My Experience at WikiToLearn Conf India 2017

I set out for my journey on 16th Jan, taking a week off from my hectic schedule at my University, and travelling all the way to the North- Jaipur, the pink city of India. WikiToLearn community had call for proposals for technical talks during my end semester exams and I had spent some time on writing my proposal in between my study breaks which earned me a fully funded ticket to Jaipur. Brilliant! The conference was held at the prestigious LNMIIT College, Jaipur for 2days- 17 to 19 Jan. I was quite excited to attend the conference for a couple of reasons. One, because this was going to be my first ever technical talk.(Yes, first one in my Bachelors) and the other reason was that I was going to meet some of my dearest seniors who graduated from my University and went to different places. One of them- Tony Thomas, the coolest, and the most optimistic guy in our FOSS@Amrita, a club and the other- Harish Navnit, awesome person who resembles a typical eat-code-sleep cycle 😀 One of the organisers of the Conference was again a member from our club- Srijan, whose poetic lines I am a fan of 🙂 So, this was going to be like a mini Amrita reunion and nothing could stop me from attending it. Also, my companion of all time at college- Haritha Harikumar was also joining me for the trip and the conference. What more can I ask for! The three of us- Srijan, Haritha and myself set our first leg of the journey from our University and our travel itinerary was something like Kerala->Bangalore->Jaipur and back.

We arrived at the campus on 18th Jan around 3:30 am where the climate was freezing cold. Despite the several layers of clothing, my legs went numb and I could hardly stand firmly. We had an escort Aarshiya – a student volunteer for the conference who took us to our respective accommodations. They were in their casuals and looking at us shaking as if we had a nervous breakdown, she told us that the temperature was only “zero degree celsius” which just shook us more than the climate there. It was already too late for us to get some sleep after a tiring journey so we tucked ourselves under the quilts and all the warm clothes that we could find and fell asleep. In no less than three hours the escorts were back, to take us to our venue for the day. Interestingly, the breakfast at their mess was too standardized than a typical mess food. They served hot Pavs with masala and Bournvita too( they call it the chocolate milk).

The entire WikiToLearn talk tracks took place at one hall which meant there were no parallel tracks. This meant that the students didn’t have to deal with this hard thing of choosing their talks that they wanted to attend. We had a roll of amazing speakers and we were already familiar with each other prior the conference thanks to technologies like Whatsapp and social networking. The conference took off with an Introductory Session by Sagar Agarwal, one of the organizer of the conference and a distinguished professional, who addressed the audience. The next talk was followed by Jaminy, a pre-final year international student doing her Bachelors in Electronics at NIT, Warangal who spoke about her journey in Open Source. It was her first hand experience on this talk though being an International speaker 😉 There were several other tracks for the day on various topics such as Amit’s “Introduction to Docker”, and Abhimanyu’s GSoC project with food filled presentations and so on. We also had the co-founder of WikiToLearn- Riccardo Iaconelli, introducing WikiToLearn’s new initiative in introducing collaborative textbooks. He’s the coolest developer that I have ever met in my life. One can only get a great deal of motivation to work hard and go back with a lot of positive vibes after talking to Riccardo.

The next day, another set of talks were all set. This was a big day for me because my talk was also scheduled for that day. My talk was on “Connecting Rural Women On Internet” where I briefed about the current scenario for women in rural areas and the extent of accessibility of internet for them. I and my team, a group of devs from Mozilla Firefox Community had come together for Dino tank- a design sprint, where we brainstormed on the same theme and developed prototypes to provide an effective solution for the rural women.  My talk was more focused on the various prototypes and key features that I and my team had discussed and designed at Dino tank. Because I love public speaking, I did not face much of a  difficulty in presenting my first talk but yes, because it was my first, I had this tad bit of nervousness initially which I overcame as my talk progressed. After the sessions for the day was over, we had a musical night where the ever popular Mame Khan performed live and we had the privilege of sitting in the front rows despite joining late and the huge crowd dancing the night away. Mame Khan put up a fantastic performance and our two special speakers- Tony Thomas and Riccardo got to dance in the air. The crowd cheered for them and made it very special for them, I am sure. We couldn’t have asked a better ending for the conference than this. It was quite surprising that all of us speakers got along quite well in just two days and had a great time making every minute special and memorable. Some of us speakers whose flights were scheduled after a day or so stayed back at Jaipur and went for a road trip to Agra. 🙂 That was the first time ever I saw “The Taj Mahal”, this one thing that every Indian has on their wishlist. I am so glad that I got to go for the conference and that I was able to meet such lovely set of speakers. I had a great time and I feel grateful to everyone, from the organizers, WikiToLearn Community, the LNMIIT student volunteers, my parents, and all of them for making this trip a memorable one.

