“Armchair thinker, excessive drinker, occasional writer, wants to be lighter” is how you would know Ramesh Srivats, an alumnus of IIT Madras, who has more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. Read on for a sneak peek into the life and times of this internet celebrity, and for the secrets of becoming one.
Nickname in IIT: m’dris.
Course: B.Tech in Computer Science
Graduated in: 1990
CGPA: Forget it.
Tell us about your time at IIT Madras as a student, and any memorable moments. What do you think set you apart from peers?
Oh, I had a great time. I was always told that once I get into IIT, I don’t have to worry about my future. So, once I got into IIT, I stopped worrying about my future. Actually I stopped worrying about my present too. I spent my time in the ‘cul’ scene. With Institute Opens, Hostel Opens, Inter-Hostel meets, as well as an active college fest scene in Chennai, I had enough opportunities to explore JAM, debates, etc.
And of course, I met my wife there. She was a 9 pointer, so I suppose I’m the only guy, who, when he started going around with a girl, actually improved his grades.
What were the primary takeaways from your education at IITM and IIMA? How did each help you in your career?
I think I managed to learn some rudiments of computer science, but all it did was help me pretend to be a computer whiz when I was in advertising. IIM was different. There too, I followed this proven approach of not attending classes, but in IIM, in spite of that, I managed to learn something. Mostly jargon. But useful jargon.
You have spent many years in the advertising industry after a degree in management. What is your take on IITians not sticking to their ‘core’ fields and opting for jobs in consulting or finance?
I think most of my classmates joined IIT simply because they could. At 18, one doesn’t really know what they want to do in life, so one tends to take whatever stream provides the most options in the future. Now, IIT gives a lot of options. Like er… management, writing, whatever. This will change sometime, when in India, other careers become safe bets. But as long as the IITs are the only real good institutes for higher education, people will try to get in, whether they are interested in engineering or not.
Tell us a little bit about your company. What motivated you to start up? What is the exact ‘funda’ behind the name?
I spent 15 years in advertising, where I had an awesome time. But, by the mid-2000s, the internet and mobile where really changing people’s lives. Advertising agencies however, were just not responding to this change. They continued focusing on the what they were good at, like TVCs, and more or less ignoring the new world, perhaps hoping that if they ignore it hard enough, it would just go away. On the other hand, the so-called digital agencies, sort of understood technology but had no real understanding of brands and ideas. I therefore saw an opportunity to start something new. After a failed attempt at a company called “Hungry & Foolish”, which, unfortunately, lived up to its name, I started TenTenTen Digital Products.
The name TenTenTen at one level is of course just digital – 101010. But the funda is, 101010 is the binary for 42. And if you’ve read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you’ll know that 42 in is the “answer to the question of life, the universe and everything.” So, it gives me much geeky pride.
Where do you think social media as an industry is headed? What are the potential areas to tap in this sphere?
I don’t think it should be called social media. What has happened today is that people have become the media. The news you see; the articles you read; the videos you watch; are mostly because some friend has recommended them. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter provide the platform for people to be the media.
As to where the industry is headed, well, if I knew that, I’d be busy secretly developing something. But one thing to note is that the network effect makes these very winner-for-all. You’ll join the networks in which your friends already are. So, me-too’s to the existing networks may not really work. If however, one can provide a brand new way for a person to engage with his or her world, well that would be something.
You have a very large fan following on Facebook and Twitter. What makes you tick? Did IITM in any way contribute to grooming your talents?
Nice try. Of course IITM didn’t contribute in any way to what I do now. Unless we stretch a point and say that it was the place where I refined my PJ skills :).
As to what makes me tick, I think it’s because I don’t try too hard. Twitter and Facebook are my play areas. I don’t make money out of it. So I write what I feel like, and have a good time. Maybe that good time is contagious.
How does one go about becoming an internet celebrity?
Wait for someone to start a coaching institute? National Internet Celebrity Education? NICE.
There is so much hype these days about the IITs, with every small development jumped upon by the media. Should we be worried about this? Is there any way of checking this trend?
What’s there to be worried about? Isn’t it nice that the college you are studying in evokes so much interest? You see, I’m from advertising. So “hype” is a good word for me.
You regularly comment about the flaws in the system, be it in the government or the Indian cricket team. Three suggestions to improve IITM for the better?
I graduated in 1990, so I have no clue what the current system is. Maybe what I’m suggesting has already happened. But nevertheless…
1. Learn to Do: The IIT system, at least in my time, seemed a lot like school, with a more difficult syllabus. Basically, teachers talking and students listening. More than anything else, an engineer is a problem solver. So, it would be nice if students learnt the sciences by practicing it; by trying to crack innovations. Somewhat like what I believe Stanford is.
2. Engage with the world: IIT used to be pretty insulated from the rest of the world. Perhaps, this seclusion is nice for academic purposes. But it may also helps to engage with the city, with outside industries, maybe with other countries. A lot of us were just nerds when we passed out with not much clue of the outside world and pathetic social skills. Maybe that could change. If it hasn’t.
3. Play: You know, the time spent in college is not just about learning metallurgy or whatever. It’s actually the time when you become adults. You pick up values, you refine your personality and all that. So. IIT is not just about engineering, it’s about life. Now, I’m not saying that the curriculum should change for this. I mean, that there should be far greater freedom to explore, to go crazy and basically to screw up. This is possible only if the campus becomes a bit bohemian. Let people smoke, let people drink. This is the age when you can try all this stuff safely, and er… open your mind. I think if students are treated like adults, they have a better chance of becoming one. And for heaven’s sake remove that fence around Gajendra Circle.
What message would you like to give to today’s IITians?
This may sound banal but seriously, honestly, these 4 years are the best years of your life. Even now, if I could rewind to any point in the past and relive some moments, I’d go back to my IIT days. Just chilling in hostel with friends, perennially scrounging for money to go eat outside, having a ball in Mardi Gras (yeah, I refuse to call it Saarang). Man, there’ll never again be a time when you’re surrounded by so many intelligent people; there’ll never again be a time when life can be so carefree and fun. So, don’t waste these years by only mugging. Play. A bit?