"The 27-year-old was brought up by indulgent parents in a middle-class Brahmin home in
Today, his company, India Infotech, which is based in
Shashank's love for computers began when he was in Class 9. "The internet was just becoming big in
Keen on learning everything he could on the subject, he approached professional hackers on chat rooms and asked them a lot of questions, which they would gladly answer. His first break came when he was in his first year of engineering, when he found crackpal.com, which would pay
"During that time, I hacked into over 40 Indian government websites and 100 big corporate websites in less than 18 minutes. I knew that these websites were vulnerable, so I sent a report with this information to both the
Dejected but adamant on using his hacking skills for the larger good, he went on to work as an official consultant with the
By this time, Shashank had stopped taking interest in his studies, hardly going to college. "During my second year of engineering, I didn't even appear for my exams, and after that I never went back," he says.
While his family didn't give him much grief for following his heart, his neighbours didn't miss a chance to chastise him. "I guess my family was pretending to be happy with my choice. After all, any parent would be worried if their only son didn't complete his studies and, moreover, was doing something called hacking, which most people almost immediately associate with cyber crimes."
But never once has he regretted his decision. "The quality of education we used to get and I believe students still get does not prepare them for the real world. Those who finish college and start working end up having to unlearn and relearn everything to fit their job requirements. Everyone is so obsessed with getting a degree that they don't care where they are investing those three-four years and whether what they are getting in return is even worth it."
For a while, Shashank worked as a consultant on the Deep Web, getting hired by a few Fortune 500 companies indirectly and a couple of international governments.
On the Deep Web, you can do a plethora of things - buy weapons, drugs or hire a hitman, in addition to legal things. "I used to make sufficient money selling my services, but after a point I realised it was getting too risky to continue."
The Deep Web is also home to 'Anonymous', the hacker group believed to be the right wing of WikiLeaks. Its operations gave birth to the term "hacktivism". "I devoted my skills to their operations -
Shashank tried his hand at everything there was to try, but none of these brought him satisfaction or stability, professional or financial.
After dropping out of college and in need of money, Shashank did the unthinkable. He hacked into a big company's client websites, and proposed that it tell clients that their websites were vulnerable. He went a step ahead and sold his web security consultancy services to the company, only to be hired then and there.
"I worked there for a year-and-a-half, before quitting to take up a more lucrative offer from another company in the city. Unfortunately, we never got paid, and 45 days later, I walked out with
Shashank believes he saved a lot of time by not trying to get a degree. But dropping out is not a decision to be made impulsively, he cautions. "It's not about dropping out of college and sitting idle at home. I still study, I never stopped. It's about studying what you want and learning what will benefit you."""People who don't fit into the academic system will find another, perhaps harder, way Shirish Hirekodi"""I was totally fascinated with computers, but morbidly disinterested in academics," says 40-year-old Shirish Hirekodi, the brain behind music streaming app Twaang and what we'd like to call a dropout genius.
Growing up in Belgaum in northern
Shirish did quite poorly in academics after Class 3, and finally decided to drop out before he completed his Class 12 in
However, his parents stood by him. Although initially aghast at his decision, they eventually accepted it and supported him. "I then bought an ancient computer. A coder I knew,
"I wrote many applications to push the boundaries of my knowledge. One of the applications was a vector-graphics drawing tool which eventually helped clinch my first job." Shirish thus started working for an industrial automation company, Century Systems, as a trainee.
After honing his skills at Century Systems for a while, he got an offer from a Palo Alto based software start-up firm
A mobile music library for Indian music lovers around the world, Twaang provides legal, high-quality music on-demand, on-the-move. With over 90,000 music titles, 6,000 albums and 4,000 artists, Twaang brings the largest collection of non-film Indian music across genres - classical, fusion, contemporary, live concert recordings and more - to smartphones.
The idea for the app came to Shirish when his long-time friend and Twaang founder Vishnu Raned one day left his iPod behind. "Vishnu was fed up with modern day music. He was also someone who'd never be seen without his phone. So we thought, why not make a music streaming app on a smartphone? He asked me to give it a shot, and the result was Twaang." Today, Twaang has over one lakh users worldwide on the Android platform; Twaang is targeting two million users by 2015.
His journey so far has been one of learning. He says, "I can't imagine being happier doing anything other than coding and building a software product. So I'm doing what I love to do." Was his lack of a degree ever a stumbling block? Yes and no, Shirish says. "Many software shops where the minimum mandate is graduation are no-go, but then I still got to be where I want anyway."
Although an anomaly in the education system himself, Shirish believes the world would be chaotic without such systems in place. "They are a must for societal functioning. And people who don't fit into such systems will find another perhaps harder way, but they will."
Explaining further, he says, "My wife is a college topper. She just could not have done without systematic formal education. I'm totally in favour of academia. However, shouldn't one find joy in learning, and not be slave to marks?"""""
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