Yes, this is the title I have chosen to tell you my story of how Open Source has changed my life over the past year. But, this is not where I shall begin. I had finished writing all my Entrance Examinations which would determine if I could study in India’s very best Engineering colleges or not. I had written a range of exams from IIT to COMEDK, and I was expecting pretty good results because I felt that I was pretty good at these exams. Though I was not very confident (actually quite sure) about getting into an IIT, I was sure that I would definitely make it into either BITS or an NIT. And I did make it into these universities, but alas! the only stream I was offered at NIT Surathkal was Metallurgy and in BITS, Goa was Chemical. I did do a good job in the COMEDK and Amrita Vishwavidyapeetham Entrance Examinations (against my wishes) and I did get into these universities with a choice of the branches that I wanted to get in – Mechanical or Computer Science. But, I was so devastated (yeah, I was a complete idiot back then) that I didn’t get into any of the universities I wanted, that I made what I would call the worst decision I had made till date – I chose to study in Amrita Vishwavidyapeetham University instead of universities in Bangalore like PESIT and MSRIT. I knew I was not doing the right thing, but it didn’t matter, I was completely lost and beaten at all levels. It does look like I’m making a big deal out of a real small issue but this is what happens when a kid who has never failed at what he has wanted to achieve since he could remember does not get something which he considers is his own, by nature. (also the effect of being locked up in a dungeon for more than three years)
That’s how I ended up in the serene, tranquil and beautiful place called Ettimadai, which is where my university is. But inside the university, its a completely different story. Yeah, maybe its a dream university for many people and maybe it really is good, but good and dream is always a matter of perspective. To me it was like a dungeon, not only physically but also mentally. I had lost all interest to learn and let go of all my dreams and ambitions when I had come here. Probably why I felt like everything was closed in all directions. I mean, everything else was usual or what you could call usual at Amrita, bitching about classes, talking about how bad life had got, playing some or the other sport everyday, studying and doing fun stuff once in a while, making plans to overthrow the power hungry bureaucrats, schemes to end the tyranny at university and finally go to sleep. But what lacked was a sense of purpose and satisfaction to what I was doing in addition to being mentally chained (And this I have realized is one of the few things that really matters in life). So, enough about the SAD life and lets start looking at what started the STORM. I really loved going to techfests and conferences (though I wasn’t really passionate about anything back then), thought they were like my occasional escape routes 😉 Now, I have heard quite a bit about Open Source from my friends at Bangalore and people around (who were still truly living unlike me and yeah, we don’t have internet or LAN connection in our rooms at uni – what’d you expect!) and so, I decide to find out what this thing is all about and I register for the Pengufest – A workshop on Open Source Software and Communities which is happening at NIT Thrichy’s annual techfest.
I and a couple of friends from my uni make it NIT Thrichy and we’re all quite excited to be there. We think we will finally be able to get an idea of what CS is all about, because we don’t know anything about it except some crap from the textbook and some labs in which we were tested on how well we could remember the syntax. Ah! I forgot the good part, a couple of weeks before I had looked up all the speakers and googled them (Yeah, we all have laptops and mobile broadband cards – where there is a will there is a way :P). This was when I looked into Reddit, because Alexis Ohanian was one of the speakers at the techfest. I began exploring Reddit and I really loved it, though I had to deactivate my account at a later stage due to addiction. Now that I’m almost done with uni, I’m gonna be back – excited and looking forward to it. This formed the central reason to why I was going to the techfest – to attend Alexis Ohanian’s talk. We did have fun at NIT Thrichy, though we found the infrastructure to be below the standards of our uni, they had something far more better – FREEDOM and a great community. Finally we are at the workshop and I learn a lot, the most important of which is what GSoc is all about. Then, there is a session on Git but the Alexis Ohanian talk is rescheduled to the same time as the Git workshop. So, I give up the git workshop, none of my friends want to come with me but still no one’s going to stop me from attending Alexis Ohanian’s talk. I dunno why but I just wanted to attend the talk so badly – call it fate, destiny or whatever but I just had to be there. And there I was – it was a skype talk over a projector and really bad bandwidth. But, the very presence of Alexis Ohanian just gave me the vibes. When, he started talking I just could feel the vibes and somehow the interest that I had lost, the passion and dreams that I had let go all started coming back to me. There’ s a lot of what he said that I really liked and was influenced by but that’s for another post. Basically, I was just taken off my feet by his open, friendly and calm nature. I felt he was just someone like me but I knew he had done a lot more (way way more) and hence, ever since then he has always been a very captivating role model for me. And this was the beginning, though I was low on self confidence, though I was going to step back into the real world after almost two years, I had a direction I could follow and this was definitely a start. I really believe Reddit and Alexis Ohanian were partially responsible for this. So thanks guys! I owe you one, big time! 🙂
