It's like jumping of a cliff and assembling a plane on the way down
On February 10th, 2021, through a LinkedIn connect, I got the opportunity to work as a React Developer at Farmako Healthcare, a healthtech startup, then based out of Calangute, Goa, India.
I am not going to lie, the thing that initially drew me to the company was the brand value it had achieved by securing a backing from Y Combinator, an amazing startup incubator and accelerator led by some of the most inspiring visionaries I've come to idolize.
However, as I write this article, I'm 3 months into this, and not a day goes by when I don't smile about jumping at this window - against the wishes of my family, an increasingly challenging online semester, amidst a global pandemic and a couple other imbalanced things in life.
In my 3 months as an intern (as of May 2021), I have not written a lot of code, maybe lesser than what I would have if I stayed put with my routine, but I have grown as a person and earned experiences and people, that pretty much dwarf what most certifications, accomplishments and compensations, any other work would have yielded.
This journey has been a tale of friendship, sacrifices, losses, dreams, chaos but for the most part, it resonates a glimmer of undying hope, to help society, to make something people want.
Doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But every time we create something new, we go from 0 to 1.
The act of creation is singular, as is the moment of creation and the result is something fresh and strange.
~Peter Thiel, (Paypal, Facebook, Palantir)
Farmako is the brilliant brainchild of 3 insanely crazy, visionary engineers out of IIT Roorkee, India :
- Aman Bhandula - CEO, Graphic Designer, Machine Learning Engineer, ever-dead-Apple-watch wearer.
- Kaishu Sahu - CTO, Software Developer, guitarist and fitness enthusiast.
- Nikhil Kumar - Technical Lead, omniscient hacker of code and people, caffeine connoisseur.
Farmako is a healthtech startup that takes the 4 main components of any healthcare system i.e.
- Medical Store
and digitally integrates them all in a privacy regulated manner in a cloud of software services, such that the speed and effectiveness of communication between these components would make the healthcare pipeline - right from symptom to diagnosis to testing prescription to recovery - cheaper, faster and more accessible for anyone.
"Everything these days, right from banking to booking a cab these days is digitized in a unified manner. There seems no logical reason why healthcare hasn't undergone this transformation yet"
~ Aman Bhandula, (Farmako)
Also, once enough records are safely stored in the database, Farmako can actually perform machine learning to predict future disease outbreaks, effective medications and potential hotspots where most healthcare resources and expertise needs to be diverted to.
Also, the thing that sets apart Farmako from most startups I've seen is that most discussions were not on monetizing and profiting from the idea, but on helping make healthcare technology, a real support system for everyone.
Also, funny thing is these post titles and job divisions of CEO, CTO etc. are nothing but names to the outside world as with the kind of amicable culture inside Farmako, literally everyone is doing everything. The most interesting kind of workplace I could possibly ask for.
Be a cockroach. They're much harder to kill
~Paul Graham (Y Combinator, ViaWeb)
My first introductions to the company started with a LinkedIn post announcing for hiring a React Developer Intern. I was lucky to be tagged onto it by a friend.
As researched more about the people, I got amazed more and more about how 3 extraordinarily talented people, from different walks of life, had gotten together on an idea and stood by it, since 2018 (3 years back), against all odds.
I even went through one of their blogs on why something like this had to be done.
The more I researched, the more I was convinced that the problem, the idea, the people and the approach all seemed to somehow fit perfectly into actually solving one of the biggest problems of the 21st century. I was drawn to it quite strongly
If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.
~Edmund Catmull, (Pixar)
Applied. Interview scheduled. I was battered with questions about software development and in fact, the project I was most proud of upto that point in my journey as a programmer was hacked within a minute by Nikhil Bhaiya. ("Bhaiya" means "brother", in Hindi language).
In those 30 minutes I actually experienced the diversity in thoughts and approach of Aman Bhaiya and Nikhil Bhaiya. Someday later, Aman Bhaiya, drawing from Paul Graham's observations, would explain to me, how 2 distinct kinds of people - hackers and painters, come together to create marvellous pieces together
Case in point : 1st April, 1976, California, USA. A Reed college dropout, brilliant artist meets a University of Colorado expellee, elite hacker and the 2 set up a small venture selling home computers from the artist's parents' garage. As of 2021, this venture has grown to a $2 trillion company, we know by the name Apple Inc. - brainchild of hacker Steve Wozniak and artist Steve Jobs.
