[Techie Tuesdays] Saurabh Minni, the developer who developed without a device
Saurabh is the technology architect at AdNear, a mobile ad platform which uses geo locations for ad targeting. Saurabh was not an early starter. He didn’t realize his full potential until sometime into his career when Android came into the picture.
Born and brought up in Calcutta, Saurabh, like most kids, started with computers only when he encountered them in school. Nevertheless, he learnt DBase and FoxPro when he was only 12. However, Saurabh was banned from using computers when he was in the 10th standard to concentrate on his studies.
It was while learning C in his first semester that Saurabh wrote a program to calculate the values for his experiments in the chemistry lab. It ended up on his instructor’s computer and was used to evaluate whether the students had done the experiment accurately or not.
At another instance, Saurabh wrote his own version of Microsoft Outlook to download and read mails offline.
After his engineering degree, Saurabh took up a job at Tata Elxsi in 2005 where he worked on image processing algorithms for digital signal processors for hardware devices. One of the most challenging projects which Saurabh worked on involved writing an algorithm for a DSP chip which would reduce the image processing time for an image of 1 MB to under 24 milliseconds.
The program he wrote took 20 seconds at first to perform the task but multiple iterations and optimizations finally brought down the time to under four seconds. But this did not serve the purpose and he had to work hard and constantly optimize the program to perform better, ultimately he was able to achieve it using a series of operations and bought down the time to 23 milliseconds. An improvement of 1000x!
After spending two years in Elxsi he wanted to move to a products company for more experience and he started looking for opportunities. Saurabh joined Adobe in 2007. He says, “At Adobe, the culture was really great, everyone was super smart. There was a flat hierarchy among all the coders. You could approach anyone and they would be more than willing to help you out.”
Adobe was working on Adobe Captivate, a tool to create e-learning projects. Saurabh and his team were responsible for the maintenance of the tool. The old version on which they were working was quite messy and as a result they decided to rewrite the tool from scratch. It was around the same time Saurabh started volunteering for BarCamp and became a part of the core team. BarCamp is an open un-conference which takes place all across the world. BarCamp Bangalore is the largest BarCamp in India which takes place twice a year and is often attended by 500+ people in every session.
“BarCamp has an interesting history. There was a FOO (friends of O’reilly) camp which was very restricted and not everyone was allowed; some people didn’t like that and decided to come up with an un-conference which would be open for everyone. They came up with BAR (the second part of the famous variable ‘FOOBAR’ which is often used in programming) and that is how it started,” states Saurabh.
It was during this time that Android was released and Saurabh started working on it. He created his first app ‘Search Anything’ using which one could search from any search engine from within the app. It was interestingly downloaded most in China. “I opened my first developer account and had to recover the $25 which I had to pay as the developer fee. The app did a good job at it and I got over $100 in a few days in my fiancee’s account using which I was registered from the US,” says Saurabh.
Another app that Saurabh worked on was a music app which got over 15,000 downloads in the Google Play Store. “There was nothing special in the app, I created it to learn how music works in Android. It used to play Navkar Mantra (for the Jains).”
Another interesting software which Saurabh worked on was a music player for Windows, the most special thing about this music player is that while most music players are heavyweight and come in large size (over 20 MBs), Saurabh made a music player with a size of less than 1 MB (it is not a mobile app).
Saurabh spent three years at Adobe and it was time to move once again. He joined McAfee in 2010 but his love for Android couldn’t keep him there for long. He quit within three months and got an offer from Intuit.
“In the interview at Intuit, the interviewer told me that all my apps crashed when the screen was tilted from portrait to landscape. I didn’t know it as I didn’t have an Android device and used to test the apps using emulator. The interviewer asked me about the BarCamp and I said we didn’t have any place to organize it. He offered Intuit office as a possible venue. Two days later, I got permission from Intuit to use the space for BarCamp and four days later I got the offer letter,” adds Saurabh.
At Intuit, Saurabh worked on Snaptax, a paid app using which you can take a photo of your Form 16 and file your taxes online. It got over a million downloads and a five star rating on the store!
Another set of interesting apps which Saurabh worked on include auto complaint app where you can take the picture of a number plate of an auto and select the appropriate category and send a complaint to Bangalore Traffic Police. The complaint gets registered with them and they respond promptly. The app got very good coverage in the media. He built a similar app for Mumbai autos as well.
Saurabh joined AdNear six months ago as a technology architect and is working on their mobile SDKs and scaling the architecture. He has helped build a robust database at AdNear which handles over 3000 queries per second.
Talking about his journey, Saurabh says the most important lesson is to keep your mind open for all possibilities. “There is so much to learn. When you are just out of college, you’ve not learned even one percent and don’t even know the basics until you get into the real world. Being a generalist always helps in the long run. I have worked on hardware products, Web products, image processing, Android, and am now working on scaling. It wouldn’t have been possible had I focused on only one thing.”
Say Hi to Saurabh.