The son, the Holy Spirit and the father | Rajendran Dandapani | TEDxIIMRanchi

The son, the Holy Spirit and the father | Rajendran Dandapani | TEDxIIMRanchi


Translator: Rajendran Dandapani
Reviewer: Rhonda Jacobs Good afternoon. So all morning and afternoon,
we’ve been hearing inspiring tales of how people have conquered
and overcome Murphy’s Law. Here is my own
humble submission to the jury. So, I have titled it ‘The Son,
The Holy Spirit, and The Father!’ And there are three interesting stories
where I encountered Murphy’s Law, not once, not twice, but thrice in my life and how I kind of overcame it
or sidestepped it — you can’t overcome Murphy’s Law. The Son. It’s actually the story
of my un-graduation at IIT. So, I was a smart
and hardworking young boy, like many of you here, I am sure. First rank boy, I was called. Class topper. Every month, every annual exam,
I was the topper. I was the school topper. I was a hobby musician on the side, a prize-winning essayist, and popular orator. And, in fact, I even learned
Hindi and Sanskrit at a time when, down South, people were frowning upon
these Devnagari languages. And I was placed
in the top 2% of the +2 Board, and the feeling was ‘top of the world’,
and 129th AIR was my JEE Rank in ’89. (Applause) And I took electronics and communication, like many of our friends —
earlier speakers here. And nothing can go wrong, right? So 1989 was the year, and I had no idea of the slump
I was going to face very soon. Murphy’s Law says,
‘If something can go wrong, it will.’ But there’s an atrocious
extension to Murphy’s Law many of you don’t know. It goes, ‘When something just can’t go wrong,
that’s when it most certainly will!’ (Laughter) So, I started bunking classes,
I failed courses, I don’t know how many of you
know this lingo, it’s called cups at IIT; a cup is when you get a U grade. I started collecting cups
like nobody’s business. I was rusticated from the Institute. The Institute wanted to teach me a lesson. They said, ‘Stay away
from the Institute for a semester’, as if that’ll help. My girlfriend wanted to teach me a lesson. She dumped me. My father suffered a stroke,
and he never recovered from it. He passed away two years ago
on this very day. I was kicked out of IIT —
I was unceremoniously asked to leave, with no degree or paper certificate
to show for the years I had spent there. I even contemplated suicide. It became a family secret — till today. I have never gone public
talking about this. Sorry, all friends and relatives with us, to whom they don’t really know what
exactly happened in those years at IIT. But Murphy’s Law
of Exponential Gravity actually helped. The higher you rise,
the harder the fall, right? That’s exactly what happened. But you know what, the year was 1995,
and I had actually hit rock bottom. And two other laws helped me there. One is Thompson’s Bounceback Law. It says, ‘When you hit rock bottom,
the only way to go is UP!’ Anything you do, can only make you better. (Applause) And not just that, there was another law
by a friend called Oswald. Oswald says, ‘Whenever you fall’ — That’s what is happening here — he’s picking something up. ‘Whenever you fall, pick something up.’ When you learn that little lesson, that’s going to stay with you
for a very long time. That’s what happened. I learned all sorts of hacking —
computer hacking. I learned about how to overcome failures, how to come back — the art of comebacks. And I learned to work with people, because when you don’t know something,
you should at least know about people. Working with people is still helping me,
even today, managing a team — working with people, it still helps. And I learnt the very important lesson
of not relying on paper credentials. I had none. I couldn’t rely on paper credentials. In fact, when I applied for a job at Zoho,
I didn’t go there with my printed resume, I went there and said,
‘Here is a website I designed for you. Do you like it? I programmed it, designed it,
created a logo; do you like it?’ That’s how I went to them. I showed them a demonstration of a game, a PC game I had built —
a vocabulary game; that’s how I got into this famous company. So this is the lesson I learnt in the first one-third
of my three Murphy’s Law encounters. People are much, much more than just the paper
qualifications that they hold. This lesson helped me
in the second chapter of my life, which is The Holy Spirit. It’s the founding of Zoho University. I had become an employee at Zoho,
I had started managing people, I had started recruiting, looking for talent across the length
and breadth of the country, and the year was 2004. There was this gap that kept hitting me. Students who came out of college
saying they had done engineering or electronics
or computer science and so on, when we started giving them the interview,
the test, there seemed to be a huge gap — they seemed to have no idea
what we were looking for; and what they said they knew,
they actually didn’t. And what they were actually good at, wasn’t really relevant
or necessary at all. There was this gap that was coming. ‘What did they learn?
