A short review on “On Writing” by Stephen King

When Krace first called me asking, “Hey, what is your take on Stephen King novels?”, I was pretentious.

“Although I have not read any of his works, I must say I have heard not-so-good reviews about them”.

I’m sure God won’t forgive me for saying that. I thought he wanted to buy a book for himself and hold true to his resolution of reading as much as possible. On my last day at HasGeek, I was surprised and happy when he gifted me with Stephen’s “On Writing”.

This was 7 months ago. That is how long my reading has suffered. Religiously, I would take this book with me every time I went home in the hope that I would read it from there. Alas, that never happened. During one of my visits, I was talking to my Dad about his childhood days in the hope of recreating the history of my village through a story. I got what I wanted from him and finished writing the first two paragraphs, setting the scene. My sister saw this unfinished piece of work lying on my bed. She read it. Being a voracious reader, she had already finished reading Stephen’s book. She came to me and said,

“I advice you to read ‘On Writing’ before you start off with this piece”.

I did not pay heed to that advice and hence the book remained unread and I did not make much progress with my story either.

The last time I remember when I could not put a book down and *had* to continue reading it was when I was going through Lord Of The Rings. That was during my second year of college and hence almost 3 years ago. Today morning is when I finally found that same spirit again.

The rooftop garden of my office is a lovely place. There is no wifi reception there to begin with. No distractions. It is high enough for one to consider the street sounds to be meager background noise. I reached there about 8 in the morning, made myself comfortable on one of the straw chairs, adjusted the cushion, pulled another chair to put my leg on, took out the book and started reading. I had finished almost 130 pages out of the 285 already.

The next three and half hours were magical. Stephen describes writing as telepathy. For the ignorant, that would sound like a cool word filled with philosophical mumbo jumbo. However, once you start seeing his study with the writing table, the unfinished manuscripts stacked neatly in the drawers, him sitting on the chair with door of the room closed, writing away, you realize you went back 16 years in time. Or maybe he came 16 years into the future.

The image of his life and his struggles become so vividly clear in your mind that there were moments when I really felt like I was with him during those days. Of course, if it was a writing describing his life story, that should be called a biography. This is not so. As he puts it himself, this book describes how a writer is formed. It maps to any budding author’s life. After all, no author had a red carpet laid in front him to be a part of the ministry of authors. They all struggled to get there.

Inspiration is overrated in the modern world. Many find that as an excuse. They wait as if it is someone else’s responsibility to get them inspired. Although websites like zenpencils and the kind are doing a pretty good job at it, the point you are missing is that inspiration is not the solution to your problem of creativity. It is only a part of the puzzle. Grit, determination and perseverance are those which will get you where you want to reach.

Coming back from the slight detour, even though there are more than a few moments in the book where you can imbibe tremendous inspiration from, Stephen gives absolutely practical advices so as to what makes a great writing and what constructs are the worst that you could use.

I quote, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs”.

Those words are going to hit you like a truck the next time you write ‘he said sarcastically’.

For the past few years, many people have told me to get rid of using the passive tone in my writing. Upon asking why that is, I never got a concrete explanation. Stephen just bursts forth with anger and criticisms against using the passive tone in your writing unnecessarily.

I quote, “It’s weak, it’s circuitous and it’s frequently torturous, as well. How about this: ‘My first kiss will always be recalled by me as how my romance with Shanya was begun’. Oh, man – who farted, right? A simpler way to express this idea – sweeter and more forceful, as well – might be this: ‘My romance with Shanya began with our first kiss. I’ll never forget it’. I’m not in love with this because it uses ‘with’ twice in four words, but at least we’re out of that awful passive voice.”

He goes on dissecting the construct even further and giving us more reasons to hate and crucify the passive tone. It is for the timid writers, he says. For those are afraid they are not able to convey what they want to. I was always afraid and I still am. However, I am happy that I wrote the last sentence instead of ‘I have always been afraid’.

I would not recommend this book to those who are interested in factual writing. As much as it offers practical advises like the ones above, it revolves around imagination and creative writing. Taking in things from around you and converting them into what you want them to be. Digging for the fossils, as he puts it. Be patient, be careful. Dig slowly and you will get the entire piece unscathed.

One thing becomes absolutely clear from this book. If you have a passion for writing, the only thing that is stopping you from doing it is your lame excuses. You will want to believe they are real excuses so that you can convince people. But they are lame. You are just lazy to write. You would rather be entertained and wait for your all important inspiration to shower upon you. Get rid of the fear. Don’t be afraid. Just write.

Thank you Krace for gifting me this book. You knew what I wanted more than I knew it myself.

A fortunate evening.

As was his daily routine, he took his laptop out and lay down on his bed. Cycling was tiring. Only while coming back from his office though. The way to his office was mostly downhill and that too the early morning rides are peaceful and serene. He hated coming back. One reason being the uphill ride and the second being the other insensitive vehicles all around. He knew he was not Wolverine and neither was he going to get those powers. However, there were times where he really wished he could pull out a certain driver from his seat, hold him down on the bonnet, claws popped out pointing at his face, and telling him, “Don’t you dare ruin my momentum bub”. Unlike olden days, he had learned to come out of these fantasies much quicker.

He made himself comfortable on the bed. Resting his head and neck on his pillow, slightly tilted up in an angle that would easily let him look at his laptop screen. He plugged in the Internet cable and waited for it to connect. Work was enjoyable. That lying down had a certain inexplicable pleasure to it. The pleasure of a man back home from a good day’s work. The programming job along with the cycling exercise was tiring, but he loved it.

He logged in to his Internet service. A 2Mbps connection was more than enough for his needs at home. He opened up youtube and looked at the search bar wondering what to type in. Just then his phone beeped. It was a text message from his friend Ranjith. It said,

“Macha, can’t you try writing for newspapers! A thought”.

That was unexpected. For a moment, he got thrown back to the days where he used to keep writing. That was when he did not have too much attention. A time when it did not matter who read whatever was written. Things had changed now however. Everytime he thought of writing something, the people who might read it came to his mind. That scared him. He was not prepared for what they would say. What all comments he would have to face. Hence, he slowly gave up even thinking of writing.

However, at that moment, he felt a joy. His friends still did remember him as someone who wrote.

A conversation happened between Ranjith and him where he explained that writing for newspapers not only would require tremendous skill but a lot of research as well. Upon being asked how this sudden thought popped up, Ranjith said that he saw a similar writing style in of the articles within The Hindu newspaper.

“That is a great compliment Ranjith. Thanks!”

He put his phone away and turned his attention back to the search results in Youtube. It was almost 5:30PM. He stretched his legs and arms, letting off a deep sigh of relief.

“Knock, knock”. He heard someone knocking at the door.

That was unusual. His roommate only comes back around 8PM in the night. Also, since he was living as a bachelor, people paying him a visit randomly was scarce. There would have to be a phone call or at least a text message discussing about where and when to meet.

“Knock, knock”. Again.

Feeling irritated at being disturbed from his comfortable lying posture and a mind ready to be entertained, he grumbled and got up.

The door lock consisted of a knob from the inside and a keyhole from the outside. He went ahead and turned knob, unlocking the door.

A sudden gush of wind swept in.

Having recovered from the suddent burst of air, he lowered his hands from his face. He could not make out who was standing outside his home. His adrenaline kicked in.

It was a man standing outside. He was wearing a long black trench coat, something very unusual in India. At least, he had never seen anyone in trench coat before. At the maximum, a jacket or a sweater. This guy standing outside was probably boiling inside in this summer heat. However, that person did not seem to show any sign of uncomfortableness. He had a hat on as well. A round hat and he was holding his head down so that his face was not visible. His pale hands sticking out of the trench coat sleeves were visible. They looked pale. Quite pale.

“What’s up Haris? Killing yet another beautiful evening?”, the person asked in a husky, yet composed voice.

Haris’ heart skipped a few beats. He did not have a clue who it was standing there acting all spooky. The pale skin, the gush of wind, the tranch coat and the spiked long hair reminded him of someone. He did not want to believe it. Too many comic books tend to mess with one’s thoughts. He mustered up all the courage he could.

“Who are you?”

