The 'AlphaDevs' Of NITR: Chinmay Kabi And Smarak Das
In the words of Will Durant "Excellence is not an act but a habit." We are what we repeatedly do.
There are several delusions in a student's life, they may be pertaining to academics or projects. However, when someone evades distractions and focuses on mastering a particular skill, he unlocks unparalleled potential.
Chinmay Kabi and Smarak Das, final year students from the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering and Ceramic Engineering, respectively, are two of the institute's brightest tech geeks. Among their numerous contributions, include the Institute Counselling Services (ICS) and the Monday Morning app, following which they have made a commercial app, 'GoGrocy' along with some contributions to Flutter (open-source framework).
Team Monday Morning recently caught up with both of them. Read the excerpt to learn about their journey as app developers and DSC mentors.
Monday Morning (MM): Chinmay Kabi is majoring in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering with a minor in Mechanical Engineering and Smarak Das is majoring in Ceramic Engineering. When and why did the shift happen from core to tech world?
Chinmay Kabi (CK): To be honest, I feel there never was a shift. I am involved in coding since my school days. I started coding around class 9th. However, due to JEE preparation, there was a gap, and I could not focus much on it. Once I came to college, I picked it up from where I left. Coding is like a hobby to me.
Smarak Das (SD): I was interested in programming since my school days. I learned a bit of HTML in 10th standard, and in 11th, I was introduced to C++. I was hooked to it, but owing to JEE preparation, I could not focus on coding completely. When I joined NIT Rourkela, I wanted to explore and learn things. That's when Chinmay, whom I knew from the coaching days, had started working on Android Development, introduced me to the same. And from then on, my interest in App Development has developed day by day.
MM: How was your journey through the MM technical team during your working tenure? How important was the MM app as a milestone in your development journey?
SD: Monday Morning is the reason why we started developing apps. We knew that Monday Morning had an app and we wanted to join their technical team for it. We attended the workshops, inductions and gave the task. The seven days that we got for the task was when we explored app development in detail and started getting into it. After making into the MM technical team as app developers, we started contributing to the MM app code, which was in native android back then.
Around December 2018, we started planning along with our fellow developers under the then Technical Co-ordinator, Abel Mathew (click here) to develop a whole new app. And that's when we began exploring Flutter which was still in Beta version back then.
CK: The interesting thing is that before we were introduced to app development, I was inclined towards content writing. In my first year, I used to write some blogs with a pinch of sarcasm. I had applied for both content and tech teams. During inductions, they gave us a task to interview final year students but I was too scared to ask the assigned senior for an interview (chuckles). Ultimately, I dropped the plan of content writing and focussed more on app development. However, I did contribute to around 2-3 articles during my tenure because of my interest in content writing.
The new MM app was like a sword in the dark. It was because of it that we started working on Flutter. Back then, Flutter was not even an established, viable framework, and people did not trust it enough. But we did. And that is the cornerstone I would say of whatever little we are right now.
MM: Collaborating with like minds on a project, usually helps build various soft skills alongside technical knowledge. What is your take on this with respect to the MM app development journey?
SD: First thing I would say I feared approaching seniors. Later in the first year, through Microsoft Campus Club, I came in contact with some final year seniors and one of them was very helpful. Still, I used to fear contacting seniors but after getting into the MM technical team and with gradual interaction with the executive body, the fear subsided. While coding or working on projects, we used to have regular meetings, which led to knowing others and discussing freely. I was not much of a talkative person. That's where it all started to change. And now I am able to talk here in an interview, but back then I don't think I would have been able to!
CK: Adding to that, I would also say that Tech Teams are the most under-appreciated teams. Sometimes I used to get angry that we are being taken for granted (No offence). Earlier I used to feel like if I am doing something substantial, I should get the appreciation that I deserve. This is something that I have made peace with now. We understood that we should work without expecting anything. If something comes by well and good. If not, then we should not ruminate.
MM: Institute Counselling Services (ICS) App was introduced when the only other bridge between students and the institute two years back was the MM app. How has been the journey of the ICS app in terms of addition, retention and interaction with the users?
CK: Project Avocado(ICS App) is the first big project of ours that has been used by a lot of people. The daily active users of the ICS app is around 2000 on weekdays. It peaks on weekdays and falls on weekends as it should be. We used to have 1100 to 1500 users in the first year of our launch. And since the last semester, it has gone up to 2000. The retention is pretty good, and it is more than what we had expected. The main purpose of the app was to facilitate online booking of appointments for counsellor and psychiatrist. But people started using it for the timetable (laughs).
