A colleague recently suggested I should read “Outlier by Malcolm Gladwell”, and I did. A one-line summary of the book, “Every great person comes across opportunities in time and space, that help them become great”. For example, a struggling actor meets a film director and spontaneously gets a role in a soon-to-be hit movie. An astrologist accidentally stumbling on the pattern of data revealing a scientific discovery of the century. Any event that turns an ordinary person into an outlier. Then the question becomes, is it the person’s course of actions or some random events that decide their future? This article is a reflection of my journey so far, all the events that happened across this timeline and to know if I was just lucky.
This is going to be a boring and long essay. Make sure if you want to read this. Here are all the events that I think contributed to my journey.
My father’s sister lives in California and has 3 children who visited us a few times back in 2013 and then in 2017. I was introduced to Western concepts far before my classmates. They bought a Toshiba laptop in 2013 for us. I quickly became active on the internet burning gigs of data every month. My grandfather used to work at BSNL telecoms therefore we had internet access at cheaper rates when it used to be very costly.
My dad went to work as a construction oversight person in Mumbai around 2013 when I was 12. He used to visit us every 4 months for a few days. My mom used to live alone and I was not allowed to play around the block or make friends in the neighborhood. I’ve never played cricket in the street. It was just me and my sister watching Marvel all day. This also meant I didn’t go out much, had no friends, and ultimately had plenty of free time.
HTML was introduced around 2016 in my school but by this time the Toshiba laptop was useless. But my dad gifted me a HTC smartphone and I used Sololearn to play around with HTML on it. Later that same year I decided to learn C programming language. My grandfather always promoted my studies. He took me to a bookstore, we got a book called ANSI C. I won’t have a laptop for another year, so I used to read from the book and practice on paper without ever knowing if the code was correct.
Then in 2017 when the school introduced Java, I joined a computer coaching that had all the best girls from my class at that time. I needed to represent myself as the smartest kid and studied the entire book before the classes even started. My father’s sister studied computer science, so I took all her books and studied them too. For reference, we will be taught computer architecture in college around 3rd semester, but I studied it in class 10th.
In late 2017, I met a guy online, who was doing his Ph.D. in the Philippines. He taught me video editing on Sony Vegas, so I could edit his college blog videos for free. I enjoyed doing this for a couple of weeks. It later helped me learn tools like Illustrator, Premiere pro, and ultimately Figma.
My dad at this time was not making much and we were barely making ends meet. I started dating in the same year. There was this incident where I took 200 rupees from my mom, went to a mall with my girlfriend, bought 2 cones of ice cream, and asked for the bill. The guy said 380 and I literally had to ask him to take one back. He was a nice person, so he took a scoop from each cone, and let us keep them for 200. (If you’re reading this, thanks for sticking around). I realized I’d have to earn for myself. So I started watching videos on how to make websites. Then the phase of learning web development started.
Around early 2018 I used to take my laptop and roam around my neighborhood, going from cafe to cafe, and asking people if they needed a website. I got my first project, but the guy scammed me and never paid. Then around March 2018, I met a coder from Pakistan on Instagram. He gave me his Udemy credentials which were full of courses. He guided me a little and I started learning Python, automation, and a lot of cool stuff. He gave me my first client, a Pakistani student who wanted a website for his second-year college project and I built it for 25 bucks. I still have them.
On November 13th, 2018 when my dad was home for Diwali, we got the news that he had 4th stage cancer. He had no health insurance and a 60 thousand rupees of fixed deposit. We took too many loans and exhausted our financial resources by March 2019. One random day my mom took me to the terrace and told me to find a job. In India, you can’t just go to MacDonalds and be a cashier, or mow lawns for per per-hour wage, because if you’re unemployed there are 8000 better unemployed people for the same job.
I don’t know how but I came across an ad for an online teaching platform, Superprof on my Instagram feed. I gave it a shot and got my first student in a week. I downloaded several books like Learn Python the hard way and studied them. I used to sit in a room alone, learn, make syllabi, and then teach programming for hours every day.
The money from my teachings wasn’t enough. So I opened an e-commerce for homemade jewellery with my mom and girlfriend. They used to make the jewelry and I used to handle the e-commerce website, filing for documents to accept payments, handling social media, taking product pictures, talking to customers, and making the actual deliveries. I learned a lot during these months. At the same time, I was building websites for international clients, teaching new people from different parts of the world, and learning so much.
Between teaching and this business, I never got the time to study for college entrance examinations. I wasn’t interested in them anyway. Still, I scored an all-Indian rank of 4000–6000 something in IIT advance. I went to join a college in Haryana but I felt homesick and came back and ultimately joined PSIT (a college in the same city where I live).
Because I used to blog, and teach and had a unique name, SEO was always an advantage for me. I was easily findable. I kept building my online presence. I launched my course on Udemy, then marketed the hell out of it, landing 28K students. A lot of people started approaching me to teach on their platforms. I had an idea to build my own startup and I ended up building it with Adarsh from my college. Don’t get your hopes high, it was just a SaaS. But I did marketing, branding, designing, backend, and much more on it. I’m always serious about building my own startup, here are two screenshots from 2019 to showcase how serious I was—
Later in May 2021, Raghav shared a link to a job post. I applied and got selected because of the SaaS product that I built. Met the best founders I know to date. Around 6 months later I asked Adarsh to join the same startup. An incident that always inspires me — We were in Bangalore for the first time and we saw a building, I pointed towards it and said, “We will have that in the next 10 years”.
Later in November 2022, when they had to close their startup, we were recommended to Commenda. It was far better than joining a MNC for sure. Things turned out pretty well in the end.
Summary before conclusion
To sum up I’ll put in quick sentences.
If I wasn't exposed to the internet and tech by my father’s sister would I be learning HTML 3 years later? If I had more friends I might have wasted time playing with them, instead of sulking at home like a nerd. If my mom had not supported all my choices, I might still be studying at a random college in Haryana. If my dad never got me that laptop I would have never learned Java. If all the girls had decided to join a different coaching, I might now have finished the books. If the ice cream was cheaper, I might not have started web development. What if my Pakistani friend never showed up and I ended up on a stranger-confused path?
If the Superprof ad never appeared on my feed I might have stayed unemployed. If our financial conditions remained the same, I might not have started teaching in the first place.
Also, there’s a fact that you need to spend 10,000 hours doing something, to become great at it. If all these events never happened, I would never have crossed this threshold of 10,000 hours and I would still be working at some MNC (no offense). If Raghav wasn’t my friend and I was never exposed to that job, I might still be just teaching. If Adarsh never wanted to make that SaaS with me, I might not have been hired. If we never saw that building, I might not have dreamed of having it and a spirit to work harder.
After reading all this — Do you think it was my hard work and determination or was I just lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time?
There’s a saying, A person is the summation of all his actions. But I believe, a person can’t be measured or analyzed without taking every event he came across under consideration. He isn’t just the summation of all his actions, but the summation of the entire universe acting around him. So best of luck, measuring that out.