A funny anecdote that comes to mind is that Aman Bhaiya started conversation with how life was going and at 1 point Nikhil Bhaiya just barged into the talk with - "Is Node JS single threaded or multi-threaded ?". After a short answer, Aman Bhaiya realised that they hadn't introduced themselves to me yet so after about 5 minutes of awkward questioning, I hear - "Hi ! I'm Aman, and these are my co-founders Nikhil and Kaishu (who was wired into code, and just greeted me with a classic ✌)."
Post-interview, one thing was for sure though. Something was really different about these entrepreneurs. I knew I had to get to know them better hence I kept spamming Aman Bhaiya with text messages asking for the technical assignment that would be the last evaluation in my application for an internship.
Funny thing is, first 2 hours of starting the assignment, I am dead spirit-broken because of some small bug because of which the project wouldn't even initialize. At this point I start having 2nd thoughts.
I mean - I had a full-blown online semester going on, I had institute club commitments, I wished to continue playing around in shallow waters of being a student developer and enjoy the luxury of being a child in a family and there was 1 other integral reason as well which was yearning me to give up on this chance and move on.
"You always regret the things that you don't do"
~Jeff Bezos (Amazon, Blue Origin)
Somehow, deep down, I knew I had to do this. 20 years down the line, I didn't want to face myself regretting the question - "When you had the chance to work with a bunch of great people on a transformational idea, where did you go ?"
That was it. 22 hours. Wired in. At the end, I was able to create a simple dashboard that could be used by a doctor for viewing the medical records of the upcoming patient appointments.
For the first time ever since I started programming, I felt a wave of confidence wash over me, that somehow, amidst the nights of staring frustratingly at errors for hours altogether, I'd managed to gather enough grit to disect a problem into code blocks and weave it all together in a functioning software solution that people could use.
A shot in the dark
When you find the right people, you don't have a choice, but to work with them. When you meet somebody who's that alter ego, don't let them go.
Find a way, however crazy and however weird to make them part of your world.
~Eric Schmidt (Google CEO, 2004-2011)
A day after the submission, I get a call from Aman Bhaiya, and he told me that they really liked my code and quite casually, his next question was - "How soon can you move to Goa ?"
Now see, I come from a family of order and security. The path I was expected to tread was one of a Masters from a college of repute, a high-paying engineering job at a tech giant and a settled life. So, a startup was a big red flag on this road. And upto this point, these were the exact footsteps I'd been taking.
But this time, I somehow gathered enough confidence to go against my family and explore this uncharted territory, purely because my heart knew this was the place I had to be in. Sometimes it's okay to be stupid and instinctive. Sometimes you have to trust your gut and take a leap, however irrational it may seem. Flight ticket booked for the day after.
That night, at around 11pm, I was introduced to the team in a more informal fashion.
Aman Bhaiya was getting anxious about not having the monitor properly set up for a video call. Nikhil Bhaiya was getting teased about flexing his AirPods on call. Kaishu Bhaiya walked up from behind, sipping a chocolate smoothie. Hemil, the Flutter Developer intern was being laughed at, for turning his camera on for the 1st time on call. Arun Bhaiya, the graphic designer, smiled, not understanding most of what we were saying as we spoke in Hindi, a language that was not-native to the South Indian origins he hails from. Ankita Didi was laughing, complaining about being detained at Khosla House (I think it's a guest house) back in IIT Roorkee, where she was balancing her dissertation side by side with a graphic designing internship at Farmako.
I remember laughing a lot without realizing at how this strangely messed up medley of people would become family to me in the upcoming weeks, and how we would embark upon a great journey on revitalizing the healthcare situation in India.
As I lay down that night, I could barely believe how this had all happened so fast, in a span of less than 1 year, that I started programming. Tomorrow, I'd meet the friend who was pivotal to this entire transformative journey, enjoy a warm cup of tea and traditional Maharashtrian snacks to kickstart a new chapter, say my thanks, goodbyes and promises to keep in touch.
Day after, I'd fly.
Sometimes it's important to wake up and stop dreaming
~Larry Page (Google, Alphabet)