This is a small talk I have been giving to students in IIIT-Delhi on what they can do in their first 3 years of a 4 year program (or 1st year of their MTech program), so that in their final year, when they are assessed for jobs or higher studies, doors to exciting opportunities open.

Have converted it to a short video which is available here on IIIT-Delhi channel. The main theme/text of the talk is given below.

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Most students in technical education programs – BTech or MTech – are hoping that at the end of their education they will either get good placements, or get good options for higher studies.  For a job in a company, a company will pay you a compensation of X to a person only if you can generate 3X or more value for them. And for this they will assess understanding of various subjects, skills in programming, design, circuit building, etc, and ability to use the knowledge and understanding for problem solving.  They spend a lot of effort to figure out the capabilities and skills – most good companies will do multiple rounds of interview by technical people. In other words, you cannot talk your way through – you must possess these skills and capabilities to convince them that you have them.

For higher studies, in particular for MS and PhD, the main assessment is whether you have the capability to do good projects or do good research. For this, you do need a decent CGPA, but after that they will look at projects you have done, and papers you may have written. Letters written by your professors are given a considerable weight – and a faculty member gives a strong letter only when he/she has seen your hard work, sincerity, commitment, and delivery.

The question for a student is: What should you do in your first three years (or first year of MTech) to have these attributes, so doors for exciting opportunities open in the final year. For this, we can classify the students in two categories.

Category I student: One who has in his/her first three (or one) years

  • Solved easier problems
  • Developed easy program/circuits
  • Learned enough to do well in the tests
  • Avoided hard courses, did few projects, few initiatives
  • Overall optimized the effort – did what was asked; limited effort for learning; copied when it got too difficult; …

So, such a student’s capabilities are:

  • Can write simple/short programs
  • Can solve simple problems
  • Have some understanding of easy subjects
  • Have forgotten many things I had learnt
  • Can work just enough to get work done

Category II students: One who has in last three (or one) years:

  • Attempted many hard problems and solved some of them
  • Tried to develop deeper understanding in most subjects – by asking questions, doing problems, figuring things out,…
  • Taken many “difficult” courses, though didn’t always get good grade in them
  • Built interesting systems / software / projects
  • Took initiatives, engaged in many ways in academics and outside

So such a student’s capabilities are:

  • Understands most of the subjects and concepts well, and can apply them
  • Have the confidence to build complex systems and software and can solve hard problems
  • