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Why good schools matter: A tale from The Doon School

- By Aditya Oberai

They say schooling is the most important thing in one's life. Aditya Oberai says his six years at The Doon School, Dehradun, had been the most influential so far. The house system was seriously like that of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series. All around the year, students would compete in various inter-house competitions in different sports, extra-curricular activities and even academics. Team Fayz gives you an opportunity to follow his inspiring journey from his school days to the world of tech

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My first exposure to computers was when I used the desktop PC that we had at home at the age of 3. It was a Wipro-distributed PC that ran Windows 98 and had an Intel Pentium 4 microprocessor. I remember playing 3D Pinball and Hearts on it. It was soon replaced by the amazing Windows XP where I tried out my first game, an RC car racing game called Re-Volt. I remember I would sit on that desktop for hours at a stretch sometimes, just playing games or maybe watching movies on DVDs or VCDs that my dad bought from the nearby Planet M store. At that time, I wanted to be an astronaut after growing up. Little did I know that these computers were about to become my life today.

Later, I did pick Computer Applications as an optional course in junior school, playing around with MS Logo, MS-DOS and QBASIC. I think my journey in the field really started when I joined The Doon School in Class VII. In all my life, my six years studying at The Doon School, Dehradun has been the most influential so far. I remember that the day I joined Doon, we were told that if we were in that school just to study, we were in the wrong school. In all honesty, anything and everything that I am today and am growing towards is due to something I learnt there. My first semester there was the time when I first tried my hand at HTML. In all honesty, I did not take a particular liking to it but there I was, creating my first webpage. Towards the beginning of Class VIII, before we all re-joined school, my Computer Science teacher shared with me this amazing course called ‘Hour of Code’ by Code.org. Now ‘Hour of Code’ is pretty well known today but back in 2013, it was practically unheard of in most parts of India. It basically involved block-based visual programming in order to help understand what algorithms essentially are. In order to make it fun, Code.org would utilize features of Minecraft, Star Wars, Flappy Bird, or as in my case, Plants vs Zombies to make the activity a lot more interesting and fun.

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Following that, our class worked with Scratch, a block-based visual programming language developed by MIT Media Labs to make small animations and games. These really helped me develop a love for computers. It was always something very exciting to be able to create something on my own, to conjure something in my mind and then make it exist in reality. As I moved on to Class IX, I chose Computer Applications and was introduced to Java, which continued for me until I graduated from school. In fact, I scored 100% in my Computer Applications ICSE examination in Class 10th too. Java has been my introduction to the world of competitive coding and application development and even though I still have a long way to go there, I am thoroughly enjoying this process that started so many years back.

But if I have to talk about the greatest gifts I took from my time in Doon, it would not be a passion for computer science. My six years at Doon were truly instrumental in developing my character and shaping my personality into what it is today. Doon was a proper meritocracy, and it was absolutely the land of opportunities. Our house system was seriously like that of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series. All around the year, we would compete in various inter-house competitions in different sports, extra-curricular activities and even academics. We’d be ranked and get points based on the overall house position in each competition and there was an award for the most successful house of the year. Due to such a system, we had an intense house rivalry on the field. This did help inculcate a sense of loyalty, team spirit and sacrifice for our housemates. This competitive spirit was always kept in good taste, as the more insane our rivalries were on the field, the tighter our friendships would be off it.

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These six years we spent living together away from home for 8 months in a year. The camaraderie we developed taught us to stand with each other whenever the situation demanded us to do so. And with every situation demanding us to give our best, we were constantly striving for excellence in whatever field we chose, allowing us to inspire and lead our peers. I’ll be honest, I was not the most studious kid, but in those 6 years, I had completed 9 treks, having led 2 of them (to Dodital and Kedarnath), completed a 3-day river-rafting expedition in the Ganga, managed the Motor Mechanics activity for automotive enthusiasts, led the organizing teams for various school events including 2 Founder’s Day exhibitions which saw more than a thousand audience members represented my house in the School Technology Council, played in the house cricket, football and hockey teams, acted in the house one act play, become a certified first aider and worked as an editor in a fortnightly sports magazine. And in truth, a lot of my peers had contributed much more to our ecosystem.

