The (First) Online Tenure
This is the story of the journey of one year taken by us, Akshit Srivastava and Latika Patel, as WnCC managers during 2020-21 who, in no way, had predicted that our entire tenure would be online. In this epilogue, we try to look back on our major events, decisions and evaluate the effects that followed because as you know - Verba volant, Scripta manent. We are no raconteurs, but there are some anecdotes we have included.
We were selected as managers of WnCC towards the end of January. The selection process was closely contested with 5 candidates for 2 posts. With several novel initiatives in our manifestos, we started preparing our plan of action. But lo and behold, a pandemic happened and most of our initiatives down the drain. So we decided to do something that, I wouldn't say were infeasible but would have been neglected during the normal offline sem. We based our tenure on content creation (Yes a senior did suggest TikTok, but I mean creating knowledge databases). Read along to know about our unexpectedly unique tenure!
Seasons of Code
We embarked on our journey by preponing SoC by a month, so that mentees and mentors could meet physically in-sem and that might boost completion rates. We had planned a session 'Meet your mentor' and even booked a room for it. But just before that, a 15-day break was announced, little did we know that we'd not go to college for over a year. Since we had been sent home for 2 weeks, many people had been left clueless as to how they should be utilizing their time. So we decided that we should start SoC in just 2 weeks. This would mean getting more projects, updating them, getting mentee applications, selections to be done, and the website to be updated all within a week for it to prove actually useful. Yes, we did just that. We got a record number of projects(30) and applications(1000) (perhaps due to lack of initiatives by the other clubs) and preponing SoC turned out it be a pretty good start. Although we still don't know if physically meeting your SoC mentor would have helped boost project completion rates.
Started 6 years ago, SoC has been growing ever since. The next edition, towards the end of our tenure, was managed by our successors Divyanshi and Shruti. They started off pretty well with managing to host an overwhelming 50 projects and 400 mentees. I think it was a combined effect of their aimed publicity, the association people had with WnCC over the year and that many people had started coding during the quarantine.
Code In Quarantine
After the first 2 weeks of being sent home, it was clear that we aren't gonna be called back anytime soon. There were no classes, many internships had been canceled and everything was in chaos, except for those who were doing their SoC projects. So we launched something for those who hadn't been selected for SoC, although this would turn out to be useful to much more people than our initial target. We created a Resource Repository. Something that anyone can refer to get started in Python, WebDev, ML, Blockchain, Open Source Contribution, or CP without much external help. Initially, we had planned to launch a google drive with 1 doc for each topic. But Tezan Sahu suggested that we create a GitHub repo and make readme files instead. The files had links to our heavily updated Wiki articles and some hands-on tasks. This later became the medium for most of the content put up in our tenure. We are glad that several seniors stepped up to help us out (since conveners had yet not been selected), and this had a good impact on the quality and variety of articles. Many people appreciated the idea of such guides, which told them what to study from which source, instead of making the source ourselves. Is this kinda like a topper telling about their routine/books during JEE?
While CiQ was running we shortlisted and interviewed over 40 candidates and finally selected 8. There were many more who we felt would do a great job, but we decided to keep a small team. We think we tried to learn from Cult Council, they have fewer conveners and yet are as productive as tech clubs. In the end, perhaps this decision aged well too. I had always wondered how do people judge a person in just 15 minutes during an interview. Well, that was until I took some on my own. It's funny that 10 minutes into the interview of each of our final conveners, we knew we are gonna select them. That was the time I learned that one of the most underrated experiences of a 3rd-year PoR is team selection. You look for certain characteristics in a person, their ideas, the way they present themselves, and so on. It gives you a good idea of what a person in general looks for in an interview, and how you should behave in one.
Having fewer people meant easy distribution of work, but it also could mean more load or lack of people to do any work. But our conveners lived up to our expectations and we managed to pull of many events together successfully. While our major initiatives went more or less smoothly, some repetitive ones like the weekly newsletter virtually stopped. Maybe having 2-3 more people might have just done the job but we can never know for sure. But what we do know for sure is that there are 3 golden words that you'd hear from every 3rd year PoR holder - Conveners kataate hai. We learned that there's a good reason for this.
