The Jnaapti Journey – Engineering Education

While, on one side, we see students who are in the system for all the wrong reasons, there are several we come across who have a genuine interest and curiosity about the world around them. They are passionate about using technology to solve real world problems. Jnaapti tries to identify such potential students and connect them to the right places in the industry.

Fast Trackers Workshop

We conduct a workshop called the “Fast Trackers Workshop” for engineering students. This workshop is a unique blend of technical and life skills delivered in an intense 5-7 days session. Students learn what aspects of their engineering is relevant to the industry needs, what else the industry expects, how to quickly learn a new technology. We show the intricate connection between the various concepts that the students learn during their engineering and how they are required to solve problems in the industry. We use the “Swimming pool philosophy – If you gotta learn swimming, jump into the swimming pool while a coach is watching you”. Within no time we make learners independent of needing a technology trainer to learn new concepts and technologies. In jnaapti, our engineers pick up a new technology within a day or two and we teach these skills to the participants of the Fast Trackers Workshops.

Usually, the workshop culminates with a challenging hackathon. At the end of 7 days students get comfortable working with picking up any new technology on their own, and we put this to test during the hackathon. We then follow up with the students by providing them an internship which lasts between 3 months to a year. We believe in engaging with the students early (right from their second year) and then following up with them till they graduate. We have successfully conducted 4 of these workshops till date and we train about 25-40 people every year.

Every Fast Trackers Workshop is different. We try to innovate and challenge ourselves with new methods of learning.

Here is one such experience from Fast Trackers 3:

We introduced the Fast Trackers to Polymer on the very first day of the workshop, even before they learned basics of HTML. Our hunch was that students will find it much easier to understand the recent developments than to wade through multiple historical failures and understand the nice things about the recent past of web technologies.

Our thinking was, “As freshmen, if we learn a higher level language like Python, before assembly language, why not follow a similar approach with web application development?”

The experiment was a roaring success! Within 2 days, students were building responsive UIs with nice looking interfaces thanks to Polymer and Web Components. They didn’t really care if a component was a standard HTML tag or a custom element. By day 3, they were learning how to build interaction into it with jQuery.

By the end of this one week workshop, we saw students building a collaborative whiteboard using SocketIO and Canvas, an audio visualizer, and a SVG based Hangman game, all in a day’s time!

Fast Trackers Workshop is becoming a brand in itself. We sometimes have students asking us, “How do I become a Fast Tracker”. We have stayed true to the intention of providing the best quality education to the students and we have not required to actively market our workshops. We think word of mouth works best. Our happy moments are when students wait for their college to get over and are eager to visit us. They would travel from locations as far as Yelahanka to jnaapti home at 8:30 in the morning to work on challenging technology problems. For people who don’t know, jnaapti home is Gautham and Shreelakshmi’s home in Indiranagar. jnaapti home would overflow with people; we would see them learning by experimenting, asking questions and helping each other. We now see this happening in “Sangam”, our new office.

We tell our audience about some of our students and their success stories. Here are a few:

From Chikkaballapur to Nasa JPL

TG was from a remote college in the outskirts of Bangalore. He was doing his final year project to bring Ubuntu into an Android phone. He was very active in Twitter and was tweeting his progress. Gautham was silently observing his activities. Then the Eureka moment occurred and TG finally accomplished what he had set out to achieve! At this moment, Gautham approached him asking him where he was placed and if he was interested in looking for better opportunities. He was interested and Gautham connected him to a startup which was into data analytics. It just took a day for the 2 to like each other and TG, post his graduation, started working on some exciting things. A month later he pinged me asking “Why do you do this? I want to pay you.” Gautham smiled and told him, “No, I didn’t do this for pay. I am trying to building a strong alumni network. You are my reach to your college and that’s what I want. I want more people like you”.

TG went on to become a co-founder in a startup and is currently doing his Masters in University of Southern California. He also got an opportunity to intern with Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. – Steve Jobs

Sometimes a reference is all you need!

