I would often sit in class wondering if and when any of what was being taught to me would matter. Is anyone ever going to hold me at gun point and ask me to elaborate the working of an LR-Parser or better still the nitty-gritties of rasterization? Don’t take me wrong, I absolutely love Computer Science, but more often than not, I question the gaping holes in the Indian Engineering curriculum. But I was sure someday, some splendid opportunity would present itself before me that would demand some percentage of this copious information that was being taught at college.

Sure enough, it did. On the first Monday of July 2014, I arrived eagerly at the famed IIT-M Research Park to begin my internship at Invention Labs. I had watched Ajit’s TED Talk innumerable times and perused the Avaz website repeatedly prior to the commencement of my internship. I was beyond amazed by the strides they had taken in the field of Autism and Dyslexia and could not wait for my first day.

After following a few incorrect directions that were given to me, a few elevator rides back and forth and a considerable amount of climbing stairs, I arrived at the eleventh floor – Ginger Hotel. This surely couldn’t be it! Thankfully, the receptionist at the hotel concurred with my observation and asked me to take the flight of stairs that led to the floor below. I obeyed obediently and raced down the steps on the double, anxious to be early and not flustered on my first day.

As I made my way through the office, I found myself surrounded by hordes of people typing rapidly on their keyboards, exchanging important information with presumably their clients or simply being a part of the Monday morning mayhem. I had earlier received a text message from Narayanan to meet someone called Malar who would help me get started. A few minutes later, I was assigned a spot where I set up my laptop and got started on setting up the software Malar had given me.

I hadn’t officially met anyone yet, but there was something about the atmosphere that I took an instant liking towards. I liked the seriousness with which everyone around me was working, catching up on time lost over the weekend. I liked the way they would take a minute away from their work to share some banter or laugh about the solution to a bug that had originally evaded them but now seemed so terribly obvious. I liked being here.

Hard at work

Hard at work

Over the next couple of days, I had met Narayanan, Lalitha and Shilpa. They made me feel like I was not just an intern who was here for a month, but like I had always been around. Over the course of the next few days, I had been introduced to the rest of the team over lunch or during elevator rides. Having met most of the team, I was quite eager to meet Ajit. His reputation had definitely preceded him. Soon enough, a meeting was scheduled and I would have the chance to interact with him.

After asking me what it was that I enjoyed most about Computer Science, Ajit chalked out my plan for the month. He considered my time at Invention Labs with utmost seriousness and didn’t disregard it as the short tenure of an intern. I felt extremely grateful at the moment. ‘Your work here will be intensive’, he explained. ‘We believe that however short your time here, we would like to be able to contribute to your learning’. I was both excited and nervous and couldn’t wait to begin the work allotted to me.

I plunged right in and began my work. Hours would pass by and I wouldn’t even notice. I would silently laugh to myself as I’d recollect how during class, I’d check my watch every 5 minutes anxiously waiting for the bell to ring. I’d often take my work to Narayanan’s desk, asking for his opinion or enlisting his help to get past a bug. Without the slightest bit of hesitation, he’d put his work on hold to help me out. Sometimes we’d spend hours trying to correct a small bug only to be overpowered by an inexplicable sense of happiness when it had been finally debugged.

Sometime during my second week there, I attended my first team meeting. I enjoyed understanding how the company worked. How each person’s contributions made it what it was. How Invention Labs was a wonderful amalgam of all their combined efforts. What struck me the most was how humble everyone was, how they treated me like an equal. After each interaction, I walked away feeling like I had learnt something new. They would generously mete out advice to me, explain certain concepts or simply be kind enough to offer me home-cooked food when I fell ill.

The next few days flew by. I was completely engrossed in my work. This project that I was working on was like my child. I had grown to love it. I’d stay up late at the PG working on it. Sometimes I’d wake up suddenly in my sleep and realize how to implement a new functionality in my code. I’d excitedly work on it and go back to sleep. The rest of my time at Invention Labs was merely this.
Wash, rinse and repeat. And I loved it!

Before I realized, I was nearing my last day there. Ajit had been away for a week or so for a conference and had returned a few days back. I briefly showed him the tentative end product of my results and of other tasks that I had been assigned and he seemed pleased. A meeting was scheduled for my last day there when I would demonstrate what I had worked on to Ajit and the rest of the team. I was incredibly excited. I couldn’t wait to hear what both Ajit and the team had to say.

Judgment Day was here! The team meeting was bittersweet. Bitter because it marked my last few hours at Invention Labs and sweet because Ajit was extremely happy with my work. Quite frankly, so was I. I couldn’t believe I had only been here four weeks and I had seen the work I was assigned to completion. I was extremely proud of myself. Above all, I was satisfied. I had learnt so much in my short time at Invention Labs. Far more than any amount of formal education could’ve taught me. I had relished every minute I spent at work and couldn’t wait to come back the next morning.

After saying my last few goodbyes, exchanging phones numbers and email ids, I walked out the door with a sense of sadness at having to leave that was quickly replaced by a feeling of pure, unadulterated joy and satisfaction about the wonderful work I had the chance to do and the incredible people I had the opportunity to work with.

Thank you for all the memories, Invention Labs!

– Lakshmi Ashok

August 13th, 2014

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