Last year I tweeted about how I was moving from a Slum where I lived for 29 years to a multi-story rented apartment.
The tech community on Twitter responded with nothing but love. Dan Wahlin posted that he would love to hear more about my story. It's not going to be easy to write about my struggle over the years, but I will try my best.
I was born in Mumbai and lived in a slum as long as I can remember. It was a typical slum which you see in movies – there were good people and a lot of bad people, too. I was lucky not to hang out with those bad people for long.
I was more of a lazy person, and cricket was my first love. I performed very poorly on my 10th exams. I was expecting to get better grades, but they were all below my expectations.
I was not sure what I was going to do next, so I thought I would try to get admitted in science but my marks weren't good enough.
Getting Into Computer Science
I would say it was my luck or destiny. One of my dad's friends informed us about some Diploma courses. I applied for it and luckily I got in.
I had to choose from multiple courses, and I chose computer science without thinking twice. But it was not going to be easy.
How I struggled with language
English is not my native language. I studied in a school where Hindi was my first language and I had accent issues as well (coming from the north, we have a different accent). I remember crying in a class because I couldn't understand a thing, and I was scared to fail again like I failed my expectations in 10th Standard.
I did really bad in our internal exams, but giving up was not an option this time. I never told my parents that I was struggling with my studies. I pulled myself back, started studying hard, stopped playing cricket, and isolated myself from friends.
The only thing I wanted to achieve was somehow not to fail in the first year of the 3-year program. In the upcoming exams, I did ok and got around 50% in the first year.
I was not happy, but that was the best I could do.
When I moved into the second year I was a better version of myself. I was more confident and scored better on my exams. And by my final year, I scored more than 60%.
I learned that if you decide to achieve something, you can and will do it. Never give up, because you can always learn if you are serious about it. For example, I remember when one of my classmates made fun of my accent – I took it as a challenge and improved it.
Dealing with a Setback
Once I passed my final exams, I was more interested in studying to get a CS degree. That was another 4-year program (3 years for me as I had gotten the 3-year diploma).
I intended to continue my studies, but when I was in my second year, my dad lost his job. I was not aware of it for a long time, then one day my dad gave bad news to me. He asked me to start looking for a job as he could not afford to pay the fee for my CS degree which was around 42k (550 USD) per year.
I was crying the entire night and couldn't sleep. The next day my mom, who noticed me crying, spoke to my dad – she said "Do whatever you want to do, but my son is going to continue his studies."
My dad agreed, and with the help of my uncle (my dad's big brother) I was able to continue.
Getting into a CS Degree Program
I scored well enough on my exams to get into the CS degree program. I was admitted into the 2nd year and to one of the colleges which had just opened in 2004. So it wasn't a Tier-1 college, but it was from Mumbai University and I was happy to get in.
The same year we had heavy floods in Mumbai so the entire admission process was postponed. Within 2 months we had our exams, and I was lucky I didn't fail any subjects.
When I went into my 3rd year, I started borrowing books from the library to study because I had no money to buy those books. A few of my professors used to borrow them for me, so I could use them to study during exams and return them afterward.
By the time I was ready to complete my 3rd year, my family's finances had gotten worse. I thought of dropping out this time, but one of my friends with whom I shared this news said: 'You don't worry about it, I will do something'.
I almost cried. But during vacation, my dad told me that he managed to save up the money for the final year.
I was happy and I did well in my final year. In my final exam, I scored close to 70%. I thought that this bad phase was gone since I finally had a degree. But there was something happening that I didn't know about.
The Recession of 2008
The Great Recession happened, and not many companies were hiring that year. I was not sure of what I wanted to do next.
My friends said I was good at coding, so I should get into it. I realized I really enjoyed coding, and I fell in love with C#.
I waited for three or four months before I could get my first job. At that job, I could study new things and get paid too – my salary was 5k INR, or around $68 USD per month.
After 8 months I decided to leave that job and was jobless for a month. I got some support work for the next 4 months, which required some knowledge of SQL queries, so I brushed up on that knowledge.
Finally, in January 2010, I got a job where I could write some code. It was a Windows application using C#. I gave my best, but the salary was still very low.
I was getting paid 12k ($163 USD) per month, and there was not enough work. I spoke to my manager about this and he told me to take this as an opportunity to learn something new.
I started reading more C# and another colleague of mine who was a DBA helped me with SQL (creating Stored Procedures, functions, and writing queries). Within 10 months I got an offer with a 100% raise. A giant step! I worked on this new job for another 8 months.
