Five years and hell of a journey, from being a non-programmer to an Associate Software Engineer at Red Hat. A story worth telling not because I achieved a lot but because of so much drama and pits and falls. So grab a cup of coffee and I will give you a ride of the unturned pages of my love story with Technology.
“People say emotion of love is as powerful as hatred. And Love stories, those start with hatred are usually the most passionate ones.”
My story with technology sprung just like that. I got into the world of programming in the freshman year of my undergrad study. Ironically that was the most painful subject for me. Even though I was always passionate about futuristic technologies, I didn’t know how to make a move forward towards my passion. Being from Instrumentation and Electronics Engineering, my distaste for programming increased even more with my first failed attempt in clearing interview for the Technical Society of my college, as 80% of the questions were on programming. In the second attempt, I went prepared. All set my war with programming. And to be honest, luckily, I cleared it.
Somebody said it rightly. Sometimes it takes a wrong turn to get you to the right place. At first, it did feel like a wrong turn. Then bit by bit I learnt something precious. No, not learning, but listening. I started my journey with googling the technical terms uttered by people out there, that’s how I started growing. I came to know about web designing and the first website that I designed was the front page of my college hostel website. Honestly, until now I have never been so excited about any other project. That simple HTML/CSS website was no less than magic to me. Have you heard of love at first sight? It was like that. At that very moment, I fell in love with the work I was doing. I continued learning different web designing frameworks (like Bootstrap and Material Design), several libraries like JQuery and web development techniques like AJAX.
Eventually, I joined different tech communities like the Google Developers Group and Women Techmaker. Being part of a community and having lots of dynamic, enthusiastic and skilled minds, added an extra flavour to my life. Getting to know about new technologies, sharing ideas and being motivated by some of the most experienced people till now was probably the best feeling that I had at the time.
In 2016, I also received my first internship. I joined as a frontend developer intern. Even though it was for a short span, I realised that I can contribute code and it filled me with even more confidence.
Gradually I started learning server-side code as well. I learnt about Node.Js, Express Framework, MongoDB, MySQL etc. Thanks to my seniors, the road to understanding the client-server interaction were made fairly easy for me. At that time we came across a hackathon organised by TCS. We applied for it with an idea (probably still the most engrossing project I have worked on till date). And the next thing I remember is we got selected. After around one month of project preparation, I was going to Mumbai (My first trip outside my state, Odisha). Today when I answer the questions of young girls for being banned from going out for such opportunities I say “Tell me about it”. I had gone on this trip as the only girl and to mention, yes, it was a little scary. But today when I look back, I realise if I wouldn’t have taken that calculated risk at that time, I probably wouldn’t have received the opportunity to travel out of the country in future.
As time lapsed I started learning Python and one domain that interested me the most was Image Processing. I started doing small projects on OpenCV and eventually collaborated on making a prototype of a self-driving car. No No, just a small one with basic features.
I consider myself very lucky because opportunities never stopped coming for me. Or I should say I never stopped grabbing them. I again got to travel to Delhi to showcase a project of mine for an exhibition. Long story short, we had to display a prototype of a self-driving car. But this time I went in a group. But with a twist of being the only junior in the trip. Three days and we came back with a suitcase loaded of memories. Memories of getting lost while searching India gate, sitting outside of Railway station in 10 degrees on last day and the courage to roam even after standing for 7–8hr in the exhibition. Hell of an experience.
While returning from the trip, I got to know about two more programs during the casual conversation. One was a research fellowship from IAS(Indian Academy of Sciences) and another one was RGSoC(Rails Girls Summer of Code). Both landed like two atom bombs in my life.
Another remarkable turning point came into my story when I got to know about Open Source programs. At that time, I participated in the Rails Girls Summer of Code-2017 with Manaswini Das. Those who don’t know about RGSoC, it is a global fellowship program for women and non-binary coders. Students receive a three-month scholarship to work on existing Open Source projects and expand their skill set. I participated in a project named HospitalRun. It was an exciting and honestly scary experience for me. It was exciting because, the first time it felt like being a part of something meaningful, broader and significant. A simple change made by me was going to be visible to people all over the world. My name was going to be in the contributor list of such a large community. Today it might sound a matter of nothing. But at that time, it was like a wave of motivation. And scary because it was in Ember.JS and the experience of learning Ember.JS in such a hurry can’t be described. I will be ever grateful to my mentors Joel Worrall and Joel Glovier for all the support they provided us. Even though we couldn’t qualify for the program, this experience is always going to be a shining part of my story. Know more about our journey with RGSoC here.
“The best thing about working with technology is, it never felt like work. Neither then nor now. It was always like self-reflecting on a computer screen.”