The man slowly raised his head. Haris looked at him in a state of shock as his face revealed inch by inch starting from his jaw. The skin was pale, really pale. The lips did not strike any resemblance. The nose did not help that much either. Nothing could have probably prepared him for whom he saw there then. The eyes revealed it all.

It was Neil Gaiman!

“Wha…!”, Haris exclaimed.

“Of all the people, I did not expect you to be surprised to see me. Were you not expecting me?”, asked Neil.

“No sir. I mean Neil.. Well, how would I? Come in, come in”, Haris stuttered.

“It is a beautiful evening. I would much rather be outside enjoying the breeze and catching the setting sun. Shall we go and sit on the terrace?”

“By all means, of course. Here, let me a grab a couple of chairs”

“No, no… Just get that mat in your other room. That’ll do nicely”

“How did you know that I had a mat there?”, Haris asked even more surprised than he already was.

“Surely that is not your greatest curiosity at the moment?”, Neil replied with a smile.

“Yeah no, not really. Okay, let me fetch it”.

Haris fetched the mat and both of them went upstairs onto the terrace. He laid the mat down. There was a pleasant breeze and sky was just starting to turn golden. There were eagles flying around. Since the entire meat market was just a couple of yards away from the building, the sight of eagles were quite frequent around. Neil put his briefcase on the mat, took his coat off and both of them sat down.

“It is an honor to meet you sir. But what’s going on? Why are you here?”, Haris asked, not being able to contain the suspense and excitement any longer.

“Aren’t you supposed to be telling me that? After all, you called me here.”

“What!? What are you talking about? How on Earth would I call you?”

“Perhaps you dreamt?”, there was a slightly sarcastic tone in Neil’s voice.

“Yeah right. If that was the case, then probably a lot more people should be around.”, stated Haris with a laugh.

“Well, Galahad must be here by now. Why don’t you go and meet him? I believe he is downstairs.”

With a look of amazement, Haris slowly got up and went down. Just as he turned the corner where the flight of stairs ended, his heart again skipped a few beats. This was becoming a habit now and he did not feel troubled about it.

“Milord”, Galahad took his helmet off, tucked it in his arm pits and kneeled. His shining white knight’s armor looked brilliant.

“Galahad at your service milord. May I know why your highness has summoned me?”

Haris understood the reality of the situation. He always dreaded this would happen at some point. He had gone crazy! All those years of reading comics and watching cartoons were catching up to him now. It was out of control. What could he do to prevent this going any further! He tried pinching himself in the hope that he would snap out of the dream. No such luck. It only hurt his forearm.

“Hey hey, stand up. What’re you doing? What’s all this about?”, asked Haris, still in his undershirt and black pants.

There was a puzzled look on Galahad’s face.

“But sire, you asked me to come…”

There was sudden crash and boom. The quake sent Haris flying over the building. He screamed and closed his eyes shut, imagining to be rescued. At that exact instant, something hit him and swept him upwards. He was in a shock to notice what had gotten hold of him. After swinging up for a while, both he and his savior landed on top of another building.

“Are you alright?”, a deep voice asked.

Haris recognized the voice in an instant. He rubbed his eyes and turned back.

“No way!”, he exclaimed.

“What?”

“I mean, I am alright… Batman!”

“Good, then let’s go now. The League is trying their best to defend, but we need you.”

“Whoa wait, defend against whom? What is happening?”

“You will have your answers soon, but we need to leave now!”, and with that, Batman caught hold of him and pulled both of them up into the Batwing which was hovering above.

The jet speeded. Haris was in a daze.

There was a gentle tap on his shoulders. He turned back. Neil was sitting there in the seat behind him.

“You’re fantasizing”, Neil said.

Even before Haris could say anything in reply, suddenly the jet shook vehemently as if it had crashed into something. He saw Batman leaning for his seat and pressing a button underneath it. The next instant, he got thrown way up into the air while he could see the jet going forward in flames. There was small red button strapped onto his chest which was blinking. Without thinking twice, he pressed it. A parachute bag popped up from behind, making him drift down slowly.

Way down underneath him, he could see smoke rising. Dark, thick smoke. He could vaguely make out the outline of some structure from the front of which the smoke was originating. The wind carried him slightly forward, leaving the structure beneath him.

As he drfited closer to the ground, he could make out a set of horses gallopping at high speed away from the structure, towards west, which was the direction he was drifting in. A look in that direction revealed a majestic white fort built really high at the foot of a hill. He started to get a strange feeling. A Deja Vu perhaps. Suddenly, he heard the sound of cloth ripping apart above him. Something had torn his parachute. He was almost at ground level when this happend. He fell, but did not hit the ground.

One of the riderless gallopping horses had come directly underneath and gotten him on its back. The horse rode on as if it expected this to happen. On both sides and up front, he could see other riders speeding away towards the white fort. Before he got to ask the question of what was happening, a spine freezing screech cut short his thoughts.

He looked up and to his terror, saw a huge black, chaotic dragon. He could see the large fangs, the glowing eyes and a stench so bad that he was filled digust and hatred in an instant. However, his terror seemed not to take control of his senses. Although he was absolutely sure he did not have a sword when he fell from the plane, he took one out from its sheath that was hanging on his waist belt. Holding it high up, he screamed and sped on the horse.

The dragon overtook the riders, pivoted back and swept down directly at them. Haris drew his sword back and thrusted it at the dragon. However, its wings knocked it out of his hands along with three other mounted riders off their horses. Only then a fear started creeping up his spine and he wanted to survive.

As if his unspoken words were heard, he saw a figure, clad in white robe, holding up high a staff glowing with a light that was blindingly bright, speeding towards them riding a horse. He was coming from the castle’s direction.

“Begone foul creatures!”, he shouted and raised his staff at the dragons circling about.

The dragons were taken aback seeing the light coming from the staff. The valiant rider clad in white rode around the set of gallopping riders, cutting them off from the dragons and rest of the dark army who were chasing them. Being rid of the danger, they ran into the awaiting doors of the white castle, feeling safe and comfortable beneath the strong and majestic walls.

The people within bowed in respect as the riders galloped towards the top. Upon reaching the 8th tier of walls, they alighted. Everyone walked away with their horses in different directions. Haris stood there dumbfounded, not knowing what was going on.

“Come my dear friend. The enemy approaches fast. We should hold the counsel as soon as possible. May I ask your name?”

“Uh, Haris… Gandalf. I mean, sir”.

“A strange name indeed. Maybe the Gods have sent you for aid during these troubled times. Come, let us go in.”

Gandalf slowly walked into one of the huge doors that remained slightly opened.

“Haris!”

He turned around startled to hear his name being mentioned. Neil was standing there.

“You are living in another person’s world now. The things that you see around you, the people, and even you, are at the mercy of someone else”

Neil was assertive in his tone. There was a slight sign of fear as well.

“Take the words into your control. Create your own world. Let those who do not understand the joy of creating a universe say what they wish. Let the words of power, that of passion and love come forth.  Stitch together the torn pieces of fabric that makes up our world.”

It did not feel real. He had heard Neil speak before and this did not sound anything like it.

“Why do you speak like that?”, asked Haris.

“Because you want me to speak like that. The depth of what you create and the message it conveys only goes as far as your knowledge and experience.  You used to dream and you used to make those dreams come true. Somewhere along the way, the dreams remained but the creation died. You sought to find the same feeling over and over again, never to have succeeded.”

“This is what I have in my mind! But how did you know that?”

A smile appeared on Neil’s face.

“AUUGH!”, cried Haris out loud feeling a stabbing pain through him. A sword’s tip stuck out through his stomach. The pain was excruciating. Blood gushed out and his strength failed him. He fell to the ground. Still, Neil just stood there with that smile on his face.

“You can heal.”, he said.

Then it struck Haris. He got up slowly, the sword still sticking out. He clenched his fists, wrinkled his forehead, and started uttering a soft roar. It built up slowly, growing fiercer and fiercer by the moment, until it became a loud, terrifying scream! His muscles ripped his shirt off. He threw his head back with the scream, and from within his tightly clenched fists, popped three claws! Holding the sword with his left hand, he swung around with his right hand stretched wide.

There was a shriek. Amidst the smoke, a severed head fell down on the ground. It was pitch black, and was covered with a dark mask, wearing a gray, broken crown. There was a not a drop of blood to be seen. The body which still held the sword’s hilt turned into ashes. Haris pulled the sword out of him. He was panting, his chest heaving up and down. He felt the pain drifting away. A look at his stomach revealed no wound.