Kids, micro-controllers and startups

Hithesh is one of the participants of our Fast Trackers Workshop. Before enrolling in the workshop, he had umpteen number of questions about why he should join our workshop and Shreelakshmi, with great patience, answered every single one of them. Finally, he attended our workshop and has been grateful ever since.

Later, when we conducted Joycamp (an electronic circuit building workshop for kids), Hithesh volunteered and learnt the pains of teaching kids. He was so excited about this that he later conducted many such programs himself. During one of our meetings, one of Shreelakshmi’s cousins (who was 11 years old), over-heard our conversations about micro-controllers and asked me, “What is a micro-controller?”. Gautham pointed him to Hithesh, and said, “He will answer your question”. Hithesh was taken aback, but he took a moment and answered it well. Teaching what a micro-controller is to a kid is not easy and that’s exactly how teaching needs to be. If you want to know how to teach, teach kids. 🙂

When Hithesh was about to graduate, we connected him to a startup which builds electronic toys for kids and guess what his first question was in the interviews, “How do you teach what a micro-controller is, to kids?”. Hithesh was excited about his interview and he brought us a lot of smiles. No wonder, he landed the job with ease.

And now, after a couple of years, Hithesh is an integral part of the jnaapti growth story. As part of jnaapti, he builds products, develops content, conducts training, manages projects and is the go-to person for several minor things that we need to do as part of running a business.

Fedora, LUGs, GSOC, PyCon – not just buzzwords for him

Farhaan is one of our very dear students. We discovered Farhaan when he was in his second year. He was part of the FSMK Summer Camp where jnaapti conducted a 1.5 days Javascript training. He was one of 200 students in this Summer Camp. At the end of the Summer Camp, we rolled out a complimentary access to Virtual Coach. Farhaan was one of 20 students who jumped at the first available opportunity and learnt Javascript and client-side technologies using Virtual Coach. He was one of 2 students who successfully completed the course in the time given.

We then asked Farhaan to meet us and Gautham jokingly told him, “Farhaan, you are going to do well under our guidance and we know you will get into Google. We want you to get that offer, reject it, and come and join us. Deal?” Farhaan looked at us puzzled, but accepted the offer. This is when his experience really soared and in the next 2 years, he went on to complete multiple projects for jnaapti. We also encouraged him to contribute code to Open Source and he took this advice religiously. He started by fixing small bugs in Mozilla, then did the same with Fedora, then started working on Pagure, became one of the core committers and then went on to complete a Google Summer of Code project.

One of the things that jnaapti believes in is bringing a grass-root level change by using the potential of the students. We told Farhaan how the culture of contributing code to Open Source projects and working on GSoC projects should be a culture of the college and should stay far beyond him when he graduates. One of the biggest crowns in Farhaan’s cap is, while still a student, he delivered a talk in PyCon 2017.

If there is one thing that distinguishes Farhaan from the rest is his determination and never give up attitude and this makes all the difference!

Several more

There are several more stories. We have had students who have been Regional Ambassador Leaders of esteemed organizations like Mozilla, students who got an opportunity to intern with The Indian Institute of Science, and several students who had opportunities to intern/work in interesting startups across Bangalore.

Making things simple

During the FSMK Summer Camp jnaapti conducted a 1.5 days Javascript training to 200 students in parallel. We received a lot of testimonials and students inviting us to their college.

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

During this camp, a guy from an electronics background came to me during the FSMK Summer Camp and said, “Is there someone who teaches Electronics the way you teach Computer Science?” It shows people understand our efforts. One thing that we keep hearing from people is, “You make things look so simple”.

After our Dealing with Data workshops and Faculty Development Programs, faculty members tell us, “How can you teach Hadoop concepts to Engineering Students so easily?”

We sometimes cry with joy!

Our greatest strength is our alumni. When somebody comes and thanks you for the work you have done, it gives you immense energy to continue. This is apparent in the testimonials we have received in the last 3 years and the number of referrals we have been getting.

Our students are our greatest inspiration. We have seen our students from tier 3 colleges landing in good companies and startups. This is our biggest success metric. We are not looking for numbers, but quality in placements. We are happy when students work in jobs that they love rather than just being one among millions in mass recruitment companies where their heart doesn’t lie.