Summer Research Fellowships Program(SRFP) offered by the Indian Academy of Sciences, is a summer immersion experience in India, which supplements research activities that occur during the academic year. I, unlike others, had wished to work under this renowned research fellowship. I was anxious as expected, hoping to find my name amidst the awardees. Though there were slim chances of my getting, I still hoped for the best. But, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. Alas! My name wasn’t there. And I was upset. Because, despite having slimmest chances owing to my low GPA of 8.5, I had gone through the profiles of all professors who were working in the field of Signal and Image Processing. I had shortlisted around 30 professors, went through their research papers. As I had some experience with OpenCV and Image Processing, I was somehow expecting to get selected.
However, I moved on and applied for RGSoC(An Open Source Contest for Girls). I devoted two whole months for that but again my team wasn’t selected. The semester was edging to an end and I had no internships in my hands. I was disheartened and clueless as to what will happen next. I started applying for local internships and I was completely upset.
I was not at all aware that the second selection list was yet to be announced. On 2nd May, I got a “Congo” message from one of my seniors and a link to the IAS second selection result list. And Viola! I found my name. ‘Anisha Swain’ …It was my name. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The credentials matched with that of me! I was selected to work on the image processing under Dr Geetika Jain Saxena at the University of Delhi.
“When one door closes another opens up”
After getting the confirmation email and I was going to Delhi again. But there was a problem with accommodation. The accommodation list was only published for the people who had got the fellowship in a first selection list. I was in a dilemma. My parents strictly banned me from going without proper accommodation. “But when there is a will, there is a way”. After ten days of struggle to arrange something, I asked my guide for help. She was kind enough to approach the hostel superintendent for my accommodation. I got the accommodation at IIT Delhi provided by IAS. But I decided to stay on the campus of Delhi University. Two months at Delhi and from research to fun to travel, I experienced everything. I have travelled to all the metro cities as of now and Delhi is the most beautiful city I have ever been to. And I can’t thanks enough to my senior and Delhi partner Clinton Senapati for making it even more beautiful memory for me.
Time elapsed and Google Summer of Code was around the corner. The Google Summer of Code, often abbreviated to GSoC, is an international annual program in which Google awards stipends to students who complete a free and open-source software coding project during the summer. Nothing was more prestigious than getting into this program at that time for us. Now I wonder why. I still see students going crazy over it and as if nothing else is left in life if we didn’t crack it. I was also depressed. Not once but twice. But as they say:
“The journey is as important as the destination”
What matters more than getting selected is the process of learning. The learning that always going to stay with you. While applying to GSoC, I learnt concept visualization with d3.js and three.js and the way it helped me land, where I am, is called dots getting connected. Know more about my experience with GSoC here.
Even though I couldn’t crack GSoC, my learning in the process helped me land another internship at Hyderabad at Mytrah Energy. It was my first industrial experience and I learnt to do data visualization on a large scale. I dealt with data in JSON and CSV format and created interactive charts with SVG and CANVAS. Not only this, but it also helped me deal with my fear to get into corporate life. It was a short trailer of the life I was aspiring for in future.
As I already mentioned, I hadn’t received either GSOC or Outreachy but luckily some of my friends did. From them, I got the Linkedin contact of the Talent Acquisition Team of RedHat and unlike any desperate kid, I messaged them. I sent my SoP(my details) and resume but didn’t receive any reply for over a year. Then after a year in 2018, I met them at GHCI (Grace Hopper Celebration India) conference’s Career Fair as a student scholar. The Grace Hopper Celebration India is Asia’s largest gathering of women technologists. Know more about my experience here.
I was asked to give my resume and to my utter surprise, they remembered me from Linkedin. After some days, I got an interview call. In my first interview in between, I lost my connection and interview couldn’t get completed. They were kind enough to understand the situation and re-scheduled it. In the next round, it took around 3hr in the interview and just after 2–3hr of the at night I got a confirmation mail. It is the best thing that ever happened to me.
Today I am an Associate Software Engineer at RedHat’s Performance and Scale Engineering team and I work with React and designing frameworks with Ant-Design and PatternFly. I also deal with different web technologies like ElasticSearch, GraphQL and Postgres. I try to share my knowledge with others through different conferences and meetups and articles. Any of this couldn’t have been possible without my second family from Zairza. This makes us realize the power of a community and how important a role our surrounding plays in our development.
A couple of thumb rules I personally believe in are:
- Hard Work is as important as Smart Work
- Things will eventually get connected and fall into pieces if you have the urge to grow
- Work for 100% if you want to achieve 80%
- Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish and Stay Humble
- Always give back the knowledge to the community
So, that’s it from my side and I will be looking forward to being connecting with you in person or over any social media platform. Thank you so much for your precious time!