No, I am not preaching but writing this as a reminder to myself and a takeaway from something that happened in the recent past.
The week of 5th September was a week of experiments with a team at HackerRank that works on expanding HackerRank’s expertise in more ways than what it is now. In other words, they are “experimenting” to diversify HackerRank – The Labs team.
How it all started:
During their quarterly offsites in Bengaluru, teams plan a day out with an agenda of pure fun and team bonding. This typically involves spending the day at a resort (day-long cricket and other adventures) or going out for team lunches/dinner. With the labs team, however, we wanted to experiment. A HackerRank alumnus DJ runs a wonderful NGO called Join the Dots Foundation (JTD). Any of us at HackerRank have either heard about the amazing work JTD does from DJ or have followed their work on social media and some of us have also been able to contribute to the organization in our own way. In a random conversation, a few weeks before the offsite, Hari (co-founder and the CTO of HackerRank) proposed that we do something for the kids – JTD x HackerRank and he introduced me to DJ so we can get started on planning. DJ and I had hardly known one another back when he worked with HackerRank and had very few instances when we worked together. Mother of coincidences, I met DJ at a birthday party that very evening of my conversation with Hari!! Now that’s how it all began.
DJ (a skilled Program Manager!) had already put together a few slides on various things to do there which gave us a theoretical understanding of what we can do during the visit in a few weeks. DJ was visiting the NGO that weekend and asked if I wanted to join and my first response was, “why not?”.
The trip started on the 29th of August at 5 am. I had Raj accompany me to Palamaner in Andhra Pradesh. On the way, we had yummy food for the tummy but we had tons of food for thought when DJ was talking to us about how the NGO started, what they did and their vision. While a few lines won’t do it justice, essentially JTD is a nonprofit org that works in the rural districts of Andhra Pradesh with an aim of getting every girl child access to opportunities that enables them to be the best version of themselves. Within their nurturing umbrella, JTD provided the girls with multiple opportunities for training in sports, physical fitness and even programming.
The day was filled with a lot of interaction and new experiences with girls coming from 200 nearby villages who had made it to the Level 1 of the process that the sports wing at JTD was working on. They gamified the process to bring girls out of their homes and play as casually as how a boy kid would, on the streets and lanes of every village. It was the 1st biggest event and I was glad to be there to witness it. The energy in the room was HIGH!
In the other wing of JTD, we met the girls who were learning to code and were preparing for an upcoming Bootcamp. We visited 2 other schools post that; one a model school that the JTD foundation was working on and another in the remotest part of Andhra where we met the Girls’ cricket team! This visit for sure gave me a lot of new experiences along with great ideas to plan the labs team visit.
This was followed by a week of planning for D-day. On day 3 of the offsite, the labs team was made aware of the plan and they couldn’t get any more excited about it!
I was excited and at the same time was also anxious about the day because this was not “normal” or “regular” when compared to what we did historically. The 3-hour long ride was quiet since the drive started at 7 am (essentially midnight for most folks in the team 😛 ).
We gave a quick tribute to Major Sandeep Unni Krishnan Memorial which is at the Army training facility that JTD is on the verge of starting at any moment. Post an appetizing breakfast began the first event – Cricket Match! The toss was won by the Kadapanatham girls cricket team and they chose to field. It was a very tough first inning where the Labs team tried to score as much but the girls were good at fielding. Towards the end of the match, I was forced to bat (for those who don’t know me, my hand-brain coordination sucks and when a ball is thrown at me, my first instinct is to duck/run than catch). I wore the entire costume for batting a few balls and I have never been more nervous and excited at the same time. There is no need to mention but the closest to the ball I got was a meter away from the ball when it was far gone. You can see how amazing I am at it in the video here.
The second inning was surely a nail-biting one, but team HackerRank’s fielding game was strong enough. Despite everything, the girls’ team beat us by just one run! It was a bitter yet much sweeter moment for all of us to see the girls celebrate with great joy!
Most of us jumped right at the golden opportunity of traveling in the Auto that was waiting to drop off the JTD volunteers at the next location. For many folks in the team, it was the first time in an auto that had its back open. What a short yet fun adventure!
The view was beautiful with lots of girls in different colored uniforms playing a variety of sports at any distance that the eye could reach. We were told that these girls traveled ~50 km on average just to meet us. Without further delay, the lunch converted naturally into all of us merging into the games that we were most attracted to. It was a sight to see some HackerRankers playing football and some learning how to play basketball for the first time. Some were with the volleyball team and I could see some with the girls playing Tennikoit. The next 4 hours passed in a jiffy while each of us played with the teams that had some players that played for the national teams too. There were also some of us, bonding over common interests stalling/sitting under huge beautiful trees in the school. It seemed like familiarity was not new at all.
Amidst this was the historical match between Hari & Meghana who has started her journey as a TT player. With tons of hoots and cheers, Meghana won both the matches against Hari.
I still remember translating all that Hari said to her and I remember her face filled with such overwhelming emotions (which is also my most memorable moment of the entire day). She took good 20 seconds to just whisper “Thank you” with a ball of emotions stuck in her throat. It was overwhelming for anyone who witnessed it. With all of this, we had to close the games just so that the girls could travel back to their villages in time.
The next thing on the itinerary was meeting the girls who are learning to code. I am not sure if the open-air setup helped or if it was the entire day itself that worked its magic, the girls who were aloof when I met them a few weeks ago were bouncing such thought-provoking questions at Hari about his journey, struggles, inspirations and so on.
Little did everyone know that the next surprise was planned. The Bootcamp team interviewed Labs Team. You heard that right the girls were split into smaller groups of 3-4 and were now on the panel to interview HackerRank developers for a role. The best part? Towards the end, they had to either select or reject them and also share feedback. I got the front-row screening of this because I was the silent interviewer in all interviews. Having an upper hand in knowing multiple languages where I could talk to the interviewers in a language that the interviewee wouldn’t understand and vice versa gave me the advantage in the situation and I had the most fun out there. Over the luscious dinner, the girls had terrific feedback on the interviewees. The volunteers and DJ were awestruck at them being so bold and vocal about things that could have been better and as points of improvement.
The moment had come when we had to depart after a super exciting yet tiring day and we bid our farewells to all the volunteers. Just when we all thought we would doze off in no time, just a tiny little question “what’s up?” is all that the team needed. The ride back was non-stop dancing, singing and another memory added to an already unforgettable day!
Moral of the story
Of course, it was an exhilarating and a memorable day, but what the team and I took away from that was so much more!
- Be open to new ideas/thoughts – If not for Hari’s thought of wanting to do something different and something more meaningful, this day would never have happened
- There is goodness in the world if we seek to find it – The work that JTD is doing at the grassroot level, every single day, is life-changing for the kids. The hospitality and warmth that we experienced from DJ, Team JTD and all the kids were unparalleled. The openness and will to help that each HackerRanker showed, was inspiring
- The biggest takeaway of all was that EACH one of us has the power to make a difference
So the moral of the story: experiment more than you generally do and doubt “weird”, “offbeat” ideas less than you generally do. You never know what may come out of it!
Credits: The blog wouldn’t have existed without the challenge from Hari. So thank you, Hari. Thank you Preeti and Ishani for taking time to review this!