[Techie Tuesdays] The story of Rani Paruchuri and the 25 watt light bulb
For Rani Paruchuri, life was difficult in Lakshmipuram, a village in Andhra Pradesh. This enterprising techie studied in a Telugu medium school without the faintest idea about the existence of computers, or her inclination towards technology. When she was 12, Rani lost her father and things took a turn for the worse. Her mother was uneducated and it became even more difficult to sustain the family.
Rani finished her intermediate in 1989 and wasn't sure what she wanted to do with her life. One day, her maternal uncle, who was visiting them, found Rani studying till midnight under dim light produced by a 25 watt bulb. Her dedication made him decide to provide her with a better education option. He got her admitted into BSc Computer Science at Loyola Academy in Hyderabad. The year was 1989 and computers were still a novelty, but Rani was fortunate enough to have access to them. Rani recollects one of her first interactions with computers when the students were given an assignment to write a program to add two numbers. One of the friends in her group knew how to do it so everyone else copied it from her. The moment she saw the output on the system she realized the power these machines held. Though this happened 25 years ago, that moment is still etched in her memory like it was yesterday.
Rani recalls another incident that put her in touch with her inclination to computers and technology. While observing a friend of hers teach Bubble sort to a group of people, it didn't take her much time to figure out the underlying concept, especially when most try to memorize the same. She understood the value of learning things on a conceptual level. It was only when she was nearing the end of her college degree that she started thinking about Rs 35,000 spent in her education by her mother. Rani had no idea about her future because people around her felt that Computer Science was not a field for girls. Fortunately, the HOD offered her a job as a lab instructor for Rs 1500 a month which she accepted gratefully.
As part of the job there were times when she had to teach Pascal and COBOL to students. Rani recalls that when she took her first class, she realized that she was not fluent in English and was fumbling with the language. But once she started teaching and immersed herself in the subject, she gradually improved.
Rani got married at the age of 20, and worked for a year and a half at Loyola and then joined as a trainer at Bluechip Infotech. During this time, she met a friend who was working as a DTP operator. Desktop publishing was a new field then and had a good reputation. Rani asked her friend to teach her DTP but her response was not encouraging. She told Rani, "One needs to have an 'artistic ability' to learn DTP."
"I went home and started drawing on white sheets to figure out my aptitude for DTP. Once I was done with a handful of drawings and was satisfied with the outcome, I immediately went to her house and knocked her door. When she came out and asked me what am I doing at 10 o'clock in the night at her place, I showed her the drawings and asked if this much artistic ability is enough to learn DTP. She relented and agreed to teach me." Rani says.
Meanwhile, she also started a summer camp to teach kids the basics of computers. Though the camp had only two kids initially, soon word spread and there were enough kids to take it full time. In 1995, Rani attended a course by CDAC (Center for Development of Advanced Computing) for trainers and started a training institute. Out of curiosity, Rani immersed herself in learning Java for three-four months and scored 95% in SCJP. She then started teaching at her institute, as well at a few other places and slowly her popularity grew. Such was her fame that institutes would advertise her classes as ‘Java Classes by Rani Paruchuri’. The institutes had over 200 students learning from her at any given point.
After one of the seminars she gave on Java vs.NET, Rani received a feedback that said, "It was my dream to see Rani Paruchuri, thank you so much." She had attained a celebrity status in Hyderabad when it came to Java. Rani says even after so many years, people come back and reach out to her just to show their gratitude.
Things didn't remain good for long. Following the tech bubble burst in 2000, technology took a beating and the number of students pursuing a career in computer science reduced. The number of students at her coaching classes went from 200 to 10. On the personal front too things were hard. Her mother was hospitalized and she had to attend to her while reading books in the night and preparing for the classes next morning. There were days when she hardly slept for an hour. Her mother passed away in the same year. She was her sole inspiration. Rani says, “Everything that I have done is only to see a smile on her face.” She took five days leave to complete all the formalities and was back to teach on the sixth day. In her entire working life spanning over 25 years, Rani has take less than 100 days of leave in total.
Rani joined another company, Chakilam Infotech, in 2001 as a project manager, but things didn't turn out well there. In late 2002, she joined Intel which turned out to be one of the best decisions of her career. Rani says it was thrilling to see how a company can keep its competitive edge for over 35 years.
Rani worked for Intel from 2002 to 2005. In 2006, she started Dream Tekis Software Pvt. Ltd., a software products company for building B2B core Insurance enterprise products. The company was started by four people and had an employee headcount of eight. In the last eight years, they have grown to an employee headcount of over 40 and have a presence in multiple Asian & African countries, including Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana, and also Nepal with 40% YoY growth. Recently, Dream Tekis also came up with their android app - My Insure Book, for Insurance agents.
In 2009, Dream Tekis went through a severe financial crisis. There was no money to pay electrical, water or even internet bills. One day, the boy who used to maintain the plants in office for Rs.700 per month, barged into her cabin and dragged out all the pots as they did not have money to pay. People took a salary cut and manpower was reduced to one-third. Rani says she was ready to walk down to office to save money on transport and then finally shifted to another location to save on rent. They started working on their second product which finally started selling well and things started getting better.
Rani says one of her biggest challenges is hiring, and there are two traits which she looks at while hiring people. One being the eagerness to learn and how open they are to new ideas. The other being their basics and how strong they are at it.
“Being a women and a techie is difficult, and people don't take you seriously until they see you code,” she feels. Rani is extremely thankful to her brother, who is also her mentor and guide, and her mother, who has also been the motivation behind her every act. “She always used to say, ‘If not you then who else will do it.’” Her husband has been a big support and soul mate in her journey along with her two daughters.