An Opensource of Humility and Accomplishment: Shaswat Lenka
It isn’t often that one comes across an achiever so endearing as Shaswat Lenka, a final year student of the Department of Biomedical Engineering who is one of the most successful developers in the campus right now. The founder of Open Code with an experience of outperforming in multiple Hackathons, a passionate footballer and well, a typical procrastinator like most of us here, surrounded by his friends and juniors that became him the most, Shaswat takes us on to peek into the window of his exciting life of four years in the campus. Excerpts of his hang out with Monday Morning over a pleasantly late breakfast (that sadly he couldn’t finish, thanks to our candid interview):
Monday morning (MM): Walk us through your childhood. Share some experiences of yours before NIT Rourkela.
Shaswat Lenka (SL): I have spent most of my time playing outdoor games. When I was in 9th grade, we were introduced to computers, and that’s when I started dwelling more on playing video games. I binge-played games for hours, and that’s how I became curious about how these games were made. I started exploring how these games were made, and that’s how I got introduced to software development. I learned JAVA and C++ simultaneously (that’s a mistake) and eventually made a couple of games myself, something on the lines of Mario. My interests extrapolated, and I took a course called CS-50 that introduced me to Computer Science. That’s my transition from outdoor games to video games than making them myself.
Interestingly Shaswat took up biology simultaneously as his parents called him out to appear Medical as well. However, he ardently pursued his budding romance with computers, and once in NIT Rourkela, he’s got them both juggling since.
MM: How have these four years in NIT Rourkela treated you?
SL: I made a lot of memories here, in NIT Rourkela. I made a lot of friends! (everyone around the table beam). I came across a mentor figure in my first year while he was the TA of my C lab.
Interesting story coming up! A TA tale-
We used Vim editors those days. It’s a primitive editor with no customization whatsoever. I was trying to read the manuals and customize when that TA came up and asked me what I was up to and why wasn’t I doing what we were asked to. When I told him I was reading the manual he asked me how did I know that. And so, I commuted my interest in computer science to him and wanted to explore. That’s when he asked me if I knew about the google summer of Code. I had already applied to that in my freshmen year and I was impressed when he told me that he had already cleared it! He was the only person I got close to a mentor. His name is Sunil Mahendra Kar. He voluntarily took me under his wings in my first year. So, my time went by in excursions from my room to his and back in my first year. We still keep in touch.
Following this, I befriended my branch mates but was never into my branch. I skipped classes because I didn’t like them (smiles). Most of my time goes by in my room, programming, or with my friends.
MM: How important do you think are these four years in NIT Rourkela both personally and professionally?
SL: Professionally, you get to meet a lot of like-minded people like I got to meet Abel (Matthew), Sainandan, who become such good friends. I think when we first come to this sort of place, we are lost. So, I did a lot of hit and trial to see what I can do here if it goes well. I joined and left four clubs! I am an enthusiast of outdoor sports, so I had joined football, badminton, and even chess club. I left them as I couldn’t juggle among so much and had to have a decent CGPA. That’s how I learned to balance my personal and professional life- doing and trying to see whether it works out in my favour or not. The most important aspect of life is meeting people here. The culture of clubs here is another way of meeting like-minded people like I had when I joined Design Tab and came across the President then, Abhishek.
Abel Mathew: Shaswat was the only one who got inducted into Design Tab in the first year. Design Tab then had stringent inductions. And mentors like Abhishek and others, their kind were incredible and unmatched persay.
MM: You decided to build an open-source platform in your second year to form a club- Open code. What was the inspiration behind this?
SL: I realized very few students here, that too mostly the 4th years and 5th years only could get through google summer of code and in other colleges, the number was more significant. The culture of open-source here wasn’t explored or well built into people. In my sophomore year, while discussing some ideas, it just crossed my mind to have a club dedicated to this. I contacted Mozilla and got selected as their student ambassador here and then thought of making an association with Mozilla campus club and Open Code. I placed the idea with SAC and then SAC officials, Prof. A.K Swain, who helped us immensely to materialize this idea. He could grasp the problem here and monitored our progress to increase our budget from a zero budget. I just had this intuitive idea with people to help us with its concept. Final year students like Anup Routray, who had similar ideas, collaborated with us, which gave us the head-start.