The very next semester, I started daring to dream. I felt like I really had to get some stuff going my way and thanks to an amazing Networking Prof. I had then, I was allowed to do my Computer Networks mini project in Python – Yay! I decided to implement something completely out of the box (based on a friend’s advice) SNMP – Simple Network Management Protocol. Turns out there are different version of this which can be implemented through the PySNMP framework and we ended up experimenting with each one finally choosing v2. It was a great experience, though I couldn’t get everything that I wanted to work working, the proxy that we wrote in Python and the different SNMP bits we implemented was weirdly satisfying (I’d also tried out some bits of the twisted framework then). This is where, my learning curve was really starting to take shape. This time I really wanted to take part in GSoc. Though, I started off a bit late I started lurking on IRCs pestering a lot of people and trying to get to know how things worked in the Open Source Universe. This was when I discovered my community – a study group, a technical community with whom I could identify myself with. This was just like how people connected in a Metal concert or at home in a family, it was inbuilt – everyone just got together and built something and they enjoyed the process and what the community as a whole had to offer. This was HEAVEN for me! For metal concerts and technical conferences I had to travel and these happened once in a blue moon, but with Open Source everything was in my laptop, through it I was the king of my own little world. Getting back to GSoc, after a lot of IRC discussions in different channels I finally decided that at this stage two organizations suited me and my skill set to a really good level – Mozilla and Apertium.
I realized that GSoc was more about getting started in your area of interest, a project you are interested in and the best place to kickstart your journey as an Open Source Developer. The Apertium community was just great, lot of amazing people who were ready to help and more importantly teach in a way that I could learn by myself. They fueled my Open source desire even more and this is how I started off – trying to build a Machine Translation system through Apertium’s toolkit for the Hindi-English language pair (gotta really work on it seriously sometime).
At Mozilla again, lot of people helped me out to get started. Here, is where I made my first patch and to see it online and knowing that it was going to be part of Firefox was something different for me. Through these communities I had learned so much, a hundred times more than what I had learned at my university. Though I didn’t get through GSoc that year ( to save my pride – it was a narrow margin) I got into Open Source Development and this was a turning point in my life. And this was the FIRE rising, everything was falling into place. I was rediscovering all my interests and hobbies, and working on them too. Ah! This was bliss, this was what I had wanted – now I had a purpose, to change the world through my skills, add some value to it or at least point out where it has gone wrong and do something about it. (yeah, I know – overstatement but everyone loves to hear that , me included)
Finally, how can I not talk about Nolan’s films when I’ve written an thought provoking, hope rendering and what I think to be an inspirational blog. Obviously everyone has watched The Dark knight Rises and it is by far one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I had given up an interview for this movie – by Mu Sigma, which might be good in terms of money but it just isn’t my kind of work. So, how has the Dark Knight rises had an impact on me,well – I’m now trying to climb out of the hole with no rope. Its made me introspect and has restored my lost confidence. Obviously everything I’ve done has resulted in what I am now but this movie served as the final trigger (which was pushed easily because I saw it at iMAX) which has brought back my confidence and self belief. Every time I feel a bit low, I just watch that scene where Bale climbs out of the well – thanks Hans Zimmer, that’s some really powerful music. Movies like this and lot of others which I have reserved for future posts have had a great influence on me. Fight for what you believe in and never look back (maybe except for mistakes so you don’t repeat them :P). That’s what I am trying to do now – An MS in Computer Science abroad, lets see what happens because I have no net to hold me. All I know is this, I can fight back and I will fight tooth and nail for what I believe in – so no worries 🙂
Though my physical freedom is still in question, I have become mentally free and ideas just started exploding, I’m transcending all the previously existing boundaries. I have begun to “Connect the dots” to find out what I really want. Now, I feel great, there’s always some kind of deeply satisfactory feeling inside everyday and it looks like each day has so much to offer. Wow! Now I feel stupid that I didn’t realize that all this was just so simple (hard work, lots of effort etc. but simple in terms of knowing what has to be done). I have another enemy, laziness – I somehow have to beat it but seems impossible right now 😛 Anyways, thought this was a good post to publish on Doomsday – was holding this back for that. I’m sure the Mayans will agree 😛
I’m finally LIBERATED !!!!!!
PS I wanted to write a longer story, but then it’ll get too boring.