Before I dive into bragging about being a Microsoftie and what is life at Microsoft all about, let me ride you through my journey in life so far, my thoughts as a child which inspired and helped me to become what I’m today, choices I made at various stages of my life, which I sometimes adore, sometimes regret. But if you ask me, “Am I happy today?” I would probably say “Yes”. Sometimes life is not all about making choices. Sometimes choices can go all wrong. But what matters is how you react to those wrong choices. Whether you keep on cursing God or whoever played a role in making that decision or you bounce back by working continuously until you make it right. Failures are important. It tells you that you are not invincible. It tells you that you are human. It’s okay to fail. Harder you fail, harder you work and sweeter the success is.
It was a hot Tuesday noon. Sun was at its peak and I was almost sleeping. A question suddenly broke my reverie.
“What do you want to become when you grow up?”
This question was asked by my class teacher Nripesh Sir. He was expecting each of us sitting in the classroom to have a goal in life. Some said doctor, some lawyer, some engineer, some even said a SOFTWARE engineer. I didn’t know what a software engineer work was. All I had heard was Bill Gates. Thanks to the local regional newspapers that keep on publishing about him. That he is the richest man and he founded Microsoft. And Microsoft develops software. So I was under impression that if I wanted to become rich, the formula was to be a software engineer. I always day dreamed about becoming a Microsoft engineer. Little did I know that once an imagination would become a reality.
An innocent small town boy who had never left home except with parents and siblings on summer holidays, was so much excited to explore the outside world although he had no clue how he would survive alone. Like many kids, he had heard about IIT being a very prestigious college. He was sure that his life would be set if he scored a good rank. But how? He had failed twice in Bansal Classes(an institute offering IIT entrance preparation) entrance test. He started having very bad feelings about his capabilities. His mother always praised how much intelligent he was since his very childhood. May be academics and competitions are two very different things. Needless to say, his parents had very high hopes from him. Somehow he got scholarship in Narayana IIT Academy. He was going to study in the capital city of the country, New Delhi.
Year 2008, May 30
Our small town boy was no more that innocent and childish. He had learned many things in life. Unfortunately, not that thing for which he had spent his parents’ hard earned money. All thanks to the world of internet he had been exposed to and 100% bonus offer in cyber cafes. He had just passed higher education, failed to score any rank in IIT-JEE and ready to face taunts of his relatives and neighbors.
Year 2008, June onward
Everything seemed to be lost in his life. He had lost an important match. But even Sachin Tendulkar sometimes doesn’t play well when it’s not his day. May be he should give another try. In the last quarter of the year, Super 30 conducted its test. It was a huge opportunity for him to bounce back. After all, his cousin brother was pursuing bachelors from IIT – KGP and he had too learned the tricks in Super 30. Months of patience and four rounds of test paid off. He had made it. People around him had started recognizing his potential.
He didn’t join Super 30. He knew life won’t be easy there. He would miss delicious cuisines. And if he was able to crack Super 30 which gives near to 100% success rate, why can’t he crack IIT entrance on his own?
Note: Super 30 is a non-profit organization providing free food and education.
Fast forward 7 years, It was time to choose a college which would shape my career and hence my life. A 4 years of time was to decide my next 40 years of life. Sadly, I didn’t have any good option. I was in waiting list in JEE and couldn’t score a rank in AIEEE which could secure me a good college. I and my friend Kanhaiya were just scrolling through the placement records of colleges in our league. And the one news locked our tired eyes –
“MICROSOFT selects eight students from KIIT”
and the content highlighted –
“Microsoft personnel making round the country’s premier institutions for hunting the talents to join them, were ecstatic finding the fountain of talent in KIIT”. The news is below:
That was it. If Microsoft visits a college, it couldn’t be that bad. We had locked our choice. After all, this is what we wanted all along. This is what I wanted all my life.
Even 2008 recession couldn’t affect my decision. My choice was so BOLD that even though people around me were opting for non-computer science streams, I stuck with my decision of moving ahead with CSE in the counselling. Funny to hear, I was the first one to register for CSE stream.
They say, “It’s never easy to get what you want. And if it’s easy, your goal is not BIG enough”. For a guy who was seeing a laptop first time, it wasn’t easy to get adapted to coding and problem solving world. It was frustrating, challenging and no less than a nightmare. When his friends used to code a simple problem in 10 minutes through 3 different approaches, he struggled hard for 3 hours for the easiest approach. All he knew was if he wanted to be the best, he had to work fucking hard and manage his time smartly.
Partners in crime
It was a long train journey. There is nothing much to do when you are traveling with a friend who is crazy for Physics, Electronics and Probability. That crazy friend was Aakash, my roomie. Since third semester was about to commence, there were many known faces traveling in the same train. Aakash introduced me to a guy named Abhinav. He was the guy I had heard about from few of my friends. He was famous for applying his learnings to create small games.
We were alike in some respects, no prior coding background, big foodie and fan of TV series Crime Patrol. The only difference was that I wanted to build something, and he was already doing it. I was hugely inspired from what he was doing. From that moment onwards, we developed few projects together, studied together and prepared for companies together.
It was the time when I always had a feeling of something burning inside me. It was passion. Thanks to my DAA teacher Biswajeet Sahoo Sir and C++ teacher Narayan Sir who exposed me to the beautiful world of Algorithms and problem solving. I never looked back. I kept on practicing from various online sources. It was the time when I came across GeeksforGeeks, an online portal created by geek for geeks. I just fell in love with the way it presented the problems. The more time I invested into it, the more I learnt. No other teacher had taught me that many things than GFG did.
