Yashavant Kanetkar - Let us C
'Computer’ starts with ‘C’ and for most of you ‘C’ starts with ‘Let us C’. Yes! You guessed it right. We are extremely proud to have Mr. Yashwant Kanetkar on CE.
Through his famous book (“Let us C”) on C programming language, KICIT & QUEST, Mr. Kanetkar continues to teach and inspire thousands of engineers across the world.
CE: Sir, you are a mechanical engineer. What motivated you to join the software world?
YPK: I was forced to. About 15 years back, I came to Nagpur to set up a mechanical engineering industry. I did not come from a family which had any business background. I wanted to setup a business for press tools. I could not gather enough money for that. I ran from pillar to post to get finance. From whatever little I had saved for myself, I could only purchase a computer. I started a computer institute and whatever money I made at that time, I kept on investing it in my own business. That is how it all started. Otherwise I had no thought of entering into software business.
CE: How did KICIT start? Please tell us about your journey from VJTI to KICIT via IIT Kanpur.
YPK: After graduation, I got a job with Escorts. Though I had a good GATE score, I did not think of pursuing post graduation like M. Tech. For any mechanical engineer, the dream is to get a job in an automobile industry. Escorts was a good choice. I joined the tractor division of Escorts in New Delhi. My motive was to setup an industry. So, if I were to supply some parts to Escorts, I would know which parts to deliver. Soon, I realized that if I want to do my own business, I must first complete my education. I already had a valid GATE score. Those days, IIT admissions would happen twice a year. I quit Escorts after six months & joined IIT-Kanpur.
After IIT-Kanpur, I did not join any company. I came to Nagpur to setup my own industry. After coming here, I found that I cannot start a mechanical engineering industry. I started a computer institute. When you begin your own business, you soon realize that you do not decide what you want to do! The circumstances decide what you do. In any business, you cannot be a chooser in the beginning; whatever comes your way is your work.
One day, a publisher contacted me. The notes from classrooms were floating around & the publisher got his hands on them. He asked if we could print the notes in the form of a book. I agreed & that is how I wrote my first book.
CE: Was it 'Let us C'?
YPK: No, it was not 'Let us C'. It was titled 'Programming expertise in BASIC'. In those days, I used to teach the BASIC language. KICIT, from day one, has been into teaching.
CE: Sir, you have taught programming to thousands of students. Any interesting experiences to share from the classroom?
YPK: Lots of experiences! Every new batch is a new experience. About 12-13 years back, I had three students (Viraj Foujdar, Shreerang Yawalkar & Prashant Chopde) in my BASIC programming class. We were trying to create a wizard in dBASE 3 Plus, which can generate code on its own. One day, they came & said that their project guide has suggested them to do a project in C language. They asked me to teach them the C language. I told them "I don't know C". Then I started learning C & in the process, started explaining it to them. That, in my opinion, was the turning point. Had they not requested me to teach them C; I would never have gone on this particular path. I personally had no intentions to learn C programming language. That is something I will always remember. I am still in touch with all of them & we keep meeting often.
CE: What were the challenges that you faced while writing "Let Us C" for the readers who have no knowledge of programming?
YPK: See, as you go on writing books, your skills of writing improve. However, the student who is reading it for the first time is still at the same level. Therefore, you have to always resist the temptation to make it complicated. Whatever you want to say, you have to say it using very simple words. I never wrote books for people who already know many things. I always wrote books for people who do not know much, but want to know more. Making them understand complicated things has been a big challenge all along & I will continue to face that. Ultimately, art lies in making things simple. I know that beyond a certain limit something that is very complex cannot be simplified. You can only try to simplify it to the best of your abilities.
CE: In today's world, technologies like .Net & Java have taken a lead. Where do you think 'C' stands in the whole scenario?
YPK: Unless you know C, there is no JAVA for you & there is no .NET for you. That is the beauty of C. If you know that stuff well, there is a good chance that you will know JAVA/.NET stuff well. Otherwise, what happens is that you remain incomplete. You know things to a certain extent, but if you go deeper down, you are bound to hit a wall. If you know C programming well, there are good chances that you will be able to correlate the way things happen.
CE: Tell us about the toughest programming challenge you have faced in your career. How did you solve it?
YPK: Lots of! You must keep on trying until you get the solution. If you do not try, you will not get the answer. Programming is not a rocket science. Have the patience & keep on trying unless you get the answer.
CE: What made KICIT foray into embedded technologies? What are KICIT's offerings to the world of embedded technology?