MM: Considering the club right now, how successfully do you think it has kept up to its motive?
SL: The club right now has developed dramatically compared to what it was in its inception mode. I can’t fancy the number of enthusiastic people in the club right now would be so large. Everyone is contributing to some or the other way. We could conduct a full-fledged hackathon with just 10-20 workforce. It was a huge success to hold a hackathon at this early stage with sponsorships.
Talking about the degrading club culture, he adds,
About the technical clubs, I would say the focus of most students is on competitive programming, which I am not against. What I am against is the reason behind it. Most people join these clubs to get placements, and I don’t see the point. You should enter it because you love it. And because you love solving problems. Clubs need to work with interest and not otherwise for gaining scores on professional fronts. On the other hand, open-source and developing are something you are taught after you join a company so that you would learn it anyway. It helps yes but not in a way to get placements.
The other side of Shaswat- Lesser known facts!
MM: A lot of people miss out on the fact that you are a writer and have an article published in MEDIUM. Tell us about it.
SL: I started writing in Wattpad. I love poetry and so started with poems on Wattpad. I wanted to become a technical content writer and wanted to free-lance. In my sophomore year, I was freelancing for a company as their technical writer. I then started my blog in MEDIUM and published my content.
MM: You have a thing for football, tennis, guitar. How often do you indulge in sports and creativity?
SL: I believe football is not a sport but a lifestyle. I started playing football in class 6. I was the school football team captain, and I took my school to third place in state-level competition. In my first year, I was in the institute team. I was almost exhausted after I come back playing, and I felt like sleeping while academics and my other interests didn't let me sleep. It was a very hectic schedule, so I had to drop football. Football is the only sport that I am passionate and into it. I am a lover of freestyle football. Even now, I play sometimes, not as a part of the football team.
I was learning guitar before my intermediate. I started playing fingerstyle guitar continuously from my 2nd yr onwards, and I kept it to myself by not joining any clubs. I was very particular when it comes to joining any clubs. After leaving 4-5 clubs, Design Tab was the only club I was in.
MM: What about your passion for sketching?
SL: I was enrolled in a complete sketching program when I was in 7th grade. My mother was a national level painter, and so was my father. She has paintings in museums across the country, and that’s how I naturally was inclined to paint. I couldn’t keep up the habit here, but I love to sketch in my leisure.
Among other things and camaraderie, Shaswat tells us about his most satisfying project so far- DELDASH and his adventure-cum-misadventure at ‘prank’ ragging (what we call an interaction)
MM: The campus sees you as a formidable developer. What does Shaswat think of himself?
SL: I have never thought of myself (Laughs). I don't see myself as a great developer or programmer. I follow a lot of ideal people like Linus Benedict Torvalds. They are the people who made the platform for us. We are just using and upgrading their ideas. We cannot say that we are a good developer unless we use their products. Great people have already made it easier for us. For me, the creator of Python is the best developer. I am not good at logical thinking. I lack a lot in competitive programming. There are some things you are good at and somethings you are not. What I think I'm good at is thinking creatively. I come up with creative solutions, even if I don't know how to build them. I think software development is a big part of me, and I am not good at solving puzzles.
What I think of myself is I am a noob in computer science. I'm just in the learning phase.
MM: We have heard about an exciting theory of your patenting not to be in the good books of teachers. Please shed some light.
SL: Oh, God! There's an intriguing story. In my poster presentation, my topic was Health Informatics; not many faculties know about it. While I was explaining, one of the faculty stopped me. I even didn't complete the sentence, and he went on to the next candidate. I couldn't get what was happening to me. I asked him, "Sir, what happened?" He said, "I was just checking your presentation skills, and I didn't like it." No one even allowed me to complete my poster presentation. I felt really bad for the first time because I was not able to explain my ideas in my department.
