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 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, the heart of Chittur.

Sokanashini River/ Chittur River
Sokanashini River/ Chittur River

Photo by Prashanth from Flickr

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 knew I had a knack for building things. This 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. 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. I felt like I had opened a new door in my life. I remember thinking, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

At a point in high school, 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 impulsive (I was 17) and didn’t really want to join the military (American Sniper influenced me, I guess). Long story short, it was a great experience, and I returned 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. I appeared for the state entrance exams, which I did well. I got into the College of Engineering Chengannur (oh pistha!) to study Electrical and Electronics Engineering. I moved out to my college in Alappuzha, and life changed.

I met new people, learned new things, and explored a lot. The 4 years in college shaped my thinking and made me who I am today, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

The squad, the whole squad, and nothing but the squad
The squad, the whole squad, and nothing but the squad

Men’s Hostel, College of Engineering Chengannur - May 2019

I had a lot of fun in college. I did not have many 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. Also, I became the student representative of IEEE Robotics and Automation Society in our state chapter.

Randomly getting on stage without having any artistic skill is my favorite pastime
Randomly getting on stage without having any artistic skill is my favorite pastime

College of Engineering Chengannur - March 2019

I was also part of the cricket team that won the zonal championships (2 times undisputed) and finished 5th in the state.

2 time Undisputed Zonal Champions
2 time Undisputed Zonal Champions

Munnar - November 2017

During my final year (2018) in college, a flood hit Kerala, and Chengannur (where my college is) was one of the most affected places in the 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, rescue, control center).

Once we learned about the situation, a team of students along with the fire and rescue department started rescue missions across the affected areas in Chengannur, after 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. They took over the rescue mission, and we turned to run the rescue camps.

These were one of the most challenging days I had to go through. 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), performed Thiruvathirakali (traditional dance), and participated in other merriment. That was the first step in fighting back, and the people of Kerala have been more resilient ever since.

Onam Sadhya (feast) at the relief camp
Onam Sadhya (feast) at the relief camp

Chengannur - August 2018

Coming back to my academic life, I also did a lot of internships (1 every year) in college. I mainly worked in electrical system design and embedded system design. But, after 4 years of studying and working in electronics and electrical engineering, I realized it wasn’t for me.

Maybe the lack of opportunities to work in actual cutting-edge technologies turned me off. Anyway, I decided to work in IT. I figured I could work on any technology I wanted with a laptop and a broadband connection.

But I had no clue on where to begin or what to do.

Internship at the KSEB Sabarigiri Power Station
Internship at the KSEB Sabarigiri Power Station

Moozhiyar - March 2019

At the end of the year, I got a job offer which brought some positivity to 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 ♥), my friends lived 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 could from the job, and I decided to quit. And I did without a plan to fall back on and no idea what I would do next.

It was in January 2020 that I moved out of the city after quitting my job. Little did I know I would 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 them open-source. I created a project called NSFW Filter, a browser extension that filters out NSFW content from websites. The project received a lot of attention and 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.

Front page of Hacker News!
Front page of Hacker News!

August 2020

In December 2020, I was learning Docker and Kubernetes. 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 learned.

I found the Meshery project, which had a 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 for 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 project maintainer and got a job offer from the company that built the project.

I went on to maintain Meshery and Service Mesh Performance, which have been donated to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. I worked full-time on these open-source projects.

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.

Work from home is the best!
Work from home is the best!

localhost - October 2021

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 from a town known for toddy, it opens up many doors.

I want to help others do this 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 were more kind to each other, shared knowledge freely, and built 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 worldview will change as I get older. I will have different priorities, interests, and 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,

Navendu Pottekkat

17th November 2021
(Updated on 19th March 2022)