I’m a 18 year old studying at the University of California, San Diego. I’m passionate about Computer Science, design, sketching, and building FeedOn, my social venture
There was something magical about entering middle school back in 2011. In part, it was the effect of exploring the new campus with its long winding corridors and sloping pathways, the enormous auditorium where we would sit tightly packed together, and even the introduction of new subjects like Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. But mostly, I think, it was the influence of our seniors. With bigger brains, stronger muscles, and the fantastic ability to grow beards, they had the power to do anything one could possibly imagine. Each house captain fired us up with unparalleled passion and drive before sports day. Each public speaker left us mystified at the end of a perfectly structured debate. And each head boy and head girl filled us with awe with their powerful voices. These colossal giants were like superheroes to us. They organised almost every school event, and we looked up to them with deep respect.
The years we spent from grades 6 to 8 were transformative under their legacy. I witnessed my friends follow the footsteps of previous student council members and pick up where they left off. I was most inspired by the "heads of tech.” Initially, these were the seniors who ran the lights and sound for all the events we loved, hidden from those looking at the stage in the “lights and sound box” above the auditorium. Access to the sound box was so exclusive that only two students were ever trusted to enter it. It became my goal to be in this box and run each event from behind the scenes. I found it so cool to have heavy machinery and expensive stage equipment under the control of my fingertips: flipping switches, pushing buttons, and sliding sliders on the grandmaster lights and sound panel.
It wasn’t long before Raghav Sood, Head of Information Communication Technology (ICT) and fellow lightbox enthusiast, introduced the Computer Society in school. Named TSRS Megabyte, the society aimed at encouraging students to embrace technical skills and overcome their fear of technology. At a time when our school only offered students mediums to develop traditional skills like debating, dancing, or music, a technology club was a fresh change. It offered the coders, gamers, and general enthusiasts a means to nurture their technical knowhow and discover new avenues of technology. Tinkering with Photoshop and web development at the time, I decided to give the club a shot in 8th grade. Little did I know then that I would be the one to carry forward its mission in the years to come.
Every Friday, during the hour long lunch break, we gathered for new activities: intra-school web development and design competitions, talks, workshops, and training for inter-school competitions. The seniors even taught me how to operate the lightbox and it wasn’t long before I started managing the lights and sound for each school event. To keep up with new tech happenings, I made sure to update my knowledge frequently. Whether it was reading tech articles I could find or learning how to code on codecademy, I was motivated to be at the frontier of the club’s discussions. I soon realized that to be at the cutting edge of innovation, I had to participate in inter-school competitions.
The school calendar was jam packed with tech events from 25 prominent schools in the National Capital Region (NCR). The computer society spent a lot of time building teams and practicing for various competitions. As a result, I spent my formative middle school years coming up with dozens of new ideas for web design, product design, graphic design, game development, and public speaking events. Over the years, my teams and I conceptualised and built several products like Binder, Spacescape, Scope, CraftVR, Terra, and Visualise.
Every year in August, Megabyte conducted tryouts for Minet X, Mother’s International School’s prestigious annual tech symposium. I was selected for this prestigious competition for the first time in 9th grade. Over 2 grueling days, my team and I created Binder, an online platform that organised life tasks ranging from school and business to note taking, team communication, and reminders. Despite having the most complete product and the best design (I thought!), we went home without a trophy. It pained to go back empty handed, but I left Minet X having learned more in 2 days than I had learned 2 months in the “Computers” class at school. Pulling 2 all-nighters in a row with 5 others to build something exciting from the ground up left me with an electrifying spark for entrepreneurship, a thirst for solving problems, and an eagerness to collaborate with others.
By 10th grade, I was hooked on participating in competitions. I even dabbled with game development. Along with the head of ICT Daksh, my friend Ahan and I spent an entire week working on Spacescape, a unity based prison escape game on the moon for Modern School’s “Unity Game Jam Titans” competition. Not only did we learn Unity and C# for the competition, but as the game director and designer, I created the landscape and planned each level while Ahan and Daksh wrote the the game logic. I scoured the Unity Asset store for new assets and created textures for each character on photoshop. As a team, we were extremely detail oriented. Everything was carefully designed to look as natural as possible: the lighting, the textures of every surface, their opacity, and even the character’s bald head. I developed a deep respect for professional game developers that week, the amount of hard work they must put in to build intricate games with amazing artwork is astounding.
Of the dozens of web design competitions I attended, The Indian School’s “Aeon 2.0” was undoubtedly the most memorable one. It was here in 2016 that I created Scope Scope, an organisation aimed at propagating the theory of “Simulated Reality” and discussing the implications of such an existence. Researching this topic uncovered “The Matrix” like theories and arguments that had captivated me since I was a child. Diving deeply into the topic was the brain candy I was longing for.
The years I had spent attending competitions, creating products, managing events, and building teams eventually led me to become the Head of the Computer Society. It was now my responsibility to spearhead the society’s mission, to make technology accessible and fun, especially for young students. This meant outreach to hundreds of students in junior classes, workshops, talks, and more training for competitions. But it also meant defeating the myth that the computer society consisted of just geeks and introverts. In truth, we were a community of coders, designers, quizzers, gamers, artists, photographers, public speakers and much more. To tackle the misconception, I developed Megabyte’s first website, spoke to students in person and conducted events such as our weekly “Tech Talks” series that hosted experts from different areas of technology. These efforts drove up our membership to more than 50 students from junior classes.
My second goal for Megabyte was to make it into a tech force to be reckoned within the school tech circuit in India. When the time came for Minet X 2016, I decided that we would not go home without a trophy. After several rounds of tryouts, our highly qualified team built CraftVR, a platform that allowed users to build virtual reality experiences. CraftVR’s toolkit made it easy to design buildings, houses, cars, product blueprints in VR. In addition to making a demo and video for the competition, I practiced our pitch till it was perfect. For the first time, our school came back home with 2 trophies in the Keynote and Design events. We replicated our success at Minet X 2017, where we created Visualise, an Augmented Reality app for students that scans textbook diagrams using a smartphone camera and replaces them with interactive 3D objects in the camera viewfinder.
When MIT’s "BlastOff" launch club was organised in school, most members of the computer society were urged to participate. With my team of 5, I built Terra, an app that simultaneously incentivised fitness and recycling in India. Terra measured fitness activities of individuals and rewarded them through a gamified system with a leaderboard. For every milestone achieved, an “intelligent” recycling bin that detected waste types for segregation was placed in a neighborhood of choice. While working on Terra was exciting, I was extremely satisfied with the large student turnout from our school. The computer society’s initiatives had finally gotten rid of its geeky image, and its mission of embracing technology appealed to student’s with varied backgrounds and interests. This upturn in the computer society’s image resulted in a collective team effort to organise our school’s annual tech symposium, ShriTeq. ShriTeq 2017 is widely regarded as the most innovative tech symposium held in North India. I attribute its success to the new faces on the organization committee who conducted numerous competitions, and contributed unique ideas for demos such as 3D holograms and drone racing.
As Head of the Computer Society, I now realize how pivotal the society has been in making me who I am today. It is my second home. As 12th grade comes to a close and graduation crawls closer and closer, I remember the words of N.R. Narayana Murthy - “When you run a part of the relay and pass on the baton, there is no sense of unfinished business in your mind. There is just the sense of having done your part to the best of your ability. That is it. The hope is to pass on the baton to somebody who will run faster and run a better marathon.” Leaving Megabyte in the capable hands of my successors, I feel satisfied knowing that they will continue to evolve and refine the legacy of the computer society.
Copyright © 2018 Arjun Sawhney. All Rights Reserved.