Abhay Rana aka Nemo

SDSLabs - My experiences

Introduction

For the past two years, I have been involved in a student group in our campus called SDSLabs. It has been the most fun two years of my life. I have acted as programmer, developer, manager, monkey-coder, event-manager and all other roles one might expect in a startup. However, I have never really blogged about any of this. Someone pointed it out recently to me, the truth is I have been meaning to write this since a very long time, but its kind of hard to put down in words. I’ll try my best. This post is highly specific to iit roorkee (you have been warned).

Chronology Of Events / Timeline

Back in my first year, after joining something called SDS as a proficiency in the campus, I was learning PHP. With no-one to guide me, I had only attended a single talk by Shobhit Singh where he talked about dynamic websites. I was instantaneously hooked. I did something called lion, a twitter clone and it won 3rd prize in Srishti. It had follow, unfollow, messages, tweets, and groups (one feature which set it apart from twitter).

The code was a mess of php and inline html, and I have never looked upon it since. I did a couple more projects by myself , learning the in and outs of php (I was still to hear about ruby/python). At the end of my first year, I did a project management system under Kumar Shashank who taught me about MVC and the need of architecture in a software application.

At the very end of the project, a group called SDSLabs was formed. Along with a few people Shobhit sir had found, we founded SDSLabs. Everyone in the group was passionate about building things. And somehow, magically, I was in it. And there began the most beautiful chapter of my life..

Coding & Learning

After completing the PMS (Project Management System), I moved on to work on Filepanda, and then the entire framework application for SDSLabs. All our applications are powered by a single API, which I wrote. Meanwhile, Harshil was working on DC++, and other awesome things. I met pranav sir, and was introduced to the thousand-quirks-of-css. It shifted to mint, and then to ubuntu. I learned the ins-and-out of managing a linux system. Back then SDSLabs was limited to the small committee room in Hobbies Club (with Shobhit Sir working tirelessly on funding for a better lab).

And I met Ishan Sir. If you are reading this, thank you for teaching me how to learn. I had tons of night-outs with him discussing things I barely remember now. I became a creator. I executed on tons of ideas. Most never saw the second day in their lives, but I still have them with me, as memento of the past and what was to be. Ishan Sir was a gold-mine for learning. Everything I could ever ask, and he’d hand over a resource. Some of my most productive learning days were spent with him.

Recruitments

After a single semester of work, we held our first recruitments. I wrote my first blog post for the lab at the time noting down my amazing reaction to the awesome people that had joined the lab.

It is difficult to distil into words the awesome learning experience I had with all these people. Going to chapos, thinking about how we could expand. What else awesome stuff we could do? One night hackathons, where we coded awesome stuff.

And I started to work on muzi, which was to be my application. It stands at 811 commits today, with over 200 issues in our project management system. I went into the development knowing PHP and bits of AJAX, and came out a JQuery fanboy. Muzi has been my primary music player for almost an year now. It feels awesome to listen to music on a music player you coded. The initial version was based on Zune’s design on Windows. We kept on improving it till it was exactly what we wanted. Today, people have listened to almost 1 lac songs on Muzi, and it feels awesome to have been behind something that is so widely used (within the campus).

Launch

The next semester involved our actual launch (11-11-11) of all our applications. We had all converted into semi-breathing coding machines cum zombies by that time though. Sleepless and exhausted, we did prevail, and launched a few hours early. The Launch was appreciably recieved in the campus, although I had to leave for the Deloitte CCTC Contest the very same day(which we won!).

I ended up doing a rewrite of Codematics (codename CodeBot) in node for the launch. It has a geeky, command line interface which was inspired by goosh and xkcd’s unix interface. Along with that, Muzi was launched to huge appreciation as well.

Recruitments Again

This was the semester where our group actually expanded. Our count is almost 42 now, and nothing could make me more glad than actually being with all these people.

I donned lots of hats teaching, guiding, coding, and managing people. Linux became one of my top skills, and I learnt a lot. We shifted to Redmine for management, and I ended up doing a lot of server-administration related stuff (gitolite,redmine,vhosts ,apache,varnish etc).

It has almost been a year since our last recruitment. We have been working of tons of things; some of which will be launched soon. I took lectures on far apart topics from “Usability Designing” to [“Software Development 101”].(https://speakerdeck.com/captn3m0/software-development-101) I mostly worked on internal features, improving our API, and something called Presence. We also participated in two hackathons, and we won both of them.

Where, now?

Our group is still nascent, and although I have not mentioned every project that the group (or even I) have done for fear of making this post too long. That itself speaks volumes about what we’ve done in a short span of two years. Our tagline reads “iDream. iCode. iInnovate”. I wish for the group to continue on that path. Develop things that make life easier; for everyone around the world.

People

Throughout this journey, there have been lots of people, without whom this blog post would never have been written. You all know who you are. Keep being awesome.

Skills

I used to call myself a programmer, but now I’m in a more management-esque role in SDSLabs. Its my share of the work to manage projects, and track progress. That does not mean that I’ve given up coding, and I still do code a lot for our internal projects. I have also become somewhat of a UX enthusiast, taking care of most ux work done in lab. I have also found myself becoming an avid learner, and have Ishan Sir to thank for that.

Anecdotes & Stories

This post already reads more like a things-i-did-at-sdslabs, which is something I was hoping to avoid, instead of why-i-love-sdslabs, which is what i wanted. So I’m gonna stick a few moments and events that stand out to me…

  • We have a board with three defining people on it: Steve Jobs, Dennis Ritchie, and Linus Torvalds.
  • We have had mind-blowing pizza chapos. So many pizzas that they were brought in 2 rickshaws from dominos. Yup.
  • I am known as the bot in lab. Mostly because of my highly rational unemotional responses, and other things. There is another person, who is trying to get that title, though.
  • I am famously known for turning down “writing a letter that could have fetched us lots of funding” for coding instead. (In my defense, there were other people who could have handled it better than me, and we didn’t need it badly at the time)
  • Almost every group in the campus describes their group as a second home. But in our case it is partially true. We spend almost all our free time in lab. I spent close to 500 hours in the lab in this semester alone. Where does this all this time go? Talking, discussions, development, teaching, lectures among other things.
  • SDSLabs feels more of a startup than an actual student group to me (and Shashank as well). We have to fight for our funding, manage people, and develop products.
  • I have done way too much copy-editing to be called “just a developer” anymore. I have spent hundreds of hours fighting Pinta and its numerous bugs.

It has been a great experience working with all these people. I can just hope that the group keeps moving to better innovation, and grander ideas in the future. We are recruiting from first year in upcoming January. If SDSLabs feels like a place you’d enjoy, just come over and take our test. It changed my life, maybe it will change yours too.

Published on December 27, 2012 in personal,sdslabs,experience