Probably the right title for this blog post should be “Regionalist”, but somehow the word ‘state-ist’ was the word I created and have been using for a long time.
When I was assigned my room in the college hostel (back in 2004), each room was supposed to have 5 students.
The 5 students in my room were assigned like this.
- Me – From TamilNadu
- Vibhu – From Delhi
- Yatish – From Assam
- Babu – From Orissa
- Hemant – From Mumbai
I was literally shocked when I saw this combination. And it was clear from others too that they didn’t prefer this either. But college never gives you the option to change your room/roommates. Just a few rooms away, 5 students from my school were in the same room. Yeah, ignore the same state and the same city. Those five were all from the same school.
I accepted this “fate” but never realized this was such an important moment in both my professional and personal life.
The first outcome because of this was the official language of the room was English. If you wanted to share something with everyone in the room, we used only English. It also helped me understand people from different backgrounds better. There was an unknown strangeness towards people from the other states. Living with people from different parts of the country completely removed this bias. This was a masterclass to understand different cultures, festivals, food, and people.
When I co-founded HackerRank with Vivek, I re-used some of the first year’s learnings. First, English was/is the official language in HackerRank. Even if everyone in the team knows a regional language, I ensure the language of choice is always English. I get surprised/shocked when I hear from other tech startups how all their technical discussions happen in Hindi/Tamil. It works well at the start but doesn’t scale well. Building an inclusive culture can’t be an afterthought. It is something that needs to be nailed in from the first day.
Second, it makes me act fair to everyone around me. Since I speak in English, even with the folks who know Tamil, it acts as a good balancing function. No matter how I try, I’m going to be a little partial to folks with whom I can speak in my mother tongue. It is natural and brings in a homely feeling. While I would love to crack more Tamil jokes and discuss the local stories with some of my colleagues, I specifically skip this to keep things balanced. Of course, 1:1 Vivek is the only exception to this rule.
I find it funny when people try to tag people based on the state/city they are from. Especially given I’m from south India, others assume I have issues with folks from the north. When I tell them my wife is from Rajasthan and some of my closest people inside and outside HackerRank are from north India, they find it hard to understand. This small butterfly effect in 2004 made me a better person and made it easier to build an inclusive culture at HackerRank.