Tuesday, December 8

Passion will make you crazy but is there any other way to live?

I love this quote from Howard Hughes. Somehow it strikes a chord in me, in an unromantic non-cutesy way.

But to remind that passion isn't nice.

Passion isn't anything feisty that can be tamed for you to like or enjoy. It might not bring any enjoyment after all, nevertheless, making it any less compelling.

Truth is, passion is not your bliss. (Neither your bitch.)

It is the willingness to suffer for something (or someone), to risk stability, peace of mind and enjoyment.

Passion is subversive.

It is stepping out of culture, jumping classes, and breaking traditions. It burns you on inside.

It strips you in winter. It picks on your scars and wakes you up at 4am every morning, shivering.

Passion is hellbent. It won't reason or stop. It transforms you.

It alienates you from those who can no longer accept your transformation or understand where the hell you are going.

(Do you know where you are going?)

It knocks you off the path. (It was never your path anyways.)

It makes you start all over again : no job, no friends, uncharted horizons.

It requires you to change when you are so far from ready.

To be passionate is scary, then why bother it at all?

Because passion points you to what you want so much that you're afraid to want it. The ambiguity of hope. The fear of getting. The fear of not getting.

It is the moments that you dreamt your whole life,  scares you the most. But then you go out there. You do it..and you are okay.

Passion stands behind you with a mirror. It wants to show who you truly are - good, bad and ugly.

All you need is to turn around and embrace.

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Tuesday, May 26

Why I love Hackathons, when I am not even a hacker

Last weekend I took part in my second Geekettes hackathon in Hamburg. The moment you read the word "hackathon" you instantly imagine a room full of ruby ninjas coding away 24 hours while guzzling on Redbulls and caffine. And that's a fact.  Except, you can't imagine me in there. For I don't know how to code and also hate Redbulls. Unlike Startup Weekends with lot more non-techies, hackathons are purely hackers' haven with non-stop coding on some cool ideas. So what was I doing there? Truth is, hackathons are great fun and they’re kind of addicting even for a non-hackers like me. 

Survival kit for Hackathon.
Creating without limitation is addicting.  Unlike themed hackathons, Geekettes' version was not just limited to building software. Hardware hacks were equally encouraged. So the possibilities we had were endless. Nothing is more addicting than the knowledge of the unknown, and what we could achieve in 24 hours. 

Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.
Solving a world problem. Or, scratching your own itch. Whether you are coder or not, you can pitch your ideas, which could vary from finding solutions to existing challenges to "just for fun"/crazy ideas. While I pitched something of the former category last year to build one of the winning prototypes, this year I had no such plans. But sitting there listening to various company APIs and the participants' pitches, I realized that I too have a problem that requires solving. Here I will share my friend, Deb's, funnier version of the problem - "E has no time to socialize because she is busy doing sports in the evening." Oh well, I pitched it in the end.

Team Runanas. Photo credits: Nelli
Teaming up with the three Hs.  Pitching over, now is exciting part where we have to find teams based on our interests and skill-sets. From my past experience, I found that a hackathon team is just like any other successful team. All roles must be accounted for. So besides the Hackers (coding ninjas), you will need the Hipsters (designers) to build a great user experience for your project, and the Hustlers (business developers) for final presentation and also for helping the coders to realize the real-world applications of the product they are developing. We were lucky to have 8 such highly creative and energetic team members to develop the cool idea. 
Get smart people in the team, and then get the hell out of their way.
Getting uncomfortable. Learning new things. Hackathons are great events to learn new things and if you consider yourself to be a lifelong learner, you will love the vibes of such situations. For me it was important to learn about building user-stories, and explaining the idea in the simplest version possible. With the help of my teammates, I created my first user-story board. In the same way, everyone else in the team also had to get out of their comfort zones to learn new things, whether it was developing the back-end of the App, the front-end or establishing the communication between the android App and the smart watch. Building a real app with this team completely changed the way I initially thought about coding. And we had intense 24 hours of learning new stuff with new people and thus creating new experiences. Kudos to the ones who survived the whole event without a wink of sleep!

