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ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PROGRAMMING AS A CAREER

Bhavani Ravi, a research Engineer at Saama Technologies, leads several tech communities in India’s SaaS Capital, Chennai. Below, she narrates her journey so far.

If I tell you to imagine an engineer, you’d probably come up with a guy in a hoodie, wearing glasses and headphones, staring intently at his laptop. If you did, you’re not alone. Although the technology domain was filled with males predominantly, it is evolving continually and attracting people from all walks of life.

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Contrary to popular belief, there is always a need for more smart and creative students to join the field and build new products to make everyone’s life easy. However, even today most students in India focus too much on academics but don’t put in the same effort to grooming them up for a career. Most people assume that becoming a good programmer and climbing up the corporate ladder has something to do with luck. I am here to explain, IT IS NOT.

The making of a developer can happen in many ways. Success in this process is the by-product of several culminating factors like upbringing, motivation, guidance, and even society. Here are the various factors that played a substantial role in shaping my career:

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1. EXPLORE

When I was in my 11th standard I realized that I had found my calling. Krithika mam’s passionate classes ignited the programming spark early in my life. When she taught us the C program to print numbers from 1 to 10, I was hooked. Following the class, my attempt to print 1 to 1000, (which was a success, obviously) made me fall in love with programming.

Once I embarked on my journey to learn programming, there were no second thoughts. My passion to learn every complex programming language out there was unequaled. The rest of my school days and the first three years of college passed by as a blur, while C and C++ remained as the only constant.

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During my third year, the java bug bit me. Its complexity coupled with the stories about scarcity of Java programmers motivated me to learn Java faster. When I completed my java course and built a library management system for departments using Java, I finally understood the reason why we code. This revelation made me determined to become a good programmer and that resolve pushed me to explore the programming landscape further than I ever anticipated to do.

When there came a time for me to fulfill my final year internship opportunity, I got into TCS’s corporate internship program where we were taught about Android App Development. While my previous Java exposure gave me an edge, this internship helped me realize my strengths and weaknesses. This is when I finally accepted that I would never be a great front end developer.

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Once all the internship excitement was over, I gravitated to my next challenge, final year project. My initial POC was from a crazy idea that I got when I was watching a movie. I was too lazy to move closer to the computer and pause the video, I wanted to do it with my eyes. So I made it my project idea.

However, when I showed a sneak peek of it to my project guide, she encouraged me to expand its scope and build something far-fetched like HCI System for neuromuscular disabled . I didn't even have a clue what HCI or OpenCV meant. I just got to know about these terms and how to use them, over the course of the project. Thanks to Google!

Gyan 0: Don't fear to feed your curiosity. Everything you don't know is a Google search away.

Heck, I didn’t even know that the project was a machine learning project until after I joined the industry. The project was a hit to the point that my management asked me to do a presentation about it to my juniors.

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However, my college life was not all sunshine. Like every other student, I was waiting for campus placements. Contrary to my devotion to building strong programming skills, I did not spend enough time on my soft skills or aptitude. While programming came to me intrinsically, aptitude did not. For what I lacked in aptitude, I made up for it technically.

Gyan 1: Focus on nurturing your strengths than worrying over your weaknesses.

However, every placement test started with an aptitude round and the fact that every one of my friends got placed while I did not make me rue my choice. However, I resolved myself to stay strong waiting for my chance to shine.

After flunking four interviews in a row, I finally got my chance when one organization had tech and aptitude as the first round. Finally, I secured my offer letter but I wasn’t too thrilled about joining another MNC. I decided to keep my options open and it proved to be right!

2. EXPERIMENT

I met Dorai Thodla, my mentor when I presented my final year projects to my juniors. After my presentation, he offered me a job. Although I had an offer in hand, I told him I will think about it and get back to him. However, when I looked at the organization’s review on the glassdoor, I found mixed reviews. Still, I went ahead and accepted his offer since I trusted him.

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Gyan 2: Choose your manager, not your company.

I finished my first project in a week, but did not submit it in the fear of being inconsiderate. When I asked for a colleague’s opinion, his brutal criticism just fed my imposter syndrome. But, instead of drowning in self-deprecating thought, I asked another colleague for his opinion. Miraculously, he did not look down on my work and said it was pretty decent. What’s more, he encouraged me to share it across with my manager. And, I’m happy I did.

Gyan 3: Don’t blame yourself, if someone criticizes your code.

Sometimes, you don’t have to scrape the entire thing and redo it.
You may just need a new perspective.
My continued effort to become a better programmer, I followed the self-proclaimed programming critic around to learn what he did differently. It may be hard to believe, but I actually invested myself in observing his coding technique as a buddy and my observation skills taught me much more than any programming book ever will.

Gyan 4: Watch your seniors code, you can learn a lot from that!

Over time, I learnt not only how to get the job done quickly but with no mistakes, I learned how to write good code and it allowed me to quickly rise through the ranks. Faizal taught me an array of things from python and documentation to the thought process that takes to write good code. Here’s where I learnt that you need to create a mental model before you jump headfirst into a project and start coding.

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Gyan 5: As a programmer, neither your gender nor characteristics matter. What earns you respect is the work you produce.

As I got comfortable in my day-to-day work, I stumbled across a chatbot project. This was way before chatbot became sexy and garnered a following. During that time, only two chatbot platforms were available. Being fed up with existing options, I looked far and wide across the web for another platform.

This search led to another one of my passionate experimental sessions where I spent most of my time learning all I can about chatbots. Around the same time, Dorai organized a meet-up around chatbots to spread the word and educate the Chennai crowd of programmers.

