40 Years in 10Minutes

I have turned 40 today. I was hoping to celebrate the day by throwing a big party and inviting all my friends to it. However, there is no party. I am celebrating a quiet birthday with my wife and son. I am using the free time at hand to write this blog to reminisce the life so far. Since birthdays are a day to make a wish, in this blog post, I have taken the liberty to make a lot of wishes.

I was born in Pune in a middle class family. My father worked for a Government research institute. I grew up in office quarters. Studied at Kendriya Vidyalaya, IAT. I played cricket every evening. Like every other Indian kid in 80s and 90s, I secretly dreamt of playing for the Indian cricket team. I relished Doordarshan — Mahabharata, Ramayana, Jungle Book, Spiderman, Duck Tales, Tale Spin, Byomkesh Bakshi, Surabhi and Chitrahaar were a special part of my childhood. We also listened to AM radio at night. Having just one TV channel and limited air time made the TV time very precious. In comparison, today, despite having hundreds of channels and instant streaming options, I still find myself bored since I can’t find anything good to watch. I wish, we did not make our lives complicated by having so many options for everything.

My father got a two-in-one cassette player from the USA back in 1985 — the only one in the entire colony. My house became the hub for making copies of new audio cassettes for every kid in the colony. Everyone in the colony knew who had the power drill, the step ladder or the big TV. There was no shame in borrowing stuff. When something special was cooked at a neighbour’s house, they shared. I wish we shared more today.

I grew up in the outskirts of Pune city, on a small hill, surrounded by trees and with views of mountains and lakes. No one in our colony had an air conditioner. We used Indian style WC. We used bucket water with some hot water from stove mixed to wash ourselves. Cake, ice-creams, gulab-jamun, Rasna, pickels were all made at home. My father had a bicycle and a Bajaj Super. No one in our society had a car. There were no auto, taxi or ambulances either. When my mom went into labor with my younger brother, we needed to find a way to take her to the hospital in the middle of the night. One of our neighbours, who was the office bus driver, coincidentally had the bus keys with him that night. He drove us to the city hospital in the office bus. I wish we did not over plan life as much as we do these days. I wish that we had more faith that when there is a problem, the universe will help us find a solution to it.

I had only male friends growing up. In school and at home, boys used to hang out with other boys and girls only played with other girls. I saw my mom do all the house work and saw my dad mostly remain busy with his research. I believed that this is how the world operates. I assumed that when I get married, this is how my marriage will be as well — I will go out to work and I will have a wife who will run the house and take care of the kids. I recognised and overcame these biases decades later, after I met Poonam. However, I think that a lot of these biases are still widespread and prevalent in India even today. I wish for true equality for everyone.

My parents had a gang of six family friends. We all were like family. We spent the weekends together playing 29. We celebrated festivals together. We were there for each other in difficult times. I was the eldest of all the kids. I did well in studies. Everyone told me that I am smart. Thus, everyone used me as an example to tell their kids that they need to do better in studies. I wish, that elders and the teachers today tell kids that it is OK to not know the answer. That it is OK to be wrong. That it is OK to not be the class topper.

Apart from playing cricket, where most of the time was spent searching for the ball lost in the bushes, I did not play any other sports. My parents discouraged me from participating in physical activities so that I will not get hurt. In school, during the sports class, our entire class of thirty kids ran after a tiny rubber ball which was used as a football. Despite no sports participation, I still managed to get my arm fractured once while trying to catch a ball. I wish that everyone invests at least an hour every day for their physical wellbeing. This investment is more important than any financial investment we will ever make.

In the tenth grade, our teachers told us that this is one of the most important years of our lives. We were told that the marks that we get in the tenth boards exams carry huge importance and will be used as a reference point to judge our capability in future. It was a stressful year. The same thing happened in the twelfth grade. We were told that these marks will open or close future doors for us. I wish that kids are told that the point of these exams is to build the habit of working hard and giving your best to something — since in future, that is what life is going to be all about. I wish that kids are told that sometimes despite our best efforts, things will not happen the way we wish.

