The Project Lumos Experience

This thing started about a year ago, and I didn’t write about it because I haven’t thought about it, or probably didn’t think it was that significant part of me. But today, when I look back, it probably was the best thing I ever did.

Let us go back and see how it all happened, and how it shaped me into becoming a better version of me. It started in the first week of September, 2015, just before our Engineers’ Day celebration. I came to college one day, when Ankit, my buddy, was looking for me. Without me asking, he told me that some senior has come and he was quite unhappy with the preparations. Then he dropped the bomb. “He was looking for our technical head”. I was supposed to be in college by 9 am, and I wasn’t there even by 1. And yes, I was the technical head. Damn!

Okay, I thought, I’ll have to face him. I was scared. One of my biggest disappointments with myself is that I don’t act even though I know things are not going very well. I knew the Engineers’ Day was all fun and no tech, but I didn’t really care at that point. I just preferred to ‘go with the flow’ and mind my own stuff. Maybe that was the reason I was scared. I was scared because I wasn’t taking up the responsibility. I was scared because I still acted like a kid. I was scared because I took a position in the committee that I knew I didn’t deserve.

Anyway, I thought. Let’s face it. I met him. His name was Abhishek. Abhishek Juneja. Oh nice, same name, awesome, I thought. We started the conversation, and he was not that scary anymore. In fact, he was cool. Totally cool. He spoke about things (read technical things) that only 2 other people in the entire college I know, could speak of. Super cool. He knew his stuff well, and he gave us pointers about the things that we could organize in our college like seminars on various topics. I wrote them on a piece of paper, and kept that with me for the next 6 months, not doing a single thing from it. I was never a person who could act, as I said. I always was someone who wants to act, wants to change, wants to achieve, but never does.

The meeting with Abhishek lasted some 2 odd hours. I remember my friends waiting for me on the stairs. They didn’t ask much about it. We went home and delivered a great Engineers’ Day later. That piece of paper in my bag occasionally reminded me of Abhishek, but that was it.

Fast forward to December 2015. Last exam of the fifth semester, I was all in the mood to go home fast and start working on the startup that was getting delayed since it began in August. Cherrylogs. Outside the college, Manas, our GS (short for General Secretary) gave me a quick update. ‘Abhishek wants to talk to you and me.’. Hmm, interesting. ‘Maybe Abhishek is coming to our college for some seminar, like he said’, I thought. The call happened, and Abhishek, along with someone else I don’t remember now (I think it was Prashant), explained to us how our syllabus and technical education is not enough for students passing out to actually work in the industry. It was true, but how could this call help. Then he laid his master plan to make a portal, a knowledge portal where students can find resources to learn anything they wish to.

That idea was, for me, fundamentally flawed. Why would someone who doesn’t bother to Google his/her interests, visit the portal to get links to resources that Google would’ve otherwise easily provided anyways. I kept telling him that. It was not a very positive call, and quite honestly, I just couldn’t understand what Abhishek meant half of the times. Slow grasper, I am.

At the back of my head, I was trying to figure out what is this guy’s motive. Has he heard about Google Adsense recently and got real excited? Does he want to shine his CV? Is he hiring for some startup he has just started? What can it be?

We spoke for sometime, and the explanations from Abhishek were not helping me understand the gist of the project. At the end, it was decided that with or without us, they are going to build the portal, and that would be it. I think we (me and Abhishek) had some more calls after that. I told him that I have to visit my native place (which I was visiting after a long gap of 2 years, first time after getting into Engineering), where I wouldn’t be able to work, and even after that I had my startup, Cherrylogs, to focus on. That was rude, selfish and arrogant. But then, I just didn’t understand the point of making that portal.

Fast forward to first week of January 2016. I am near a beach in someplace, Karnataka, enjoying the holidays, and I get a call from Abhishek. He expected me to get home by now, but few more days is what I tell him. He asks me again, would you work and help us build this thing. I reply in negative, same reasons repeated again. The call drops due to some reception problems, and then no more calls are made after that.

I come back home, start usual college, and around mid January, I am told that a ‘seminar is going to be held by our seniors’. Cool. ‘It is Abhishek Juneja,…It is on 23rd’. Oh damn. I had planned for a trek to Sandhan Valley on the same day. I wouldn’t be able to make it. It was publicized by our committee, and I, a member, wasn’t available on that day. I felt bad, but then forgot about it. The seminar went well, and I heard about it from people. So apparently Abhishek had built the portal all by himself, managing his office work at the same time. Good for them, I thought.

Days went by, and I had completely forgotten about the project. I had seen the website Abhishek made, and it was good. Not much to it, looked fairly static. Sometime in mid February, Dhananjay calls me out of my classroom for a conversation.