While I complacently believed that only senior programmers will present, I was one of the few who were pushed up the stage to share our knowledge with the community. That was hardly my first meet-up. While I have attended a number of meetups as an attendee that was the first experience being on the other side of the proceedings.

This experience taught me that hierarchy holds absolutely no power when it comes to public speaking, all that matters is your willingness to learn and share it proactively with others. Whatever you learn, you need to document and share it across with others.

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Gyan 6: "You don't know what you don't know" unless someone pushes you to do it.

Like all good things, my tenure at Future Focus Infotech came to an end and it was time to part ways. By now, our occasional meetups have gained traction and Build2Learn was not only formed, but it had also gained quite a follower base.

3. EDUCATE

These meetups gave me the perfect opportunity to meet fellow programmers and visit top tech companies in and around Chennai, which I wouldn’t otherwise have access to it. This is how I gained access to OrangeScape and eventually scored a job there (thankfully no aptitude tests, only an algorithmic interview!).

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Gyan 7: Programming is cool, Blogging is great, but nothing matches the energy of like-minded people working towards a common goal.

While Future Focus Infotech made sure that I have a solid foundation, OrangeScape helped me put those skills to use. I understood how building software is different from building a platform. Kissflow’s complicated, powerful nature pulled me into the passionate fire like an eager moth. It offered a lot of scope for developers to learn and experiment and I was not ready to miss the chance so I jumped headfirst into learning the existing techstack and started contributing to it.

In addition to complex tech, OrangeScape offered me the opportunity to explore non-technical areas like writing, leadership, and more. The training did not only help me complete 70 blogs in a year but kickstart a personal website as well.

Amidst all this, Build2Learn was going still strong having transformed from weekly bot sprints and chatbot exclusive workshop to an all-encompassing hackathon where everyone from students to professional coders came together to build and finish their hobby projects.

All the hustle and single-mindedness to achieve success, led to severe burnout. What’s worse, no one actually pushed me to deliver. My unrealistic expectations out of myself led to this. However, I ignored it and kept over-exerting myself which eventually resulted in recurring burnout sessions. It took me a long time to realize that my work is not my life and I need to set clear boundaries for my work and personal life. It is a battle that I’m still fighting.

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After a year and three months building 70 blogs and 3 modules later, I realized that my time at OrangeScape is up and I need to find the next challenge. This is where my open source contribution came in handy. While I was building the reporting module for Kissflow in OrangeScape, I had a chance to explore Pandas.

We had a bunch of requirements and wanted to check if Pandas was the right fit. Along the way, I learned in and out of Pandas. So much so that I graduated to the level I spotted a gap and contributed towards fixing the same.

This contribution scored me an interview with my current manager, Malai. The interview was just a tête-à-tête where I explained my open source contribution, and voila, I got hired. While my degree and skill set can help me enter the programming field, I needed something to stand out, so I took the road less travelled like organizing meetups and making open source contributions.

4. EMPOWER

Saama Technologies has the most brainy bunch that I have ever encountered. My colleagues come from diverse backgrounds and possess a wide variety of skills ranging from coding to statistics and mathematics. Saama showed me that to be a really good programmer, it is good to have unique perspectives, which is why they put together a team of coders who come from all walks of life. Since technology is constantly evolving, being adaptable is paramount.

I feel so fortunate for getting a good environment, a great mentor, and the freedom to shape and pursue my interests in technology. With every project comes a new set of challenges and technologies. The most rewarding experience is working on extremely amazing aspects of technology.

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Gyan 8: Technically, you are not an outlier, you just haven’t met your kind of people yet.

Now that I’m down to Saama, this should make the end of my narrative, right? My story would never be complete without mentioning something that’s close to my heart, WomenTechmakers.

When I was running the Build2Learn community we set up a website. While we were trying to update a carousel picture taken during one of our meetups, I was shocked to see that nearly 99% of the population was men with only one girl (me) standing at the far end of the picture which was eventually cut-off since it didn’t fit in the frame.

After a few eye-opening discussions about gender diversity, we decided to organize a Build2Learn session exclusively for girls. This led us to the next initiative, inauguration of GirlsWhoCode club in Hindustan University. While I was initially flummoxed about what to talk about, I chose to explain my programming journey and paved the way for our women in tech initiatives.

After listening to my talk on IWD, one of the biggest conferences of Womentechmakers, Swaathi expressed her interest to make me the ambassador of WomenTechMakers. I was eager to get onboard. Now after one and a half years, we have organized 10 meet-ups, 1 conference, and 300+ community members.

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Gyan 9: Empowerment is a side-effect of exposing people that they are not alone in their journey.

Besides that, I have been aspiring to give a talk in International conferences. I have been trying consistently for years now and something goes amiss every year. But I haven’t given up hope yet. Besides my passion for technology, I aspire to become an entrepreneur someday. No, I don’t have a business idea or business plan right now, but when that happens, I’ll let the whole world know!

Being a programmer is challenging and comes with its own set of ups and downs. As a womenintech sometimes I had to struggle hard and prove my work to fit in professional networks, to be heard and finally, recognized. I have been blessed to have mentors who can show me the way forward. However, by just being here and doing my best, I have come this far. Yes, it is hard to blaze your own trail but when you see traces of success, it will be worth it.

I would like to wrap this article up by saying that ultimately, being a developer is very cool. It is an empowering and exciting role that every graduate must consider. My only advice to you is that don’t let others' perceptions of programmers stop you from giving it a shot. If I can make it big in the programming arena, then you can too!

Final Gyan: There is no role for luck, it is only consistent practice, persistence, and passion!

Bhavani's doors are always open to help newbies get into technology, feel free to reach out to her via:
Linkedin
Twitter
Personal Website

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