having multiple fights and making myself mentally strong against ragging. I still remember those ragging days, when some seniors who were then placed at TCS, ragged me because I said my hobby was coding. They gave me to code something, I did and then they were making fun of me just because I said my hobby was coding.

Eventually, the second semester started, and we were introduced to one of the clubs “CODERS CLUB” in our college. We had two classes where we were introduced to coding websites and then the classes were never up again. I also did not have a laptop then.

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I bought my laptop in February, and it was the time of our technical fest then. I participated in it, and by fluke won the coding contest among first years, but to my disarray, I was disqualified due to plagiarism as I shared my code with one of my friends. Someone else was awarded, and was known as the best coder in the first year then. I felt bad, yes I did, I was not jealous, but I felt bad because something was taken off from me and was given to someone else.

First-year went by, no one knew me in college, except that there is one guy who has this weird name “Raja Vikramaditya Panda”. I met one of the seniors Shivam Dubey, who introduced me to the Codechef Long Challenge. I started participating thinking that I would top the Leaderboard, only to my surprise I ended last and was able to solve only one.

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I saw a lot of people participating in the Long Challenge on Codechef then from the college and I realised this was the best way to let the college know about my programming skills. I started Coding day in and out. The Long challenge happened every first 10 days of the month. I was so charged up every month, that I used to try every problem. Since I was in the hostel, I used to start coding around 10 pm and ended up in the morning until I could not find a solution to the problem I was trying. I kept working hard, months later I was on the top when it came to our year. I decided that I would not think of “year” any more and keep on coding aiming to be top the leaderboard this time.

It was the month of September, that a competition named “ACM-International Collegiate Programming Contest” was introduced. The qualification round was in October, and I had many days to prepare. My team had two of my friends, Pawan and Twinkle. The contest rules were such that only the top 2 teams of the college would go through. I participated in every contest that was going on around every platform at that time. There was a trial round before the qualification round, where we stood last, everyone counted us out. We were mentally out of the contest, thinking that how can the youngest team in the college make it beating the seniors.

We participated, we gave our best then in those three hours and yes we were among the top two teams that made it to that contest. After the contest, I still remember going to the mess to have my dinner when almost everyone knew that we were tipped to win the event. We eventually were and are the youngest ever team to make it to the grand show of coding.

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We were riding high, we went through to the onsite, and performed decently securing a rank of 82 among 108 teams then. I had some financial problems then, I came across one of my closest seniors Harsh Agarwal who introduced me to one of the top sited “GeeksforGeeks” and explained to me the way by which I can earn by coding. I used to make problems and write them, and in turn, got paid for it.

I deviated a bit and started focusing on earning money. I still remember, I gifted my mother a smartphone by my own earning then, and later I bought a Honda Activa. It was going great, but I fell down in the rank list, my rating went down. I sat back and realized that I will only write an article every day, and the rest of the time I have to give it coding. I went for an internship in the same firm in my summers, and met some IIT-ians over there and came to know that good coder earns millions as their starting pay. I did my entire research and came to the conclusion that yes even the poorest of college students can earn BIG. I came back to my college and again started investing hours in my coding hobby. Everyone till then came to know about me in the college. But I wanted to be someone whom everyone knows outside also. I started writing tougher and more advanced topics at GeeksforGeeks. Everything was in place, I was coding well, I had the best of the lot of friends that I could possibly have. But I was termed as one of the worst students in my department. We again qualified for the ICPC event, making us the first team ever in the college to qualify for it twice, as expected though.

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A barrage of referral posts came up on Linkedin where people were referring for the upcoming Microsoft Internship Drive. One of my friends referred me to Microsoft, and I cleared the test. I was so happy clearing the test that I posted the interview call letter as my status on WhatsApp, not of a showoff. I had 12 days to prepare for the interview, and we had a trip planned to Gangtok then with my entire group of friends. It was our first and eventually became our last trip. I did not want to miss it, but then I wanted to prepare, so I decided to carry my laptop on the trip. We used to roam around the day, and then everyone used to enjoy the night, I used to have my laptop and prepare for the interviews. I was upset that I could not catch up with my friends, but then I needed to prepare. I was prepared completely. I almost did all the Interview questions of Microsoft that I could do. At the location, there were 200 people, and 180 people were sent back after the first round.