Meanwhile all this was happening, Neil watched in amusement, not showing the slightest of intimidation.

“I am disappointed a bit”, he said, and walked away.

Haris stood there. He wondered what Neil meant. He slowly walked towards the walls and looked over them. The Dog was running around on the rooftop of the neighboring building. Its mistress had gone for work. Round and round it would go all day long, barking and standing up to see over the fence.

“The world must be those four walls for it. Except for the occasional peek it takes over them. I wonder what goes through its mind when it hears a language it can understand. The fierce debate of the street dogs 5 floors down”, Haris thought.

He shifted his gaze slowly towards the right. Over the horizon, he could see the sun slowly going down. Bathing the world in gold, making it look and feel so precious. He savored the moment. Following along the golden rays, he gaze fell upon the solemn tree standing tall and majestic, proud to wear the golden pardha awhile before going to sleep. As much as the sight was glorious to behold, he felt a sense of sadness at the sight. Around it was a wide stretch on uninhabited land. For miles, there were no trees around. An old man, with a book in his hand, stood in front of it. Haris could sense the conversation.  He grieved.

There was a slight tap on his shoulders. He turned around.

“Dad!”, he exclaimed.

“You have a gift. Make the world a better place with it.”

“But, but… how?”

“That answer is for you to find on your own. However, there is one thing that I can tell you.”, his Father looked at him reassuringly. “That you are not alone”.

The door which Gandalf had gone in opened. Haris could not see what was within. He waited. Even though he had enough surprises and adventure for one day, he was not prepared for what happened next.

The people who came out started with his family, followed by his friends. They started pouring out, each carrying a glowing pot. It did not just stop with them. The leaders of the world, the beggars, the scums of the society, the activists, all of them were there. The superheroes started flying and swinging in from around. The monsters and creatures he ever knew came around and stood obediently. The actors, their characters, the bugs, birds, animals, trees, plants, anything and everything came and stood there!

He stood there gaping. Neil came forward.

“Our experiences are at your command. Those that have been shared, to be used as you will. Those that have not been shared, waiting for you in those pots. All you need to do, is ask”. He paused for a moment and then continued, “We are there right behind you. Now it is time to start your quest. Let’s get you back home. Any preferences?”, he added with a wink.

Haris smiled.

“I think I’ve got that covered”. With that, he ran and jumped over the wall. Falling freely. He did not sprout wings, he did not wear a cape. No one came from anywhere to save him from the fall. He cut the air sharp and went straight down. The trees, the stones and the pebbles started getting bigger. It grew bigger and bigger until WHAM!

He heard Neil’s voice in his head. The screen was titled “Neil Gaiman – Advice”. The flash video box showed suggestions for other videos to watch. It was 5.37PM. He let go off a deep sigh. He got up, took his laptop and put it on his table. He adjusted the seat, sat on it, fired up his favorite text editor and started typing in,

“As was his daily routine, he took his laptop out and lay down on his bed. Cycling was tiring…”

—————

Following was what the voice said. (This is the transcript of the video titled ‘Neil Gaiman – Advice’, on youtube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voFDz4o6H9g)

“If you only write when you’re inspired, you maybe a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist. Because, you’re going to have to make your word count and those words aren’t going to wait for whether you are inspired or not. So you have to write when you are not inspired and you have to write the things that don’t inspire you. The weird thing is, six months later you will look back at them and you can’t remember which things you wrote when you were inspired and which things you wrote because they had to be written next.

The process of writing can be magical. There are times when you step out of an upper floor window and you just walk across thin air, and it is absolute and utter happiness. Mostly it is a process of putting one word after another. It is like, out in Peak District, in England, and up in Scotland, there are people who make dry stone walls. And they have been making dry stone walls for generations. The way they make these walls is, they have lots and lots of rocks. They put one down and they put another one down that fits, and they put another one down that fits. They know how to do it. And somehow, they create these walls that are absolutely stable. And just by putting one rock down after another, eventually, you have a wall.

That’s how you make a novel.

Put one word, after another, and then you repeat. So when people come to me and they say, ‘I wanna be a writer. What should I do?’. I say, ‘You have to write’.

Sometimes they say, ‘I am already doing that. What else should I do?’. I say, ‘You have to finish things’. Because that’s where you learn from. You learn by finishing things.

There is so much advice that you can give young writers. Particularly writes who want to work within a certain genre. Read within that genre to understand what people are doing, but then, go and read outside your comfort zone. If you love a certain kind of movie and you want to make hollywood action thrillers, go watch other kinds of movies. Watch documentaries and go see the other stuff. Find everything you can. If you like books, and you like fantasy and you want to become the next Tolkien, don’t read big, Tolkienesque fantasies. Tolkien did not read big Tolkienesque fantasies. He read books on finished philology.

You go and read outside your comfort zone. Go and learn stuff. Hit primary sources, and then, the most important thing that anyone once they get any kind of level of quality – the point where you are ready to write and you can, is, tell your story. Don’t try and tell stories that other people can tell. Because any starting writer, will always start out with other people’s voices. You have been reading other people for years, you are going to tell the kinds of thing you’ve been doing. However, as quickly as you can, start telling the stories that only you can tell. Because there always be better writers than you and there will always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that, but you are the only you.

You know, Tarantino, you can criticize everything that Quentin does, but nobody writes Tarantino stuff, like Tarantino. He is the best Tarantino writer there is and that was actually the thing that people responded to. This is an individual writing with his own point of view.

There will always be people out there who are better than you. There are better writers then me out there. There are smarter writers, there are people who can plot better, all those kind of things. But there is nobody who’ll write Neil Gaiman stories like I can.

As for getting over the writer’s block, for me it has always been a process of trying to convince myself that what I am doing in the first draft isn’t important. I remember the incredible liberation of the point that I moved from type writers to computers, because I was no longer making paper dirty. It was just sort of notional, it was imaginary. I was writing these words, but they did not matter. And then a decade after that, I remember the liberation again of thinking, I can write in notebooks. It isn’t real until I keyboard it. One of the things that I actually still do is to over and over is to just write in notebooks. Just hand write, because, it is not real. One way you get through the block is by convincing yourself that it does not matter. Nobody is ever going to see your first draft. Nobody cares about your first draft. And that is the thing that you maybe agonizing over, but honestly, whatever you are doing can be fixed. You can fix it tomorrow, you can fix it next week. For now, just get the words out. Get the story down however you can get it down, and then fix it.”

My beginning and journey so far with Eventifier

The beginning
——————-

“Yawn”.

I was quite irritated being disturbed from my peaceful sleep by my phone ringing. With sleepy eyes, I looked at its screen. It said:

“Jaseem Abid calling…”

“Oh man, not now.”, I thought. Not because of any personal reasons, but just because I was craving for that deep sleep and my mind working was the last thing I wanted at that point. I put it to silent, ignored the call and peacefully went back to sleep.

When I woke up after an hour or so, I found a message that Jaseem had left.

“Hey, there are these guys looking for a Python dev. Wanted to talk to you about it”

(Detour)

This happened sometime in September 2013, while I had already submitted my resignation at HasGeek. I had talked to other folks and was looking around quite desperately to find another job. There were a handful of people whom I talked to before I made the decision to resign. If not for the support offered by people like Arpan & Vamsee, I would have probably gone into a state of depression. They were kind enough to let me learn from them by staying with them in case I wanted to polish up my programming skills. Sajjad was another person who gave me hope by introducing me to Gautam and considering my engagement with Akshara Foundation. That, however, had been on hold since they were trying to figure out a road map for the next year and said they would need at least a month before letting me know.

Even Kiran had introduced me to Sameer from Next Big What. He recommended me to them as an excellent writer. Discussions were going on with them where they wanted me to complete a few tasks before they could take it forward. Since I expressed my interest, as delicately as possible, to write code, they gave me a data set, asked me to Visualize it using JavaScript and write a report on it. JavaScript! Visualizing data sets! I was doomed. For all the Data Visualization hacknights and JSFoo conference I organized and was a part of, I had never written or read a single line of JS.