After the sessions for the day was over, we had a musical night where the ever popular Mame Khan performed live and we had the privilege of sitting in the front rows despite joining late and the huge crowd dancing the night away. Mame Khan put up a fantastic performance and our two special speakers- Tony Thomas and Riccardo got to dance in the air. The crowd cheered for them and made it very special for them, I am sure. We couldn’t have asked a better ending for the conference than this. It was quite surprising that all of us speakers got along quite well in just two days and had a great time making every minute special and memorable. Some of us speakers whose flights were scheduled after a day or so stayed back at Jaipur and went for a road trip to Agra. 🙂 That was the first time ever I saw “The Taj Mahal”, this one thing that every Indian has on their wishlist. I am so glad that I got to go for the conference and that I was able to meet such lovely set of speakers. I had a great time and I feel grateful to everyone, from the organizers, WikiToLearn Community, the LNMIIT student volunteers, my parents, and all of them for making this trip a memorable one.

My Experience at Grace Hopper The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (India)

I got the opportunity to attend this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration of  Women in Computing powered by Anita Borg Institute and presented in the partnership with ACM India with full scholarship. This Conference(GHCI) is said to be the India’s largest gathering of women technologists.  The conference was hosted at Bangalore for three days. And these three days were the most memorable days of this year .At my university, I have a couple of seniors who attended the Grace Hopper Conference and they all came back with great experience and have always motivated us to apply for the same next year. So, hearing from their experience and reading a lot from their websites, I was very keen to make it to GHCI this year. Also, I am a huge fan of Women technologists and I love associating with them. Like how Bo Bennett says, “A dream becomes a goal when action is taken toward its achievement”, I saw GHCI  as a golden opportunity to meet the women in computing and a great chance to get to know their success stories, passion, goals, and more.

So, as soon as the dates for the application was out, I applied and was so happy when I got the acceptance email. Now what next? Packing backs and getting ready to fly to the conference? No. There were a lot of challenges that I had to overcome for me to attend this conference. Firstly, my end semester examination dates were clashing with the conference dates. I had to write a lot of letters requesting for conducting an alternate exam for the same reasons. This went on for a couple of weeks, writing detailed request letters, permission letters, providing proofs for the conference and showing it worthy to attend, shutting between higher authorities and so on. This was a strenuous task. On the bright side, I learnt to manage time effectively as this was happening during my periodal examinations and I had to make sure that I spent enough time on my studies and also took some time out for getting the official permissions. Also, I utilised this opportunity to get into the good books of the college authorities as they saw me often for same purpose and I had to convince them about how the conference was worthy to go, and so on. After a lot of paperwork, I was all set to go for the conference.

 

The Grace Hopper Conference for Women in Computing, India was held at Bangalore for three days. My accommodation was at Hotel Parijatha Gateway where I checked-in and had my refreshments. There, I met a lot of student scholars from other colleges like CET(College of engineering trivandrum), BITS Pilani, and so on. We had a bus picking us from the hotel and dropping us at the venue. On the first day, the venue was at White Orchid Convention centre where registration desks were set up for all the attendees of the event. Huge banners of ABI, the sponsors, the attractive goodie bags lined up for the attendees and the grand tags we got were all seemed very overwhelming. After our registrations were done, we were asked to move to the banquet hall were lunch was served to us. The lunch was a grand feast with a large variety of dishes. Right after the wonderful meal ,the key-note sessions for the day began. Firstly, we had Ms. Geetha Kannan, Managing Director of Anita Borg Institute India talking about how a woman’s life should not be a career of missed opportunity. Her talk indeed was very inspiring and it motivated us all to strive for excellence in our respective fields. We had a series of amazing speakers like Telle Whitney, CEO and President of Anita Borg Institute; Nimisha Mukherjee, Redhat; Chitra Gurjar, Program Chair, ABI; Madhavan Mukund, President of ACM India; and Vanitha Narayanan, Managing Director of IBM India Private Limited. She was in fact named as one of the 12 Global Indian Super Women of 2016 by CXOToday. There was a jolt of excitement as we got to hear them all address the gathering of 3000 women in tech under a single roof. After the key-note sessions, we had a surprise dance party where all the woman rocked the dance floor and had  a whale of a time.

