But Mahesh decided to challenge his fate. At 14, he moved to Sahibganj, a town near his village, where he started tutoring secondary school students. He used the fee money to sustain himself, and enrolled in a junior college to finish class 11 and 12.
It was a chance encounter with his roommate’s cousin that sparked Mahesh’s desire to sit for the entrance exam for IIT. “I’d never even heard of it. When I found it’s one of the toughest exams to crack, it only made me want to study harder,” he says.
He moved to Patna and enrolled for Physics coaching, while also tutoring students to fund his expenses. But the biggest challenge was language. Due to his Hindi-medium background, he couldn’t understand a word in the textbooks or during classes. “Every day, I used to translate difficult words using a dictionary and note down the meaning next to them.” He even made his own dictionary for each chapter.
The hard work paid off. Of around 450 students in his coaching class, he alone cleared the exam. He received a scholarship to study an integrated MA in earth sciences at IIT Kharagpur in 2000, where for the first time in his life, he used a computer. “It was also the first time I got a room that I didn’t have to share with anyone,” he laughs.
Regardless of your background, hard work always pays off
Mahesh Poddar, Sr Staff Software Engineer, Blackhawk Network
Mahesh thought he had broken the language barrier, but college was tough. “Some of the foreign-educated professors spoke with a heavy accent. For the longest time, I didn’t know what ‘yeah’ means,” Mahesh laughs. He found a mentor in one of his professors, who came from a similar background, which instilled confidence.
Over five years, his interest in technology grew despite his non-technical course. He joined IT firm Patni Computer Systems as a developer right after college. Mahesh says he learned most of the essential skills on the job, and kept upskilling during his stints at Oracle, Goldman Sachs and VMware. In May this year, he joined payment solutions firm Blackhawk Network as a senior staff software engineer.
Mahesh’s journey has inspired several others in his native village, which has since then transformed into a town, to pursue engineering. “Most of all, they now have the confidence to follow their dreams,” he says.