A month into the lockdown, many clubs had started having guest lectures and talks. Having these had now become much easier due to everything being remote. Following the trend, we had a miniseries, CovidTalks, where we invited 2 profs to talk about their work in mitigating the effect of Covid. We also collaborated with several companies and the finance club for talks on Blockchain, GPT-3, etc. Fun fact, the founder of one of these companies, Ashray of Rephrase.ai was later selected by Forbes in 30 under 30. We soon kinda stopped conducting these because we felt like it's not really worth it. It's just that there were way too many talks being conducted by each and every club and it didn't seem to fulfill a purpose. Yes those who joined in learned something, but that there are several others making our efforts not stand out.
UGAC conducts LS courses every year, usually with informal help from WnCC members for n-day workshops. Unlike previous times, we officially collaborated with them this year. We realized (Thanks to CiQ?) that those n-day workshops aren't really helpful to many. So instead, we organized 3 7-week courses that were completed by over 200+ students. Our conveners solely looked after content creation and evaluation. And gotta give it to them, they did a splendid job given that they were still freshies. Conducting LS courses in this new way made the course material reusable and these can be conducted again every year with minimal effort. Also, LS has helped us give a simple answer to anyone looking for resources to learn python/ML/WebDev - Arre humare LS Courses try karo na.
What had initially started out as a collab between WnCC and UGAC, became something much bigger - a UGAC-ITC collab. Several other clubs conducted their courses too, and it was widely appreciated. Hope it stays like this for a few years. If it doesn't, you can now conduct these on your own xD.
Youtube recommendations made us realize that there are several videos explaining intuitive algorithms that act as a source of infotainment, watching them in action is fun, even if you don't really need to apply it somewhere currently. Since our objective for this tenure had been curating resources, we started with this initiative. We went on for 9 weeks, and 9 interesting videos. We used abstract images for launching each week's algorithm via Instagram posts. Those days I had started liking such aesthetic images so we thought, what's the harm in using one? <insert img>. It actually got a mixed response. The general public found it innovative and many appreciated an aesthetic pic in their feed, while some council members said that a poster should reflect what we were doing. But oh well, these posts garnered much more likes than our other posts, so win-win? But remember, always Give Credit for unoriginal content. Else people might believe that you're an underrated design god.
In Case You Didn't Know
I followed an Insta page named FinShots. I just loved (and still love) the way they presented their posts. They had minimal sentences, some graphics, and explained a story in a beautiful way. I was genuinely inspired to make something on the same lines. Enter, this initiative. It's actually difficult choosing topics for such posts, I had asked conveners to come up with one topic each, which they did, but it was hard to make trivial and interesting posts on those topics. Thus, this became more of a spontaneous affair. When we came across something interesting, I or Aakriti made some simple posts on them. The catch was storytelling in minimal words. Not sure about Aakriti, but it took me hours to compress content so that it's rich in info and still makes sense. Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun making those. While I'd be happy had others pitched in as well, but one of the only initiatives where I didn't really have an issue with others not showing enthusiasm in creating these posts.
The Ninth Convener
A girl texted me that she loved our Algorithm Simplified series, and wanted to contribute but hadn't applied for WnCC during convener applications, so we decided to take her in for preparing LS courses since it was an intensive initiative anyways. After it was over (she contributed very actively btw) she requested us to continue with WnCC. She had been Akshit's SoC mentee and Latika's XLR8 mentee and from our past experiences, we thought she'd be a good fit and thus we got our ninth convener, Aakriti. She has no surname btw (does LNU count?) and interestingly doesn't know the reason behind it. Oh, LNU means Last Name Unknown. She says her parents forgot to give her a last name but I think she's just in a delusion, any comments Aakriti? Btw not having a surname is much more common in Bihar than I had initially thought.
