Sunday, December 14, 2008

Xmas Hols Advice for juniors in college

The following is a edited version of mail conversation I had with a junior from SVCE asking for advice, thought it would make a decent blog post as well.

Dear junior(s),

Guy Kawasaki commented recently that "Statistically there should be four Steve Jobs in India because the US has 300 million people, and India has 1.2 billion.

...."You just have to find them"

If you want to be "somebody" similar some day, you need to start as early as possible.

Lets start off with some number crunching, to back my theory.

There are >200 colleges in State of Tamil Nadu alone, each graduating around ~ 750 students a year.Link
That's 200 * 750 = 1,50,000 coming out of every college.

Some of the most illustrious companies have been founded by people, typically in groups of 2-3 who dropped out of college or even school. So assuming that you restrict yourself to your University syllabus, study very hard and get amazing marks. The truth is that you still are as comparable to a 12th standard student when it comes to being ready. I not going into get into the standards of what industry-employable means nor am I going to talk about how the "student on 31st, s/w associate on 1st" generation compares to even 12 year olds from Eastern-Europe!

Assuming there are twice as many school students coming out every year, thats another 3,00,000 school students coming out for each year of you enjoying your college life. So every year the combined college + school passing out number is therefore
(3,00,000 + 1,50,000) = 4,50,000

But hold on , you still need 4 years to graduate by which time there are 4 more generations of students as well who have completed 12th. So by the time you graduate at the end of four years - you are no different wrt knowledge gained - from students from your batch, and five batches of students younger to you.

that's 5 * 4,50,000 = 22,50,000 students just like you all equally
competent having two choices :
a) wait for something to happen, and following the crowd
b) get inspired and start their journey on the road less traveled.

~ 22 lac students !

225,000 students/year waiting for something to happen - being good boys and girls. How are you going to differentiate and find opportunity from those students. Heck I dont think you can find individuality in your name with that number!

Which is why perhaps if you can work as a team, maybe find students with the same aspirations and vision , and read / talk / discuss things after college . Find some large enough project , that you think be constructive. Perhaps there's a problem you see around you and you want to fix it . Perhaps it's some algorithm or bottleneck that your textbook quotes,or perhaps it's something to do with green/clean tech. Pick something BIG. Big enough that you think that if your team got it right - you could get a Nobel ... or be quoted in journals or in the papers, wikipedia, or contribute to some open source project, or help port some examples from a definitive book on an subject ... or perhaps not to get quoted anywhere but would change the lives of millions of people.

So here are 3 things to get you started [1]
  1. Do you even want to find some purpose in life ?
    If you still want to wait and see what happens in life, then maybe you deserve to ignore your calling, and just exist...

  2. Find an interesting problem
    Every generation has it's own set of distinct scenarios, technologies, resources, mindsets and challenges. Would Larry/Sergie or Paul/Bill or the Steve's of Apple have made an impact if they were born 50 years earlier. Perhaps... Perhaps rather than trying to build the next big operating system, if you interpret the right problems, you might do some justice. Atleast that's the hope, behind which a lot of startups and people venture out. But the key is again in interpreting the problem. If Henry Ford had listened to the communters in his age, he would have tried to make faster horses. I can imagine fancy projections for how many tape drives would be required towards the end of the century. I hope we can one day, look back at the projections of fuel in 2050 made today when let's say in the meantime a new breed of fuel makes it immaterial.

  3. Find the right person or group of people to interact/work with, after college hours
    That's why libraries, clubs, unconferences or classrooms for that matter are'nt just about what one person says behind a board - its also about finding like-minded people in your college, mentors , and deciding to do something perhaps in the library, perhaps online, perhaps in the labs, perhaps over tea/bajji's.

Time's change, but if you look hard enough, there will always be like-minded people. So you need to read and experiment, and if there's some magic formula to achieve a lifetimes worth of work, let me know as well. But until then, acceptance of ignorance is your greatest teacher, along with having the passion to "create something out of nothing". That's what appeals to me atleast both as a technopreneur , as well as an amateur cartoonist! It might be as simple as reverse engineering your life, and taking control - rather than waiting for things to happen. I'm lucky to look out for and find two classmates who shared the same passion during my college days as well. But I can't even begin to imagine what needs to be done. I used to envy the folks down at the silicon valley for being at the first expo where Microsoft demo'ed against the heavy weights or Apple used to hack out workshops. But then again - we do have those events right here, in a different era, but no less strategic a point in time. At Barcamp Chennai 2006, there were a handful of us students attending let alone speaking. Fast forward to the last designCamp Bangalore, and four of the seven speakers were from Svce. But again mostly alumni, and the same faces. Today, we have the Proto 's and Foss events, OCC's , Barcamps & Headstart's happening frequently enough right now and it's sad that the student involvement is'nt there yet. Go for it! Be there. Because before you know it - you'll be looking back from your death bed not wondering about the things you did in life - but about the things you did'nt ... when you were hungry and foolish[2] ; ) .

Happy Hols... 8 )

Keep Clicking,

[1] Incidentally , Swaroop C H's recent post on how graduates can grow, hits along the same lines, and has insightful links to other reads as well
[2] Rashmi Bansal's "Stay Hungry,Stay Foolish" is a nice read giving insights into 25 IIM-A grad founded companies, and documents well the struggles they had to overome, particularly well. The title itself is adopted from Steve Job's talk at Stanford.