Sometime in Summer of 2008, I got a call from a faculty member from an Institute congratulating me for being selected to be the Director of newly created (existing on paper only) IIIT-Delhi. I was aware that my name was nominated for the position, but had no information beyond that. I was not as much surprised on the selection as with the fact that the person who called knew about it. But this gave me some indication about the seriousness of the concerned authorities about the Institute – why should they select someone who was not lobbying, or was even serious about the job (in fact, as I was told later, this potential lack of seriousness was a cause of concern for the Board), when there must have been many candidates who must have had powerful people lobbying for them.

I was initially tentative about the job – though I would have liked to have some academic leadership position, but was hoping to do more academics for another five years or so, before shifting direction towards administration.  Someone then told me wisely: “Opportunities do not come at the time of your chosing – when you are most ready; they come when they come – you have to take it when it comes.” I agreed to take the job if IIT Delhi will give me deputation for a few years, so I can complete my 20 years in IIT service and hence become eligible for pension.  I was assured that this can be worked out, as Delhi Govt had a good working relationship with IIT, and IIT also indicated this.

I started “working” while waiting for formalities to be completed for being relieved from IIT and for the formal appointment letter to come. I started planning about the institute, what its vision could be, what it can do etc, and soon I was totally consumed by it – the possibilities of creating an institute in which we can implement some of the practices/ideas I had argued for/written about earlier became a compelling dream. Soon, I had reached a point of no return. Thankfully, everything from IIT worked out. Some relevant dates relating to the start of the Institute are:

  • Mr. OP Shukla appointed as OSD on: In first Board meeting on May 12, 2008.
  • Advertisement for Director’s position: May 29, 2008.
  • Offer letter sent to me by Chairman, Mr. Kiran Karnik: Aug 7, 2008.
  • I joined as Director: Aug 29, 2008.

It was decided that, while it will be desirable to start the new batch next year, it will be smarter to start that year itself, even though it was late and most students were already enrolled, since the elections were due later in that year and hence it would be “safer” to have the institute already functioning. To ensure that Institute is not perceived as “easy” to get in, we made  a decision of having a “filter” for application based on AIEEE ranking for outside Delhi candidates and DCE-NSIT test for Delhi candidates, but have a separate entrance test of our own. This test we got conducted through an agency that specializes in exams. This decision, which was an outcome of highly constrained circumstances, later became a model that Institute would champion – have a strong filter for who can appear in the test, and then have an aptitude test for final selection.  Also, the decision to have only online applications and use the web more heavily, effectively the only option in the start, also became a standard for us.  The important dates here are:

  • Hosting for website taken from Indiatimes: July 29, 2008.
  • Release of prospectus and website by CM in a public function: Aug 3, 2008.
  • Entrance exam: Aug 23, 2008.
  • Counseling: Aug 26, 2008.
  • First day of classes: Sept 8, 2008.

About classes. We had no faculty, and, more seriously, no official academic program, though I had some idea of what I would like the program to be. Earlier as Head of CSE in IIT Kanpur when the UG program was revised, one of the key themes that came out from feedback from students as well as others was to start CS early. We in CSE could not do it in IITK, as there were constraints due to the need for uniformity across disciplines in the first year. I put that thinking to use here. The tentative program envisaged starting with CS courses in the first semester – so we took the first course in software, theory, and hardware, and added the communication skills course to make the first semester program.  For technical courses, guest faculty from NSIT were invited. For communication skills, a professional trainer was requested – another model that, while being used due to constraints, became a standard practice later.

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