Rukhsat is a beautiful Urdu word meaning farewell (I'm glad it's not called Vidai). I feel words are much more beautiful in Urdu than in Hindi - Baal becomes Zulf, Aankhein becomes Nigaahein, Gaand becomes Tashreef. Anyways, back to the point, our Rukhsat went great finally, but the prep behind it had surprisingly been a series of give-ups. But but, conducting a Rukhsat online means preparing 20 invites and sending them out on messenger, schedule a meeting right and think of some activity, right? Well yes, I'm not sure what was the reason but we had to postpone it twice because of invites not being ready. I think it wasn't taken seriously because making invites probably didn't seem interesting. They did make a beautiful invite finally, but I still can't figure out what we should have done differently to interest them more. Can you?
This was the era of memes, not sure how things would be 5 years from now, but we'll show you how they are currently. There are some normie memes that barely make you send a wind out from your nose, while others that actually make you burst out laughing. We tried posting some of the second category memes while most clubs post the generic ones. This could probably be because they find that funny and kudos to them. But I kinda had developed a different sense of humor and these are the only ones that made me laugh. One of them got really infamous lol. It was circulated on WhatsApp groups within the 1 hour it was up. We had to take it down, but it was fun pushing the limits xD. Do you find it that offensive though? xD <insert pussy OS>. We've also attached the most liked meme from our page. <insert img of bas kar ML enthusiast nahi dekhne there coursera certificates>, this was also my(Akshit's) favorite template for like 4 months lol. I'm pretty sure barely any club posted a meme in hindi, even though these are quite common when casually sharing. My take on it is that many people want to play safe and share only the non-offensive r/funny memes that at times they themselves don't find funny. There's literally no point sharing memes if they don't make anyone laugh. Seriously, try out something new or maybe don't share any at all.
Akshit's Rage-Quit (or was it?)
This is a sad part. Feel free to skip the RR. It was after our Blockchain talk by Ashray, our club had gotten a bit stagnant, with no work done towards any new initiative (well there were several things to be done - website to be revamped, SoC results to be released, etc). Yes, we were the first ones to start our SoC but actually never officially released the results. We managers had evaluated everything, just updating the names on the website was left along with developing certificates (whose design had been finalized too), but we never managed to complete it. We had gone so far with the website, decided its layout and template, developed a good portion of it but never actually completed the final thing. The newsletter had started becoming inconsistent (and would later just stop randomly because we were sick of reminding people several times each week).
I think in our pursuit to launch bigger things we left out some... clerical/repetitive tasks. This was wrong, we realized it too, but oh well, our conveners just won't do them. Ideally (or is it?) the manager should do this if their conveners aren't, but for some reason (ego?) we didn't find it worth our time either and they lingered on. As enthusiastic our conveners were about turning new ideas into reality, they just didn't do these little things (a hard to swallow pill, neither did we).
The last straw was them not attending the blockchain workshop even though we had repeatedly told them to. The guy had actually paid me 1k bucks to boost the FB post and wanted an attendance of 150+ in return lol. Clearly, a different approach was needed. So I planned to scold them and seemingly rage-quit so that they might actually realize that we as managers were having a hard time (yes this was true actually). I told Latika about it, but I think the idea was too extreme for her to believe that I was actually gonna do it. I did just the same, and I think everything was sent to chaos. Many of our conveners DMed me, it felt pity but I didn't rejoin thinking that might de-escalate the seriousness, right? Plus Aakriti rated my performance a solid 9.5/10 mostly because of the dramatic exit xD. Again I'm still not sure if it had a positive impact, but the next thing to come out from the club was Hello-FOSS, maybe it was. Latika any insights as to what happened after I left? :P
There are too many female-oriented programs conducted by renowned corporates that girls from our insti do not participate in, even if they're capable of it and would serve their best interest. This is mostly because of lack of awareness or guidance. Latika being the first female manager of WnCC, we thought it'd have a very positive impact if we start something exclusively for women. Latika and female conveners brainstormed several ideas, conducted surveys, and made groups with seniors but those remained more or less inactive. Our GSTA then sought out to make this an ITC initiative. We were initially not very much into this idea because we knew the relevance of our plan in the field of coding, and expanding horizons might have led to chaos. But this meant more ITC managers for brainstorming and it finally gave a beautiful result - WISE (Women In Science and Engineering). Latika any insights?
