I kept a little secret for many years, something I was too ashamed to mention in conversations in my twenties and had perfectly camouflaged in my confidence. For years I dodged LinkedIn asking me about my education to complete my profile, and bank forms for customer information. So I never finished my degree, dropped out of college in the second year and technically still have only a high school credential. It was the dotcom boom of 2001, an exciting time to be experiencing internet for the first time and riding a revolution around the world.
I had been building websites since I was 16, and was hopelessly optimistic about the future and studying something which for years I had only hacked my way into. A square peg trying to fit into the traditional round hole. At college, the exams were about cramming up borrowed notes, classes were about theory and computer labs had an AC. The dream died a slow death, when after two years, I just stopped going to college. I had read somewhere that just like a blind man has super sharp hearing, you got to make the weakness irrelevant by building on other strengths.
The Moment I’ll Never Forget
I remember the exact moment when those feelings of ‘not-good-enough’ were smashed forever. I was at a traffic light, frantically waiting for it to turn green, I had to run home to check the numbers. Numbers of a video which became the biggest success I had ever tasted. I fired up my iPhone browser, keeping an eye on the traffic lights and there it was.. my first Million views!
That day, when the counter hit the six zeroes – I had my degree.
That one video went on to become Asia’s most shared branded Facebook post and won awards. This had come after a long wait, decade of working in the darkness, starting and closing businesses, attending film school, working in sales to managing social media for brands. My career had taken a new direction, and this was the first day of the rest of my life. I had come out of the ‘drop-out’ closet with a very public success. Working at ixigo was a strong reason as well, with a full license to experiment. Little did I know that in a year, I would win Content Marketer of the Year too :)
Oh The Taboo!
Back in the day, it was not easy living in India being a drop-out. A taboo, it was like a blot on your resume and your life. When friends were discussing about doing MBAs and applying for masters, I was tinkering with websites, lapping up skills and knowledge from the Internet. One thing being a drop-out taught me was to find your own path, chart your own course. I remember once I sold a web app idea to a client in Canada without knowing a thing about that technology. After a few days in the library and hours playing with the code, that project was delivered and at fraction of what competition was quoting. That’s when I started maintaining my success journal, a book with a list of my littlest of achievements, my version of ‘degree on the wall’.
Speaking At a University, Hell Yeah!
Few weeks back, got an invitation to speak at a well respected University. The email was about doing a talk on ‘Viral Videos’. The little degree-less boy who lived with-in me, shouted ‘Hell Yeah’ with joy, it had come full circle. The talk was attended by their Grad students and the sought after ‘Young India Fellowship’ students. I learnt from the admissions office that their entire admissions process was based on meticulous interviews and a curriculum rooted in liberal arts. Ashoka University, with their world class campus is a vision of India’s top entrepreneurs.
So there :)
PS: I’m writing a book, about viral content marketing, about all little things that lead to the crazy millions! Sign-up for the mailing list :)
4 thoughts on “From a College Dropout to a University Speaker!”
I finished my B.Tech degree late… very late. Every year, I’d appear for my supplementary exams without studying, and just couldn’t clear them. I wanted to drop out like you, but didn’t want to disappoint dad, so persevered half-heartedly.
During the still-not-B.Tech days, I was a regular speaker in tech events. Microsoft hosted a tech event in our college, and had me deliver the keynote. Damn, that was awesome. ;)
Also, I was presented a memento and bouquet on the stage (typical college thing) by HOD of the department in which I had failed maximum subjects. We had a few arguments during college days as well. So, that photo-op was very awkward. :D
Couple of years later, when I had joined Microsoft, I got a mail from training & placement officer of our college for internships of students. It was funny, because the T&P department had looked down upon me in my final year, not allowing me to sit through most placement interviews et al.
You have had a great ride, and it should inspire a lot of people with lesser academic credentials. I just thought I’ll share my story.
P.S. Although, I cleared and have a consolidated mark-sheet from university, I didn’t go back to collect the degree.
Thanks for sharing your story buddy :)
Way to go Aashish! :D :D
This isn’t just an inspiring story, it is legend to show what self belief can achieve in this world. Kudos to you for living your dream. Education qualifications shouldn’t be a judge for a person’s capabilities. You are a living proof and inspiration