Sumit Raj is currently working as the Senior Solutions Architect at GeoSpark. He lives in India and studied in Bangalore.
His interest is in building chatbots, natural language processing, machine learning, and data science.
He is the topmost viewed writer on the Python web framework on Quora and having 1 million views on his answers.
You can see more information about Sumit Kumar Raj on his resume at the end of this discussion.
The conversation is a bit lengthy, but very informative and interesting as well. Enjoy!
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GODSON: Good day Sumit Raj, thanks for taking time out for this interview.
Could you please kindly tell us about yourself like your full name, hobbies, nationality, education, and experience in programming.
SUMIT RAJ: Hi Godson, Thanks for having me.
My full name is Sumit Kumar Raj and I like watching Cricket, Swimming and learning new stuff.
I am an Indian by nationality and have completed my graduation with a major in Information Science Engineering.
I started coding well before my graduation because I always wanted to learn it irrespective of anything
So, I can say I have more than 7+ years of experience in programming and building applications.
A hands-on session on Python with Sumit Raj
GODSON: So which type of application do you build? Is it web, GUI?
SUMIT RAJ: Most of my development work requires me to work on the web. I like web development more as it requires you to think broadly and gives you a scope of end-to-end development.
GODSON: What are the major challengings of learning programming especially python in India and how did you overcome them?
SUMIT RAJ: When I started learning programming that was almost 10 years back.
I come from a very small town in a state called Bihar in India where we had very limited resources.
Throwback photo of Sumit Raj, his mum, and siblings
People used to wish for 24*7 electricity, so broadening the learning was the biggest challenge.
You could not have learned anything unless you have expert people around you.
But then, after a couple of years, I moved to the Silicon Valley of India, Bangalore to pursue my graduation.
There is a great community of Python developers in Bangalore called BangPypers.
They help you very proactively to learn Python. This is also the reason why I also like to help beginners.
Python’s biggest strength and advantages over other languages is its community and the culture of giving back to the community.
I had my arms and ammunition with me. One laptop and internet and I never stopped from there. I never pigeonholed myself on college curriculum to learn to program but I started attending conferences, meetups and started learning online myself.
I used to do a lot of courses on Coursera. Any programming term that I found confusing, I’d pause reading or the video and go to Google to know more about it.
From the mind of a leading developer
This is really painful but trust me it really helps you in the long term. So, never skip even the smallest thing that you don’t know about the thing you are passionate about.
GODSON: So are you a full stack developer or you are a back-end or front-end developer?
SUMIT RAJ: I am a Full Stack Developer with more weight on Backend technologies.
GODSON: Are you trying to say if you follow the school curriculum, you won’t end up being a good python programmer?
SUMIT RAJ: More or less yes. I know I am being candid here but that’s the truth unless the college curriculum and teaching techniques are not ages old.
The college system forces you to be in a timeline with a fixed set of things to learn. You can learn the basics but there are lots of things that you need to know outside the curriculum to be a better programmer.
Also, In India, not so many graduate schools have Python in their syllabus. In my case, I got to know about it when I started exploring Hacking techniques and ended up using Python and fell in love with it.
GODSON: So which python web framework is your favorite and why is it?
SUMIT RAJ: Python has a variety of frameworks and it’s quite difficult to choose one and call it your favorite.
Well, I started with Flask and liked it a lot because it’s very simple to set up and build things on.
At the same time, based on your need for building bigger and complex web applications, Django is preferred as it comes with an inbuilt ORM and templating engine.
GODSON: To avoid our readers from searching google, can you tell us what ORM and templating engine mean?
SUMIT RAJ: ORM:- ORM stands for Object Relation Mapping which provides a very high-level abstraction upon a database that helps developers concentrate on writing code instead of database queries to create, read, update and delete data and schemas in their database.
It’s just like a Google Translate box to understand/interact with all languages of the world without the need of learning them.
Quoting from Django documentation:
Being a web framework, Django needs a convenient way to generate HTML dynamically.
The most common approach relies on templates.