This year ITC saw a good involvement of PG students. It's not common for clubs like ours to involve PGs in talks, and we wouldn't have either if it were not for our convener Payal who had befriended an MTech GSoCer she had met in her hostel mess - Gawd level contacts _/\_. This was a regular introductory talk on Open Source and GSoC. Someone (Abhishek?) suggested a nice name - A Close Look into Open Source, I hope this sticks around for some time. We ha invited 3 machau WnCC seniors and 2 PGs, all of whom were GSoCers ofc. We tried out a new format for its poster, and everyone LOVED IT! Clearly, it took much less time and effort but people appreciated the innovation. Your ideas being successful/unsuccessful is something secondary, but you should dare to try out something unconventional in the first place to bring change.
This was a huge initiative where WnCC and Devcom joined hands to float open source projects. We even created a beautiful website for its publicity, also the first time I made a poster solely on photoshop. Payal was the one who suggested the idea and planned the execution. Hacktoberfest is seen as yayy free-tee by many but we saw it as an opportunity to improve the open-source culture at our institute (and as yayy free-tee), without giving away goodies, since Digital Ocean would do that for us xD. We floated 4 projects in WebDev, AppDev, ML, CP and we actually saw good participation with over 80 PRs. Surprisingly most of them were on the ML repo that just required participants to complete a simple task. Well not surprising, given the hype of ML these days, but definitely a bit of disappointment that the more inclusive Dev projects didn't get a lot of attention. Although the goal of making people contribute to a public repo and practically learn about branches and PRs was achieved, so I'd say good start as a first edition! We think this initiative, esp the participation in Dev projects would be much better if conducted offline with everyone coming together in a room, discussing and debugging together.
Something that I(Akshit) had in my manifesto from before becoming a manager. Doing self-projects is a great way of honing skills but people don't know where to get started, and fact that it's not difficult. I couldn't really find people to do cool projects with, even though I was a part of WnCC during my 2nd year. So I went hunting for self-projects, and being a beginner I found it difficult to find some interesting ones. So, we decided that we would float some such projects to help beginners, they will contain a schedule and resources for the projects. All conveners were to float one project. We had created a GitHub repository for putting all the readme files (an excellent idea given by Tezan Sahu during CiQ), but just before 1 day of launch, I think none of the conveners had written anything (they had decided on topics though). I thought that it's probably because they were unsure of how to do it. So I decided to float a project that I had actually done. I think this gave them a template of how to go about it and projects started pouring in, with outside contributors like 2 of Abhishek's UMIC 'homies' too. Perhaps, leading by example is one of the best ways of motivating/guiding people. I have no clue how many people actually did the projects, but I'm glad that I could help someone like me searching for projects, and let people know the importance of doing such projects. Anyways, these projects are going to stay here for a long time, so perhaps it'll turn out to be a successful endeavour in the long run.
It'd still take us some time to believe that we actually brought this idea into reality. It feels like Nick Fury of Avengers really, trying to save our Insti's culture from the wrath of online sem, bringing all the councils together, the scouting, conveying, convincing, and finally, all of them contributing to this huge resource pool. Seems so beautiful, doesn't it? Instiwiki has been in the talks before but had never been executed. I think the reason for this being that it was a mammoth task, and thus difficult for any particular club manager to take lead because it might mean them leaving out on their club's initiatives. You can't just ask your conveners to ideate with you, you yourself have to prepare a document, do your groundwork with over 40 PoR holders, note down their recommendations, and act on them. Maybe being an online sem, the gw part was much quicker than doing them physically. We had to push so many people individually, let aside our conveners. But we're grateful that they actually listened to us and gave us really good content. Then the problem with Gymkhana servers being shut down for students but us finally getting permission to use them (because of it being a huge initiative?) after completing a checklist of 50+ checks, thanks Rishabh and Tezan for helping out xD.
