• Priyanka Kasture

The Beginnings

Updated: Feb 25

I was born in a middle-class, Jain household, in the summer of 1997, at Solapur, Maharashtra but owing to my father's aspirations in the early years of his career, I got to spend over a staggering 23 years of my life in Pune, a city considered to be the educational capital of the state of Maharashtra. Pune is also where I currently operate from and reside with my family.

As a child, I had developed the virtues of curiosity and creativity, and they led me to learn a plethora of things outside the conventional academic framework. I always was very inclined towards actualising my thoughts and ideas, intrigued a lot by the way things function, excited about 'learning by doing' and never afraid to make mistakes, ask questions, seek advice or help. I was also very passionate about visual art, even languages for that matter, particularly English and was lauded for my linguistic capabilities from a very young age.

After having completed my schooling at Stella Maris School, Vadgaonsheri, I went on to pursue Science with a specialization in Electronics, at the junior college level in Nowrosjee Wadia College of Science and Arts, and then an engineer’s degree in Information Technology at PES’s Modern College of Engineering, Shivajinagar, Pune. While at college, I grew to slightly dislike the system, the people involved and their perspective towards education and holistic growth. The system, overall, seemed to encourage students not to innovate or ideate, but to focus on securing a higher pointer or grade by regurgitating unoriginal information. I found that to be unacceptable and unsettling, and as a result, I didn’t see college adding value to my life. Circumstances ended up pushing me to walk my own way, the way of self-learning.

During my college years, along with focusing on my academic curriculum, I extensively read autobiographies and books on business and entrepreneurship.

I also took up some side-gigs to gain experience and to financially support myself. I created websites for local businesses, portfolios for budding artists, worked as a social media manager and graphic designer for a herbal cosmetics brand, as a sales representative for a merchandise production company in Pune, taught visual art at a government school for a year and even commercialised my own art under the proprietorship - ArtNerd, given I was always good at sketching human portraits. I was also a very active member in most of Pune's leading technical and entrepreneurial communities.

All this lead to me gaining the confidence that comes with being financially independent and the experience that comes with working in teams, working with clients, with vendors, with businesses, interacting with people, building products and services in an iterative manner, handling sales funnels, and researching almost anything and everything to effectively get things done.

I had a keen interest in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence ever since I was a child and hence, I put all the money I made through the gigs in taking a bunch of courses up on programming and machine learning, from Coursera and Udemy. I was only in my fourth semester of engineering when I had started working on beginner level machine learning projects, uploading them on Github and sharing the details on my social media handles, thereby initiating the process of building my own portfolio, and sowing the seeds for the birth of 'Machine Learning India'.

In April of 2018, I started the page - @ml.india on Instagram, with the aim of sharing quality educational resources and opportunities, and making them accessible to people like me, who were curious about the field but were lacking appropriate guidance and mentorship in their journey. I didn’t want others to face the obstacles I did, and make the mistakes I made, and hence I started pouring my heart and soul into keeping the page alive, even though there wasn’t any concrete engagement coming in, in the first few months.

Over time, the page started growing at an astounding rate, given the appeal of the content I was putting out and the hype about AI and ML in general. In my final year of engineering, I decided to turn the page into a community and started collaborating with companies, associating with other technical communities, organising free as well as paid offline and online events and expanding to other networking platforms.

At a very early stage in my life, I had realised that I was not the 9 to 5 type, although it is not something that I disregard. The idea of a steady pay-check hitting my bank account was very lucrative and I was confident that I would bag a decent package post completion of my degree. I still remember, a lot of my fellow batchmates were getting placed at good companies and organisations, and that made me anxious, left me concerned for a brief period of time. It was quite a tough patch, considering the fact that even my parents wanted me to take up a job for the first few years of my career, for the sake of what they called 'financial security'.

Despite all the fear of missing out on a healthy salary and the pressure from my family, I decided to keep working on MLI and to take the plunge by staying true to my passion for entrepreneurship. It was my life, after all; my work, my happiness, peace of my mind, and I have always been quite uncompromising on these fronts. I knew, with the kind of personality I have and the experience I had accumulated, I could pull a business off, and I certainly didn’t want to look back and regret the decisions I didn't take just because I was too afraid to stand for myself.

MLI today, is backed by a private company and is India's largest social-media driven technical community with over 420,000 members passionate about machine learning and artificial intelligence. We now have a team fueling the growth of the company and are securing as many as 8 million impressions per month on our awesome content.

When I look back, I’m fascinated by how long I have come but equally startled by what the future holds. Cannot comprehend where I will be or what MLI would look like five years from today, but I am going to make sure that my story is one of strength, and one of someone who refused to give up, refused to settle, and refused to be ordinary. I will keep going and so should you. See you at the top.

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