My Proficorn Way (Part 8)

Learning to Learn

Nothing that I learnt directly in the classrooms of IIT or Columbia University prepared me for my entrepreneurial ventures. My degrees were in Electrical Engineering. My first ventures were in software. What I learnt in every course over the five years of undergrad and grad education was how to learn. Every course was like opening a door to a new world. All it took was a few months of immersion to imbibe new topics.

When I began my Masters at Columbia University in 1988, I decided to take a course in the Computer Science department in Operating Systems (OS). A knowledge of programming and C was a prerequisite, and I knew neither. My advisor told me it would be impossible for me to do the OS course, given that I also had four other courses in that semester. I decided to go ahead – realising that I would probably have to spend a disproportionate time learning the basics of C. I had taught myself BASIC when I was in college and my father had bought a computer in his office in 1983. I figured another language couldn’t be that difficult.

I was wrong in the early days. My first test in OS resulted in me being the lowest in the class. I was advised to drop the course. But I decided to persist – confident in my ability to learn. And I did. All those years in IIT classrooms ‘learning to learn’ paid off. I spent a lot of time teaching myself C from a book and on a terminal. I finished the course second-highest in the class.

That was what gave me the confidence later in life – that I could learn any new topic in a few months. My entrepreneurial ventures have been in diverse areas – software, media, politics and marketing. In every venture, I have had to master new ideas in a few months. My advantage in each of these ventures is that I come to the problem as an outsider – with a new perspective. I am able to do “value-added aggregation” – combine the existing ideas in new ways to come up with something new and better. Lack of previous experience can actually be an advantage for entrepreneurs as they start their proficorn journey.

Tomorrow: My Proficorn Way (Part 9)

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