DevCom was established in 2019, just more than 1 tenure before ours. It is a great concept, a group of people who'll take up dev projects to fulfill the needs of the institute. They'll work with any and every student council to assist/work on projects benefitting a larger population. InstiApp was the first product of DevCom (the other way round actually, the need for DevCom was realized while InstiApp was in development) and it took the Institute by storm. Literally every UG student had installed the app within a year.
Unfortunately, DevCom wasn't very active in its first tenure, with no other DevCom-wide project reaching completion. Clearly, something needed to be changed but we were not sure what, no one was. There are many good developers in the institute, and a body like DevCom can just not afford to remain inactive, else it would lose its credibility super soon.
DevCom is something unique in our institute. It's like a normal Dev Club in other institutes, with many people coming together and working on cool projects but student technical activity bodies don't work like that in our insti. There are clubs (which are more focused on conducting events and organizing activities) and tech teams (that work with focus towards a specific competition in mind). DevCom being something in between made it tricky to maneuver.
After hours of discussions with several people, we decided to give it the structure of a tech team (instead of the pre-existing club structure). There would be 4 project leads and 15+ sophies. As the name suggests, each thirdie would lead a project with 4-5 members. We decided to make it dynamic - removing those who didn't work. Things started off pretty good, with many projects at hand and everyone (well, most of them) being enthusiastic. But as time progressed, only 1 project could reach completion, and we knew it was time for dynamicity to play its role. 2 project leads were let go.
Result? The remaining people worked with even more enthusiasm and overall DevCom had a fantastic tenure with several portals and websites going online. The conclusion being, a small group of enthusiastic people might actually outweigh a larger group of those same enthusiastic people plus some unenthusiastic ones.
The Annual Hackathon
As the coding club, you are obviously expected to conduct hackathons. We had none this year, so we thought it'd be engaging to conduct one during winter vacations. DevCom and WnCC collaborated on it. And oh boy, we put in efforts. Like, so much effort to make it look premium. It was a game development hackathon. We decided on a retro theme, where people would redevelop classic games with modifications of their choice. We selected 9 games, chosen by their popularity on ranking websites, made a discord server, made an 80s retro poster, publicized it heavily, discussed logistics for hours, whether it should be weekend-long or week-long, whether we should specify languages and whatnot.
End result? 2 submissions (one of them by being broken, while other one was by a WnCC senior). No, this wasn't the tenure of hackathons. We suspect this might be because of a lack of incentive and tiredness from the online semester. People might not have wanted to build a whole game just for the prize of 1k. Thus collaborating with companies for hackathons might be the best way. They get to publicize, we get to inculcate the culture of hackathons, and participants get prizes in order of 10k. As Michael Scott said, it's a win-win-win.
A Potentially Epic Poster
ITC conducted a PG Tech weekend with several clubs conducting workshops, and it was suggested that we have PG volunteers. When the idea was approved, I knew there was a good chance of something memorable happening (in our case only potentially though). We had a workshop titled RattleSnake, where we taught about some basic use-cases of Python to attendees. The PG volunteers were keen to involve a peculiar image of a snake in the poster <insert the b/w image>. They envisioned it as a representation of us being able to control a snake (Python) with our been(code), and attendees becoming a snake charmer (programmer) after attending the workshop. I embraced the idea for its uniqueness and was enthusiastic to see the response of public to this uncanny poster.
I even incorporated their design into the poster, there were several alterations made <insert all images please> but finally had to ditch the image because Latika wasn't on the same page as us. Latika, you don't know this but I secretly hate you for it :( An hour of effort seemingly went to vain, except for the huge dose of endorphins I got for free. And thus ends the tale of the potentially epic poster.
Not Scratch Day
Scratch Day has been WnCC's flagship event since 2014, but there's something I always thought was off about it - It never really reached out to the programmer in me. Even though it's a good initiative that actually helps people begin thinking like a programmer, we (and our conveners) sought something different. This time we thought of conducting a workshop on HTML and CSS along with an introduction to what we do at our club. Along with that, a simple hackathon to build the best website using only HTML, CSS.