However, if not then, when I was going to learn programming? I intended to give it my best shot. I had not quit HasGeek then. I was a full time employee. Hence, I had to do this task in the midst of all the emails and organizational activities. I had one week time. At the end of piling up all the tutorials, copy-pasting code, trial and error fixes, I finally managed to do a really, extremely crude bar graph visualization of the data set. No one would be able to understand the joy that I felt at being able to do that. Also, since I had finished this by the evening of the day on which I was supposed to submit it, I had to finish writing the report in an hour, which I did. I think it was a sad piece of work and that they were not quite amused. Suffice to say, there were no further interactions.

You can find the code as well as the report here: https://github.com/harisibrahimkv/d3_viz

The situation was really quite dire. I had no industry skills in terms of programming apart from the few incomplete pet projects I tried to do during my time with HasGeek. Since my job was mostly related to organizing, emails, community management, etc, I never could find an uninterrupted stretch of time to dedicate to learn writing code. After all, I do realize that managing humans is far more rewarding and complicated than managing code.

You must be thinking how I found the courage to actually submit my resignation without having another job or the necessary skills to attain one. Well, I guess many people do it and it is not so much of a big deal. Let me tell you though, it was and still is a really big deal for me. Anyway, there was a person behind me finding courage to take the step forward.

(Following is one day before I submitted my resignation)

Sudar Muthu is a loving Husband, a caring Father and a passionate programmer. Even though I had heard his talks before at HasGeek events, we got to know each other better when I approached him for doing a hands-on public workshop on “Processing Data using Pig”. We used to keep in touch after that and we met each other again at PyCon India 2013, which happened at the very end of August. That was my first ever PyCon and I was glad I attended it. I was catching up with friends over breakfast. I could relax and take my time to do it since I was not a volunteer (although I ended up pushing boxes, selling T-shirts and packing participant kits).

In the midst of breakfast, Sudar walked past me. I called out to him.

“Hey Sudar!”

“Hey Haris, how is it going? It has been a while.”

“Not bad. My first PyCon. You have a talk today, don’t you? Looking forward to that. Feels glorious not being responsible for anything that is happening around me for a change”, I added with a chuckle.

We chit chatted for a while. At some point, the conversation shifted in the direction of me explaining that I was in a troublesome situation where I wanted to shift to a programming career and I could not leave my current job unless I found another job, which was quite impossible in the current state of affairs. He had just one question to ask.

“Do you need to have a job?”

That caught me off-guard.

“W-What?”, I asked, stuttering.

“Are you in a situation where you need to have a job? Where people are depending on you or you have big loan to repay or something?”

“Uh, no. Not really….”

“If you really believe that you are not doing the right thing, then this is the time to make the difference. Before financial aspects become a responsibility and burden. Take some time off and make *absolutely* sure that you make the most out of it. Otherwise it will be an even worse situation”

I could only look at him with wide open eyes. I would not say I was in a shock, but it was something quite close. I could feel my brain rewiring, dropping certain assumptions, bringing up new plans, constructing alternate routes, opening up new doors, and a little devil at the corner who would damn my soul if I were to fail myself in taking and executing the right choice. All happened in a split second.

We chatted for a while more regarding this. However, my innards were bursting with a sense of anxiety and excitement.

“This is it. I am going to do it”

On September 2nd, I submitted my resignation.

(Coming back to where we left off)

I called Jaseem then itself. He explained that there is this company called Eventifier being run by three friends.

“They are not hardcore techies, but are really nice guys. I am planning to work with them for a month and see if we can continue the engagement. I’ll whatsapp you Jazeel’s number. He is the CEO of the company.”

This is back when I had whatsapp and the Nexus4, courtsey of HasGeek. He went on for a while longer talking about the company. He ‘whatsapped’ me Jazeel’s number.

Quite frankly, I was not amused. Due to my extreme ego of thinking I was destined to be the greatest person in the world, I thought, “Well, yet another startup somewhere. The Akshara one looks more promising. And oh! These people are building a product having something to do with social networking!”

Whatever is the opposite of fanboy-ism, I used to be that when it came to social networking sites. I never had any proper justification for my thoughts I guess.

I tucked the idea away in a corner of my mind and moved forward. October came and whatever I explained in terms of Akshara and Next Big What happened then. I was at home for a week during October for Eid. One of the days, while I was watching some movie on my laptop at around 8’o’clock in the morning, my phone rang. It was an unknown number. I attended the call.

“Hi, is this Haris?”

“Yeah, this is Haris”

“Oh hey, I am Jazeel. Jaseem must have spoken to you about me. I am calling from Eventifier”

“Ah yes! I remember. I am so sorry. The days have been too busy that I forgot to call you”

“Its alright. He said you were looking to move out and find another job. How are you placed now?”

“Well, I am talking with a few people, but nothing confirmed yet”

“Yeah, the thing is, we are also looking to hire a Python developer. We just moved to Bangalore a couple of month’s back and are planning on expanding”

Jazeel went on to explaining what Eventifier does.

“Also, we got funded by Accel. So, would you like to meet and talk sometime soon?”

“Ehm well, you should know about my Python development experience as well. I don’t have any experience writing production code. I have used it for my projects at college as well as to do some pet projects which you can find on my Github profile. I guess that is about it”

“Oh cool. Let’s talk about it. Are you in Bangalore now?”

“Uh no, I am at home in Kerala. I’ll be back on Wednesday. Maybe we can meet Thursday early morning? Say, around 9?”

“Sounds good. I’ll just confirm with the rest of my team and let you know over email”

“Cool”

“Okay, bye. Oh and how old are you?”

“Uh, 24. Why?”

“Nothing. Just wanted to know. I’ll send you an email”

“Alright. Bye”

“Bye”

On Thursday morning, standing in front of the Accel partners office, I just cut my call telling Jazeel I had arrived. After a few minutes, someone tapped on my shoulders. I turned around and saw this handsome looking young man with a slightly golden colored beard and hair, standing behind me with a smile.

“Haris?”

“Yeah”

“Hey, nice to meet you. I’m Jazeel. Let’s go in.”

We shook hands and he led me in. I had to sign in my name in the visitor’s register, after which we went to one of the meeting rooms. He asked me to wait while he fetched someone else whose name I did not quite catch. At the moment, tension started creeping up my spine. I thought to myself,

“What the hell am I doing here? I haven’t even prepared for an interview! Heck, I should have at least read something up about their company. Oh my God…”

My thoughts were cut short by Jazeel entering the room along with the “someone else”.

J: “Hey Haris, meet Saud. He is the Chief Designer of Eventifier”

I was a bit amused. The CEO was as old as me and now he brings in another 25 year old saying he is the chief designer! “Gosh, this must be like an army of Ershads!”, I thought. Ershad is a friend who dropped out of college during his second year. A genius hardcore programmer and a Free Software enthusiast. He used to be the winner of all tech competitions around Kerala.

S: “Hi. How are you doing?”

Me: “I am fine, thank you. How about you?”

S: “Good, good.”

J: “Yeah so… Nazim will be here in a bit. He is the CTO”

Augh! What am I going to tell him, what am I going to tell him! Technology scared me.

Me: “Ah okay. Well, maybe to begin with you could elaborate a bit on what we discussed that day? I mean, about how you guys founded the company and what it is about?”

Jazeel and Saud together explained their adventure. That story is already told and hence I won’t go over it. Towards the end of it, the door opened again. A simple looking cool person with long hair and an almost-French beard entered.

J: “Meet Nazim”.

Me: “Oh hey, I’m Haris”

N: “Yeah hi, I’m Nazim”.

He had a really soft voice.

Me: “Well, as I was telling Jazeel, you guys should know I don’t have any experience writing production code. Only a few pet projects and a handful of tutorials is what I’ve got. Apart from attending and organizing the best workshops on Python and Git, I’ve never actually quite gotten down to using them.”

There was laughter around the room.

Me: “What do you guys use and what sort of a workflow do you have?”

I could not believe how humble the three of them were. Very down to Earth, soft spoken and very gentle. I have met a lot of people during my HasGeek days and I must say almost every one of them had one point or the other where they would try to sell themselves showcasing their talent or skill and asserting they are good at it. Nothing of the sort came from these three. As far as I am concerned, after having accomplished so much and establishing a company, if you can be so humble, that is quite an asset.