A template contains the static parts of the desired HTML output as well as some special syntax describing how dynamic content will be inserted.
For a hands-on example of creating HTML pages with templates.
Now, in simple terms to understand “templating engine”, suppose you have to build 1000 houses of the same architecture, the templating engine helps you define the static parts of it(like the master bedroom, living room, bathroom, balcony).
You can build them for once and use them for others with the facility that one may have a recliner in the living room and others may just have a couple of bean bags.
GODSON: Which web framework should you advise a beginner to start with and why?
SUMIT RAJ: I strongly recommend starting with Flask. The reason is it’s lightweight, easy to install/setup and get it working.
Sumit Raj recommends Flask for beginners
Even though you know that you are going to be doing heavy work on Django, learn Flask at least for a week.
One week is enough for Flask and then move to Django. Although the majority of companies tend to choose Django as their framework.
GODSON: So when it comes to web development, is python the top language you can use? Can you use Python for both front-end and back-end?
SUMIT RAJ: No, I do not say that Python is the top language. Every other language has its own charm.
But yes, Python is the talk of the town, you can’t ignore it when it comes to very quick development and productivity.
Yes, for front-end there are some GUI tools like Tkinter, wxPython etc and for backend, you can use Python with any of the web frameworks we talked about.
GODSON: How would you compare Django and Flask as tools for prototyping and building products that may be rewritten later?
SUMIT RAJ: Both are good but for rapid prototyping, I would like to go with Flask. The reason is: you don’t wanna grapple over so many complexities at first hand unless you are a pro in Django.
Flask can have all the things that Django may provide you in itself.
Most of the prototypes that we build are mostly read from a database with very minimal writes or with stub data.
This is where Flask can be handy where you can work without the need to define models or ORM.
I strongly suggest to assess the need to the Web application you are building, it may be possible that you build the prototype in Flask but it’s better to re-write it in Django.
GODSON: So apart from web development, is there any project you are working on like artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc
SUMIT RAJ: Yes, On the professional front we use AI/ML techniques heavily for predicting hotel prices at our company.
On a personal project standpoint, I am working on AI-based chatbots that require ML techniques.
Currently, I am not able to give much time to it because of my day job but very soon I will come up with it.
GODSON: Which database technologies do you use and how do to determine which one is best for any project you want to do?
SUMIT RAJ: We use MongoDB in our organization for all purposes.
It’s a question to figure out the best database for any project as a different project will have its own requirement.
If you are to deal with Big Data where you have to do very large scale data processing, you can go with MongoDB/Cassandra.
The biggest challenge with any Data Analytics startup is inconsistent data.
MongoDB is schemaless and works better in such scenarios. But I must tell MongoDB’s read is good but writing is not so good when you scale.
If you are developing a web application with lots of user-based interaction then MySQL/Postgres would be good to go. Both of them work like charm with Django.
GODSON: According to your resume on Quora you wrote your interest is in natural language processing, building bots, machine learning, and data science, application scalability. Have you developed yourself in these fields or you are still working on them?
SUMIT RAJ: That’s a pretty good question.
Yes, I started getting into NLP (Natural Language Processing) since I graduated. I really liked to work in NLP and talk about it.
I keep doing my research on it to learn more about it from the application perspective.
To be clear, I am not an ML (Machine Learning)expert. I have worked closely with ML and Data Science team and I understand pretty well how this stuff works but not the underlying maths.
I have been able to develop myself to some good extent because I have not just gone through the tech blogs but I have got my hands dirty with it.
There are still lots of things I am working on to improve when it comes to application architecture & scalability.
GODSON: So how do you learn python and keep current with the latest changes in python libraries?
SUMIT RAJ: Good question.
How I do it takes the help of social media/meetup groups/blogs and mailing lists.
Follow popular Python developer on Twitter.
Read blogs written by Python authors.
Follow and read email threads of mailing lists.
Read Engineering blogs of companies that use Python.
Join Python-related groups on Facebook to ask and to answer questions.