From idea to prototype.
Presentation.Presentation.Presentation. The most important part of the hackathons is the presentation time. If you can control the audience, make them remember you, present the APIs you used effectively ( if you’re shooting for a prize ), and do a short demo, you’ve got a good chance of success. But all in 2.5 minutes! Yes, we had to be really lean on what we presented on Sunday evening. But a lot depends on the crowd, the judges, and the vibe as well when it comes to winning prizes. What can you do? Use your common sense and know your audience. For starters, don't show up in your own startup t-shirts, or in a business suit and then sound like you are recruiting people over the weekend. Some crowds love just fun/ crazy ideas and any real-world money making ideas might be frowned upon (unless those hacks are crazy or results of a hacker's awesomeness). So you'll have to bet your luck on this, and do your best.
Hackathon aftermath.
Most importantly, having fun. You may win one of the prizes or you may just get stuck to a weekend project - whatever is the outcome, you should be able to enjoy it. Sometimes you will get lucky in finding potential people for a new startup, some fresh ideas that get you thinking outside the box, or some good friends that can plug you into a new side of the tech industry. At the very least, as a non-hacker you’ll get the inside scoop on what goes on at hackathons, and get to watch some cool demos. Oh, and you’ll be surely aching for a good 12+ hour sleep. Personally we had so much fun building the idea, that towards the end of the event we realized how none of us ever formally introduced each other - we met, liked the idea and started working on it. Of course, winning the Sony smart watches as prize definitely helped because we can now tinker around the app further with our individual devices as we develop it to next stage. And the fact that random people were actually asking when they could use the beta-version of the app showed this idea has true market potential. 

Having said that, I have to admit about the magic of hackathons - it's the  great synergy of minds and energies that can make anything possible. And if you happen to love such vibes and energetic experiences, why not join the next one in your community?

We were slightly disoriented in the sun, thanks to lack of sleep and enough beer.

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Wednesday, December 31

To the self-rescuing princesses

As I watch the snowfall outside the window of my cozy hostel in Istanbul and drink my Çay (Turkish Tea), the fairytales of my childhood runs through my mind.

Have you ever wondered why all fairy tales ended in happily-ever-afters? 

Think of the Walt Disney versions. Beautiful, innocent girls suffered at the hands of wicked witches/step mothers and pined for the day their prince charming would arrive, with his dragon-slaying skills and magical kiss. These stories were oh-so-cute with fluff and romance. The more I think about it, the more they seem scary . They taught a girl to be deluded, trusting and passive, rewarded for her looks alone (and maybe a bent for emotional masochism).

What if these tales didn't start this way? What if they were female tales where the heroines were not just pretty victims killing time and waiting to be rescued? Sisters rescued brothers, daughters rescued fathers or lovers.

And when the princess would fall into a deep, enchanted sleep, she would close her eyes and withdraw into some serious Me time. Like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, in her sleep she will discover her newfound sexuality as she blossoms from girl to woman. The moment she matured (insert, the process of ripening had come to its natural end), she would awake to her prince who was both her reward and symbol of adulthood. (Note: he didn’t actually wake her up himself. He was in the right place at the right time, with a tendency to take all the credit.)

Now, lets take the spotlight off hero's heroics, and put it, instead, on heroine's initiation into higher consciousness Then fairy tales will not be about true love anymore. But instead would be about transformations. They will be about growth in female consciousness that makes love possible. 

No growth, no story.

Transformation is truly a painful process, and not just an endless slumber. It involves struggle, suffering, sacrifice and pain : skills must be acquired, lessons learned, experience earned the hard way. And yes, a whole period of wandering in the wilderness - through unknown lands and difficult situations - alone. 

You must lose the old life - or get forced out of it - if only you want to come to the life that is awaiting for you.

But then Walt Disney wasn't interested in any of this. His hero battled the dragon and fought the witch for possession of the beautiful virgin. Suddenly a girl could be transformed into a woman with a single kiss. All she had to do is to wait for The One who would bestow it, so that her real life may begin.

And so many of us kept waiting.

But what if the prince is just a metaphor? The moment you fight through painful experience (that's slaying the dragons), when you descend into your personal hell and come back up into light, when you retreat from the world into your cocoon, only to assimilate your truth and grow strong enough to carry it - what if, the prize for all of this, for making it to the other side is not a man on a white horse, with shining armour and a feathered hat on his oversized head, but a more integrated sense of self, and a vision for your future that makes you passionate and come alive? 

You learn that you are stronger for the broken places. 