When I was in twelfth grade, a relative, who was studying at IIT Roorkee told me that I need to know what I am going to do after school. He told me that engineering is a great option and that IITs are the best colleges. He helped me order Brilliant’s tutorial to prepare for the JEE. I opened the first book and could not understand anything. I opened the second book and could not understand anything either. Then, my father told me to not worry about it. He told me that I can do BSc and MSc like he did and that those are great options to build a good future. We put those books up on the loft. I wish more parents tell their kids what my father told me.

Just a month before my twelfth board exams, my mother fell down from a stool while fetching something from the kitchen loft. She broke a few vertebrae in her backbone. She was on bed for three months. My father took off from work to take care of her and the kids. We did not call on any relatives for help. We did not have any maids or cooks either. I learnt that my father immensely loves our mother. I learnt that he is a great cook. He took care of everything from cooking, cleaning the house, feeding mom and helping her with her daily chores like toilet and bathing. We used a folding cot as a make shift stretcher. Every morning, we helped mom roll on to the cot and carried her to the living room so that she could watch TV. Every evening, we carried her back to the bedroom. I wish that every kid gets blessed with a great childhood as I was.

I scored well in my twelfth boards exams. I got 96.33% marks in Physics Chemistry and Mathematics. My teachers were proud. These marked allowed me to secure a seat in the Computer Engineering department of Maharashtra Institute of Technology, Pune. I had already filled the JEE forms and so I also went ahead and gave the JEE exams based on my CBSE preparation. I secured a rank of 2870 in that exam. My relative from Roorkee told me that this was good enough to get some kind of dual degree seat in one of the low ranked IITs. My parents and I decided that MIT Pune was good enough. We knew that kids completing Computer Engineering from Pune colleges were getting jobs with a starting salary of 3,00,000 INR. My father back then made about half of this. We did not even go for IIT counselling. Thus, I got a chance to continue searching for the cricket ball for four more years. I wish we made decisions when choosing between two good options without agony and stress.

I had a Bajaj 4S Champion motor cycle that I rode to college every day, sharp at 9am. I would ride back home by 5pm. I never attended any classes — my day was spent loitering around somewhere in the college campus, at a movie theatre or at some friend’s hostel room. I copied all assignments. Even though I was pursuing Computer Engineering, I only learnt one language in college — English. I learnt it since I wanted to take the GRE. I learnt it by watching movies, reading books and mugging up word lists. My evenings used to be free, just like my mornings and afternoons. My brother and I used to go up to the roof every evening after sunset and lie next to the water tank gazing stars and dreaming about our future. I used to think that sky is the limit and that I am destined to do great things in life. My brother wanted to open a bakery and have a peaceful life. I wish that we spend more time gazing stars.

Despite not learning anything useful in college, I still managed to get a job in Pune with a salary of 3,00,000 INR per annum, just as we had hoped. Now that there were two earning members in the family, we bought a house. I started learning how to code at the new job, but I did not know that I am lacking a skill even more important than coding — people skill. I did not know how to deal with people. I got tongue tied in team meetings. I used to be scared talking to my manager. I was not good at small talk. I could not connect with people at workplace. I explained my lack of people and communication skills as me not being cut out for the corporate world. I decided that I am built for the academia and research. I wish that human behavior, communication, finances and working in ambiguity become an integral part of academic curriculum everywhere.

To get away from the corporate world, I moved to the USA to pursue PhD. There, I learnt a little bit of more about software development and a lot more about machine learning. In the fourth year of the program, my PhD advisor changed jobs and left the college. It was a big blow. Advisors are single point of failure in PhDs. I went back home for six months to figure out what to do with my life. It was a stressful time. I lacked the confidence to go back into the corporate world. I did not have the patience to switch college or switch advisor and reset my PhD clock. I had no money. I felt that I have failed in life. My health started to deteriorate. A Goa trip and some deep conversations with my mentors helped me clear my mind and I decided to quit PhD. I got a job with Google. I now realise that in our career, we come across very few mentors. These mentors act as a catalyst and give a huge boost to our growth. I wish that everyone finds at least one great mentor.

