Update: Applications are now open for the 2018 cohort of the Data for Impact Fellowship. Learn more and apply here!
I vividly remember my journey back to Jodhpur after my two-day interview with SocialCops. There was an intense sense of excitement, uncertainty and self-doubt. I had a decision to make, and a pretty big one: What to do after graduating? I had already been offered a full-time role with Accenture as a data analyst and I was quite hopeful for the Data For Impact Fellowship with SocialCops.
Having eliminated my other options, I had to choose between these two. One gave me a well-structured environment, good pay and a big name, while the other gave me impact, long work hours and a steep learning curve.
With these thoughts racing through my mind, I bought Rashmi Bansal’s Connect the Dots and started reading it. Five minutes into reading it, I knew I had made up my mind.
The truth is, there is a plan. A bigger plan. Every experience in your life – whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – has made you what you are.
A chance encounter.
A stray conversation.
An article you read which somehow stays with you.
These are the unexpected turns on the journey of life. Which lead to a ‘destination’.
So go out there and do more, learn more, experience more.
Create lots and lots of dots on the canvas of your life.
Paint boldly and brightly – the colours of your choice.
Create a life which is like a work of art.
– Rashmi Bansal (Connect the Dots)
The Welcome and Onboarding
Fast-forward to the first week of July. I was welcomed to the office with a cute signboard and a long (very long!) onboarding document which included stories varying from how the founders met, to different tools and projects the company is working on. The onboarding document, in the most unexpected way, made me connect with the company.
As is their tradition, I was presented with a Hack Week challenge, which I had to complete and present at Friday Demo.
Hack Week: Understand, Process and Visualise One of the Most Comprehensive Baseline Surveys of India
It was a nuclear bomb. I still remember what was written on my document – “Don’t re-invent the methodology, give SECC another mirror.” And I thought, “Wow, that is a great way to confuse a newbie!”
Socio-Economic Caste Census (or SECC) is a baseline survey started by the Government of India to better understand the population and thus target the proper individuals with the respective schemes.
For any data problem, it is necessary to understand the background and at SocialCops, the bigger picture is at the heart of things. I was given an in-depth background of the why’s and the what’s of SECC, which helped me form a platform for my own research. To give some perspective about the task, I had to understand SECC, process and clean 40 GBs of data, get used to our wonderful in-house tools (without which you are crippled at SC) and finally visualise the data for an ongoing project for the Chief Minister’s Office of Maharashtra. No pressure at all!
Somehow, with some good amount of fuck-ups and learnings, I completed the visualisation in about 8-10 days.
My First Set of Government Meetings
One of my primary reasons for joining SocialCops was because of the kind of impactful work they are doing.
In my first week itself, I was informed that I would be a part of a project for the Ministry of Rural Development that involves creating a one-stop dashboard for the MPs and MLAs to monitor 28 national schemes. I headed to the Krishi Bhawan with all the obnoxious assumptions about the way our government functions, and by the end of the day, I was glad to be proven wrong.
- The government wants to do good! The intent of bringing about a change was clearly visible.
- The officers and the decision makers are there for a reason. They have a general idea of current technologies. Big data, data analysis, cloud computing, they know it all. While there, I encountered a team from RedHat India (a provider of open source, enterprise IT solutions) pitching the officials about their open-source technologies.
- They don’t do a 9-5 job. They work until their plan for the day is achieved. The personal assistant of a top bureaucratic officer informed us that the officer usually works until 9 PM.
- Not all government tasks take a long time. During our meeting, there was a point where we needed a confirmation from various stakeholders of the ministry. The officer at that very moment asked all the respective stakeholders to come to his office and within an hour, we were done with our agenda.
- They are very clear about what they want. While we were there, another startup had come to pitch their idea about how social media analytics will give a boost to the government. And the answer was, “These are problems we want to solve. All the data is on the MIS [management information system]. Come to me with a plan and a prototype, and if it solves the problem in a scalable way, you have a deal!”
- Yes, the system is in bad shape. It will take time to upgrade from the ancient way of proceedings. There is a lot of inertia but believe me, with this kind of intent and motivation, India is moving in a correct direction and at a pretty good pace.
The World of Jargons: AMAs, Town Halls, Captain’s Ball, P0s
With a company of no more than 50-60 employees, the best part is the culture that it fosters. You will fall in love with Friday Demos, Town Halls, Captain’s Ball, Team AMAs, P0s and all the SC jargon that comes with working here.
I won’t give away the whole meaning behind it, because well, you’ve got to earn it. But, I will say this – there is something in the way SocialCops is built and nurtured that it makes you feel at home in a matter of days. No one forces you to work that extra one hour or execute things beyond the contract. It simply comes from within and that is what working here is all about – walking that extra mile to drive change.
So, I am now one month into my first career move. Was throwing away a very well-paying job at Accenture to be a Data For Impact Fellow the correct decision? Only time will tell. Do I regret it? Not even for a microsecond.
In a span of 30 days, I am working on some of the most impactful projects, meeting with top government officials to drive change, stepping out of my comfort zone every morning and learning at each step. And I am achieving this by doing what I love – playing with data!