[Techie Tuesdays] Yuvi Panda - Coder, Rebel and Not a Zombie

Yuvi Panda

Yuvraj Pandian or Yuvi Panda as he is known, gave a TEDx talk on how not to be a zombie while he was in college. A rebel by attitude, Yuvi's story is a perfect example of someone who took charge of things and made them work out instead of waiting for them to happen.

Born and brought up in Chennai, Yuvi's first interaction with computers was at the age of nine when his dad got one to help himself in accounting. Wanting to learn more Yuvi enrolled for a course in MS Office, but learned and picked up C as well. Seeing his enthusiasm, his cousin Sudar Muthu, who was in college at that time, gave him MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) CDs to expand upon his knowledge. Yuvi had a health issue due to which he could not physically exert himself for a long time, so most of his time was spent on computers.

When he was 12, he built a computer version of book cricket based on random numbers, and also enrolled for a course in Unix and C++ programming. He was the youngest in the learning centre which gave him a lot of attention and encouragement. For any coder, having your code reviewed by your peers is very encouraging and motivating and this is what encouraged him to do better. Soon enough he was famous in his school as the go-to guy for computer science related stuff, including programming. Soon as they progressed, there was Visual Basic in class eight which he didn't know well enough. "I had a reputation to protect, so I got the book 'Teach yourself VB in 21 days' and learnt from it", says Yuvi. Apart from this he also got MSDN CDs to learn VB from Sudar who was his mentor those days.

During the same time Yuvi discovered ELIZA, a program which used natural language processing to provide answers. He played around with it and modified it to include funny responses about his school thus making everyone believe that it was the program which was replying like that.

When he was in the 10th standard, he got internet at home and thus started learning .NET framework. Yuvi got exposed to blogging and made a blog at yuvipanda.blogspot.com. Soon he discovered yahoo chat rooms and went there to expand his knowledge. He says there was only one chatroom related to programming and only three chatrooms existed at yahoo in the entire world at that time which were dedicated to programming.


World view and recognition

When he was working for his school magazine, Yuvi got an opportunity to interview Sriram Krishnan of Microsoft. The interview changed his views about a lot of things, including college, placements and life in IT sector in general. One important thing which he learnt during this time was, "listen to advice but also consider the context in which the advice is given."

When he was in class 11, Robert Scoble, Rackspace startup Liaison officer, who then worked at Technorati, linked to his blog which in turn resulted in loads of attention on the net. He also scraped Endgadget, and did a word frequency analysis and as the word got around a lot of websites started approaching him for this.


People will help you only when you ask them

Once Yuvi was looking to buy a camera, but didn't have enough money. He casually put up a banner on his blog asking people to donate and it worked wonders as his reputation had spread. Rob La Gasse, who now works at Rackspace, donated a significant amount, including some others. On another occasion, he required a high performance computer and a lot of people donated this time as well, including Rob La Geese, who was the biggest contributor.

During his class 11 final exams, Yuvi fell ill due to exhaustion and dengue and had to skip the exams, but nevertheless he was promoted to the next class. In order to get an admission into a good college Yuvi completely stopped computers and started studying hard, but things didn't work out as planned and he didn't get admission into a college of his choice.

Meanwhile he met Zoli Erdos of ZDNet on FriendFeed. Zoli was also an advisor to ZOHO. He told Yuvi about ZOHO University, Yuvi went to check out and liked it but his parents were against it as it didn't offer a degree yet.

Finally, he joined KCG College of Technology where he kept on dropping in and out. He was a TEDx Speaker in the college while he was still studying there(Not yet passed out, but technically dropped out).   Once when he was hanging out at BarCamp in Chennai, Yuvi met Arun Ganesh who was building busroutes.in, a service for bus routes in Chennai. Arun required some help with it in deciding whether to go ahead with Rails or Python. Yuvi found some problems with the Rails implementation and without telling anyone, built it in Python.


Journey to Wikimedia Foundation

As a part of GSoC(Google Summer of Code) 2010, Yuvi worked on the webcam utility for Gnome, but he was not happy as few people were using it. Ubuntu had recently come up with Unity and there was a debate going on between Unity and Gnome. In the second GSoC in 2011, Yuvi worked for the Wikimedia Foundation as it was a product which everyone used thus he could see the feedback and his product being used in real time. While attending a hackathon in Mumbai, Yuvi met Danese Cooper, CTO of Wikimedia Foundation and then started contributing to Wikimedia on a regular basis. After sometime he dropped out and joined Interviewstreet. Luckily his parents allowed him this time. After six months, Yuvi quit Interviewstreet and joined the mobile team of Wikimedia Foundation full time.

Yuvi joined college after seven months to complete his education, and while at college he started teaching his classmates. Two of them got placements in different fields, but one of them is a graphic designer, thanks to Yuvi.

Looking at the future, Yuvi says he wants to start something like Hacker School, but the mission of people should be to learn and not placements.


Talking about key lessons, Yuvi says.

1) Take responsibility for yourself. Don't expect to be spoon fed.

2) Evaluate the reason when people advice you, trace it back to where it is coming from (experience which leads to that advice), never take it at face value.

3) You have to make your choices. You cannot just let things be.

Say hi to Yuvi here.