Google is an amazing place. On the first day of job, I told my Noogler buddy that I don’t know Java and I have never used any of the tools they were using for the project. My buddy told me that I can spend a month pair programming with him. He taught me Java, Hibernate, Struts, Servlets, MySQL, JSP and a whole bunch of other things from scratch. For the first several quarters, every code that I submitted had to be written twice since my reviewers would show me a completely different and better way of doing the same thing. I felt like an imposter and felt that I could be fired from Google any day. Yet, I kept learning every day. I have completed thirteen years at Google. I am a Director of Engineering. I am still learning everyday. I wish that youngsters today give themselves more time and be more patient with their career — while even a few months of uncertainty feels like a lifetime when you are starting off, the reality is that there is no recipe for instant success. Every great thing is the outcome of hard work and years of toiling. In a long career, we will all have our share of unfavourable events and things can often take time to settle down. We just need to be patient and keep taking small steps every day.

Soon after joining Google, I found Poonam and got married. We moved back to India in 2012 after spending a decade in the USA. It was a tough decision, but things have worked out well. My son Aaryan was born soon after we moved to India. I can’t put a value on the bond he shares with his grand parents. Becoming a parent taught me how to love unconditionally. It also increased responsibilities and made life busier. Between kid, career and chores, typically, my days zip by very fast. I get a very few days to reflect and retrospect. Life revolves around action too much these days. Even entertainment is a task these days. I wish there was less doing and more being in our lives.

When I was a kid, I used to feel inadequate looking at my friends who were fluent in English. They could swim. They played the keyboard. They were good at sports. They had seen the world. I could do none of this. I learnt English when I was 20 years old. I learnt programming at 22. I learnt swimming at the age of 25. I started my first real job, broke, at the age of 27. I started travelling at the age of 28. I became a manager at 33. I started blogging at 37. I started learning Guitar at 39. It is never too late to try new things. Nothing comes instantly and everything takes a lot of effort and a lot of luck. Life is a journey and pacing ourselves is good to keep the excitement going.

I spent a decade of my life in the USA and then came back to India. Life would have been different had I continued to stay there. I have one kid. I met Poonam because we both connected on the same matrimonial platform at the same time. I joined Google because my PhD advisor switched jobs. I am living through this pandemic just as the rest of us hoping for a vaccine to come our way soon. This is the only life we have. There are unfathomable powers at play that dictate a large part of what happens to us. Our actions and thinking only play a minor part in shaping our lives. I wish that we did not try to play Gods of our own lives and fail to be a human in the process.

So far, in my life, I have derived pleasure from career success, novel experiences and family love. I received the love and caring of my parents. I received great learnings from my teachers. I received free education both in India and the USA. Google has continuously given me opportunities to stretch my skills and abilities. On the occasion of my 40th birthday, I wish that I am able to spend the rest of my time proving worthy of the investment that the universe has made in me.




I work @Google leading teams on hard data problems. In personal life, I am an armchair philosopher. This blog shares my thoughts and experiences — Ashish Gupta

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

FUGAZI Friday: Overcoming Injury, Becoming Family

Let This 2020 Explain Why You Don’t Always Need A Goal With Specific Numbers

Happy new year 2021

Five Quotes by The Dalai Lama That Could Change The Way You Live Your Life

The Great I Am Statement

Time Perception- A subjective experience and factors affecting it.

Joy is coming.

Unit 1: Pandemic Story

Empathetic People and How We Manage Our Emotions

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Selfish Altruist

Selfish Altruist

I work @Google leading teams on hard data problems. In personal life, I am an armchair philosopher. This blog shares my thoughts and experiences — Ashish Gupta

More from Medium

Daily links of Fernand0 — Enlaces diarios de Fernand0 — Issue #432

What Caused Blockbuster to Fail?

Visiting Artist Mami Takahashi Illuminates the Power of Art through Traditional Japanese…

Week 7 : The Final week