I love the technology space. In the last few years, my passion for the technology space has become all consuming – I read and read, learn & even build a little. The reasons why I have fallen for technology so much are a quite a few – it’s a fascinating field both because the pace at which it evolves but also the sheer impact it has made on the lives of human beings. It has continuously disrupted age old businesses while creating new stock market darlings in the process.
I love following the tech space now. But it was not always so. I started working in 1998. The first two brands I worked for were in the consumer goods industry. Great brands, great work cultures. But these industries are not characterized by high dynamism or rapid disruptions. And I was as far as removed from technology as one could be. Then, in the year 2005, I came across this site called toptechnews. It introduced me to the tech world and I loved it. It led me to start developing more than a passing interest in tech. Today it is neither a top tech site nor part of my favorite technology blogs. But it was my ‘first love’ and what set me on this journey. And in some ways, I believe it even played a role in me changing jobs in 2007 when I moved to the telecom industry; I felt it would ultimately help me get closer to what I would want to do in my career.
Getting sucked in
I am a voracious reader and over the last few years, my reading has almost entirely shifted to the online medium. I have a few favourite tech blogs that I read and subscribe to but I now hunt for authors who focus on tech analysis and insights rather than breaking news. I love reading about a wide variety of tech subjects – the interplay between hardware and software & services, tech wars, industry disruptions and new emerging trends.
Setting up my blog
I set up this blog in the last one year. The original motivation to set up this blog was not so much to write but rather to go through the experience of learning how to set one up. And what fun it has been! The thrill of buying a domain for yourself and choosing a name. Learning how to host it. Going from only hearing about wordpress as some platform to actually spending hours on it; scanning the web for ‘the best wordpress plugins’ to figure out the ones that could make my site work better. I have spent more time trying to figure out how to dress my blog up than I have spent on shopping for myself in the last 5 years – searching for nice wordpress themes, looking at background design templates / stock photography sites to experiment with the look and feel of my site – don’t let the rather plain jane looks of my blog fool you; it only exposes my limited design skills rather than be a commentary on my efforts to make this blog look good. Ever uploaded stuff using a ftp server? I did. Know what a child theme in wordpress is? I do. Google authorship? Check (though Google is just signaled the final nail in the coffin for this bit). Webmaster? Check. Struggled with getting your pages indexed? Check. SEO? Check.
I spent a few days trying to get familiar with basics of html and css – I can’t write much but at least now I can make some sense of the gibberish you see when you do a Ctrl+U on a site.
I built some apps!
I learnt how to make some basic android apps – they suck but I am too darn proud; They are standalone apps, do not talk to any server the back end or crunch any data but I won’t stop carrying them around on my phone. They sit in a neat little folder called ‘Apps I made’ and there are not one but 6 of them!
Anyone who has had the misfortune of running into me and being forced to check them out, will swear that the experience is not too different from the times when someone serves you a really badly cooked dish and asks you, ‘howz the food’. Let me give you a tip: The only way out for you in such situations is to smile and keep your trap shut.
The experience of building these apps was however absolutely fantastic. I started by downloading the Java SDK and the Eclipse IDE. Do I understand the difference between the two? Not really, though I guess the two together gave me a set of tools and interfaces to start building the apps. The first really meaningful lesson I got was to get some insight into how life for a software programmer goes. Nothing works the way it is supposed to. Something or the other will go wrong. And the coder’s best friend in those times is the internet itself. I got stuck innumerable times. Sometimes I would not be able to find the way out, go to bed wanting to smash my machine into the walls. Then get up in the morning, go to stackoverflow.com again to try and get my head again around what those geeks offer as solutions in a language foreign to me. The biggest high was the thrill of finally seeing my app come live first on the emulator and then (voila!) working on my own, very own Android device. I then walked around with my chest threatening to explode beyond the Milky Way because at 40, I was finally able to make an app work that 6 year olds today would die before admitting they made it. Btw, I have been on that trip for more than 6 months now.