Here are some of the links that might be helpful:-
There are always lots of stuff on the web worth learning which keeps you updated about the latest. Do follow them and read regularly.
GODSON: With machine learning, data science and artificial intelligence, Do you think programmers will make a lot of people to use their jobs as computers will do the work?
And do you advise anyone, no matter your profession to learn at least a programming language?
SUMIT RAJ: Yes, definitely. There are a plethora of works in the software domain which can be automated very easily and with the power of AI and ML. The automation will be intelligent enough to replace jobs that require mundane tasks to be done.
No really, If you are a professional swimmer/driver/soccer player/businessman etc what help will learn a programming language would do for you unless you want to use it.
GODSON: Are there good-paying jobs for a programmer in India?
SUMIT RAJ: Yes, there are. India is growing very fast and the amount of talent it has which definitely comes at a low cost when compared to the US.
But low for the US converts high for India. So, most of the companies having their offices in India pay a good salary.
If you are a kickass programmer who can build things, you can easily earn 1.5K-2K/month in India which is good enough to have a stylish life.
People even earn higher having good problem solving and implementation skills.
GODSON: Apart from python, which other language do you use?
And what purpose do you use them?
SUMIT RAJ: Being frank, I never felt the need for any other language for any of my work, be it web development/scripting/scraping/data science/automation.
But, the only language I would want to explore after Python would be Go. I see most of the Python programmers are curious to explore this.
GODSON: So can you tell us some projects you have worked on and which was the most challenging and why?
SUMIT RAJ: Yes, the most challenging and interesting project I was working on was to build a voice-based chatbot for the Real-Estate domain.
This was while I was working at CommonFloor.com
We built a quick prototype to solve real-estate queries using a Voice-Based assistant. We named it AIRA (Artificial Intelligent Real-estate Assistant).
You could just talk to her and she will help to find a home and resolve your queries.
The biggest challenge to produce this was to be able to identify various location names in India and also to maintain the context of the user query.
You can watch the demo of the app here:-
GODSON: Can you explain Scripting, Scraping and Automation to avoid our readers from looking it up on google?
SUMIT RAJ: Scripting is just a simple program. It could be a single file code to do various develops work or to do any specific tasks/assignments.
Scraping: – Lots of companies around the world heavily rely on scraping the data from the web.
It means to get the data from the websites which do not provide any API but has the public data to be accessed by anyone.
So, to use that you scrape the data from their website, clean it and save it in your database to use if further without the need of that particular website.
Automation: – is a cool thing that Python does so fantastically. It means to automate any mundane task, anything that you feel machine can do without any human intervention.
There are various tools in Python to automate stuff like testing the UI, Auto Scaling the servers. Automation reduces product risks and costs.
GODSON: Do you use books to learn python? And can you recommend the best you have seen so far?
SUMIT RAJ: Yes, I did read some of the books.
If you want to follow a book I would suggest starting with “A byte of Python” by Swaroop CH.
My best one goes with the video, not the book, though:-
Google Python Classes by Nick Parlante. It’s pretty old but good to start with.
I would also recommend going with Code Academy Python classes to develop an interest in Python.
I have answered such a question multiple times on Quora with various links.
Feel free to go through them.
GODSON: So to get a good web development job in India, what skills do someone need.
SUMIT RAJ: India has tons of IT giant companies as well as hundreds of startups. They all use different technologies as per their need which results in all kinds of software jobs be it in Java, .Net, RoR, Python, C, C++, etc.
You just have to be an expert in one to get a good job in web development.
Yes, you will be limited if you just know one framework or language because for web development you need to understand how it works.
Even though you are a backend developer, it’s very critical that you know how your APIs or web services will be consumed to build the web application.
Any database is fine but I recommend people to know at least one structured database (MySQL/Postgres) and one NoSQL database(MongoDB).
GODSON: Someone wants to know, how do you create chatbots?
If you want to build a voice-based chatbot in relation to IoT then check AVS.
Here are some of the resources and Python modules you may wanna look at to build chatbots.