N: “Yeah so… We use Django and Python. And we have made a git repository on Github where we push the code. We pull from there onto the server and deploy it”

Me: “Uh okay. Um, is that it?”

N: “Yeah, that is pretty much it”

Me: “Cool”

J: “We’ll get Ajay, our adviser, to meet you now”

With that, the three of them went out. I sat there for a while. Ajay came in and asked me about my previous job and a few metrics related to it. It was a short conversation. After that he went out. Jazeel and Saud came in.

J: “Yeah, we are happy to have you onboard. Ajay also felt you would be a good fit”

Wow. That was fast. Was it that they did not hear what I said about not having any experience or whether they chose to simply ignore it? Whatever it was, I thought getting to be in the company of these people would be an unmatched asset. I had almost made up my mind.

J: “So what do you feel?”

Me: “From what you have told me, I’m interested in going forward as well. But you should know that I won’t be able to contribute to your code from day one onwards. Maybe you can send me a small task that I could work on in order to get acquainted with the technology?”

J: “Sounds like a good idea. I’ll tell Nazim to get in touch with you regarding that”

We discussed the joining date, which would be on November 11th, a Monday, since I was leaving HasGeek on October 31st and would be at home for a few days after that. We decided on a salary as well, after which we parted.

I was leaving for Goa that day along with Kiran and Zainab to attend NitroDroid. I remember calling my Mom and Dad while I stood waiting to embark on the KSRTC bus to Goa and telling them I had made up my mind to join Eventifier.

On Octoer 31st evening, I was sitting with mixed feelings. I tweeted out this the day before: https://twitter.com/harisibrahimkv/status/395799344231616512. I believe those emotions are better kept inside of me and hence I shall refrain from writing them. Around 5, I packed my bags and got out. My eyes watered slightly.

The Journey so far
————————-

I have never pulled an all-nighter in my life. Until the day came where I had to finish Nazim’s task. I finished them on the 9th of November at 6:00AM, having sat through the entire night. No coffee, no energy drinks. Just working.

On Monday morning, at around 9:00AM, I tweeted this and got out. Full of excitement, I reached there only to find Jaseem there. He waved to me from the great glass building and asked me to come in. I obliged and went in, thus starting my first day with Eventifier!

PS: Meanwhile in the Founders’ home.

“Nazim, Nazim! Wake up! Haris has tweeted! I think he is already there.”, Jazeel was frantically trying to wake Nazim and Saud up, having himself only woken up at about 9:45AM.

“Wha, what?”, Nazim stuttered, waking up lazily and rubbing his eyes. “Oh! We have to go now.”

They had hired their first employee.

***

Bryan Adam’s “Summer of 69” is one of my favorite songs of all time. There is one line in that song which says, “Those were the best days of my life”. That is exactly what I have to say regarding the past 6 months. On different levels, it has worked out really great.

First of all, establishing a routine. I was adamant about establishing a work life balance. Although a few people advised me against doing that during the early days of joining a company, I did not pay heed to it. I should say it has worked out quite well. From day 1, I would wake up at 6, finish off my chores and prayers, bath and leave to office around 7:30. Breakfast would be from the Madhurai Idly Shop near my office. I reach my desk by 8:15 – 8:30. I check my mails and Twitter for half an hour and then jump into work. Usually it is even earlier. Since the office is a shared space, two other companies use the space as well. However, none of the employees come in before 11 or so. Hence, I get a lot of peaceful time to work. I would leave back for home latest by 4:30PM every day. This way, I avoid the rush hour traffic both in the morning and in the evening. Weekends – absolutely no work. Even if I laze out completely, I used to refrain from work. This was not the best of things to do, and I am rectifying it slowly. I was more than glad that the company allowed me to maintain this.

I took up cycling. A gazillion thanks to Sam Kocsis for letting me have his bike, a Bergamont Vitox 6.2, while he was going back to the US. It has been a tremendous experience the last 6 months cycling wherever I go. The concept of having to wait for transport has become so alien! The best part is, the grey areas of traffic where a cyclist can easily find his way through traffic. However, I must say most of the motor vehicle drivers are inconsiderate towards cyclists. They blow their horn and give looks that says, “Why the hell are you even on the road butt head?”. Anyway, I am enjoying the ride.

Cooking was another interesting practice I started. It is amazing how the human mind and body works once you decide on doing something. It adapts pretty well and delivers. Although not a master chef, I can make decent food for myself hence eating home cooked food and bringing the cost down as well.

All this would not have had its fun if my work did not go well along with it. I was amazed at how pleasantly all three welcomed me into their team like a family. At times when I get excited about something that I am working on, I stay back late and feel lazy to cycle back home. During those days, all of us go back together to their home, which is close by to the office and I spend the night there. We kick up a ruckus now and then with the football they have in their home. However, lately, Nazim skilfully bent the ball to go and hit the mirror hanging on the wall just above the basin. Suffice to say, they are ‘mirrorless’ now.

I started learning Django. The craft of software production, at least to get things done, was not so hard as I had thought it to be. I started delivering within two weeks. From then on, things moved forward with quite a pace. Exploring different ways of doing things, looking into cleaning up code, a couple of rewrites, etc.

The most interesting part is working with Nazim. Being the CTO, he is the one who wrote the entire code base single handed. Jazeel was on Marketing and Sales while Saud was on Design and Administration. Hence, for a person with 3 years of hands-on experience with Django, he has always let me do my stuff. Elaborating on that, whenever I am building something, I would discuss now and then about it with him. The funny thing is, he would know that the implementation would have a bug if done that way. However, he would never say that up front. He would let me do it. I would happily do it, test it on local or staging and it would fail. I try to isolate the bug and ask advice on what might have gone wrong. He would sit back on his chair, legs crossed and say,

“I am not sure, maybe something went wrong with <that particular part of the code>?”

Guess what? That would be the exact part of the code which would be causing the bug. As such, my respect for him has continuously grown.

I believe I am off to a good start on my plans to get into teaching. The learning experience has been amazing although I myself think I have not worked hard enough. Well, it has only been 6 months and I believe there is a lot to come.

Saud is the one who comes earliest to office among the three. Around 10:30 to 11:00AM. A pleasant soul to talk with. He always inquires about how life is, about family and in general whip up a sweet conversation. Someone to whom you could open up to completely and he will sit and listen patiently until it is over. Now that Praseetha has joined us, he has the job of being a mentor as well.

Jazeel, being the face of the company, is the cool dude around. Lately he has switched over the US timings since all his calls with clients are during the night. He usually comes to office around 3PM or so and starts his day then. He has his own strong opinions on matters which he is not even in the slightest sense afraid to shout out. Conversations with him leads to insightful discussions. I guess getting through to the customers is the greatest skill that a sales ops should possess.

Oh, and at times, we go around working from different places as well, like the Ants Cafe and Mr. Beans It has been amazing so far and I pray that it continues to be so. Our team goes strong with 6 including me, Jazeel, Nazim, Saud, Nawaz, who is a sales ops and Praseetha, whom I have written about aplenty before.

—————————————-

Comments from Twitter:

A short review on “Aadu Jeevidham” – A Malayalam Novel

How I came to read the book
————————————–

I closed the gate after getting out of my Mom’s home’s compound. The turn-wheel turned and the latch fell into place with a clack. It was almost 9PM and I was sure Mom would have been waiting for me to come home to dinner. I stepped into the street lane of the main road connecting the village center and surrounding places. It was dark. Fortunately, still today, night is related to darkness in my village. However, since I was quite close to an intersection which connected the lane that lead to my house, to the main road, there was one street lamp and a few shops that were still lit. Junctions sleep late. Around 11PM, it was guaranteed total and utter darkness except for the light coming from the mobile phone screens of late night drunkards.

The shops alongside the road, adjacent to the house’s compound belonged to my Grandfather. Once he passed away, the ownership was transferred to my Grandmother, who, immediately transferred them to her two male children (my uncles). These shops consisted of tailors, phone booths, groceries, textiles, photography studios and foreign goods, most of them having been there for almost 15 years now. I took a few steps and crossed the first mobile phone accessories shop, when I reached in front of the Matrix. The tailor shop was named so far before the movie came out. They had shifted shops thrice within a 500m vicinity. The owner Ismail, known to everyone as Bava, was quite a popular character in our village. Apart from his lean, really lean figure, what made him a fan favorite was his quick witted conversations. A laugh was guaranteed whenever you spoke with him.