The second and third day of the conference comprised of technical/ non-technical talks and career fair. There were four parallel talk tracks running and we could choose whichever we wanted to attend. Choosing our talks was a bit challenging since all the talks seemed to be too interesting to be missed. Even if we arrived a minute late to the respective venue where the talk was going on, the seats would have been already filled. This shows how demanding the talks were.  I personally attended a few talks having to stand by there doorside because the hall was full already. These events were hosted at Vivanta By Taj, one of the best luxurious hotels in the city. Though we spent two whole days at this hotel, the conference was too engaging for us to discover the rest of the hotel. The career fair was also there for both the days with around 50+ companies offering awesome career opportunities for students. I am sure the student scholars had a great time visiting all the stalls, playing technical games such as quiz, scrabble, etc and winning exciting prizes. At the end of the day, each attendee will have at least two huge bags of goodies from the stalls.

Everything from accommodation to food was top class and we had a great time. It was so overwhelming to have around 300 women in computing with 295 organisations and around 220 student scholars all under one roof. It was so inspiring to see them all celebrating their work and achieving milestones in their respective field. I feel grateful to be a part of this celebration and I hope I go back next year too.

A not to all the girl students out there, please to apply for GHCI next year and I bet you’ll have a great time 🙂

DinoTank- Design Sprint 2016

I got selected to attend DinoTank, organised by Mozilla Firefox on 19th and 20th of November 2016 at Bangalore. DinoTank is a design sprint where the makers of the web come together and pitch ideas for a particular problem proposed. Once the ideas are formulated, they pen it down and build prototypes to solve it. This year Mozilla received 47 such problem statements for the design sprint and the panel finalised on three problem statements. The design sprint that I participated was on “Connect rural women on internet”.

On the Day1, I arrived at Banglore early in the morning and a cab was already arranged for me to drop me off at  The Park Hotel, a five star hotel where my accommodation was arranged. After refreshments, myself along with the 20 developers left for the venue- HasGeeks. HasGeeks is a software company which provides spaces for technical events. Soon after settling down, we had an introductory session on what the agenda was by Michael Henretty, a software Engineer at Mozilla, Rina Tambo Jensen and Rosana Ardila who also work at Mozilla. We also met Vinisha Srivastav, whose problem statement- “Connecting rural women on internet” was selected. VInisha Srivastav hails from a poor family and her father is a farmer at UttarPradesh. The problem statement that she proposed is very close to her since she has personally witnessed the lives of women in her village. Being a software engineer at Google India, she wanted to contribute back to her village and showed determination to improve the living conditions of the women folk there. Hence, she quit her job and decided to focus on this problem statement first.

Prior to the design sprint, the core team- Vinisha, Rosana,Tina  and Michael had already researched on this and interviewed to some of the women in the rural areas regarding their difficulties and their lifestyles. All these datas were put up on the wall and we were asked to take a look at them and suggest ideas and solutions for them. This way we created a user persona and this was the  first step in the design sprint. We developed context appropriate solutions put them all up on the wall. We discussed about it and grouped the ideas into categories. Then we were split into groups of five and where each of us picked up a particular idea that we liked from the wall and pinned down solutions to it in five different perspectives some of these perspectives included- providing solutions through media approach, through involvement of technology, through local communities, and so on. This way each team identified five distinct problems and came up with around 25-30  solutions. Later, each team picked up two problems and analyzed on the how much realistic the solutions were to each of the problem posed. This was followed by several other steps such as isolating the problem, defining boundaries, thinking about the extreme users and positive deviance, iteration and so on for the rest of the day. We also gave feedbacks for each of the ideas that we strategized. Every team member would drop in feedbacks to other teams and to their own team regarding the additional points that need to be looked into, merits and demerits. This feedback helped a lot in improving the quality of the solution that each team was working on. Later we chose a single idea per team and started closely designing solutions based on the feedback that we got.

Later that evening we attended an event regarding the “Equal Rating Innovation Challenge” powered by Mozilla which was a contest rewarding $250,000 including expert mentorship to spark new ways to connect everyone to the Internet. We had some interesting speakers addressing us on the ideas that are open for us to participate for the event. The Chief Guest for the event Prof. Rahul De,was conferred the ‘Best Professor in Information Technology Management’ award at the Asia’s Best B-School Awards. We also had other participants from the contest who shared their ideas and declared their project open if we wished to contribute. This gave us a lot of insight on the latest technologies and techniques used in connecting everyone over the internet.

Day2, was all about designing and developing our prototypes based on the idea that we had chosen per team. We first made paper prototypes and then after several iterations, we worked on developing prototype model based on our ideas. This was a tedious task and as a student, I learnt how a product is actually built and all the steps that is involved in providing software based solutions. At the end of the day, each team had excellent working prototypes and we concluded the event submitting each of the prototype for testing with the users- rural women.

