If techies starting their career need an inspiration to look up to, Dhanush is that person. After 15 years, he’s still writing code, and loves it. Making the transition from traditional services companies to product firms to now startups, and in parallel moving from older tech to the latest like Golang and data science, he’s done it all. He is now CTO at Geektrust and this is the story of how he fell in love with programming over the course of his journey.
What was your early programming experience like?
It was quite devoid of actual programming. I had picked computer science for my engineering. Programming languages were not a part of the syllabus. There was a lot of theory about algorithms and compilers, how things work, hardware, electronics etc. We had a data structure lab, but learning was about mugging up and writing it in the exam. We weren’t bothered about clean code, and didn’t even know the existence of such a concept. It was mandatory to learn one language, and we had the flexibility to decide which one.
I picked up Fortran and Pascal.
Starting to like programming
When I graduated in 2001, there was a recession and campus placements were delayed. I got some opportunities to teach computer science at NIT Calicut and two other places..
After 2 years of teaching, I found a job at Tech Mahindra. I knew C++. The company was training people in Java. I attended the training and loved it.
This is when I started liking programming. Java was easier to use. You have more control over how your code works. I was applying all my learning in my work. I got opportunities like one of the first ever implementations of web services at a Tech M client site using SOAP, learning Perl, and going to the US on a project. I was enjoying work but I wanted to do more than just work on projects based on my skillset.
Into product development
I found my next job at Altair. It was quite an introduction to the world of product development, that too in the automotive space. I spent an excellent 5 years there, and had a good experience working on two products.
One was a data management system used in product development, which helps enterprises take better product design decisions. The automotive space generates a lot of performance data during the testing phase and in live use cases. But this data is not in a structured form. The product captured, organised and presented CAE and test data, gave it structure and visualised it in a decipherable, actionable way.
The other was a business process and workflow manager. The product is an orchestration of web services to design and manage enterprise-level workflow in the automotive industry.
I was also given the role of team lead on a product and I had to manage the team. I found out it wasn’t my cup of tea.
Feeling the joy of work
By this time I had become very sure I wanted to be doing more programming, and not go into management. After 5 years at Altair, I moved to ESPN Cricinfo. From enterprise software to sports media was a huge shift.
Firstly, it was a lot of fun. I was on the team that built and launched espnfc.com. Personally I was very interested in cricket so it was a joy to work on a sports platform as a cricket fan. As a programmer, it was sometimes too hectic to work long hours but the satisfaction of seeing work going out in real time and people interacting with it more than made up for the hours.
I also travelled to the US and got to work with people like Travis Basevi, the creator of StatsGuru. Another reason I loved working at ESPN: there was no compulsion to be a team lead. In the US there are 10, 15, 20 years’ experienced developers who stay hands on and code. I wanted that.
Into the start-ups
India had been bitten by the start-up bug quite strongly by this time. An ex-colleague’s start-up Beyond Bytes, was developing a plant floor intelligence product for the automobile industry. It was a greenfield project involving a lot of data. With my prior experience in automotive software and data, I was interested in this challenge and took it up.
I found the startup world offers a different level of freedom altogether. It’s not like “do what you want”, but you get to decide how you solve a problem, improve and enhance as you see fit, contribute to the overall product significantly and with ownership. It’s relaxed – you get to do your own geek things. You get to enjoy work and do it better when it’s not a strictly managed environment.
I used to meet Krishnan and other friends to bounce off startup ideas born from matters we cared about. I care about Biriyani so one of my first contributions to these meetings were product ideas involving Biriyani.
Later, Krishnan came up with the idea of Geektrust. It resonated with me very well. Doing something that will help people change their career. Someone like me, who is not very good at selling myself to a ThoughtWorks or a Gojek, can use my code to sell me. If I’m not good at selling myself, I won’t find the kind of jobs that can help me reach my potential.
Being able to see a candidate’s code upfront helps companies a great deal. But the real impact is for people who need that little extra confidence to go for an interview. Their code precedes them. There is a certain advantage it gives the candidate. Today, companies say “if they can code, money is not an object” because there is real value for good developers.
Hey I built that!
I’m proud of what we do at Geektrust and we feel the joy of work every time we get an email saying what a great job we are doing. There is so much to improve and correct, new features to build, and even new products in the pipeline.
We just launched Codu, our automated code evaluation tool built using machine learning, and predicts good code with 95% accuracy. Krishnan has written more about it here.
Advice to my younger self
The first 11 years of my career, I worked mostly in Java. The way in which Java has evolved is quite exciting – the features, streams and collections have made it easier to work with.
After I came to Geektrust, I became a true polyglot. I learned Go, Python, JS – I want to learn a new language every year.
It’s a circular thing – the work demands it and because we want to do new things, improve things, we need to learn, think and do new things.
I believe in being a polyglot. There is always a lot of new tech coming up. And it’s good to know other languages besides the ones you work on. In startups, the culture of learning is to not stick to any particular technology. If the solution to a problem involves working with ML or AI, we’ll pick up Python instead of trying to solve it with Java.
Software engineering then vs. now
I think now is the best time ever to be a software engineer! You can’t compare the opportunities that exist for today’s developers. When I graduated, India was the offshore centre. There was less hard core work. Those days, it was the career option available to get a steady job. As a junior developer, whatever the job asked me to do, I did it.
Today programmers right out of college get into super cool jobs. We are placing developers at companies like Gojek or Simpl or Ather. Imagine working on something so cool and being able to see people actually using what you helped build!
I look forward to..
On the work front there is a lot to look forward to. We want to completely automate code evaluation this year.
There is so much happening in Indian tech. There is a company in Trivandrum eradicating manual scavenging, there are brilliant solutions like Bounce being built, and there are solutions that solve real problems with massive social impact. It’s really the golden age of tech and I look forward to seeing how everything shapes up.
Heard of ‘tsundoku’? The habit of piling up things to read and never getting around to reading them? Modern day readers have always been doing it but now we’ve got a super cool name for the condition – tsundoku. I am one of the people afflicted with it and am planning to cure it with a systematic dose of daily reading. I can’t process a day without reading something. I want to read more going forward.
About Geektrust Dev Stories
Geektrust is a platform for technologists to find interesting opportunities and shape the future of tech. In our work, we meet developers from diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives with inspiring stories. So we started the Developer Stories series, to bring stories of different developers to the world.
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