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But I was extremely happy in everything I did because I did it all by choice rather than out of pressure. Another very important thing that my school taught me was facing the consequences of my actions. Being a residential school, our parents were not going to be holding our hands along every step of the way. This brought on us a sense of responsibility for our own well-being and taught us how to handle ourselves even in the worst of situations. More than everything, we learnt how to respect everyone for who they were, irrespective of their background, race, caste, religion or any other such factor. Be it the Headmaster of the school or a House Bearer in the Linen Room, we were taught to treat everyone with similar respect. I remember, whenever we walked through the Main Building of our school, there was an inscription, a quote from our Founding Headmaster, Artur Foot’s speech, put up on the wall that said:

“The boys should leave Doon School as members of an aristocracy, but it must be an aristocracy of service inspired by ideas of unselfishness, not one of privilege, wealth or position.”

Such were the ideals and learnings we all took with us and try to act upon after graduating from Doon. Now, I did not start proper preparation for my entrance exams while in Doon because my parents and I felt that doing so would cause me to miss out on a lot of opportunities that Doon is known for, including some of the ones I mentioned above. I scored a modest 85% aggregate in my ISC examinations in Class 12 and post that, I took a JEE crash course in a coaching institute. I was not able to clear JEE, which was anyway a long shot to be honest, but I cleared various other examinations and got calls from various colleges such as SRM Chennai, VIT Bhopal, Bharati Vidyapeeth Pune, Amity University Noida, Manipal University Jaipur and MIT-WPU Pune. After discussing with my parents and considering various factors, I chose to pursue Computer Science & Engineering at Amity University, Noida. At Amity, I got involved with a few technical clubs in order to learn some new stuff and generally get involved in activities outside the classroom. I helped organize workshops on various technologies with outside organizations. I was also a part of the team that organized the department’s tech fest “Cyber Cup”, which included our very own 24-hour hackathon. I started learning how to talk and negotiate with people from large companies, manage unruly situations with big crowds, think on my feet in crisis situations and even to manage internal team politics when situations turned sour. Towards, the end of my first year, I got to know about the Microsoft Student Partner (MSP) program from a couple of my seniors. I applied for the program and was accepted in September 2019.

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There was no stopping me from that point onwards. I gave my first ever talk at my university on the MSP program. I started attending meetups organized by other tech communities around the Delhi-NCR. I was also invited back to Doon to speak about Blockchain technology and Cryptocurrencies to the students, which was till date the best workshop I have conducted so far. Post that, I worked on my first blog post on Medium on the application process for the MSP program. In January 2020, I had my first collaborative event with some other MSPs within an initiative called “The Open Source Roadshow” at Guru Tegh Bahadur Institute of Technology, New Delhi. It was a 2-day event where I organized the first AI Gaming Tournament of 2020 and also spoke about the importance of getting certified in the IT industry as an ambassador of CompTIA. We also had the MSP India Summit towards the end of January in New Delhi which saw over 200 Indian MSPs come from various parts of the country. We also had our Global Program Lead come to India for the first time ever. We also organized our first ever MSPInspire India event, which saw MSPs from various parts of the country as well as one from Canada come together and collaborate for a day-long session on various Microsoft technologies and programs at the Microsoft Gurugram office the very next day. As a result of all my contributions to the program, I have also been selected among the top 50 MSPs in the Asia-Pacific region to be invited for the MSP Regional Summit in Singapore. I also recently received the opportunity to manage and lead the Student Volunteer Team at the largest ever edition of ng-India, the annual conference for Angular developers.

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Doing my bit for the student tech communities around the Delhi-NCR has been an absolute pleasure so far. It has been a huge eye-opener for me, and I simply love the kind of work going on around here. Even the COVID-19 pandemic has not been able to us from trying to make a change. As of this moment, I am working to organize an MLH Local Hack Day: Share event as well as an upcoming week-long virtual Hackathon called HackOn for both students and professionals alike in India. I am in the process of launching a new tech community with some of my fellow MSPs called ‘Civitas’ and have plans of developing an e-magazine for students and tech enthusiasts too. These are big projects, and I will say that this is the first time I will be trying to build any idea at such a scale. However I am willing to take the risks and give my ideas a shot rather than sit in my comfort zone and relax. This is simply the beginning of my journey and there is so much more in the times to come. I will conclude with a quote from one of my favourite poems, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost:

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.”

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