Saturday, September 12, 2009

What they don't teach at an engineering college ?

Recently a friend of mine dropped an email to me to consider writing for the college magazine.
Got me thinking about writing something relevant and yet informative. I could of course write about my professional experiences and my technology knowledge, considering my career in software. I think however that would be too boring for a college magazine. So I zeroed on the subject, What they don't teach at an engineering college ?. For the rest of the article, I am going to write about some experiences during my college life and what they taught me.

S**t happens, deal with it.
This is one lesson every engineer learns in the first or second semester. I managed to clear my first 2 semesters without any of the dreaded KTs. Soon I had built this superstition about growing a beard during exams. However in the sem 5, there was one subject on Microprocessors. It helped shatter that superstition completely. We had a good 3 days of holiday before this one. So in typical engg exam style, I hadn't really bothered preparing much. The 3 days were spent reading through pretty much the whole curriculum for the subject. I thought I was quite well prepared. That was only until about an hour of writing the paper. I turned to section II (or was it page 2) of the question paper. Found myself staring at a whole set of μP design problems that none of us in the exam hall had expected or bothered to practice.For next 2 hours everyone in the exam hall was either staring at the other students in the hall, hoping some one knew the answers. For a change the invigilators were not worried about cheating, ... cause pretty much nobody had a clue of what the right answers were.

We all came out expecting, the by now not so dreaded, KT. Luckily I managed to clear the the exam. But my scores for that sem were messed. Since this sem counted for the final engg grade it meant that I had to work a lot harder in the next 3 sems to up my average grade. S**t had happened and I found myself was dealing with it for the next 1.5 years...

Never give up - cause life is like a sinusoid.
I remember me and a few of my friends had registered for a robotics competition in IIT - Bombay. The competition required us to build a manually controlled vessel which could move over water in a small tank and play water polo with table tennis balls floating in water. None of my team mates had any idea of how to build a boat, or materials around it or principles of a motor boat. Next month or so we spent a lot of our spare time researching, trying out stuff and coming out with designs, prototypes. After all the hard work, with just 2 days to the big day, we realized that our machine design had some serious flaws and we found ourself staring at a complete failure of the project. Just then we took a lunch break and when we came back we decided to persist with our aim and not give up. That day and next morning we took our machine apart and build a completely new machine. Soon enough, at the competition we surprised ourself and pretty much everyone at in the audience at IIT, when we narrowly missed a berth the finals and stood third. Taught me that if life is like a sinusoid. If you are staring at a trough, its probably time to cheer up and trying a bit harder, cause the crest will follow soon.

Listen to your intuition.
I graduated in a recession year. The campus placements that year were few and some of my friends got through. There were others who wanted to pursue a PG in Engg. Then there were those who wanted to do a degree in management. There were also some who planned to take up post grad only so that they could skip the painful job hunt in those recession times. I couldn't manage any campus placements by sem 7 and by sem 8 the campus placements had completely dried up. I wasn't keen on an international PG or Management. I tried my hand at some of the entrance tests to get into an M Tech but fell short of the score to get into course of my choice. So by mid of sem 8, here I was like numerous others without a job in hand or a college admit, staring at the abyss of unemployment.
Something inside me said that things will look up and that something good was in store for me .. After all life is a sinusoid. So I kept posting my resumes to any and every software, electronics or telecommunication firm that I saw posting advertisements in newspapers for experienced hires. By end of sem 8 the lot like me were doing these post graduate diplomas in hope of building additional skills that would make them job worthy. I chose against it and instead worked at a meager pay with my final year project guide for around 2 months on another project. Soon enough my intuition turned out to be right and in early September that year I had in my hand an offer letter from Infosys - one of the most respected and India's second largest software services companies. So I think it helps to listen to one's intuition and substantiate it with action.

Curricular helps, but extra-curricular builds you.
I think this is one point which most of my college professors would not agree with. I was habituated to bunking lectures and spent a lot of my time in canteen planning or enjoying the extra curricular activities (mostly college events or festivals). In essence I think most of my lecturers thought I had no future. But all those extra curricular had subconsciously taught me some great soft skills. Things like how to work with people, dealing with pressure, and above all maintaining my focus and calm in the most trying circumstances. These were skills that the engineering syllabus or lecturers could not teach. When at work, I found that these were very skills that gave me a slight edge against some of the bookworms who were now my batch mates at Infosys. These guys were still learning these skills, which seemed to come more naturally to me ... I guess extra-curricular stuff had helped after all.

Its alright to be selfish but have a conscience. One of the things that I learned through all those extra curricular activities was that every one is selfish. Our moral sciences preach ideals like selflessness. Truth however is that without a selfish motivation, hardly any one give their 100 % to anything they do. Back in college, I was into the organizing the tech fest, I was in them for the experiences they offered and the fun. That was my selfish motive. There were others who wanted the certificates and awards. There were still others who wanted to add to their pocket money (albeit by messing with the accounts). There were some who wanted recommendations from the professors and so on. In short the motives differed but the immediate task at hand was common. I was not always comfortable with people who didn't share my motive. In some cases when I'd hear about any accounting issues, it would irritate me and has even led to bad breath with some of my college friends.
However in retrospect, I realize that all people despite their different motivating factors worked well as a team. The only reason they worked well was because they did have a selfish motive that could be achieved through the task at hand. I therefore say that it is alright to be selfish, as long as you also allow your conscience to have its way.

Finally signing off on this article, hoping that it makes the cut for the magazine