Gradually we started adding new features; one can observe chatbot, important documents, FAQs, and many more. As our project is open source, we have had contributions from across India into our open source code for ICS app. That is one thing we are very proud of.
MM: What outlook did you have while building the commercial app ‘GoGrocy’? How was the experience different from building in-house apps?
SD: For me, the outlook of GoGrocy was never like a commercial app. I try to learn more and implement new stuff with every project I do. My outlook has always been the same for every app. We went ahead with the GoGrocy project because V Girish, our friend, had a business. We thought that we could help his business by building an app through which users could order and get their groceries delivered directly to home during the lockdown. For sure, it is a commercial app, but we were not making any profit out of that. The only thing we were looking for was the satisfaction of learning and helping people during Covid times. We submitted this to the Solution Challenge, which is conducted by the DSC global community.
CK: We even submitted this project to HackOn, a pan India online hackathon where we won the 3rd prize. It was a substantial project, it wasn’t something we did overnight. Moreover, we did it as it looks good as a project on our resume.
MM: How can community clubs like DSC (Developer students Club) help the students in general? Tell us more about your journey with DSC NIT Rourkela.
CK: DSC had its humble beginning after the MM tech team's retirement as many of our batchmates from that team were its founding batch with Abel Mathew being the DSC lead. Although we have students getting hefty packages, coding culture in our college is not up to the mark. The whole point about coding in our college is somewhat limited to competitive coding. Once I ventured to app development, an utter urge to have a club focused on software/product-based coding, a community of students interested in building real-world projects is what DSC aims at.
We started as app developers but as DSC is open to students of all tech stacks, even if we are not working in a specific project, we do join the team meets and eventually learn a lot from everyone! Another good thing also happened to us that we have played mentors to our juniors and enjoyed this process throughout.
MM: To Chinmay Kabi- The first-ever, one of its kind Android Study Jam sessions, concluded recently, being the facilitator of the event, how was your experience? And what things do you think could be improved further?
CK: I was actually surprised seeing the footfall of around 150 registrations. Another sort of workshops that happen in NIT Rourkela is the Create classes, and the major motivation is to get inducted in the club but these sessions were out of own pure interest. Eventually teaching approximately 60 students was impressive, considering the fact that last time I did during MM app development workshop, 5 joined on the first day followed by 2 on the second day. I had to learn a few things before being confident about teaching. I also had to hone my skills as they say the best way to learn something is to teach. But in the end, we also witnessed a few people making their own apps, and we would be publishing those apps from our DSC account in play store.
There is a perception among students that one can be great at anything by attending just one session/workshop. Have a little patience, pursue the thing till the last by attending all the sessions thoroughly be it any course or workshops without leaving it in the middle.
MM: Your Pull Request titled "Adopt A Widget: Snackbar" recently got merged with Flutter. As Flutter is an open-source project, can you provide insights on how to contribute open-source projects at such a level?
SD: Flutter fascinated me for two reasons. First, it is open-source and second, it is a cross-platform(both android and iOS development) framework. I tend to follow events related to flutter. One such day, a flutter meetup was organized by Flutter Vadodara community. Being a bit bored, I joined the virtual meetup and got to know about such a program of ‘Adopt A Widget’ by the flutter team.
Usually, in opensource projects, the maintainers of the project are very cooperative. If there are issues in a repository, start a conversation, they will help you from guiding with resources to how it can be fixed and even review your code.
Have questions, ask doubts, never hesitate to ask people for help and you will find them sometimes explaining each line of the code.
MM: To Chinmay Kabi: Innovision app, your solo project, which grossed high engagement and remained intact without server breakdowns, was pivotal for the event's success. Take us through this remarkable app's journey and the challenges you faced while working on it.
CK: Most of the times, I like to work solo. But I usually don't get the chance to do it. Debaprasad Badajena, the then Innovision convenor asked me whether I would do it or not, as a personal project. It wasn't anything official, though. He just asked me, and I said yes. But I wanted one thing: complete liberty throughout be it design choices or tech or anything. He believed in me and gave me that free space. I fixed 3rd week of October as a deadline. I was aiming for around a thousand users. I knew that at most, I would get engagement for 3-4 days. But I wanted to deliver a smooth experience. I wanted the app to be refreshing and be able to compete with the website. The app trended on Play Store, in the utility category. It was in 3rd position for 2-days across India. We had integrated everything in it, including the payment and check-in. It was pretty useful and received almost 3000 users. Overall, I enjoyed working on it with the liberty I had.
