Atif Haider hailing from Gaya, a small town in Bihar,never thought he would make it big in the tech industry. He grew up in a household that had an academic atmosphere:both his parents were teachers and this helped influence Atif’s faith in education. His interest in programming began when he joined college. He initially joined Khalsa College in Delhi and started pursuing graduation in BCA. He, however, dropped out after an year and joined DY Patil College in Maharashtra for engineering.
During his first year, Atif realised his love for programming. There, he met senior Baishampayan Ghose.
Baishampayan gave me a few programming questions and asked me to solve them in any language of my choice. I solved them in C and from there on he became my mentor, a good friend and later my roommate. We used to solve Project Euler problems; I used to do them in C and he used to in Python and we used to compete to see who finishes them faster,” he remembers.
The love for Lisp
After college, Atif joined Cleartrip where hewas given two weeks to learn LISP, and then start working on it.The passion Atif has for programming, particularly Lisp, is palpable. During our interview, Atif was so passionate that he started teaching me the prefix notation used in Lisp. Cleartrip was finding it hard to get engineers for Lisp so they moved on to a different technology. Atif moved to OCricket where he helped build the backend. He says,
As a programmer, you should at least learn one functional programming language, be it Haskell, Erlang or Common LISP. I can assure you that it will definitely change the way you think about programs. I feel fortunate to have had a chance to work with LISP later with Clojure on some real-world applications.
After OCricket, Atif joined Studio March, a design platform where he helped build the backend,and also launched a product called Mailserved,a newsletter management tool like Mailchimp. Atif built the entire platform for Mailserved.
In the early days of Twitter, Atif remembers building an app which would post updates from a text message using a basic phone. Atif built it to use Twitter from his basic phone.
Back in 2009, I didn’t have a smartphone and Twitter started picking up in India. I wanted to tweet when I am not around my computer. So, I had written a few programs on Google app engine service on top of an SMS service. I just needed to send out a tweet as an SMS to a specific number and the rest was done by the programes I wrote.
Launching a services company
During his stay in Pune,Atif met Karthik Kumarmangalam of Kamelot Captial who helped him incubate his current venture, LaunchYard, a software development firm which helps companies build powerful backend systems and APIs for web and mobile. On what made him go the services way when everyone else was talking about products in India, Atif says,
The struggle for the product race is hard: either you make it or you fail big. I intend to make LaunchYard one of those companies like 37Signals or Pivotal Labs or MetaLab from India. Once we have a good economic backing, I would go on to make products. At present, we have enough capital to run the company for a year and can comfortably go the product way. I believe in bootstrapping and will raise money on my own terms.
The right programming culture
Atif believes in having the right culture for programmers at his present company. He believes in the clarity and readability of the program. He says, “At LaunchYard, I make sure everyone who joins us uses the right tools and care about every line of code they deliver. I meet people talking about scale only in terms of code performance but if your code is not well-written and documented,how can it be scalable in the first place?”
Tip for the youngsters?
For people who are graduating right out of college, Atif advises getting the basics right. Money and fame will come later. He says,“Listen to all the lectures on SICP (Structured Interpretation of Computer Programs) from MIT and focus on getting the fundamentals in computer science right instead of just learning a few programming languages.“
Another important aspect Atif focuses on is humility. He says,“Humility and the power of letting go is a great human feature. It’s the people that you’re dealing with at the end of the day, whether it’s your customer, teammates or family. Being humble and patient is the key to almost everything in life.”