While the twirling sound of the Rudge motorcycle got his attention, little did young GD Naidu know he was getting addicted to the lifelong obsession with machines. Being a school dropout, determined to buy a motorcycle, he worked hard and saved money. After buying one, he went on to assemble and disassemble the motorcycle over and over again and became a mechanic, and the rest was history.
Creating the first electric motor in India, exploring alternative fuel like methane for his bus service, to innovative and manufacture affordable razors and blades. No wonder Sir CV Raman, the only Indian Nobel laureate in science—sad we still haven’t received any in the past 87 years—quoted “GD Naidu was a great educator, an entrepreneur in many fields of engineering and industry, a warm-hearted man filled with love for his fellows and a desire to help them in their troubles and he is truly a man in a million – perhaps this is an understatement!”. Besides automobile, his problem-solving skills transcended in a wide range of fields from agriculture to electronics devices too.
There are many pioneers in Coimbatore with engineering and entrepreneurial thinking. ‘What is common in them?’ is the question that follows. The fascinating part is their learning approach. Other than the problem solving and perseverance traits, they all learnt by the process of reverse engineering and not a formal degree. GD Naidu with motorbikes, Narayananswamy Naidu from repairing sugarcane crushers and cotton ginning machines to starting Dhandayuthapani Foundry (DPF), AP Madhavan, who founded Universal Radiators, and our Padma Shri Arunachalam Muruganantham with manufacturing sanitary napkins. It is the ability to learn by experience, by trial and error, with pure grit and curiosity and more importantly, reverse engineering.
There are many pioneers in Coimbatore with engineering and entrepreneurial thinking. What is common in them?
So what is reverse engineering?
In general, it is defined as the process of representations at a higher level of abstraction and understanding the basic working principle and structure. It is a top-down approach. Reverse engineering as a process that has been widely used in other fields, especially technology. The thought process involved in software testing and software security needs this deductive reasoning to find a solution.
The approach helps in unwinding the root cause, not just engineering solution, but also problems that have been engineered. Like human-animal conflict, improper health care and education. Since such systems have been engineered for a long time with multiple levels of abstraction, reverse engineering as a process can open up a new dimension in understanding the problem.
Even the future of innovation is looking up to bio-mimicry
Reverse engineering is generally looked down upon, usually considered as not an “original” idea. But looking at all the greatest innovation in mankind, a majority of them are reverse engineered by observing models in nature. This approach of building by understanding the big picture, making sense of all the pieces that make it happen, and what pieces are we trying to mimic or improvise, has its own merits. Even the future of innovation is looking up to bio-mimicry. While the debate of originality or mimic might keep going, reverse engineering as a learning approach makes sense.
Reverse Engineering as a learning approach
The first exposure to the world of reverse engineering learning approach to us was through Sam Pitroda’s tod fod jod initiative. Where kids are given daily devices and gadgets like computer mouse, clock or a kitchen mixer. Kids intuitively open up and understand the working principle. They understand the working principle logically by pure observation and then the educator introduces the jargon for kids to relate with what they learn at school. Though Tod fod jod is only the first step of reverse engineering if kids go on to improvise, they truly have learnt and understood.
Another validation happened when we met a parent who home-schooled his son in a village at Rajasthan. He informed all his neighbours to bring any broken electrical and mechanical devices so that he and his son can learn by fixing it. So more like a free service centre for the village and a learning centre for the child. We tried this ourselves through our computer anatomy workshop and as one of the activities in our game developer program.
Learning approach like these gives us enough shreds of evidences that there is no one way to learn and it is not necessary for everyone to learn the same away. It also questions the understanding of what learning means. Hope parents and educators acknowledge that every human is unique so is the learning approach.