But this doesn't happen just once. Such initiation to consciousness comes again and again through a lifetime. Things fall apart, you eat the poisoned apple, you descend once more into dark. You wander alone through some bleak internal landscape until finally you see a crack in the dark clouds - and you turn your face to the sun. You rise to claim your reborn self, spiralling up a little more with every new transformation.

You the look into your prince's face, and discover its your own.

You have opened your eyes. 

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Thursday, February 6

52 weeks to experiment

When 2014 rolled in and the world went busy making a list of resolutions they will eventually discard in a month or two, I decided to experiment the next 52 weeks ahead. No lists, no maps, no rules. Just saying yes to experiential experiments, and see how life molds itself around me. So yes to rock concerts, building startups, impromptu trips, double chocolate cheesecakes, and great ..... *she leaves that to well-intended interpretations*

The truth of life is - nothing matters. All our lives we are imprisoned in worry, self-doubt, fear and disbelief, while crossing off the checkboxes of society's life plan for us. And before we realize it, we are heading towards the nearest psychiatrist's office and popping anti-depressants. 

What if we ditch these checkboxes altogether?

What if we make our own rules?

What if we turn our work and perhaps, our lives into piece of art?  Rich and colorful with stories, interesting characters and scenic backdrops, and music that makes you wanna sing with delight.

What would happen if we are truly honest to ourselves and say what we are actually thinking - raw, imperfect, unedited and unfiltered?

Yes its scary to think about, maybe inherently selfish to some. But to be the no-bullshit version of yourself is a challenge to take on. To be the one who is not afraid to take risks, not afraid to tell the truth, giving a damn about others' validation, and most importantly to create for the joy of creating, nothing more. 

When I am creating something - whether writing a blog post,  or working on my pet project, I have this need to create it like a bad girl. It becomes my right to authentic self-expression, especially when it cuts against the grain of a society that would have me be someone, something else. We are what we make.  Our creations show the truth of who we truly are.  And this is a scared dance. This demands nothing less than everything I’ve got to give it.

When you come into intention, you say : I want. You embody a goal and start believing in it so fiercely that you will piss off some people. Actually scratch the last part. Most people will hate you. Maybe because you no longer start  living according to the perceptions they have for you. Or maybe because you start becoming your own rebellion.

This is not just a challenge to conventional wisdom, the status quo, the established Establishment, etc. etc....but this is a challenge to self. The day I started to listen to the voice of my inner misfit, all of my 'why's turned to 'why not's. And then I started to wonder, what would happen if I gave piece of my heart everytime I create anything? It’s a bust your ass to shine, honest to a fault, no bullshit, zero apology performance. Something that makes heart and soul bleed.

What would happen if we pursued being unmistakable instead of wildly successful by external measures?

52 weeks to find answers. 52 weeks to ask more. I do not know what lays ahead for I do not own a map, but have a compass.

And this compass do not point North,
It points to the thing I want the most in the world. 

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Friday, January 3

Girls are beautiful, boys are smart

.... says my 5 year old niece whilst discussing her peers. What followed next was a good 5-10 mins serious debate on why girls are pretty and boys are smart according to this 5 year old (Mind you, women in my family, irrespective of age or generation, comes with a strong opinions of their own.) Let me tell you about this kiddo. My niece is fluent in three languages (English, French, Assamese), does ballet, has a knack for painting and will probably master the guitar someday too soon and yet, she feels the boys in her class are smarter than her. Reason being, her girl friends (all 4-5 year olds) convinced that girls should only look pretty and do stuff to stay pretty. So when I pointed out that girls can be both smart and pretty, her counter reply was - "But you can't call boys pretty, can you??" Clearly, she has not heard the likes of Justin Bieber. 

But jokes apart, it got me to thinking - if this how baby girls are brought up, how can we expect overcome gender inequality in technology?

I have been recently following Y combinator co-founder Paul Graham's interview and the brouhaha it created about his statement on why 13 year old girls should get engaged to coding. And this is where this guy gets it wrong. To get 13 year old girls interested in computers one needs to check the eco-system the girl was raised in. Secondly, don't set the bar of learning at 13 - its horribly demotivating for girls and women of other ages!

Lets start with the eco-system. What I have seen, especially in the West, is that from the moment  a girl child is born she is associated with the color pink holistically to the point that its nauseating. With Indian girl babies (atleast in my generation), I have observed that this pink mayhem was much less. Of course we all played "house" and other girly games at some point, but equal stress was also given to learn math and science. Maybe its a family thing, or maybe something cultural that society expects you to be- whatever it is, India definitely has a good amount of women in technology. However, its not discrimination free zone, and I shall talk about it a bit later. 