NLTK:- The most popular module in NLP(Natural Language Processing) using Python. A lot of popular apps and startups are using this to power their NLP apps: NLTK 3.0 documentation.
TextBlob: If one has a basic understanding of Stemming, Lemmatizing, POS tagging, and Python then he/she can easily develop NLP-based applications on top of TextBlob quickly. TextBlob has very easy APIs to train the model as well. TextBlob: Simplified Text Processing.
GODSON: When it comes to cybersecurity, does Python have any feature for that?
SUMIT RAJ: I am not a cybersecurity expert but yes Python rocks when it comes to security.
I don’t think it has anything built-in but the security community writes a lot of open source modules using Python which helps in various security needs like Pen Testing, Malware Analysis, Reverse Engineering, and Exploitation Techniques.
GODSON: Do you have any mentor in python and can you briefly describe him/her?
SUMIT RAJ: Not really, I would always suggest you be your own mentor.
Read everything, listen to everyone. Assume everyone knows at least one thing better than you and you have to learn that thing from him/her, this is what I do.
Nobody can suggest you better than yourself. Always do what you love. I don’t believe in loving what you do, what I mean by that is let the thing attract you, don’t push yourself just because everyone is liking it.
I can’t really name anyone but I am very much thankful to the Python community in India for relentlessly organizing free workshops/meetups and low-cost conferences which helped me as a newcomer learn Python very easily.
You can always reach out to anyone in the community and they will always respond to you.
GODSON: Can python be applied to Information Science Engineering and how?
SUMIT RAJ: It’s is already prevailing. It’s all semantic web and a huge volume of information is being generated every second.
Python in Machine Learning, Data Science, Data Mining, Mathematics and Physics for new innovations are good examples of it being applied already.
GODSON: How do you handle bugs in your program?
Do you have any project that gave you a tough time because of a bug and can you narrate the experience?
SUMIT RAJ: Bugs are part of any software. My approach is always to build a quick and dirty model and improvise on top of that.
I always tend to write code in modules that are further classified by functionality which makes bug fixing easier after the first cut of your software.
Yes, it’s quite interesting. It’s was our final year project in graduation and we were building a Sentiment Analysis tool in Python using Twitter APIs.
Everything was all good. The application was working and ready for the demo a week before itself.
The night before the final demo our application stopped working and my teammates were breathing on my shoulders to get it fixed because I was most familiar with Python.
We tried the whole night but couldn’t figure out what was the problem till 4:30 AM in the morning.
Around 5:00 AM we found one article on the web saying that Twitter has deprecated their old API (the one which we were using) and the way of consuming the free API has been changed just a couple of days back.
We did everything on our own and had nobody to reach out for help. The new APIs were little finicky and took time to get hold of.
We had just a couple of hours left for the demo in the morning but after grappling over the issue the whole night without any sleep, we could finally fix the bug and successfully did the demo in the morning.
GODSON: So when developing a web application, do you start from the front-end and move to the back-end or vice versa?
Which pattern do you do and why?
SUMIT RAJ: Most of the development starts in parallel with at least two developers working. One in the front-end and one for the backend.
Even if a Full Stack developer is working on both, it’s not a matter of which starts first but the specification which is defined intuitively.
You can either start from front-end, back-end or both in parallel but you should know what details you need to show in the front-end so that backend guy works on that but meanwhile, front-end guy is not blocked either.
He/She can still work with stub data to build their things as per the specs.
Same for backend guy, they should know the format of the data front-end is expecting and should come up with APIs/Web Services to return dynamic data in the same format to be consumed as per the specs defined.
GODSON: Sumit Raj is nice having you on my blog.Thanks for sharing these great resources and knowledge to the python community.
Any last words for my esteemed readers?
And also do you mind telling them how they can contact you?
SUMIT RAJ: Sure, Thanks a lot for having me.
One thing that I would convey is that don’t use shortcuts while learning if you really wanna learn and benefit from something.
Always avoid negativity and seek positivity everywhere.
I will be very happy to help any of your blog readers. They can shoot me a mail or ask a direct question at Quora