The next round saw another four exiting. The third had another seven departing, leaving us for the HR round with nine people. We had our HR round and five were selected. I was rejected and the reason they gave me was my low CGPA. I was shattered then, I still remember the feeling that I had when I entered, and the feeling which I had when I left. I came out of the office sat in the nearby foot-path for an hour and cried. I picked myself up and came back to the college with a happy face and that I at least made it to the last round. I took some days off the coding, and then started again the way which I did in the second year. I decided to make my profile so strong that no one could ever reject me again at least on my CGPA.

I started with Long Challenge and made it to the top 20 Indians for the first time, improving my ratings. I participated again the next month and again was in the top 15 Indians. After my semesters, I again participated again and was ranked 12 among Indians, eventually entering the top 100 in India and the top 500 globally at Codechef. I went to GeekforGeeks for an internship and got a pre-placement offer which was almost double the amount of what I thought of achieving when I entered this college.

I could have stopped then, thinking that I had enough. But I wanted to enter the top tech companies of India, GeeksforGeeks was an edu startup, which I did not want to join. I knew there would be very few chances because of our college name. I was getting demotivated as months passed by, and I heard my online coding friends bagged 25-35 lakh per annum jobs. I had way less than what they had. It was the month of November, that one of my friends referred me to Google for the role of a Software Engineer. I started coding again. I did 250+ leetcode problems, and prepared myself for the Google round. I cleared the initial round and my onsite got scheduled for January. In December, an Amazon internship drive of six months happened and my semesters were on during that time. I still remember giving the test on December 16, while I had my semesters lined up for 18th and 20th December. A mail dropped in that I was shortlisted for the interview.

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To my bad, it was on the 21st of December, and the company was not paying me any reimbursements. I booked my tickets on the 18th, and the tickets cost me a whopping 20k which I had paid from my savings from the internship. I decided to take the risk as I knew this was the best opportunity to get into the tech-Giant Amazon.

Our nearby college is a military airport, so the last flight to Hyderabad via Delhi was at 5 p.m. I did not study for my last semester exam. I was studying for an Amazon interview. I thought of having a good sleep on that night, but to my bad luck, the flight from Delhi to Hyderabad got delayed, and it took off at 5 am, making me two nights sleep deprived. I had lost hope of clearing the interview, as everything was happening so bad. Eventually, I cleared the interview, and I called up my friends informing them about the same. They were the most delighted ones, even more than my parents were. I had a waiting list ticket of a train from Hyderabad to Kolkata, I traveled back in the general compartment of the train.

I came back and went to Kanpur regionals where we had our best of performance, securing 70th rank out of the best 109 teams in India, which is considered to be the toughest regionals in ICPC. One of my Linkedin posts of a shout out for an internship attracted a recruiter of media.net who scheduled my interview with the largest ad-tech company in the world. I enjoyed my success of grabbing an Amazon internship for a few days and then started solving Codeforces problems from a fake account so that the interviewer does not get to know what I have practiced. I solved almost 50 D of Codeforces, and cleared the initial two coding interviews which were based on competitive programming questions. I joined Amazon and was having the best time out there being posted in the world’s largest Amazon building which was as large as 165 football grounds.

I got my third round scheduled and had seven days to prepare for the same. But the interview covered all of my weakest points (DBMS, OS, CN, Web tech and System Design). I prepared all of them in those 7 days, watched over 150+ videos combining all, prepared my projects, and yes I bagged a job offer from Media.net whose interview is considered one of the toughest to clear. In the meantime, I entered the teaching world with my competitive programming course at GeeksforGeeks. I am currently interning with Amazon, and I take my classes on the weekend, we have been receiving amazing feedback about the course. Both of the editions of the course got sold out and the third version is due on 23rd May.

To my surprise, I also got a call from Google stating, “the interviewers have given positive feedback and they are moving me to the Hiring Committee". I entered the college thinking of getting a decent package, but I ended up grabbing a package worth three million. Coding has changed my life so much, I did not have a good CGPA, I was rejected by Microsoft, but I bagged Amazon, and Media.net. India’s top coders are at Google, Codenation, Nutanix, Media.net and so on, the list goes in decreasing order. I am by no means saying that Amazon is easy to crack, but yes if you compare the work culture, I wanna grow as a developer now.

I can proudly say that all my hard work paid off. If you work hard, it would pay off one day.

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