Now, there is nothing wrong with the idea of "pretty in pink", and I bet social scientists can confirm that color pink has nothing to do with general intelligence level of a woman. However, the idea of playing with a doll and then the societal pressure of being just a doll, is definitely questionable in the mental growth of a girl child.  Why playing with the plastic, anorexic "Barbie" more popular among little girls than solving puzzle games, or building toys like GoldieBlox? Why doesn't the popular pop-culture make teenage boys think that brainy teenage girls who take math/computer science are hot and dateable? Speaking of tech majors in college, I have witnessed how engineering women students, especially from hard engineering like mechanical or chemical, are often demeaned to be unsexy. Derogatory terms like "she-males" have also been used in such situations. Eventually these women who undergo such humiliations will end up discouraging their daughters to take up technology related education. And that is so wrong! Smart is the new sexy! I mean look at the list of amazing role model women engineers. My personal favorite is Radha Basu, maybe because I have met her, spoken with her and definitely believe in her cause. I think having someone to look up to or can relate to in the field of technology, definitely helps.

Another way is, to encourage participation in technology-related events to showcase one's intelligence in the field of technology. During my first Startup Weekend last November, what I witnessed was the low intake of women participants - couple of them with business expertise but very less women developers. This year I am organizing Startup Weekend in Leuven with fellow startup enthusiasts, and I am looking forward to more women participants, and even higher number of women developers!

I think its important that women, all women, irrespective of age and culture, should be encouraged to learn about technology, start startups, etc. But most importantly, she should be encouraged to accept and acknowledge her intelligence and her capability. Most of the times, women feel that they don't deserve success and are apologetic about it. Don't be sorry for being smart! You are your biggest cheerleader, whether in business or in life, so you must be confident and proud of your capabilities. And not chock up your success to luck. I believe women of ALL ages can master their technical skills, do bad ass things developing the technology, and show the whole world that women and girls can rock the tech world, and still look pretty hot in pink!

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Tuesday, December 31

Thank y'all!

The only wish I had for 2013 was to have an adventurous 365 days ahead. Damn this universe loves granting my wishes! I have been blessed with absurd, exhilarating, and fantastic things I would have never dreamed up on my own. *pinches herself to check if this is for real*

I am lucky because of the people I met/have in my life this year.  What an influx of interesting minds that crossed my path! Its amazing to reflect how each stranger added a new flavor to life with knowledge, character and sheer brilliance. I have now come to believe that the world is full of people who spikes my interests in ways, I otherwise thought, would not have existed. Whether its was talking about spirituality with the guy from the piercing studio, or discussing the importance of celebrating failures with a Silicon Valley trailblazer - I am humbled by what I have learnt, seen and experienced! It feels great to be surrounded by creative and highly passionate people who wants to make a difference in the world. Animated conversations with such individuals always translated into infectious enthusiasm that ultimately fed my energy and drive for past one year. And the more I seek, the more I meet such minds! So thank you, thank you all for the amazing moments we shared!

But 2013 will be incomplete without acknowledging my inner circle (you know who you all are!) You guys have been my worst critics and the most enthusiastic cheerleaders this year. You pushed me when I slacked, and helped me slow down when I moved too fast. Thank you all for always being by my side and silently sharing that much talked about but little understood thing called love. However, I am sorry for being that absentee friend/cousin/sister/daughter on your birthdays, graduation ceremonies, weddings, childbirths and other important events of your lives (I promise I will definitely make it to your retirement parties!) 

Last but not the least, thank you dear readers for bearing with my very irregular writing this year. Trust me I have loads to share, but I have been like this child in the candy store of life - trying out the new and getting excited at the sight of the colourful offerings, so documenting each phase took a back seat. However, one of my resolutions for 2014 is to write a little bit more than today. Maybe make an effort for deeper communication levels as people have complained about my monosyllable replies before.

So whoever you are, and however our paths crossed, I am glad we met, even if for few minutes. Because sometime a few minutes can make an impact for a lifetime. Thank you all for such impacts. I would have hugged you all till you turned blue, but I guess it would inappropriate and life threatening. And so I end this year's final note the traditional Indian way by saying "Namaste", which means I bow to the Almighty (the creative energy) in you.

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