What were they taught?’ were the questions
that started coming in our minds when we started looking
at these new applicants at our company. In fact, we even ran a poll
in our company. We asked them how useful
was college education, all that you learned at college? To the employees we ran this poll. We asked them how useful was it when you actually
start working in this company. And the red indicates
it was not really good. Only the green says,
‘Yeah, it was useful.’ So we said, let’s run a small experiment. We realised it was because
people were learning without context. There was no context,
only con text, perhaps, and all these gaps. So, we said let’s run an experiment. And we actually learned
from Aristotle’s Law, which says, ‘What we have
to learn to do, we learn by doing.’ So you can’t learn computer science
mugging through books. You can’t learn to do software,
you have to learn by actually doing. Bernard Shaw also had a message. It says, ‘He who can, does.
He who cannot, teaches.’ (Laughter) But … serious,
respect to all teachers here — (Applause) Serious respect to all
teachers here, but the point is, if you are a software guy or a woman, and you are looking
for making good money, you don’t actually sit down
at a college and teach students. You go to that big MNC
that’s giving you a seven-figure salary. That was the problem
we were trying to solve. So we said let’s run an experiment. We went to a nearby school;
we recruited six kids. They were probably not going to anyway
get into engineering or medicine because of the exorbitant costs involved. We put them in a room,
we gave them two faculty and started what we call Zoho University. We just chose three subjects:
English, software, and mathematics — basic mathematics, not the higher meta-mathematics,
basic mathematics. And when I said we chose faculty, it’s not, we went to a college
and recruited people, we actually looked at people
within the company, good software engineers
who were very good at what they did, and also had the passion to share,
to care, and to pass on what they knew — passion for learning, but actually very good
at what they did inside the company. The classroom was
a very good place to learn, but also was Wikipedia, also was the flipped classroom,
the videos of Khan Academy. Coursera — they were asked
to sign up for online courses. They were asked to contribute
to open source tools like GitHub, and they were asked to take up challenges
of programming puzzles and challenges in sites like HackerRank. And most importantly, this is where
the learning actually happened. This is a learning that’s
very hard to reproduce inside a sterile atmosphere
of a college environment. The office corridors, right? The CEO walking by; the other managers walking by; the things that you osmotically absorb. The alumni network —
imagine every college, the alumni pass away
and probably never come back, they pass out. But not so [here]. Inside Zoho, Zoho University’s 450 alumni
still move around the place. It’s a continuously growing,
expanding, alumni network. And the intranet. Everything that the CEO
posts in the intranet, the student is already an employee
and hence can have access to the day-to-day challenges
the company faces, to the roadmap, to the market-watching that happens. That’s the best way to actually learn. So, 12 years later, it’s no wonder, then,
that Zoho is actually — we have launched 41 different batches
in the past 12 years. That amounts to 450+ graduates
of Zoho University, who are working inside Zoho. That’s actually 10% of Zoho, right? Imagine, one in ten people
who are employees of Zoho haven’t seen the inside of a college. So the lesson learnt in this encounter
with Murphy’s Law is: The best you can do, actually
the only thing you can do to students is to immerse them
in a learning environment and just watch the magic unfold. That’s the lesson I learnt. Moving on to ‘The Father’ —
my son’s freeschooling adventure. 2013 was the year. I had already learnt a lot at college — lessons, hard lessons at college. I had seen the importance, or rather
the lack of it, of paper credentials. I had seen Zoho University grow
from a very small, six-student experiment to a 450-strong alumni network. And I thought, probably there’s something
that I can do with my own son who was then 14 years old. And I was growing impatient —
he was in Class VIII at that time. I was growing impatient with
what was happening to him at school. They were not teaching him
the things that I wanted him to know. They were teaching him stuff
he could anyway pick up all by himself, and there was no time for me
to actually work with him. There was some continuous
assessment test and an annual assessment test
coming all the time. And there was this unnecessary rat race
that he was being enforced to go through. So I took him off school after Class VIII. I taught him English by watching news
and movies with him together. I taught him biology from very famous
TV programs and books written by people. I taught him physics from amazing people who knew the art of conveying
very complex concepts in a very simple, very lovable,