Apart from the technical work that we did, we also had regular unlimited supplies of delicious food and snacks provided to us at our desks so that we could put our heart and soul to work. I got to meet a lot of developers from the community and they were very warm and welcoming. I was one among the three students who attended this event.  The devs were surprised to hear about my open source contributions that I do as a student and were very willing to help me in finding projects and potential mentors in the community. I am thankful to the Mozilla community for providing excellent facilities and travel grants for all the participants and I  look forward to work with the community on this project. I am also grateful to my university and my parents for the immense support and cooperation that they gave me from their side. Without them, this could not have been possible. I take away a lot of learning from Dino Tank and it was a great experience in meeting the developers from the community.

Accepted for Grace Hopper Conference India2016

Happiness is reading ” Congratulations! GHCI Student Scholarship Acceptance”. Yes, that’s right my dear readers. I got selected for the GHCI student scholarship. For those who didn’t get it, Grace Hopper was an American computer scientist. She was the one of the first programmers of the famous Harvard  Mark I computer back in 1944. Her contributions to the tech field those days were simply amazing. So, on her name GHC is organised every year by the  Anita Borg institute. GHC is one of the world’s largest gathering of women in tech. Similarly we have, GHCI where we identify awesome women techies and they all come together on this occasion. GHCI is a great opportunity to meet women from various tech background, get to attend awesome talks, great ambience, and food! So that’s about it for now. I’ll be posting updates on GHCI after I get back from the conference. Until then, see you! 🙂

 

Open Source Contribution

I have been trying to contribute to Open Source organisations and this journey of hunting down an Open Source Organisation of my comfort has been going on for a long time since August 2015. This journey helped me work with technologies like CMake, Docker, HTML5, and so on. I learnt how to write unit test scripts, Docker file and more. LibreOffice, OWASP, KDE and Mozilla are the communities that I tried contibuting to and finally I found the community that I was passionate about- Mozilla Firefox.

It has been quite sometime since I have been pushing technical contributions to Mozilla Firefox. The community is simply great, those 60+ patches I pushed to Mozilla wouldn’t have been possible without their response and corporation. Whenever I was stuck with a bug, my mentors at the community would give me the motivation to fix it.

What is more great is that now I am  on their “Our Contributors” page too! That was indeed a moment of joy. You can find my name- “Hari Chaithanya” on their page.

A fruitful experience at Gitamritam.

At first, I was at a dilemma if I was supposed to attend Gitamritam, the workshop that I was waiting for an entire year or to attend my cousin’s wedding. We always reach such kind of junctions were we are to make a choice and go with it. This camp was about Gita, something that everyone must read in a lifetime they say. Life always throws us in such situations so I thought maybe learning Gita will help me take decisions in life. Hence, I made up my mind to attend Gitamritam.

The first few hours of the camp gave me the experience of a First Year joining a college. After the registration process, we went to Krishna Hall located at the MBA Building of Amrita Campus, Ettimaidai. We were all seated in the floor and Kundalini was provided to us. Kundalini is a mini stool which is like half a feet from the ground level. Kundalini is a part of the typical Gurukulam style education. It helps us to sit erect and maintain a straight spine. Sitting on a Kundalini, one can never fall asleep in class. Br. Dhyanamrita lovingly called as Dhan Ji by all, addressed the gathering. then, a short presentation was shown where they showed us the feedbacks of Bala students who attended the Gitamritam camp for Bala. Their feedbacks were full of deep thinking and spiritual thoughts. We were all taken  aback to see tiny tots talking intellectually. Later Shankar Kumaran, Cultural Education Sir from Amrita Bangalore took over the stage and for the next few hours, we sat holding our stomachs due to uncontrollable laughter. The room was filled with joy and optimism.

For the next seven days, we would all assemble at 5:45am for yoga, then Dhan Jis’s class exactly at 7:15. If anybody arrived even a minute late, they were out of the class. I learnt that we can be punctual with discipline. We would have “My life my passion” hour where celebrities and renounced personalties share their life stories and experiences. Some of  them who came include Ananda Shankar, Santosh Hegde, Gurumoorthy, Vineeth Narain, Srikanth, and Sateesh Menon. Though their ventures in life was different, braveness, daring and belief in oneself more than the others were some of the characters that they all shared in common. We were all surprised to see that a few of their statements were used by all of them and swami ji. We all had something to learn from each of them. Apart from this, we also had adventure. The first one was walking down the wall from the fourth floor of a building. The second one was to walk on a rope till half way and then fall on your back to reach the ground. Both of these adventures were breath taking and it helped me overcome fear of death. While attempting these kind of adventures, one has to completely trust the trainer who handles the rope. When he tells you to let go of it, you got to let it go and jump. Apart from this, nature gifted us with some natural adventures like climbing up the mango tree, walking across it’s beautiful branches to get it’s juicy fruits.