MM: Many students often get stuck in the vicious tutorial loop. They watch tutorials, build something, fail and again return to ‘square one’ learning from other tutorials, this sometimes goes on and on. What is your experience with this? How could they escape from this cycle?
CK: While following a tutorial, we are emulating what the instructor is teaching. So, the only way to escape from this is to have some ideas in mind and try to build it while following the tutorial. Take the tutorial as a frame, but it is not advisable to copy it line by line!
SD: Tutorial is essential while starting up. Only if you are regularly practising, you can be an expert in that technology. Start with building mini projects of your own. Chinmay is full of creative ideas, so he keeps on building pet projects in free time. I keep on looking what's new to the technology that I am using. I watch a tutorial and get started with it. I keep on telling my juniors that you can watch a tutorial of 60+ videos, but if you build a project with that technology from scratch to its usable stage, you are learning substantial practical knowledge through it.
CK: Ideas for projects are everywhere, ask your friends, even your parents. What is the one website they want but it didn't exist? Try coding that! However, people are scared about exploring things and are uncomfortable venturing into the unknown. As they all say, magic happens out of your comfort zone.
MM: For students new to the tech world, there is always confusion between competitive coding vs development. What is your take on it? When should one focus on what?
CK: Since both of us are not into competitive coding, our answers may be little biased towards development. However, whichever domain you take, if you have achieved a certain level of mastery into something, have a decent knowledge of the other domain as well. Speaking of myself, I have a decent level of grasp over app development. Now I am into the other domain as it helps during technical rounds and interviews during placements.
SD: During my first year, all the tech clubs were focusing on competitive coding. I too participated in Hackerrank contests, but I found out that this was not my cup of tea. I entered into native android development and I found myself enjoying it. Competitive coding will get you jobs but if you don't like it, get into development, have a certain level of mastery over it and then head on to the other domain.
CK: It is not like pursuing product based coding is not going to fetch jobs. Having a good portfolio matters here. The thing is to explore here, there is no one size all fitting this.
MM: Compared to our contemporaries, NITR lacks a spirit of the coding culture. Comment on the present scenario in NITR?
MM: Many of the students who are from the non-CS background are passionate about coding and developing, but the one thing that scares them is there are not enough opportunities for them. What would you two advise them? How can they overcome the fear?
CK: I believe that there are more opportunities in the non-core than core nowadays. Especially in coding. The good thing about coding is that the company does not discriminate based on your majors. Even there have been instances when a company does not even ask for a graduate degree. Yes, it is for sure that CS background people have an advantage as they are formally taught in classes. However, you can get the best of courses online for free. If you are willing to work and are looking where to start from then, I would suggest you take up MIT's CS50 course.
SD: People not from CS background may find it a bit difficult than those with CS background. However, if you are determined enough, just go ahead with it. If you are determined and practice regularly, then nothing can stop you!
MM: The whole institute knows about the ‘Abel’ app team of NITR. How is your experience working with the community and bonding with the fellow members?
CK: Speaking about Abel bhaiya (Abel Mathew), he is omnipresent, I don't know, but somehow he manages to attend all the fests, meetings, and clubs. He does not code very much, but he is a very good manager. He knows how to get things done. Neither of us can do that. Even now in DSC, he does a lot of coordination work. There are projects he may not be coding a lot, but he coordinates a lot of things. I don't know how but the small app team, consisting of him, Ankesh, Smarak and myself get together very well.
SD: As Chinmay said, he is the omnipresent person on our campus. He has good contacts in administration, SAC, most clubs, and even with people outside the college. Because of him and his presence, we got to do the projects. For example, he was in contact with ICS people, and they had a problem with booking appointments. So he got us that project, and we did it together and the same happened with the GoGrocy app as well!
MM: What are your plans for the future?
SD: I don't really have a definite plan. I love to develop apps, and I hope that I can make a career out of it. If that happens, I would really be happy. I am particularly interested in open-source software. I want to build something that contributes to people and society.
CK: Right now, I have a job, I have got placed. But broadly speaking, I want to build something that touches and is used by a lot of people. I don't know how I will achieve that. But that's what my goal is.
What is your ultimate message to the readers out there?
If you want to achieve something, be determined enough to practise it regularly. In coding and development, the most important thing you need is to have patience. You will get hit by roadblocks each day, encounter bugs in your program. At times you may not even find help online. But just stick to it. Keep on trying. Strive hard, and you will achieve success for sure.
We tend to overestimate what we can do in a week, or a month and we underestimate what we can do in a year. If you have started something, then pursue it for a year. Just try to hold on a little longer.
Team MM wishes Chinmay Kabi and Smarak Das the best of luck for all their future endeavours.