About this Blog
This blog is about:
- getting better
*This list is not exhaustive.
It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.
I am Navendu Pottekkat. I am from Chittur , a small town in South India.
Our town is known for its paddy fields and its toddy (palm wine) shops. We also commemorate a war (Konganpada festival ) (said to have occurred around AD 918) we won over the king of Kongu (said to be present day Coimbatore ) every year for a couple of days. The father of the Malayalam language, Thunjathu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan spent his last days on the banks on the river Sokanashini which is the heart of Chittur.
Like every other Indian kid born in the 90s, my days were filled with cricket matches and Cartoon Network . I wasn’t bad at school and I knew I had a knack for building things which led me to take science (physics, chemistry, mathematics) with computer science in high school (higher secondary in India).
At this point, I wanted to be an electrical engineer and I spent most of my time building simple robots and other electronics hobby projects. I made a breakthrough in my final year of high school when I discovered Arduino . Until then, I was using op-amps and transistors in my projects and these were also difficult to get in my town (I had to travel 13 km to buy parts every time). So, learning about Arduino and getting my hands on one was life changing.
Suddenly, I was using my programming knowledge to build electronic projects and I felt like I opened a new door in my life. I remember thinking this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
But as you will find out, he would not do it for the rest of his life.
There was actually a point in high school where I wanted to join the military. I cleared the National Defence Academy exams on my first try, worked out everyday and appeared before the Service Selection Board.
But by the time I appeared for the SSB, I realized I was being impulsive (I was 17) and didn’t really want to join the military (American Sniper had an influence on me I guess). Long story short, it was a great experience and I came back after failing the last round of the selection procedure.
So, I’m out of school with a clear idea that I want to be an electrical and electronics engineer and I appeared for the state entrance exams which I did well and got into College of Engineering Chengannur (oh pistha! ) to study Electrical and Electronics Engineering. I moved out to my college in Alappuzha and life changed.
I was meeting new people, learning new things and exploring a lot. The 4 years in college shaped my thinking and made me who I am today and I wouldn’t change a thing.
I had a lot of fun in college. I did not have much opportunities in high school to explore my skills outside academics and I more than made up for it in college. I was involved in the IEEE student branch at my college as an executive community member and I also went on to become the student representative of IEEE Robotics and Automation Society in our state chapter.
I was also part of the cricket team that won the zonal championships (2 times undisputed) and finished 5th in the whole state.
It was during my final year (2018) in college when a flood hit Kerala , and Chengannur (where my college is at) was one of the most affected places in the whole state. The first week of the flood went by in a flash. The college and the students (staying in hostels) weren’t affected as we were on higher ground along with other government bodies (police, fire and rescue, control centre).
Once we got to know about the situation, a team of students along with the fire and rescue department started rescue missions across the affected areas in Chengannur following which our college became the first rescue camp in Chengannur before help arrived. In a couple of days the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the fishermen landed in Chengannur and took over the rescue mission and we turned to running the rescue camps.
These were one of the hardest days I had to go through in my life. There were days without sleep, without food (we were serving food to thousands of people in multiple camps across Chengannur and with the roads blocked by the flood, there weren’t a lot of food coming in) and without morale.
I came out of this experience a different person.
As human beings, it is in our nature to fight back and stay strong together. Onam , the festival of Kerala celebrating the homecoming of the legendary king Mahabali was more meaningful that year. Amidst all the chaos, people came together and celebrated the festival.
People in camps prepared the feast together, made Pookalam (flower decorations) together, performed Thiruvathirakali (traditional dance) together and participated in other merriment together. That was the first step in fighting back and people of Kerala have been more resilient ever since.
Coming back to my academic life, I also did a lot of internships (1 every year) in college. I worked mostly in electrical system design and embedded system design. But, after 4 years studying and working in electronics and electrical engineering, I realized it wasn’t for me.
Maybe it was the lack of opportunities to work in real cutting edge technologies that turned me off, but anyway, I decided to work in IT. I figured I can work on any technology I want with a laptop and a broadband connection.
But I had no clue on where to begin or what to do.
To the end of the year, I got a job offer which brought some positivity in life after spending months in relief camps and rehabilitation activities. It was a high paying job in tech and for someone with no idea what to do after college, this was winning the lottery.
I was only a week out of college when I started to work full-time. I was working at a high-growth startup as a product consultant. Life was exciting, I was in the city (Kochi ♥), I had my friends living with me and I had the money to live a comfortable life.
But, in the end after 7 months, I felt like I had learned everything I can from the job and I decided to quit. And I did. Without a plan to fall-back on and no idea what I will be doing next.
It was in January 2020 that I moved out from the city after quitting my job. Little did I know I was going to turn around my career that year. I wanted to be a software engineer so I spent most of my time learning new technologies and started applying for jobs when COVID-19 hit. It took a toll on my job hunt but I was prepared to take 6-8 months off. I started exploring machine learning and deep learning which led to joining a Master’s program.
I was also building deep learning projects and making it open-source. I built a project called NSFW Filter , a browser extension that filters out NSFW content from websites. The project received a lot of attention and it is still my most popular open-source project. It topped GitHub Trending, was featured on Product Hunt and even made it to the front page of Hacker News .
This led me to a path in open-source which shaped the rest of my career.
In December 2020, I was learning Docker and Kubernetes and with the confidence of having a popular open-source project under my belt, I decided to contribute to an open-source project to apply what I learn.
I found the Meshery project which had a really welcoming community and I started contributing.
By February 2021, I was an active contributor and I had pushed a couple of new features. This paved the way to an internship through Linux Foundation (LFX Mentorship Program) at the Meshery project for 3 months.
It was a great experience and after my internship, I was nominated to be a maintainer of the project and got a job offer from the company that built the project.
Now I work on Apache APISIX full-time helping steward the project and increase adoption.
99% of the code I write is open-source and free .
Building and contributing to open-source has changed my life. I am doing things that I never imagined would be possible to do. And for a kid coming from a town known for toddy, it opens up a lot of doors.
I want to help others do this too and be successful in building a career in open-source. And that is what I try to do by sharing my experience.
I believe that the world would be a much better place if people are more kind to each other, share knowledge freely and build things collaboratively. If you made this far, the only real takeaway is the previous sentence.
I am still young and naive and most of my world view will change as I get older. I will have different priorities, different interests and different people around me. I have learned to embrace this constant change and I am grateful that I get to decide what I do with my life (trust me, it’s a privilege).
Thank you for reading. I am generally not an “open book”. I don’t know why I decided to write this but here it is - a little TMI about my life.
May the source be with you,
17th November 2021
(Updated on 19th March 2022)