I was like; I will do it in some other way. The same day, I searched for conferences, and there was a global public health conference in Banglore. I applied my abstract of the same project and got selected. There was one work I did in GE, a knowledge graph using a weak supervision model. And I have told them that you could make this work and apply for a patent. So their team applied my license to GE. Even I was unaware of that. They informed me that the GE team had approved your patent, and it has to be moved to the US for further development. It was also based on medical test classification. I was delighted. I mailed the faculty thanking for his insightful thoughts that made my idea successful.
Shaswat takes pride in having a well-decorated room in MSS. Regretfully, the warden has never come to admire the charm of his room. You can wish to find a girl, but never narcotics in his room. And well-known for food supplies, because he skips his breakfast frequently. In the case of a flood or tsunami, you can conveniently survive in his room.
MM: Tell us about your internship at GE Healthcare.
SL: I got the internship through a Hackathon that took place in December 2018. We had to come up with health care solutions. So, I pitched about my DELDASH idea there itself. The idea was to predict an infant’s health by monitoring the health of the mother starting from the ingestion period. The product was 90% complete during the Hackathon.
Interestingly, I contacted some allergic fever from the room I stayed in and was admitted by the GE team in GE hospital of GE Healthcare, during GE Hackathon (laughs). I lost all hopes of qualifying. That night I could only go through my presentation and didn't touch the product at all. The next day when the first top 5 were filtered, I was thrilled to see my product as one of them. I received heartening feedback for my presentation as well, as innovative as it was. I was confirmed into the internship on the spot.
The two month- internship was a conglomerate. GE runs around eight businesses from one compound. It was a large global research centre with a big team to work with. It takes interns from all around the world, so it the best part of the internship- to work with people from outside. We had weekly fun activities. The age difference in GE was vast. I was 22 while my mentors were in their 40s and didn’t participate. There were photograph challenges and such. The time was well spent and more people-centric rather than software-centric. I came across the global healthcare issues like that of the people in Nigeria where basic sanitary needs were not known!
Interestingly, Shaswat was a single participant while most were in teams participating in the Hackathon and made it top 5.
MM: What was your role in the startup FloroQ?
SL: The team was working with quantum dots. We sell quantum dots that can be used for making fluorescent paints, UV tagging. My role was in the technical part. I handled their website, web-store and the market place, floroQ.com, and Amazon.
We planned to set a startup, it was food-based. it was a friend's idea and the idea kept on changing(laughs) The interesting thing is we pitched the idea in FTBI and Startup India. we got pre-incubated but after that, we realized, that a particular business module was not feasible. so we didn't work on that.
MM: Coding and developing have become a craze among our students, and so competition has also been nail-biting. What is the mantra for becoming a successful developer?
SL: The first thing is you should have an interest because software development itself is a different thing. It won't get you placements if you want. There are very few software developers on the campus who got placed. Wining in hackathons is also challenging. If you bag the top positions, then you get internships, and after that, you get placed with PPO. The only reason to look into software development is that you are interested in. If you are not writing lines of codes every day, then I think you cannot be a good developer. Be it competitive programming; also, you require consistency with learning. Taking up projects is also essential. It's not that after learning something, you put your hands onto it. I would suggest, start learning, simultaneously you will face problems and learn to solve them. And it's a recursive process. Learning by making projects will help you a lot in software development.
MM: What are your future plans?
SL: I wish to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science.
MM: What would you remember and miss the most about this place once you graduate?
SL: Friends, that's the only thing I would miss. Another thing I will be missing is the RunIo Hackathon that we conducted during Innovision 2018
And OPENCODE, for definite.
With his humble persona, this final year student has won the hearts of many people on the campus. Monday Morning wishes Shaswat a stroke of good luck for his future ventures.