Joining the Startup
I joined a startup in August 2011, and went on to work there for the next 5 years. The pay was good, and I got more than a 50% raise when I joined. And I finally had insurance provided by the company and PF too.
I gave my best when I started, and I used to deliver things really fast because I wanted more work. Within a few months, I had built up a good relationship with the team and everyone including my CEO appreciated my work.
I realized that not everyone gets a kick start to their career, but don't give up – keep giving it your best wherever you work, and one day you will get your dream job.
It's never a smooth ride
I thought now, everything will be fine – I have a more settled job, and a good salary, but you never know what can go wrong.
My wife was pregnant, and suddenly around the 6th month she had some complications. The doctor told us we had to do urgent surgery and said that they weren't sure if they could save the baby.
He asked us if we could move the baby to one of the hospitals which was known to handle cases like these. There was a chance she could survive, but it would cost us more than my entire year's salary.
And I said that I would do anything to save her.
I hardly had any savings as I was supporting my family and taking care of all our daily expenses.
The entire hospital bill including my wife's surgery was 8L ($11K USD) and insurance covered only 5%. I took some personal loans from the bank and my friends helped me with some money.
Also, I spoke to my manager to see if I could get an extra raise that year, which was around 40% more than I was getting. To my surprise, my manager and my CEO agreed and I got the raise.
I used to go to the hospital daily to see my daughter, then go to work. This was my schedule for three months. She was born with a weight of 845 g and was around 1.5 kg once she came home.
I continued working hard and paid all my friends back, but the personal loan was where I was paying most of my salary. My wife sold her all jewelry so we could finishing paying it back and repay some of my friends, too.
I was finally able to buy her a ring and some more gold jewelry last month – I don't have to tell you how happy she was.
Life is not easy for anyone. You need to stand up to any challenge, you will have tough times, but if you face it head on it will make you stronger.
In search of a better life
I had started focusing more on my career so I could make more money and pay off my loans. But I missed spending time with my daughter and wife.
I had left my parent's house to start my own family, with no savings of my own. One of my friends rented me a house, where I lived for a year and we had no bed to sleep in. We built our home from nothing.
I lived there for a year and bought some mattresses to sleep on eventually and purchased a laptop to practice programming (yes – I had no laptop of my own until 2015).
Not everyone knows you struggle sometimes – even your family. Don't give up, though. Not everyone is going to support you when you are at low points of your life. But if you're lucky, you'll have good friends who support you and help you out when others can't or won't.
What kept me strong
Between 2012-2015 there were many times when I really wanted to give up. But I also wanted to fight for my daughter and wife and give them a better life, and I wanted to be my best at my job.
If you are reading this, please spend time with family. You don't get paid to work more than 8 hours, anything above that is the free work for your employer.
After 2015 I was asked to work more than 8 hours only once and my answer was no because that's how it starts. Work for yourself instead, learn something new, practice, and build something. It will help you in the future.
Moving to Pune
Around 2016 I left the startup because my manager was pretty toxic. When I left, all my co-workers clapped for me, it was a very emotional moment.
I moved to Pune to work with one of the MNC. I started giving more time to my family, worked no more than 8 hours a day, and I didn't work on weekends. During this time, I realized I wanted to write blogs, so I even wrote few blogs on .Net, AngularJS, and Angular.
I started taking training for Angular and made some money. I purchased a bed, got my daughter admitted into a good school, and also paid off some loans. 2017 was a good year for me and my family.
The extra income was really helping us. I remember the old mattress was really in bad condition and it started impacting our health. My wife had a very bad backache because of it, and the extra money helped me invest in a good high-quality mattress.
Never get stuck in your comfort zone. If work is not challenging enough or you are not enjoying it, leave that job if you're able.
Also, family is important. One of the reasons we moved to new city was that I was missing all my family time. I was investing more time at work rather than in family, and travel was making it worse.
Another Bad Phase
2018 started off a little rough. I spent four months recording a course for one person and he didn't pay me. I had some conflict with the organization I used to conduct training with, so I left them.
I was earning money, but my learning had stopped and I was not doing anything for the community. I was earning money because of OSS.
But then my daughter was diagnosed with TB. I was scared and demotivated again, and I had joined Deutsche bank at the end of 2017. So work was good, there wasn't much pressure, and pay was also good.
I didn't have time in 2018 to do much for the community, but I performed well in my project where I was working full-time on Angular.