Every evening we would sing bhajans which rejuvenated our energy. Even those students who showed high resistance to open up would sing loud to their heart’s content during the bhajans. Sometimes, the energy would boost up so high that we start dancing and singing, offering our prayers to the lord.

We had a cooking workshop where each team was supposed to prepare a meal that has nine item. In additional to this, each team was given a surprise vegetable where we were supposed to make a dish out of it. Creativity was the manual for that dish and for other dishes recipes were provided. This workshop taught us creativity and coordination. With an hour time that we had. all of us were running here and there, helping each other and cooking the recipes. Thankfully, some of us knew cooking and that helped us from doing unusual and extraordinary things in the kitchen. By extraordinary things I mean, the cooker touching the ceiling and doing a free fall from there, etc. We successfully completed the tasks and then were concentrating on finishing up all the dishes. We would peep into other teams dishes to taste them and would call them our to our table for the same. Towards the end, we all fed each other. This was the most defining moment for all of us. Love and compassion was at it’ s peak. We understood the real meaning of  compassion.

I take back a lot of learning from the camp. We spent more than 90 hours learning and experiencing Gita. Our day would start at 5am every morning and end at 11pm.

There was not a moment when I felt tired or slept during any of the session like most of us do at college. We didn’t make notes during the classes instead we practiced what was taught. This way the lessons that we learnt is registered in our heads clearly. In the very first day of the camp, we were asked to submit our phones. We were very reluctant in doing that. So then, they agreed to give us our phones for an hour everyday. For the first two days all of us would go and collect our phones for an hour but then later, I would say that Gita happened. We started enjoying every moment of our life there that we were not interested in spending our precious time in this electric device- cellphone. Even after getting the phone back on the last date, I used my phone only when it was necessary.

We learnt the meaning of each sloka that we chanted and it made a huge difference to our chanting. I now knew why and what I was chanting. Chanting lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu would give me goosebumps every time I chanted. Now I can clearly differentiate between the goal of life and goals in life; happiness and joy; love and lust. There was not a topic that was left untouched in the camp. We talked about everything openly so that there are no confusions and conclusions. In the beginning of the camp, Dhan Ji told us that we can sit any way we want in the hall. We were free to go back and whenever we felt sleepy. I was deeply moved by his words because there are no teachers who give us so much of freedom and yet earn respect from their students. Every game that we played had an important idea, an important thought to convey.The students of Ettimaidai campus said that the food that was served was the usual mess food that they get in their campus. But this same food was truly delicious. This was because the entire atmosphere was filled with so much of love, enthusiasm and compassion that every moment was very defining and special to each one of us. A lot of learning took place.
From now on, whenever we are faced with any challenge in life, we would always get into Gitamritam mode and try to resolve it in Gita perspective. Whenever I am faced with a failure, I will remember Ananda Shankar’s words – ” This is only  a page in my life. I will not make it the book of my life.” I will try to implement the golden rule – ” Never complain and compare”. We are all born with a return ticket. Hence we must remain fearless and take that big leap whenever required. The more we remain in our comfort zone, the less happy we get. Gitamritam was one of the best things that happened in my life and I enjoyed every bit of it. I would explore more Gita. Gitamritam was only an introduction to Gita. It is like we opened the jar of nectar and smelled it. Now we need to reach in and taste the sweet nectar.

Summer of Code with Mozilla.

The big “Summer of code” fever has come to an end with a whopping 10 selected students from my FOSS club being accepted as Summer of code students for their respective projects. My hearty congrats to all of them and my best wishes for finishing the project successfully. I am disappointed about the fact that I  couldn’t share “the moment” with them but I am happy that I put my best and did whatever it took to get accepted by Google. I am sure this experience will help me in a great way in future. Sometimes things don’t go as planned. But that’s alright. Maybe the accepted proposal would have been better than mine and that student would have had more  contributions to the community than I did. I believe everything happens for a reason. What is more important is learning. In the course of this GSoC journey, I  gained a lot of technical skills which was my  primary goal.  I will start early and prepare better for the next Summer of Code. I feel grateful to be a part of FOSS club and to all my seniors who continue to support me through this journey.