If there is one person I respect the most in my college, it is Dhananjay. He’s simple, friendly, thoughtful, humble, helpful and technically fluent enough that we had great conversations with each other without losing out on what the other guy is saying. This was particularly important because there are just two people in the entire college with whom I can have a heart to heart technical talk without dumbing down on the details. And he was good at teaching. Many people are experts in their fields. But very few can share their knowledge in a way people learn and enjoy learning. Dhananjay is one such guy.

I go out to speak to him, and he asks me about Project Lumos and the conversations I had with Abhishek Juneja. Told him everything I remembered of. He then explained me certain things, and although I don’t remember what are the things that he said, what I do remember is that the chat with him gave me the feeling that this is something important and I have to be a part of it. I remember telling him that doing it all alone won’t be feasible for me, to which he said, ‘Don’t worry. We’ll form a team’. And that was it. Single most value adding decision that I had taken for myself in a while. If that seemed like an overstatement, continue reading.

The next couple of weeks were team creation, planning and a lot of things which I don’t need to get into the details of. It was fun. We had weekly calls to report the status to Abhishek. He was the Project Manager for us. Dhananjay was good at conveying the messages from Abhishek to the team of 15 odd enthusiastic people that we formed. We also started weekly sessions on random technical topics to talk on in front of the team, so that they pick up faster. All in all, I was enjoying the experience. It was also due to Project Lumos that I can speak better in public. Seeing Abhishek and Dhananjay do it gave me that confidence needed. The way to teach is also something I’ll credit Dhananjay for teaching me. He is probably the best teacher I’ve known.

During this period, we had several meetings with the faculty for discussions over computer lab approvals, certificates for students participating and other stuff. It was during this time that I got to know Dhananjay and Abhishek closely. I always had a guilt that I don’t know my seniors well. Especially with someone like Dhananjay as a senior, I felt that I should talk to them more often, interact with them, learn from their experiences and more. I never actually did that, and I always felt bad that I didn’t know any of the seniors personally. That changed with this project. I got to know Dhananjay and Abhishek well, and that was a proud feeling for me. Yes, I know two of the best seniors one can get, and I am very lucky for that.

With the help of Dhananjay, we got in touch with Rahul Kulkarni, who later became my mentor for learning and implementing Data Science and who pushed me into this internship in Delhi at Fourthlion. The influence Rahul Kulkarni has on me is not something I can put into words here. I have learned a lot from him, during these days and later when I’ll go for my internship.

Towards the end of the semester, some more people joined in, but most never actually work with us or joined us in any sessions. Exams started and we all partially disconnected to prepare for exams. My last exam was on 26th May, while the second year folks had their last exam on 10th June I suppose. It was only after that, that any actual work was to begin. But then, some things happened and I came to Delhi for the internship. Ten of the students, along with Abhishek and Dhananjay went on to build a knowledge portal that went fairly well, considering that the students working on it were building their first project.

Today, 25th of July. Four more days to the end of my internship. I am thinking about the number of things I have learned in the last six months. Insane. I have learned how to talk to people, how to talk in public, how to teach, how to listen, how to manage time, energy and utilize it efficiently, explored widest of the technology domains, created and deployed some good applications, got a state’s chief minister see the application I made, visited Agra, Taj Mahal, traveled in an aeroplane, made numerous great contacts at Fourthlion, met Sukhpreet who is one of the best individuals I have had the fortune of knowing. Damn! All of this, each and every one of it was because I agreed to work for Project Lumos with Abhishek and Dhananjay. Is it fair to say now, and in no way an exaggeration, that agreeing to it was probably one of the best decisions I had ever taken for myself, if not the best.

It is quite late, but it is now that I have understood Abhishek well. He is one of the jewels that is yet to be discovered by someone. He has had his past, but the things that he has achieved ever since, amazing. He is honest to the core, straightforward and never thinks once before appreciating or criticizing someone. He rather undervalues himself, for he thinks he has something less than that what most people do. The fact is, he is far richer in his attitude and character than most people I know, helpful, hardworking and selfless. In the end, I think this is what matters. Skilled human-robots are dime a dozen these days. Attitude is what separates the individual from the herd, and he’s kind of a guy you see and say, ‘Dude, he’s going to make it big in life’. Yes, exactly that kind of a guy.

I need not say more, for I have poured my thoughts into this piece. This came out because of an email that Abhishek sent out on Saturday, and I kept thinking, this guy has no damn clue how much of an influence he has on our lives. So Abhishek, and Dhananjay, this one’s for you. If you ever read this, know that you are SUPER AWESOME and SUPER COOL! Your fan forever, Abhishek.