Mehul Mohan is a CSE undergrad at BITS Pilani, Goa. He is an Apple WWDC’19 Scholar. He runs codedamn- a platform for developers. His YouTube channel has 16M views and 120K+ subs. We talked to him to gain insight into how he did all this while still in college!
1. What is your take on Development vs Competitive Programming?
In my view, I would weigh real-world coding skills over competitive programming, simply because that’s what I’ve worked on so far. Competitive programming is a sport, but unfortunately, a picture has been painted that you need to be a very good competitive programmer in order to get that dream job or succeed in IT. This is not true, and a lot of roles require just a basic Data Structure/Algorithmic understanding only (with your real-world skills, of course). I see seniors misguiding juniors to do competitive coding telling them that is the ONLY way to succeed. I think it is time to become aware of the infinite opportunities available out there, which you can get with or without being great at competitive coding.
2. What is your advice for a non-CS student who is interested in Web/Android Development?
Doesn’t matter. Indian curriculum in schools and colleges is so behind the trend that you have to learn these skills almost always on your own. These industries are fast-moving, and our education system is not designed to be fast and up to date. Our education system still teaches 15–20-year-old technology and concepts, so if you have/don’t have a CS degree, for the most part, you are on your own. Start with online resources, blogs, follow industry leaders and learn from them.
3. How to start backend development and what should be the order in which it should be learned?
Backend development could be vast and daunting if you jump in it and try learning everything. I recommend starting with a programming language of choice and learning it. Then, start exploring popular web frameworks around that language to ease your work. You have to start from the inside out and gradually start adding tools to your skill-bucket which you use the most and cut down a lot of time. Pick up some ambitious projects and try implementing them, that way you will learn about what you really need to learn.
Taking courses and mentorship is of course also something you could do in parallel to accelerate your learning. For the learning order, I would say everyone should start with a programming language, develop projects, and learn the things required for them.
4. How good is the future prospectus of cross-platform tech like a flutter, react-native, etc.? Which do you prefer?
There are mixed opinions on this out there. But I like to place my bet on cross-platform tech all day. The number one advantage they provide is that you can almost double your potential audience reach by shifting to these cross-platform techs. It is very hard for a person to be a great Android and iOS developer simultaneously because of completely different ecosystems — tools to work with, programming languages, etc. But if you have a decent understanding of both the native platforms and you have a great understanding of a cross-platform tech like react-native, you become unbeatable in the mobile development space.
5. What do you think about learning newer technologies like amazon AWS and google GCP?
They’re wonderful solutions. You wouldn’t believe the demand for good cloud engineers in the industry right now. Cloud platforms like AWS have proven that businesses can focus more on their business and technology and offload hard problems like scalability and infrastructure management to them. Trust me, learning them in college would give you a massive edge over 99% of your peers, and probably instant internship or placement in any fast-growing startup or company that needs a cloud architect if you’re good enough, no competitive rounds, and things like that.
6. What are the steps to win an Apple WWDC scholarship?
Step 1 — Learn Swift/Apple frameworks
Step 2 — Let WWDC start and think about some creative yet simple to understand ideas
Step 3 — ???
Step 4 — Profit!
7. I spend 2–3 hours each day coding, but I feel like I’m stuck and not making any growth. Did you go through this phase if so, how did you overcome it?
You can spend 2–3 hours in gym, would you see gains in a day? Would you see massive growth in a week? Maybe not even in a month, and most of the people know about that already — that you need to continuously hit the gym if you want to be in great shape.
It is no different from becoming great at something. It is not an overnight thing or a flip switch that could happen 78 days from now, it’s a journey, a gradual transition which you probably won’t even realize. I am still in the growth phase, I’m still learning new things and I’m still pushing boundaries, there’s no way you can be done-and-dusted with coding, there’s just so much you can explore and learn. You don’t overcome it, you accept the fact that you’re growing slowly and the only way to become better each day is to put in work.
8. You are obviously currently working on codedamn, which has seen an incredible amount of growth. What can we expect from you in the future?
There’s a lot happening on the codedamn front right now. We have our first few paying customers, so of course, making sure they’re served the best is the most important thing right now. We’re currently in talks with BITS Goa to formally implement codedamn as a SaaS for managing their codelabs for subjects like CP and OOP to provide better programming experience to students and teachers, we’ll see how that turns out soon.
Now that I’ve actually decided to not sit for campus placements, codedamn has my full attention at the moment, and you could expect a lot of quality content from various creators, hands-on codelabs on the platform, and some truly solid learning paths for achieving a real-world industry skill in the programming space.
9. What advice do you have to those who are starting a YouTube channel?
Don’t worry about your likes, view, subscribers, and especially not money when you start. Think about how you can provide value to the market — it could be something you like, some people are entertainers, some provide educational value. Figure out who you are. Don’t run behind things that you see are “working” on YouTube, create content on things you like. Let the world come to you.
10. How does one gain traction in the tough initial phase?
By deploying huge amount of work in the hope that it would reap its benefits in the future. Good things take time, great things are hard for a reason — great things and achievements would lose their meanings if there was an easy plan to achieve them.
Create good content, test and learn from the market, ask people about genuine feedback and see how you can improve things, and most importantly be patient
11. How did you manage your college acads while learning all these?
I didn’t haha. I probably went to less than 25 lectures total in my CS degree, like literally I skipped all of my lectures (well, I’m sort of graduated now, because I’m an early grad and have PS2 next semester). My two big things for “managing” acads were studying the whole syllabus a week before exams and that was super tedious but fun with friends and the second one, I made sure I would have at least one course in each semester where I could get A or A- grade if the rest of the grades are even B-, C, C-, I probably could land around 7CG.
First-year courses obviously helped to get a good head start because of the shared curriculum with 11th-12th, and some CS courses like CP were familiar to me too. I had no interest in academics, to be honest, haha.
12. How should one utilize these holidays to pursue various fields of their interest.
This is an interesting question, and I believe there’s a lot that should be said here. Firstly, figure out if your “interest” is really your interest and not the things your friends are doing. Oftentimes, you’ll see you end up doing things which others are doing or which “seniors” think is right, but isn’t really your interest. Going super fast on a wrong calibrated compass would get you nowhere. And a lot of people are running fast ending up nowhere. Calibrate your compass first, think about things you enjoy, things you can work on even if you were not paid. And when you find something like that, go all into it. So to answer your question, if you were just even able to calibrate yourself in the right direction in these holidays, I would consider that as a big win. Try out different things to understand what you like and what you don’t like. You have your whole life to go all into things of your interest, therefore, take your time, and just make sure to not get good at the wrong thing.