When people ask me who can benefit from the UnCollege Gap Year program, I give them one simple answer – young adults who are willing to be proactive in pursuing their interests and curiosities. They don't have to be an extrovert or a natural self-starter; what they need is the drive and desire to be great
There is no better example of a young adult with a proactive approach than Anmol Agrawal, a member of a 2014 UnCollege cohort. Through a relentless work ethic and commitment to bettering himself, Anmol has started to make a name for himself in the engineering and design industries. I sat down to ask him a few questions about his journey from a college student with a lack of direction to his current comfortable and exciting state.
UnCollege: Can you give us a little background on where you are from and what you are currently doing?
Anmol: I am 24 year-old guy from Bangalore, India. I work as a front-end developer right now, although I know full-stack development and UI Designing. Apart from this, I work with open-source technologies and continue evangelizing for them. For example, I evangelize for littleBits when it comes to electronics, PubNub for data streaming area and some other technologies. Being an evangelist, I get to experiment with a lot of stuff and it enables me to come up with new ideas/projects. In the process, I get to hone and utilize my design skills.
UnCollege: And how did you get to where you are? What were the stepping stones or jobs that linked together to launch you into your current spot?
Anmol: I actually studied Mechanical Engineering in college. I had some ideas back then that I wanted to bring to life, but I couldn’t because to work on projects like a bike etc, one needs to have financial support to get the tools and raw materials. I didn't have those nor the proper mentors to guide me.
I took an entrance exam in India to do Master’s in Design but in spite of good rank, I didn’t get any call from universities. That’s when I made the decision to find another way to get where I wanted to go and that's when I started hacking my education outside college.
I looked towards computer science because all you really need is a laptop and internet and I knew I could start working on any idea immediately. Most of the online learning materials were free too. As I delved more into it, I realized that computer science is more of a complementary subject nowadays that can be combined with any area you want, be it designing, electronics, agriculture, transportation etc and that’s why I stuck with it.
In my case, I have always wanted be in the line of UX researcher and designer, but I found that starting a career in that line was very difficult. So I decided to start a career as a developer and continue working on research and design on the side to gain some experience (which my evangelism part fulfills).
UnCollege: Your story is one of perseverance. Can you tell us a bit about the hard work you've put in along the way? Also, how did you know you were going down the right path?
Anmol: One of the things I always had difficulty with was I didn’t have the people with the right mindset around me nor the right mentors to guide me. By right mindset I mean being open-minded and not worried about failures. In Indian society, we are always told what to do so often that we forget how to be creative on our own. We are told to perform better than others otherwise we will lose in this “rat race”. The competition is with others and not with ourselves. We don’t take risks due to fear of failure. I realized that I may not be the average of 5 people I surround myself with, but I can be average of ideas/beliefs I accept. In a way, there wasn’t a culture of exploration around me, so I had to come up with new ways to make it happen.
How I knew I was going the right path, was a long process:
Firstly, I used to read to 2-3 books a month and if I could absorb just one lesson from each book and apply it to my life, that book was worth it. The books ranged from autobiographies, psychology, public speaking skills, business, design, finance, systems, neuroscience and more. It allowed me to explore different areas and understand what interested me and what didn’t.
Secondly, I have a ‘scientist’ mentality too. If I have an idea/hypothesis, I would put it to test and then make the observation. For example, when I was in college, I focused on my Marketing skills for a month. While a learned a lot of stuff which I still use, I learned this is not something I want to do for forever. I discovered at that stage my mind is inclined towards exploration, observation, researching and executing the idea immediately.
Thirdly, I have relied a lot on serendipity. Here are a couple of situations:
When my mother passed away a couple of years back and our family was in a critical situation, I realized that I have to be financially independent. That’s when I started learning about investing, started investing in stock market through stocks and mutual funds. I created a system around it which is running smoothly even after 3 years and I am self-sufficient now.
I worked in a product company for 6 months and realized that my hands were tied with the ideas/technology that I could work on and that’s why I shifted my mind towards evangelism and consulting.
I submitted the proposals during conferences. When it got selected, that’s when I started working on it, reaching out for sponsorships and practicing my presentation skills.
Making the best out of circumstances was absolutely crucial for me.
UnCollege: Who do you think, outside of close friends and family, has really helped contribute to your growth?
Anmol: I am highly inspired by kids. The way they look at things are so different than what we adults see. They want to understand what is it, why is it like that, why not the other way, what ifs etc, I love when they keep bombarding with their questions (which is irritating for most people). It’s never ending and still they enjoy it, they always have fun. I am also inspired by many authors whose books I have read like Josh Kaufman, Ramit Sethi, Austin Kleon and many more. Even scientists from history like Da Vinci, Galileo have taught me a lot. Lastly, people that I have met along my journey have contributed a lot as I learned by listening to their stories and sharing experiences with them.
UnCollege: What are the most valuable skills you learned at UnCollege that you use on a day-to-day or weekly basis now?
Anmol: Networking, cold-emailing, speaking skills and the value of conference and meetups in the process of learning.
UnCollege: What advice do you have for the people who are in a similar spot that you were in just a few years ago?
Anmol: Everyone is not born knowing what they want to do in life. Some people get the guidance and resources from a young age and some don’t. There is one thing that is common for everybody - time. Everybody has got the same amount of time (24 hours a day). What matters is how you utilize it. Not being able to go to prestigious universities is not the differentiating factor now. Disruption is happening everywhere. Information is the new currency, which is available plenty.
Change is the only thing that is certain in life and those who can adapt will survive. Just keep an open-mind and keep learning. Innovation can come from anywhere.
UnCollege: Is there anything else you would like to add that might help students or parents who are considering a gap year, or about the UnCollege program in particular?
Anmol: When I completed my high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. So directly jumping into the university was scary. This is the same for many students, especially in India where kids are pushed to go to college. Plus the level of competition, society and peers add to that pressure. I wish somebody told me to take a gap year after high school to explore the world and find what interests me.
If you have the network of people from the industries, it’s a great benefit to have an insight to what they work on, how is their culture and experience etc. It’s important because it can be scary thinking you want to go into a particular field and after spending enough time realizing that’s not what you wanted.
Another way gap year programs like UnCollege can help is once you discover the area to go into, it will make your college experience better as you will have the focus what you want to do.
UnCollege: Where can we find out more about your work?
Anmol: You can find out more about my work at www.tinkererforlife.com
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