Along with him inside the shop, I could also see Shihab. I will refer to him from now on as Shihabka, where “ka” means brother in my mother tongue. Almost all the times, that is how you address your elders. He is the poster child of social activeness. Along with a real pleasant humor sense, he has an incredible charisma and a dedicated will to help anyone in need. I have never been able to figure out what his motivation is for being so helpful. Suffice to say he was the one who helped me find my accommodation when I moved to Bangalore.

The front of the shop had a glass wall. While locking down, they had a shutter in front of it which they would pull down and lock it to the latch on the ground. I waved at them. I could not resist going in. Who wouldn’t like a hearty laugh in between this busy life? We exchanged greetings and chatted for a while. Bava was busy since he had a lot of orders come in the previous days and the customers kept on calling asking whether their dress was ready. Shihabka and I were discussing about when we were both returning to Bangalore, as both of us worked there, in the middle of which he suddenly asked,

“Have you read Aadu Jeevidham?”

“No. As a matter of fact, I have not read any Malayalam stories”

“Then you should read it. Come with me. I’ll get you the book from my home”

He seemed pretty decisive about it and I thought it would be a nice experience too. I hopped onto his motorbike and headed for his home, which was on the fields, at the bottom of a small hill. It was almost 9:30PM. His Mom made Sulaimani (black tea) for both of us. Over tea, he explained about how elegant and creative the writing was. About how it would draw you into the author’s world and make you feel like you are living it. It was a short conversation and we left his place by 9:40. He dropped me off at my home and we parted exchanging Salams.

I must say I am glad that this happened in my life.

 

About the book
——————–

Last month, I finished reading a Malayalam Novel for the first time in my life. At some point in my childhood, due to the inspiration from my Brother and Sister, I started reading comic books, short stories, kids’ novels as well as classics. However, each and every one of them were in English. The only times that I had read anything in Malayalam were the stories and poems from my school text books. Since all of them were read with a sense of tension about the teacher asking questions on it the next day, I don’t remember any joy that I had derived while I was at it.

“Aadu Jeevidham”, translated directly to “Goat Life” in English, is the story about a typical Keralite Muslim man and his journey to the Gulf in search of livelihood. I must say, the most wonderful thing about the book is the language itself. I do not deserve to talk about it from a literature perspective as neither have I read other Malayalam novels nor have I learned the language too deep. I entirely mean that the language is wonderful from the perspective of the language being in ones own mother tongue. There are certain quirks and colloquial constructs that you have in your mother tongue which expresses the meaning of a word or a context much better than any other means of communication. Hence, although I have read quite a few English novels and stories in my life, this one novel got through to me the most.

To further elaborate on that, I was able to understand the emotions and feelings of the characters much better. I was able to picture the scenes much better and most importantly, it was like a conversation between a human and I. As if someone was telling me the story rather than me reading it from the book. Of course, this could be the case with every other book written in ones mother tongue since there is nothing that I have described here which is peculiar to this novel. I will just have to read more and see whether in terms of the language constructs he had used, this novel stands out from the rest of the others.

The novel talks about the dreams that a person would have and how reality dawns upon him to crush not only the dreams, but his entire life as well. Najeeb, the main character in the novel, is a jobless husband, with his wife expecting their first kid in 6 or so months. One of his friends tells him about an opportunity in the gulf, upon which, after discussing with his wife, he decides to take it up no matter what happens. After somehow begging and borrowing enough money for the commission and airplane tickets, he spends one last night with his wife before he leaves for Mumbai to catch the plane.

The conversation during that night is bitter sweet. They talk about how he would go there and earn a lot. How he would come back in a year and bring gifts for his newborn and his wife. Purchasing a Fridge and a TV, laying foundation for their new home and all other ‘luxuries’ that they could think of.

He leaves the next day for Mumbai and stays a day or two with his friends there. However, before he left for Mumbai, his neighbor’s son had gotten a Visa to the gulf as well. Hence, both of them were traveling together. The other person was a brash young kid, full of life and full of expectations.

The actual story begins when they reach the gulf airport and don’t find anyone waiting to pick them up. After waiting for a long time, they see a torn apart mini lorry revving up the road that leads to the airport. It stops midway and an Arab jumps out from it, wearing a white Kandhuura covering him from top to bottom and with a turban on his head. He walks here and there for a while looking frustrated and finally spots our two young gentlemen standing over there. He comes over, takes their passport, looks at it and then looks at their faces. After what looks like a face analysis, he gestures them to get in the truck. Happy that someone finally paid them some attention they jump in. The Arab takes them on a long ride. A very long ride, into the heart of the desert, where they reach during midnight. Najeeb gets down at some unknown place and sharpens his hearing. He hears the slight braying of a goat.

I do not want to give away what happens then and how the story develops. The author’s depiction of the desert is off the charts and extremely gripping. Maybe someday I’ll gather enough literary skills to do a rewrite of this wonderful piece of work into English.

A million thanks to Shihabka for making me read the book.

Jitendra Vyas and The Bangalore Front End Developers

The following blog post was written a while ago. Due to one reason or the other, it never got published. Well, the wait has ended!

It is just like “Wolverine and the X-Men”, but a way more creative bunch.

******
Jitendra Vyas
 is one among those who were enthusiastic about art and design even before the Internet was widespread in India. Passionate about experimenting and learning new ways of web design, he was always on the lookout for further knowledge and experience. As such, it was important to him to find people who knew more than him; to share what he knew, and to learn what he knew not. It was this yearning of his that led him to bring together the Bangalore Front End Developers community.

According to him, in this world where tools and technologies are changing so fast, the ability to understand and start using a tool is equally important as having a thorough understanding of the basic concepts related to web development. “It is one thing to say you know HTML and CSS really well, but it is completely another when you use notepad to type in your code”, says Jitendra. “You have to pick up tools that will make your life easier, tools that increase your productivity. Without them, you will be left behind in no time because these days, speed is as important as quality”.

His career as a web designer primarily started when he joined a software firm in his home town Bikaner, Rajasthan. There he started experimenting with HTML and CSS as a way of bringing his design skills onto the web. He found Dreamweaver to be extremely helpful in this regard. With fiery enthusiasm, he explored and experimented on his own, thereby learning a lot. Even though his company fared well, his thirst for exploring new horizons couldn’t be quenched remaining there. After 3 long years of work, he quit.

His thoughts on design as a profession were quite insightful. According to him, finding a good designer is not that hard if you stop comparing them with each other. The trick is to search for them at the right place and be open to hire them from any part of world. However, it is a bit difficult to always give them the correct combination of interesting work as well as good pay.

He thinks that as far as a company is concerned, just hiring a good designer is not enough. You have to listen to them, give value to their thoughts, give them the freedom to experiment, give them time to read UX blogs, invite them to attend product meetings, send them to design conferences if you can afford to, buy them good books, etc. Designers should not be considered just as a pixel decorator. The more he understands the expectations from a project or product and about who the target audience are, the better he can design. Also, a good design is not a guarantee of good user experience. There are many cases where even fantastic graphic designers tend to lack in UX skills. Due to that reason, everyone should be involved in design decisions. Good User experience is a team effort and everyone is a part of that – Designer, front-end developer, copywriter, back-end developer, product manager, etc.

From his experience in the industry, some (not all!) good designers don’t prefer to work at big companies because they think they would not be able to make good designs with their own vision, as well as because they might have to work with people who have less understanding of design than them. He quoted the following:

“The enemy of good design is rarely bad design; more often, it is politics, and poor understanding of the problem at hand”

Moreover, as a freelancer, you are free to choose your own clients and interesting projects and can earn even more money than a regular job, if you are really good at what you do. However, if you are able to find the right enterprise, this shouldn’t be that much of a problem. There are actually many good designers who work at big organizations as well, and these people make designs too.

FED

Being at Bangalore, he looked forward to meeting people with similar interests and learning new technologies related to front end development together. He used the most popular and easiest method of reaching out to everyone – Facebook.

He put down his initial thought on the UX India group. He received an amazing response as many people out there were excited to find a kindred soul. The replies and comments from them was the motivation that Jitendra needed to take the initiative to form the Bangalore Front End Developers group, comprising of a group of elite developers from Bangalore. The group came to be on 26th August, 2012. Read his first post in the group.