21st century illiterate
Of course, without knowing how to code, you can only do so much with trying to build an app. In fact, that is probably the biggest regret I have today – not learning to code early in my career. And this is really ironic! I still remember when TCS came to my campus at the start of the final year in engineering. It was one of the first companies to hit the campus and everybody knew they were going to make offers to a truck load of students in the batch. However, I remember I had this understanding with one of my friend and classmate that we would not go for coding jobs – we were Chemical engineering students! We still decided to sit through the pre placement pitch that the company organized. We came out and my friend flipped. We had a small argument; he wanted to go for it and I did not. Ultimately both of us decided to give the qualifying round a shot. I was almost done with the long paper when I reached the last section which was on Boolean logic – I saw it and I immediately knew that this was not what I wanted to do with my life. So I crossed out my paper and walked out. I went on to do my management course while my friend went on to join TCS and became part of the IT world.
So isn’t it funny to be saying I wish I had learned to code almost 20 years after I crossed out that paper? I guess I did not understand then how much power to build, coding lays at your feet.
It is widely said today, that the literacy in the 21st century means learning how to code. And by that definition I am an illiterate. But for the last few months, I have been really keen to build some meaningful Android apps and wanting to start learning how to write code to get there. I guess, I am still hesitating committing myself to the sheer amount of time, it will require to get to any meaningful levels of proficiency in the language of my choice. But who knows, maybe someday I will still be a Python! And then, maybe someday I will still build something worthwhile.
Today, I feel a strong urge to build and create. While the Instagram and Whatsapp stories were read around the world for the valuation they created in such short times, the really mind blowing is how such unbelievably small teams can leverage technology to make an impact on the lives of billions of users across the globe – in a time frame that has never been possible before.
The iPhone launch
One of the most motivating video you could ever see is still the first 3 minutes and 25 seconds of the Steve Jobs launch of the Iphone in 2007. If you haven’t, do me a favour, stop reading this and check it out this link on youtube right now – I have watched it many, many times and I can never stop myself from getting goosebumps. You can’t stop marveling how one organization is able to create so much edge-of-the-seat anticipation for its product, how the audience is dying for Jobs to give confirmation that will launch a phone that day and how Jobs builds up the final moment when he finally confirms that they ARE launching a phone and that Apple would call it the iPhone.
One shining example of the power of technology are the MOOC (massive open online courses) platforms that have sprouted in the last 4-5 years. I have talked about MOOCs in another blog, especially the immense potential that they hold of disrupting the field of education over the years. I have personally become a big fan of platforms like Coursera, Udacity and edX – the courses I have been taking go beyond just technology courses but what amazes me no end is that sitting in Mumbai I get access to best of curated course material from professors working for some of the most premium universities across the globe. It is through these platforms that I built my basic android apps, learnt a bit about UX for mobile and hopefully this is where I will pick up a programming language and more someday soon.
My prized possessions
Today my two most prized possessions (not counting relationships) in the world today are not some fancy house or car (I own neither) but my broadband connection at home and my chrome bookmarks – they are my bridge to a dream world that allows me unlimited exploration, learning and entertainment.
Tech. work. the future
With so much time that I spend learning about the technology space, I guess, I am lucky to be working in the internet/tech industry – it makes work more interesting and fun; I guess my work and love for tech feeds each other. I am now on my third stint in the tech space (and into the 5th year).
I have taken the path of least resistance throughout my life so far, like so many of us do. School, engineering and then management followed by steady jobs with well known, professionally managed brands. My core domain areas are still general management, sales & marketing. But now, as I near the 20th year of my life in the corporate world, I too hope to do a tech start-up of my own in a few years. The option seems pretty attractive to me now than ever before – the upside, a chance to make a difference to the world and be somebody, the downside – being without a salary for a little while, till I figure my next move. Till then, I hope what I read, learn and build in the technology space will only help me get ready for the day I take off.
And may be I still have a chance to be called a literate in the 21st century literate.