A Resurrection and My Journey to GDE
After a bad 2018, I had something different in mind for 2019. I really wanted to contribute to the community, but I didn't know how to do it.
I decided to attend an Angular conference (my first conference ever) where I met Vikram from the Angular Team and asked him for some tips.
After coming home from the conference, I wanted to start contributing, and Angular was the framework I was in love with.
But couldn't find any issues which I could work on, so I decided to go to NgRx. I found one issue and raised my first PR on 28th Feb, and started contributing more.
Around mid-March I found an Issue in the Angular repo I could take on, and started working on it and finally raised my first PR there.
In March I learned about something called the GDE Program for Angular. I decided to go ahead and check it out, and learned you get invited based on your contributions. It's true – before that, I was not aware of the GDE program.
I figured out that I was too far away from the GDE and anyways it wasn't my motivation to start contributing.
It doesn't matter when you start contributing to open source. I get this question a lot, but I had never worked on OSS my whole life. My advice is that it's never too late to start. I started contributing to OSS after turning 32, working for 1o years in tech jobs, and it was the best decision I ever made.
Writing for inDepth.dev
I had stopped writing for a long time. I remember while working on one PR for NgRx where the NgRx team motivated me to write an article and even helped me with the review.
The article was published and I was excited, as I loved inDepth.dev for its quality content. I never thought that one day I would write on that platform.
My first open source project
Around June 2019 I started to work on a personal project. I learned about Angular Builders, and Minko gave a nice example on how to deploy your app on GitHub pages. I was inspired by it, so I decided to create one for Netlify for myself and published it on NPM.
It became popular and now is used by more than 200+ projects on GitHub. And it also became part of the Angular Docs.
My First Conference Talk
Sajeetharan, the organizer of NgSrilanka, posted on Twitter they were looking for speakers for the conference. So I decided to send him an email. Within a week I was confirmed as a speaker.
It was my first talk in the front of 300 developers. I was scared, but I learned something: No one is going to be amazing when they give their first talk. I watched the recording and I improved myself, and I read blogs on how to improve as speaker.
Getting Invited to the Google Developer Expert Program
In August, I got a message on LinkedIn from Siddhant Agarwal from Google asking if I would be interested in applying for the Google Developer Expert program. In September 2019 my application was accepted and my interview was scheduled.
And on November 13th, which is my birthday, I was announced as a GDE.
A few months ago, I thought I could never become one – but sometimes, when you work hard enough, you don't need to ask for anything.
Again, never give up. I never thought I would be a GDE one day. I only wanted to give my best to the community. Don't expect anything return, just keep giving your best and you will get more back than you could ever imagine.
Support from my New Employer
Unfortunately, in late 2019, I had to leave my job at Deutsche Bank. It wasn't a pleasant experience, but I got through it.
My new employer supported me in this situation, and the HR department always reassured me that they had my back and that I would be joining the team.
Not all organizations are bad – many do care about their employees. I would love to see a day where all organizations care about OSS and encourage more employees to contribute to the community.
Life after Feb 2020 has been good so far. I have been able to speak at conferences without worrying about my employer, as they don't have any issues with it. And I started contributing to OSS again, and started a Talk Show called "Tech Talks with Santosh" which you can check out here: https://www.youtube.com/TechTalksWithSantosh
Becoming India's First GitHub Star
In March 2020, GitHub came up with the GitHub Star program. This is different from other programs, as you cannot nominate yourself – instead, you need to be nominated by other developers in the community.
I posted about this program, and asked my fellow developers to nominate someone who deserved to be there. I was not expecting many developers to nominate me! But then I got the email to submit my profile.
I was shocked and scared, but I submitted my profile. Then in November I was announced as a GitHub Star. I was the first one from India.
More than anything I was happy to see the the Indian flag on the GitHub Star profile.
Like all developers out there, I do have a dream. Below are a few things I want to achieve:
- Contribute more towards Open Source.
- Inspire more developers to contribute to Open Source.
- Work hard on my Show "Tech Talks with Santosh" to share my knowledge with the community.
- Work towards my dream job as a Developer Advocate, because that's what I love to do – helping developers succeed.
This isn't really a conclusion, as my story is still in progress. I believe everyone has a story worth telling, and this is my story so far.
To end, here are a few important question which I ask myself:
Is my struggle over?
I don't know.
Will everything will be alright?
I don't know.
Am I going to stop fighting?
To quit is not an option.
Thanks for reading!