Things kicked off when Kavita Arora of the Bangalore Designers group invited Jitendra for giving a demo on SASS for one of their meetups, which was held at CIS. This was done as a joint workshop along with FED.

The group started growing when Jitendra started adding developers from his network to the group. The growth continued when his friends added their friends and so on.

Still being in the early stages of growth, they have not fixed any strict schedules for meetings as of now. Yet, the group is very much active, brimming with discussions regarding the latest and coolest front end technologies.

Apart from just geeks talking to each other about heavy duty front-end issues, they help each other out whenever one of them gets stuck at some point. They have online meetups every now and then, by which they are slowly moving forward on the beautiful journey that lies ahead.

The group is thriving with 800+ members today and instead of simply increasing the head count, they strive to keep the group alive and productive with the ones who are already there. In Jitendra’s own words, “It is easy to start a group, but to prevent it becoming useless, is hard”.

Jitendra specially thanks Praveen Kumar, Mikul Gohil, Maulik Suchak and Pulak Kanti Battacharya for helping him to keep the group going strong.

Maulik Suchak says

First, FED is not a term for me. Its a platform where Geeks becomes ‘SuperGeeks’. As we already know, there are lots of things that keep happening day by day in the Front-End world. This is the group where you can share ideas, meet front-end geeks and share tricks!

Talking about the future of the group, I must say it looks very bright. If we do something with good cause, people will surely admire it. Moreover, all of us are putting in our best to keep it alive.

Personally, I like the group because the people there are very enthusiastic and active. We even have plans to take this discussion out from Facebook to our own website if we can achieve it. We are thinking of organizing outings as well.

Mikul says

FED is great! I have never seen such an active group. The good thing is that people are friendly. We joke, we fight and we help each other out. It is just like family to me.

FED has many talented people in the group. I would love to work with them if I ever get a chance. It has helped me in many ways as a developer as well. I had an illusion of knowing a lot about front end development, but after joining this group, I realized that there are still lots of things out there that I need to learn and explore, things that I did not know of in the past.

Bangalore is the place where people come to develop and educate themselves, to make one’s self the best there is. This group has many such motivated people and to have people like that around, makes a lot of difference in your work as well. From getting help to fix issues when you are stuck at some point, to getting to know the latest trends in the market.

If you want to learn something new, then this group has a lot to offer you.

Praveen says

Jitendra started this group after we were discussing about SaaS in User Experience India fb group. We decided to organise a meetup where we got to meet many other front end developers and got a chance to discuss about the workflow each one uses. We also pledged to never hoard the knowledge we learn/acquire and always share it in the group. Then we had a Google Hangout on various CSS frameworks. Non-bangalore folks joined in as well.

I was under the impression that all good designers and front end developers had moved to the valley and nobody stayed back in India. However, the group proved me wrong. I think it encouraged a few of them to come to Bangalore (to attend events like Meta Refresh and then meet other members)

So far, I’ve learned a lot from the discussions we’ve had in the group and I see regular meetups/learning sessions happening in the near future. I hope this encourages developers from other parts of India to start their local user groups as well.

It would seems that Christian Heilmann is an active member of the group. Check out what he had to say once: https://twitter.com/codepo8/status/405747481201229826

In a interesting turn of events, Praveen accidentally made the group a secret one, which unfortunately, was an action that Facebook doesn’t let you revert. So if you want to join in, you should be friends with someone who is already in the group and they have to send you an invite. You can see the current members here: http://labs.apnerve.com/bangalore-frontend/

Well, that’s it for now folks! Here is to the future!

Being a part of the Mozilla community.

It would be appropriate to start by saying that this is my baby step, the first step in trying to contribute back to the Mozilla community for all the effort that they have put in in order to connect people around the world and make amazing products. To be quite frank, I used to have an impression (as is my impression about all things amazing) that all this talk about “community” and “contribution” were only meant for the elite and masters of technology out there, two of whom I know being Sajjad and Nigel, two hardcore techies.

Now I know am wrong.

This realization came about due to two reasons, which I will come to later.

I started using Firefox almost 7 years back, when I first got my computer, about which I have written here. Chrome was not there then. As mentioned in that post, I was quite new to computers and my understanding of browsers was that they were what people referred to as the “Internet”. So I went on using “Internet”, unaware of the fact that I was using Firefox for about a year. Thinking about it now, I am not quite sure when I started understanding about browsers for what they were, but since then, till the December of 2012, I continued using the same.

I was employed by this time and the pressure of having to learn and understand technology was on me. In my journey of understanding more about computers, I used to do the online courses at Udacity and Coursera now and then. However, one day during the course, the video classes started to crash with a message, “An error occurred”. A reload used to solve that, but this kept on happening until one day, I just could not watch any of the videos.

I got irritated. Showed it to my colleague who tried opening up the same video link in his Chrome browser. It worked. I switched.

For the past 10 months I’ve been using Chromium, until recently, after I shifted my career to becoming an Engineer, when I found out my RAM was being eaten up by Chromium. I tweeted out saying this and without further delay switched to using Firefox. I would have been happy using it and simply going forward, if not for Firefox’s response. It was not too much of a big deal, but I was touched. At that instant, I felt I was a part of something bigger.

This was one of the reasons why I had the realization that I mentioned earlier. I came back home and started looking for opportunities so as to how I could get involved even further. I landed up on their contributions page. I filled up my email id, chose my area of interest as “Documentation and writing” since I was more confident in my writing skills than my coding skills at the moment, and submitted the form.

This is when the second reason for the realization hit me. My friend Haseeb. He was passionate about the Urdu language as well as about community development. Both these combined led him to take part actively in translating Mozilla to Urdu. His contributions were not at all gone unnoticed when he received an invitation to be a part of the Mozilla Summit in the U.S. a couple of months back. So have an open mind to contribute, with whatever you know and whatever you are passionate about. Hence, here I am, having reached the point where I had submitted my volunteer form.

All this was done in that adrenaline rush, which I knew had happened to me more than once before. However, nothing of the sort would continue as all would end up in a couple of automated emails that I would receive asking me to act. The same happened here as well. Though things would have continued like that, even before I had the adrenaline rush die down, I received one more email. This time from a certain human being who goes by the name of Janet Swisher.

Even though she told me that technical documentation was where they were best setup to bring in new writing contributions, she did not discourage me on what I had pointed out saying I was better off as a story teller or a biographer than a technical writer when it came to writing. With the promise of passing on my remarks to their creative team and reading my blog posts to provide her feedback, she ended the mail.

That part where it conveyed it was not just about them and what they wanted, but also it being a part of what I was and what I could do, was quite heart warming. I replied and we exchanged a couple of emails where she pointed me to a couple of links as well as read a few blog posts that I had already written, complementing me on them. It was her suggestion to take the first step by writing a personal blog on what Mozilla means to me.

At this point, more than just thinking in terms of Firefox, I was inclined to think of a bunch of nice people trying to strengthen human relationships across the globe around technology. Hence, I was inspired to write about how touched I was with their effort to actually take the time to reach out to a complete stranger and offering to help him out. And here I have written about it. May this be the first step in a journey of  a thousand miles.

A year at Bangalore, a year with HasGeek.

“This is official huh?”, I asked.

“Yep. Hop in”, replied my brother as I got into his car.

This conversation happened a year ago. A year ago when a certain ambitious lad landed in the Silicon Valley of India. A lad who would skulk away from a conversation happening in English, a lad who had only seen two places outside of his state in his life. A lad who had not been on a flight since he started remembering things, a lad who knew only his brother’s home and the home bound bus boarding stop in Bangalore. A lad who was afraid of smartphones, who was allergic to social networking, who did not have a bank account and did not even know how to use an ATM.

Well, things definitely have changed. Yep, they really have.

Although October 8th, 2012 was my “Official” joining date at HasGeek, since my brother was coordinating volunteers for Droidcon India 2012, both of us decided to drop by CIS office in the afternoon on 7th itself to have a talk. Someone passed by us when we reached there on the bike and I was asked to go and meet him. Apparently, this was the jovial and cool Mr. Kracekumar whom I know so well today.