Divyanshi and Payal were tasked with handling the whole event, and they did a wonderful job at it. The viewership peaked at about 150 (a bit lower than our expectations but not bad). I think what was indeed disappointing was the number of submissions for the hackathon (As I said, this wasn't the tenure of hackathons) despite it being so basic. Maybe HTML/CSS was too difficult to be comprehended by an absolute newbie in 3 hours. Maybe that's why our ancestors had chosen Scratch - because it is lucid. Or maybe they lost interest in participating in the hackathon because you just don't get that feel at home.
I think this little experiment might have been inconclusive, but it made me realize that Scratch day might not be that bad an event after all. Sure, Scratch wasn't how I had got introduced to programming, and after I had learned to code I saw Scratch as some kind of mockery of programming or something meant for little kids. But it needn't be seen that way, because it has been used as a successful tool in getting people interested in coding. Anyways, we're just conducting a 3h workshop, there's only so much we can cover. Funny thing, this incident actually made me more open-minded in general about a few popular things that I used to secretly criticize (especially OnlyFans lmao). Perhaps some things are popular for a reason that serves the best interest.
Lockdown had got many people started with Competitive Programming, well it comes in handy during placement preps, so why not. So we focussed on building a community of CP coders that hadn't existed before. We floated a survey form among top coders in the insti, taking their suggestions whether it should be a closed community, what should be the strength, etc. CP@IITB was created (I deeply regret that we couldn't come up with a better name) and it was very active during vacations. But it died out like a flower during online sem. The semester was so hectic for many that this was only natural. Maybe having group meetings where they discuss some cool problems would revive the group. The semester will have to be offline though.
We also conducted an event CodeGames. v1 was for newbies (primarily freshies), with problems developed by our 3 CSE conveners. It witnessed amazing participation (I think the word 'hackathon' was cursed this year). We had thought of developing our own CP platform and judge on our website, but later decided it wasn't worth the effort. v2 was quite unique though. The problems were still fairly simple, but you had to code only from the given set of languages, which ofc didn't include the popular ones. This idea had been under consideration for like 6 months, glad that we could end our tenure with this event.
When People Step on our Toes
Being an online tenure, some other tech clubs can't conduct their normal events either because that might require using electronics that can't be made available to attendees at their homes so it is only natural that they might start having coding-themed events. This is fine and appreciated as long as those events are related to topics under their purview, the focus of the event is not on coding, have our permission to do so or collaborate with us. But every once a while some breach this barrier and it's our duty as managers to keep them in check. This happened only once this year though but will continue to happen in the coming years. Watch out.
On Company Collaborations
A tricky business. Over the year, many companies would contact you, to conduct workshops, hackathons, webinars, and other collaborations. I think the best way to go about making the decision would be to have a clear goal in mind. First, remind yourself of your vision for the club, determine your goal, and then think, what do you want out of company collaboration. Is it just conducting an event that would benefit people, is it developing your conveners' soft skills, is it improving the outreach of our club beyond the insti, or something else. It's all about your take on it and we trust you with it.
My personal belief is that while workshops are helpful for people, they contribute little to developing culture, or improving yourself. After all, I became a manager to improve my leadership skills, try out new initiatives, and improve the coding culture of our institute. With none of them being met through, I didn't see the point of these. Hackathons should definitely be conducted in collaboration with a company. Seminars... meh I'd be better off with organizing a talk by a senior instead.
Epilogue of this Epilogue
You see, the point of InstiWiki was to preserve ancient knowledge so that later generations can look into the pros and cons of our ideas, maybe ponder and discuss the dilemmas that we faced and make our club reach new heights. Writing this whole story took me an unexpectedly long time, but I enjoyed it a lot. Looking back, I now realize how important this PoR was for me, to help develop myself.
If there's one piece of advice I can give you, it would be - Don't be (too) conventional. Try out new things, even if they backfire you'll learn more that way. I think being a club manager is beautiful in the way that this might be the last time in your life where no one really pricks you if you bring about an unsuccessful change. Just, don't sit idle.