pleasurable manner, in terms of making it easy to understand. I taught him maths by giving him
exposure to problem-solving, the art of problem-solving, simple and basic maths
where the complexity is in the knottiness, the twistedness of the problem. I exposed him to history
by taking him on museum trips, making him meet people, read books. I taught him — No, I didn’t teach him chemistry. (Laughter) After a lot of research,
I realised chemistry was just not needed unless you were going
to get seriously into science. (Laughter) (Applause) [CHEMISTRY
(SKIPPED IT)] I can still remember hydrogen,
helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen,
fluorine, neon, sodium, magnesium, … Is it needed? Not needed! So I taught him programming
by giving him exposure to programming. That’s the only way to learn programming. I taught him software
by watching blogs and articles written by amazing
maestros of the domain. I taught him — every little thing
I taught him was contextual. I kept giving him examples
of where he was going to use them — it was practical. I tapped into my friendship network
and gave him mentorship, one-on-one connections
with seniors, with people I knew, from whom he could imbibe
not only concepts but also the lifestyle,
the personality of these people. I even tried teaching him
game programming. Because I was —
my secret passion’s gaming, building amazing educational
entertainment interfaces. I tried teaching him game programming. That’s when Murphy came knocking. Murphy’s First Law of Homeschooling says: ‘Whatever you know a whole lot about,
your child will refuse to learn it!’ (Laughter) (Applause) But there’s a second law to it, which says, ‘Whatever you know nothing about, your child will desperately
want to learn it.’ So these two were real challenges I faced. But he came to me one day and said,
‘Dad, do you know what WebGoat is, I need to do penetration testing.’ Whaaat? I had no idea. And then I decided, okay, this is the time
I have to cease to be a teacher; I have to be a co-learner. I sat down with him, I learned with him. My aim was to just
give him an environment, so that he can look at me as company. ‘Come, let me teach you something,’ instead of, ‘Hey,
I don’t know this, teach me this.’ So finally, things got all settled down, and he became an employee
at Zoho Corporation, last week actually. He’s an intern now at the — (Applause) Yeah. He’s an intern now
at the Applications Security Team. But wait, there’s one more law. Harvard Law for Attempted Experiments says: ‘Under controlled conditions
of pressure, temperature, volume, humidity … the organism will do
as it damn well pleases.’ (Laughter) So after all this, one fine morning,
my son comes to me and says, ‘Dad, I want to try organic farming.’ (Laughter) This actually happened. This actually happened. And that’s when I realised,
probably, all these time, I have been probably
trying to make a Mini-Me, right? So I have been trying to achieve
my own unfulfilled dreams by looking at him, ‘Do it, do it, do it.’ (Applause) So, once again, I said — After all, Kahlil Gibran has said,
‘They come through you, but not from you, You may give them your love,
but not your thoughts, because they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies
but not their souls, For their souls dwell
in the house of tomorrow. You may strive to be like them,
but do not seek to make them like you.’ Kahlil Gibran. So I said, okay, let me look back: 2003 — he’s doing his own thing. That’s how he has learned everything. 2017 — he is still doing his own thing. Let’s just provide, right? Between 2003 and 2017 —
let’s just provide that environment, that environment
where he can learn by himself, try things out, make mistakes,
bounce back, learn, and move on. If we can do that,
that’s the lesson I learned here. The only thing anybody
needs to learn is how to learn. Everything else takes care of itself. With that, I come to the end — The Unhappy Son, the Holy Spirit,
and the Satisfied — (Applause) the Satisfied — (Applause) the Satisfied Father. My wife, she never wants
to come to the limelight. She refused to actually
be part of this presentation. That’s the one there, the one in the hat. And she likes to be
the silent performer on the back bench, manipulating, managing,
and monitoring everything. But I want to take credit here also. Remember, to stand a chance
to be kissed by the princess, the frog has to get out of its well first. Right? Just imagine, I was that guy —
I met her at IIT — the only good thing that came out of it. (Laughter) (Applause) Imagine — rusticated from the Institute,
ejected from the campus, on the road, having nothing else, I went and said,
‘Will you be my partner for life?’ I stepped out of the well; she kissed me. So there’s just a little more here. This is basically a disclaimer,
it is not for you to read. Probably when there is
a recording done, you can read it. This is respect for Murphy’s Law, because you can’t say
I have defied Murphy’s Law and walk. I am going to have
a fracture there, perhaps. So thank you! (Applause)

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