First milestone towards success
Harry… Harry… Someone was calling me. Oh! I had just slept. Aakash wanted to tell that a college in Bhubaneswar was organizing a coding competition. Many of our friends had already left for registration. Somewhere between awake and asleep, I agreed to give it a try. We registered ourselves with team name “e-Programmers”. There were around 200 teams participating in the contest and best 2 teams were to be declared winners. 5 hours of coding and hell lot of frustration, we had lost our hopes. Already 4 teams had left with smiley faces which meant we were done.
The next day we got call from Silicon Institute to participate in the result announcement ceremony. And then they announced… Whoa! That feeling was beyond words. Abhinav’s team came first and mine second. Yes, we were the best two performers.
Once I was looking for a summer internship. Theory of Computation teacher Vidyadhar Sir announced in the classroom that there was an opening for Natural Language Processing intern in IIIT Hyderabad. So if anyone was interested, (s)he could contact him for further details. Well I met him post class hours asking many questions related to intern position and his views about the importance of that in my career. He suggested me to hunt down this intern offer only when my interest lied in higher studies and research field. “Why do you not prepare for something that looks for guys with strong coding and problem solving skills?”, he asked. Like Microsoft and Google.
Moderator at GeeksforGeeks
Today when I look back over my life, I just can’t believe that a person can be that insane to chat 10 hours a day and that too only technical stuffs. Yes, this can happen when two crazy people with similar mindset meet. While solving problems on GeeksforGeeks, there were few articles that were so well compiled and informed that I just couldn’t help myself but to contact that guy. I shot him a message on Facebook and this is where we connected. I was very active on GeeksforGeeks. And he was kinda impressed with my thoughts and approaches of solving problems. Our discussion trails were everywhere – Facebook, Gmail, Quora, CareerCup, GeeksforGeeks, StackOverflow. I had never met anyone with so much knowledge, zeal and thirst for coding & problem solving despite the fact that he was an Electronics graduate. For him, problem solving was a time pass. My passion grew with time. Every discussion with him reminded me how little I knew and I needed to manage time smartly and keep my learning curve steep. I started practicing insanely on GeeksforGeeks, CareerCup, LeetCode, SPOJ and other online portals. Few problems took me weeks to solve. I solved problems that were pending since more than 6 months in the discussion forum. That’s when it all started. My solutions started publishing as GFG articles, one after the other.
GeeksforGeeks was growing fast. They were looking for someone who could participate actively in the discussion forum, point out improvements in guest articles and write unique content to enrich the site.
One evening, I got a mail from Sandeep, GFG founder asking if I would like to join the team. I couldn’t think of a single reason why I shouldn’t. GFG was already impacting many lives and it could help me to connect with other geeks. Although it was a non-profit initiative, I was willing to join. I was just 22 and it was the best time to learn and grow. In short, it was a time when my thoughts were not aligned with Joker’s.
But, it was so good to see my name on GFG About us page:
Placement talks were all around the hostel corridors and hallways. Even scorching hot summer couldn’t lessen the spirit. Everyone seemed crazy.
15th August, yes that’s when first company visited our campus. Aricent was kind of mass recruiter, but better than mass recruiters like TCS, Wipro. At least this is what we were told. They conducted a written test, a group discussion, a technical interview lasting 45 minutes followed by an HR interview of 25 minutes. Written test had aptitude, English comprehension, vocab, technical each with individual sectional cut off and individual time allocation. They asked almost everything (C, C++, OS, DBMS, Digital Electronics, Microprocessors, Comp. Org. & Architecture and DS) in technical interview. I think their goal was to cover breadth and depth, because when I thought I was doing well in DS, my interview was over. Final result was announced on 17th August. 151 had made it.
It felt good that I had somehow made it to Aricent. I was skeptical at first because of two reasons.
- I didn’t want to work in a networking based company. Networking was never my cup of tea not because I couldn’t learn it, but because I didn’t like it
- I had demonstrated good coding and DS skills. I was asked twice that why am I not targeting big MNCs like Microsoft and Google. It was very likely that I would NOT join Aricent if I get a better offer
Although Aricent was a good start, it offered very less salary. It could never fulfill my necessities. With 6 lacs of education loan on head and frequent reminders from bank manager to keep sanction letter always in pocket in case it helps me to concentrate whenever I lose focus, I needed to do better. You can say the reason being my passion in coding and problem solving. But the truth was that I had to pay 21k per month to the bank. This scared me more than anything that with so less salary in hand, how was I going to survive in inflated cities. I was simply not happy with Aricent.
One fine evening, there was a notice from placement department. Microsoft was to conduct first round written test on 1st September. It was perhaps the biggest news for the college and aspirants alike. Everyone was buzzing about it. Why shouldn’t they? After all, Microsoft was visiting the campus after 5 years. Nothing could make me happier. The time had come to showcase my hard work and my experience which I had garnered through the years. Lady luck had finally shone upon me.
To be continued…
Signing off for now. Hope you enjoyed reading this. Everyone has a journey. Well this is my journey. Next part is here – Journey of a boy from small town to Microsoft – An untold story Part 2
Copyright © 2016, Aashish Barnwal, All rights reserved.