My first time at CIS. I had heard a lot about the place and I had pictured it to be a glass building with a huge lawn, fancy tables and chairs, with a lot of atmosphere. Suffice to say I was surprised when my brother walked me into a home.

We went up the stairs. And there they were! Among many others, two of my bosses. My mind’s fuse was blown.

“Oh my God, what are so many people doing here? And do they all speak in English? I can’t talk to all of them! I should have just come here tomorrow and met with Kiran and Zainab alone. Then at least I would be shown my desk to sit and work at so that I would not have to talk to too many people just yet. Hey, isn’t that Anu whom I met for last year’s Droidcon? And where is Sajjad? God, what should I do now? Since I don’t know the rest of them, maybe I should not care. I will just say Hi Kiran sir and Zainab ma’am. But is that what I should be calling them? Or should I just use their names? Gosh, Zainab looks different than the last time I met her and is this the office that I was dreaming about for so long? This is just a house, isn’t it? Maybe I have gotten something wrong here”

And thus went the thoughts. I don’t know if anyone there including Ashwan, Anu, Krace, Zainab, Kiran or my brother noticed how uncomfortable I was. I let the introductions be made and just shook hands saying “Hi”. I was asked to sit down while they discussed about the volunteer training and coordination.

My heart was beating fast. “Is this an interview? They told me not to bring my resume, so what are they going to ask me? And I have to speak in English!? Maybe my brother will talk to them and I can just get by with a couple of yes’s and no’s”

“Haris, would you like to come and sit over here?”. My heart burst. Well, not literally. It was none other than Mr. Kiran Jonnalagadda himself. There was a big chair on the other side of the table, which, I had made up my mind about, was for one of the bosses to sit on. It was this chair that was given to me. I felt totally out of place, uncomfortable and what not.

By this time Praseetha also reached the office. She was much more composed and I just could not understand what was wrong with me.

“So Haris”, said Zainab, pulling a chair and sitting next to me. “What are your expectations in working here?”

“Gulp”, I pulled myself together.

“I, ummm, I don’t exactly know how things are done here. But I can help you with whatever I can. Logistics, management, your blog and you can mentor me to learn how to write code”.

I had no clue what “logistics” meant back then. The only thing I could say with confidence was that I could help them with their blog. I was wondering what kind of stories they would have me write.

“Do you know Inkscape?”, interrupted Kiran.

“Not really, no”, said I.

I remember him having a “Then you can’t help me much right now” look on his face. However, Zainab picked up the conversation.

“Well, here is how things are. Kiran needs a lot of documentation to be done. With the events and the code. However, we will need to sit and discuss about it. So we will get to that. But for now, since JSFoo and Droidcon are close by, there are a lot of tasks that needs to be done. I’ll brief you about it over email, alright?”

“Alright”, said I.

Once we were done there and about to leave, I felt incomplete about one thing. “Gosh, I did not ask about the office timings!”

“Zainab”, I called out. I guess I had made up my mind about ma’am and sir by then. She turned around. “Umm, so by what time should I reach office?”

She let out a hearty laugh.

“There is nothing like office timings. Frankly, I don’t think any of us are going to be here tomorrow. And I don’t mind wherever you work from as long as you get things done.”

I was baffled. Thoughts rushed in. “No office timing? What am I supposed to do? Where is my seat? No cubicle? So how do I talk with all of you?”

She was gone by then. My brother and I went back to his home.

Thus it started.

It has been a nice ride all along.

I should say that Bangalore is an awesome place in terms of finding and meeting people. It is a networking person’s dream come true. The fact that educated people from various parts of the country have accumulated in a certain place gives a platform for people with niche interests to easily find and meetup with each other. In my case, it was writing.

I went to my first ever writing workshop which was hosted by Gaurav and Nisha, both former Tehelka writers. It was brought to my attention by Ashwan, someone whom I have been terribly missing. I’ve already written about my team here, and he is one of them. It is nice to think of those days where he would sit with google maps on the wide screen monitor and would walk me through the entire world, sharing stories and histories related to many a place.

I have  had my fair share of experience planning and organizing events while being at HasGeek. One of the things that I have realized is that the amount of ground work and grunt work that goes into producing the kind of events that HasGeek does, no matter how excellent and smooth it looks to participants attending, is tremendous. To keep up the spirit for that kind of work during each and every event is just amazing. I guess my colleagues are made of sterner stuff. All of them.

Kiran had always been this person with a strong and silent personality. Quite frankly, someone whom I was afraid of to talk to and be heard from. During the very rare occasions when he would say “Good job”, the feeling of happiness was so strong that I would text my brother at the very instant saying, “Kiran said I did a good job!”.

I still remember the first time my throat going dry when Kiran talked to me about how it was completely wrong dealing with people in a fire and forget manner. I am not sure if I was able to understand and implement that lesson during my time at HasGeek, but I guess I have done a not too bad job at it. I hope so.

In contrast, Zainab was this lady with a cheerful and open character that you could, without thinking twice, share whatever you had on your mind with. I am not sure how I would have made it through the first couple of months if she had not patiently sat and listened to what all I had in my mind. Sometimes even taking the time to go out for a chai to talk things over. Impressive how she could find time for all that despite being overburdened with work.

I am not sure career wise how much the work I was doing has helped me. All the people whom I have talked to has told me that at some point in my life, I will look back and realize how much valuable the things are that I have done. I guess I haven’t reached so far down the road yet in order to look back and feel like that. At least, not yet.

However, life wise, it has been just amazing. How much I have learnt and experienced! Starting from eating food stuff, fruits and vegetables that I had never eaten in my life before to travelling around India all the way from South to the North. I mean, trekking and working on the Himalayas? How often do you get to do that? Apart from Triund, Mcleod, Dharamsala, Delhi, Mumbai, Hampi, Pune (my first flight), Goa (my first scooter ride) and of course, exploring Bangalore.

All through these journeys as well as through my entire one year, I have to say that Kiran is the most selfless man I have ever seen. Making sure we know what he knows all along the way. For all the whining that I have done saying that I have never had a good mentor in my life, I would be lying if I said I did not find Kiran to be a really good one.

I hope to document these travels at some point. I have already written about my volunteer management experience during The Fifth Elephant over here.

This post would not be complete without mentioning the rest of the people in our team.

Jamna, who joined us around January. She and I were the ones who actually worked as a team most of the time since both of us were involved in handling the workshops at HasGeek. A lady who transformed from her shy self to one who does public speaking, organizes and manages geeks as well as takes up initiative to bring order to the whatever chaos she finds around her, within a span of less than a year. Both if us have learnt a lot form each other and I must say I’m truly inspired by her sheer amount of sincerity and dedication.

Supreeth, the quick witted, well traveled young man who always had a joke or story up his sleeve. I haven’t found anyone as skillful as him when it came to getting through to a person. He would be able to find some anecdote or experience that the other person would be interested in and then, he starts weaving his web. One who is well read as well, he has always been there to correct my English whenever I have made a dumb mistake or been there to help whenever I have been at a loss for words.

Nimisha, the illustrator who joined us from the North East. A very cheerful character who just love pets, of all kinds. Rabbits, cats, dogs and I wouldn’t be surprised if I found a baby dinosaur in her home! A really good company whenever you feel like talking to, always ready for some fun, a die hard coffee addict, you can behold her drawing skills if you visit the HasGeek event websites and Flickr photo streams since Fifth Elephant 2013.

I have to mention Mitesh and Devi as well. However, they have been involved in the tech side of things mostly. Working remotely or from the Microsoft Accelerator. That reminds me, towards the last few months, we had three offices! One at CIS, one at the bakery, which we shared with the amazing team of TripThirsty comprising of Sundar, Kingsley, Sandeep and Anenth, and the wonderful (and extremely mouth watering) cup cake factory of BiteMe run by Kingsley and his wife Divya, and last but not the least, one office at the Microsoft Accelerator

If I were to write down the names of people whom I have come to know and love over the past year, that is going to be pretty long list. I will refrain from doing that and just say that I will keep in touch with all of you because I want to.

I have moved on now. With valuable lessons learned and interesting observations. I work at Eventifier now along with three awesome guys namely Jazeel, Nazim and Saud. I was a geek herder. Now I call myself the Python tamer. Things are looking bright.

Here is to the future!