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Sunday, October 10, 2010

How and Why I became a Computer Engineer

The School

Vijayawada, my home town is famous for having the best educational institutions in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. It is also known as Vidyalawada i.e. Land of Education. I was very fortunate to study in Kennedy High School which was kind of hip and happening with computers and all. Our family was not very well to do at the time and my parents struggled to pay the fee for all four of us kids. It was a very difficult time. My mom fought with my grandpa when he thought its just a waste of money to send us to private schools. He wanted to send us to public schools where the medium of instruction was Telugu and not English. My dad obeyed everything my grandpa said but this time my mom fought against it and won. Eswar Prasad, the principal of the school was kind enough to waive some fee off for us as we all did well in the entry tests and we were four kids joining the school from one family. Enough with the sentiment, let's get to business - Shall we? This is a story of how I got introduced to computers and how my life changed from then.

The Heat

Our school purchased 2 computers when I was in the 7th or 8th grade. They were very slow and had 32Mb RAM I think. They ran Windows 95 and MS DOS. They took a hell lot of time to boot up but surprising took very small amount of time to heat up. It took longer for us to see the desktop after the boot up than to bake an omelette on the heated CPU. Our school was not air conditioned at the time. Heck, we did not even have fans in the classrooms until I reached 9th grade. Our only source of air and light were the unfinished walls that were built 8ft tall leaving a 2ft window from the 10ft ceiling. It sounds bad when I put it in words but it was actually quite ok. We got plenty of Vitamin D (thanks to the sun) and we got fresh air too. And when it rained we had the day off. What more can you ask for huh? (thanks to global warming and shit, it didnt rain much anyways). It also saved huge electric bills for the school management which kept the school fee still affordable. What a brilliant idea huh? Anyways, even though our school didnt need much electricity for its daily operations, the computers needed air conditioners which hogged the electricity. They brought in ACs just for the computers to function without burning down the whole school. So, it was always cooler inside the computer room even though it was hot as hell outside which gave us more reasons to go to computer classes. We were there for all the wrong reasons.

The Teacher

They also hired a new teacher to teach us the computer stuff. This is not any teacher but DA TEACHER. Her name was Rajani. She was probably the most beautiful woman I have seen till then. She was gracious and very patient. She had a way about her. She was very soft spoken and genuinely liked kids. She was about 20 years old at that time. Every boy in the class wanted to do good and be the best. We all instantly fell in love. I was no exception. They say - "Behind every successful man, there is a woman" right? I don't know if I am a successful man or not but I am pretty sure I am a man and this woman was in front of me not behind me in this journey (well, not through out but the much required head start). Why did I mention that here? that quote does not really apply to my case. So, my adaptation of that quote would be "Infront of any not so successful man (but ok type of success - mind you {credit is due when it is due} ) there would be a really Hot teacher"

The TypeWriter

My dad's job as a Manager of an Orphanage required us to have a type writer at home and it also served as a fun toy for us kids. We used to type crap for fun (I guess Geeks are born not made). It was somehow fun back then. When my dad first brought it home, we had a power outage that night (power outages are part of life when you are in India) but that did not stop us from playing with it, we typed crap in the candle lights. Can you imagine? We were so obsessed with it. Let me rephrase, I was obsessed with it for a while. I felt like an Einstein sitting in front of it. This magical machine would write for me and all I had to do was to punch some keys. Not only does it write, it also writes it in color red sometimes which was a major miracle in my life. Needless to say, I got better at typing without joining any institute. This helped me in a lot more ways than I thought.

The Ambition

One day in my 5th or 6th grade, the teacher was feeling lazy and she wanted to finish her allotted time. So, she decided to cover it up with the masquerade of picking pupils' mind. She started a small survey and asked every one in the class to describe what they wanna be when they grow up. In India, you dont have much choice - you are either a doctor or an engineer, That's it. And when I say engineer it's mostly civil, mechanical or electrical/electronic engineering. Those are the only respected career choices. Everything else is just a waste of time according to popular belief. Oh, there is also Army/Navy/Airforce (every boy's dream). So, everyone just picked something out of that allotted choices of career. But I was the outcast. I said I wanted to become computer engineer. At the time, it was unheard of atleast among the kids in our class. So, some kids laughed when I chose such an odd career which made me more stubborn and at that point I decided to be a computer engineer no matter what.

The Supremacy

The primary purpose of computers at school was to play some educational CDs and some fun games. The most popular game being Typing test. We all used to bang on the keyboards to show off our incredible typing skills. This put me on advantage and I was virtually unbeatable coz of my homework. I got a head-start in this fight to supremacy.

The Teacher was very very impressed by typing skills and it only lasted a few days. I had to come up with something new to win her heart. So, I started poking around the OS and learnt a few things like how to install some softwares, run some cool dos commands like deleting files that other teachers stored. The teacher taught us how to write simple programs in FORTRAN I think. Although I dont remember any of it now, I remember her teaching. The school principal's wife was always in the computer room with only one book in her hand that had a BIG title "JAVA - the complete reference". We were not allowed to touch that book and she never taught us that Java thing. When I first heard we had Java in the curriculum for my engineering, I jumped. I knew that's what I am gonna master coz I was not allowed to touch that book. I still remember reading that book cover to cover (yes, the whole 1172 pages) in two days (and nights) when I took up that course. Now, I am neck deep in Java although I cant swim in Java, the pit is not that deep that I have to swim. Pffh, Geek Humor?

Life aftermath

As you can see, my career choice was driven by

1. Childhood stubbornness to prove ignorant kids wrong
2. Hot Teacher who left the school after a while and got married (broke hundreds of little hearts into million pieces)
3. A Typewriter that started it all.
4. Indian Heat - that's the main reason to spend hours in the Air Conditioned Computer room at school. In order to stay there I had to do something with the computer and while messing around I learnt a lot about computers.
5. The BIG java book that we were not allowed to touch.

It might seem strange that my BIGGEST choice in life was driven by such idiotic stuff. But all this silly stuff helped me spend a lot of time around computers which helped me to be really good at it later when I went to college. You might think that I chose the right field for all the wrong reasons but there is a bit more than that to it. I normally stick to what I am good at, it's a natural trait of all normal humans. So, when I had to choose a main stream for engineering I chose Computer Science and Information Technology (CSIT) even though it was all crashing at the time coz I was really good at computers. The millenium bubble happened and everyone said computers are not here to stay long. Parents discouraged (rather condemned) their kids from taking computer engineering. Amidst all that chaos, I asked myself what am I gonna be and the ONLY answer i could think of was Computers.

Here I am now, happy and content with my career choice. I cannot imagine what I would have been if I had not taken up CSIT. Not a bad choice after all huh?
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