YPK: KICIT is not into embedded technologies, per se. Mr. Asang Dani, came to Nagpur from Microsoft USA and said let's do something together. So we started a new company called KSET (Kanetkar's School of Embedded Technology) Pvt. Ltd. KSET is into embedded technology related stuff. We offer various courses and video courseware. We do questions setting for many multinational companies, which work on embedded systems. We also do corporate training for almost every company that you may have heard of starting with Phillips, Siemens, Texas Instruments etc. These corporate trainings are held in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Colombo and Singapore. These trainings are three-day affairs. We also have the QUEST CDs through which we offer our recorded lectures. Day before yesterday, we signed a big contract with a Japanese company called Innosoft Japan for translating the lectures into Japanese.
KSET is almost 2.5 years old & we have tied up with Yashwantrao Chavan Open University. Our lectures will be used by university's 80 centers across Maharashtra. The courses we run here are also run in Malaysia by the same university. We have created the entire educational portal for the university. We also conduct exams for their computer science department.
CE: India is focusing more on services than product sector. With the current burgeoning service industry, by what time can we envisage India, to emerge as a product player?
YPK: I do not see that happening in near future. Unfortunately, Indians have never been creative. We keep telling people that if you have to move up the value chain, you have to create products. Just offering services does not leave you too much area to maneuver things. You are never in control of things. Your services bounce if the product bounces. You are just too dependent. Telling this continuously is also not good as I realized. Because someone would come up and say, “If you think products are good, where is your product?” Anybody could ask this question. That is why we created 'QUEST' saying that it is a product and we will sell it all over the world. In fact, we are actually selling it all over the world. QUEST is a video based course content delivered, recorded by us. We have built a content delivery platform that plays the lectures. QUEST is sold in countries like Greece, Albania, Ireland, Philippines, Austria, Germany, Japan, UK, USA & India.
Indians are not willing to take enough risks. Because when you create a product, there is at least 50% chance that it will fail. Are you willing to give everything to the product and make it survive? Answer for many people is 'No'. When we started creating 'QUEST', we did not know how successful it would become. However, we wanted to give our best shot at it thinking that if we have done enough good work & enough good things in last 15 years, we will be able to create a good product, which would not be an India centric product. We keep asking people – "Where is India's Microsoft?" or "Which is the software in the country that sells its products all over the world?" The only product that we came across is ‘Tally’, which is sold all over India. Is there any other company that sells its product all over India? We had serious issues with this. That is why we created 'QUEST'. Many people have found QUEST quite useful. We had released QUEST in November 2006 & within one year; we have made a good progress. We are talking with a German company & if things go well, QUEST will get translated in German as well. Our ultimate aim is to make sure that our product reaches all the corners of the world & we will leave no stone unturned to make that happen.
Not everyone can come to KICIT & therefore we want to go to their PCs. WIPRO, for example, has purchased a huge chunk of QUEST CDs for their internal training. They have decided to give it to their employees as well.
That is why I always tell people that if you create products, you will have a chance to do something. If you are into services, you have no position to give any direction to the product. People keep saying that we participate in product development. But we tell them that you don't participate in product development. You are just given work and asked to meet the specifications. You cannot advise how the product should be. Because the one who creates the product will dictate how the product will be. Being a product making company gives you the power to be in equal terms with bigger customers of your product. A service will never give you that power.
CE: Do you see that in coming years, the "services offering" will become stagnant?
YPK: No, it will not become stagnant. See, services are given with the prices factor in mind. If I get the same service at a cheaper rate, I am definitely going to select the one that offers cheapest price. Why did services come to India? Because of the cheaper price, right? Tomorrow, if Vietnam or China offers a better price, US will go to them. Cost is going to be the driving factor. Take the example of call canters. Earlier, you'd get a person talking to you. But now, you get a recorded voice message. It is just an example of cost saving.
Indian doctors are not in great demand in USA, but Indian nurses are. Which injection to give will always be decided by the doctor & application of that injection will be done by the nurse. Similar is the case with product development. Product development is never outsourced, at least the most important part of the product will never be outsourced.
Unless we improve, we are going to get affected.
CE: Sir, On a scale of 5, how would you rate yourself:
As a C Programmer:
As a C++ Programmer:
As a Mechanical Engineer:
CE: Thank you for taking out time to talk to CE. What is your message to the CEans?
YPK: Stay Focused! Stay focused on what you want to do. Achieve something. Before you start criticizing anybody, you must see what he/she has achieved. Young generation today unfortunately criticizes anybody without knowing what he/she has achieved in life. Unfortunately, this tendency is on the rise because people think that success in life is getting a job. Success in life is not getting a job, but success in life is in retaining a job. Someone who is incompetent will be thrown out of the job. If IT goes to Vietnam tomorrow, many people know where they stand. Just passing an examination or just getting a job does not prove anything.
Someone who has created an entity of lasting value is the person, who will always be respected no matter at what point in life he did it. To give an example, many people say that Sachin Tendulkar is a better batsman than Sunil Gavaskar. Sunil Gavaskar's challenges were different. Sachin is a batsman of a different age and has different challenges.
Indian youth, I believe, should learn to respect people who have created something of lasting value.