I spent most of my time at university searching for things I wanted to make and making sense of the things I cared about. I was in pursuit of knowledge, feelings, ideas, and ways to express myself. I wanted to improve my intuition, learn to recognize the work that energized me, and ultimately identify strengths that could take me towards the life and work I envisioned.
Having moved from Sri Lanka, the island nation where I spent the first seventeen years of my life, to the west, I was also getting to know new people and becoming accustomed to a new culture and place. It was a new chapter, and it made me contemplate about how I wanted to spend my life.
All I ever wanted was to make stuff with people, largely because I grew up having fun following my own curiosity and always wanted to learn about how the things around me worked. I had a distasted for the status quo, which often led me to understand things to an extent that I could reason about why they worked the way they do, so I could disregard them or in some cases make make improvements in my own vision. "Problem solving" is the more productive interpretation of that; but at its heart – I just loved understanding and exploring ideas, and pursued activities that let me do it for a living. I'd be lying if I didn't also say that it, of course, also fed a part of my ego that wanted to produce things. If it wasn't software, it was art, or electronics, writing, gardening, making potions, or one of many other things I could've thought of.
I'm not joking about the potions, by the way. I spent an entire summer as a 9-year-old, pressing oils out of antiseptic herbs in the corner of a workshop.
Once I wanted to make something, I've at times spent years learning what I needed to realize it. It's how I learned to design, write code, and sell stuff. The first few times, I felt like I was getting nowhere, but as with anything you invest your time in, you develop an understanding with yourself and of your process. I'm not perfect, but the older I get, the more trust I've put into that process, and it's almost always rewarded me with the life I wanted or, at the very least, the life I needed at the time.
I've found that I'm far happier when I'm not thinking in terms of avoiding failure, but instead, embracing what I want and figuring out how to align my being in a way that makes the next step come naturally and authentically to my nature. Besides, you never really know success outside of brief moments in time that you quickly move past before finding yet another hill to climb.
In the four years I spent at university, I had a million things to learn, but I was already in love with the things I was going to make, so spending a lot of my time in the process of getting there was all I wanted to do. I loved nurturing ideas, thinking about how they could work, and how others might experience them.
This was a point in time where I used every excuse I had to make something.
I built Darwin, a crowdsourced multiple-choice catalogue for my Biochemistry course, to help me practice for exams. That turned into Alcamy, which, in turn, aimed to crowdsource entire courses and was promising for a couple of years. When recruiting season came around, I realized how my science education didn't align with the work I wanted to practice immediately, so I built Tidl– a resume builder that helped me, and others, put our skills into context with a portfolio. It also assisted the folks on the other side in putting those skills into perspective with hiring tools. It landed me my first summer internship, and a grant to explore the idea as a business.
I also made stuff with friends; Fero: an analytics service for small businesses, Yugo: a ride-sharing app, and DIP: Snapchat-like stories to share my random interests as tappable micro-lessons. You get the gist. Building things was how I learned, bettered myself, and got better at picking the intersection of things between my interests, strengths and what fulfilled my needs at the time.
Growing up, outside of schoolwork, we made art, tinkered with radios and electronics, sculpted with clay, and sank into many encyclopedias and books my dad had stacked in his cabinets. It nurtured creativity, patience, and a certain comfort in finding things to occoupy myself with. When we eventually got a family computer in the mid-2000s, I was drawn to everything that it was and everything it could be. It offered limitless leverage. I could realize my ideas, from learning to reality—all from the modest corner of our dining room table.
The years that followed were an age of discovery in themselves. Around the same time we got a computer, my dad introduced me to electronics, and I was already spending a lot of my time taking apart and putting together FM radios. While I was yet to truly understand how a computer worked, I was instantly bewitched by what it was. Learning to install software, hooking up a network card, connecting to the internet for the first time over a 56K dial-up modem, programming with visual basic, and discovering how to make digital art paved the road I was going to follow for many years to come.
Now that you know why I got myself into all this, let's go back to 2018.
I was looking towards my final year at university, trying to figure out what to do once I graduated. I had made friends with someone I enjoyed working with, and she and I spent a summer bouncing ideas around until we eventually had the kernel of an idea for something that we were going to build after we graduated. It started out as a design and a sketch on a table-top whiteboard and ended up as Clew.
To be continued...