This School Drop-Out Battled Poverty to Become a Self-Taught Coder


This article on using computers for change is a part of the India Digital series powered by Intel India.

Hemant Mehra, a resident of Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh, is a self-taught coder whose perseverance against odds has made him a role model for youngsters in his hometown.

Hemant was all of 15 when his father, an accountant working for the government, passed away. The patriarch’s sudden demise plunged the entire family into despair – they struggled to cope with their loss and to make ends meet. Unable to afford his school fees, Hemant, then a Class 10 student, was forced to discontinue his education.

Uneducated, and with limited job prospects, Hemant worried about the future. “I was told that since my father was a government employee, I could get a government job on compassionate grounds once I turned 18,” said Hemant, referring to a provision by the government to offer a dependent family member employment if a worker passed away on the job.

Excited at the prospect of a guaranteed job, Hemant whiled away his time till he turned 18, taking up small jobs along the way.

In 2009, Hemant made his way to his father’s office, confident that he was about to start work. However, no government job awaited him, and he didn’t know where to look next.

WHEN A DOOR CLOSES, A WINDOW OPENS

IMG_0471

Disheartened by his circumstances and faced with the harsh reality of an uncertain future, Hemant continued taking up odd jobs. In 2011, however, he chanced upon a newspaper article about how a career in web and app development could be lucrative.


You may also likeHow PCs Are Taking Folk Music from Rajasthan to a Global Audience


“I had always enjoyed working on a PC. My teachers would even let me sit in the computer class with my seniors because I was a quick learner,” Hemant said, with a hint of pride in his voice.

Buoyed by the prospect of doing what he loved for a living, Hemant made his way to a cyber café and began to research the field of web and app development. Although he was encouraged by what he read, he was also worried.

“It involved taking a risk. No one in my hometown knew about app development. In fact, there wasn’t a single company in Hoshangabad that worked in the field and, at that stage, it wasn’t financially viable for me to move to another city. I knew that if I chose this field of work, I would have to work independently. But I was confident in my ability to succeed,” he recalls.

“I didn’t have the option of going to coaching classes, as there were none. Joining an institute was not possible, given my academic background and my family’s financial condition. So, I started learning on the internet and bought books on computer coding,” he said.

THE SELF-TAUGHT CODER

IMG_0439

By 2012, Hemant was a regular fixture at the local cyber cafes, where he spent hours absorbing study material. By this time, his maternal grandmother had taken the family under her wing. When she noticed Hemant disappearing to cyber cafes for hours together, she asked him what he was up to.

On hearing that he was pursuing his passion for coding, Hemant’s grandmother came forward to help him, gifting him a laptop and an internet connection. Her support helped him pursue his dream. “I vividly remember that the internet bill would come up to Rs. 5,000-6,000 every month. But never once did my grandmother complain,” Hemant said.


You may also likeMeet the Man Who Single-Handedly Brought Digital Literacy to an Entire Telangana Village


With an internet-connected PC at his disposal, there was no stopping Hemant. He spent hours glued to the computer, shoulders hunched over the keyboard and eyes fixed on the screen.

But despite the unwavering support Hemant had from his family, people in his social circle were far from encouraging.

“People would say ‘He has not even completed Class 10 and thinks he can learn coding!’, ‘He is just wasting his grandmother’s hard-earned money!’” Hemant remembered.

However, Hemant’s grandmother advised him to ignore the naysayers and constantly reaffirmed her faith in him. “She is the reason I could achieve what I have so far. I can never repay her for what she has done for me,” said an emotional Hemant.

PERSEVERANCE IN THE FACE OF OBSTACLES

IMG-20160720-WA0018 ed

A screenshot of the apps Hemant has developed

Spending hours on coding only to run into dead-ends because of bugs, was extremely frustrating. There was no mentor to guide him and no one in town he could turn to for help. Yet, through it all, Hemant persevered.

“It might seem very easy to outsiders but I faced so many issues during test runs and launch that I thought of giving up many times. It was my grandmother who came to my rescue every time,” he said.

In November 2012, after months of unrelenting hard work, Hemant launched his first app – a chat app called Mappi.


You may also like: From Digitally Illiterate to Networking Guru


After that, there was no stopping him. Hemant drew inspiration from the many apps he had learnt about while learning to code – right from gaming apps, to shopping and utility apps.

Today, Hemant is the proud creator of 15 apps, including gaming apps, messaging apps, apps for local colleges and wedding resorts and even an app for a news organisation. Advertisements on his apps help him earn an impressive Rs. 1 lakh a month.

THE WAY FORWARD

IMG_0474

Hemant’s success has made him the coding star of Hoshangabad and has even served as an inspiration to other youngsters in his hometown.

Two teachers from the Industrial Training Institute of Itarsi, a city in Hoshangabad district, have joined hands with Hemant to train local students in app development. Seven students have already expressed a desire to learn coding from them.

Having established himself as an app developer, Hemant also plans to start his own web and app development company.

“I am very optimistic. If it is successful, it will create many employment opportunities in Hoshangabad,” Hemant said.


This story is part of our series with Intel India’s initiative Ek Kadam Unnati Ki Aur, in collaboration with national and regional governments to empower non-urban citizens through technology, in 10 states of India.


Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us: [email protected], or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter (@thebetterindia).

Like us to get inspiring news daily


Subscribe for awesome videos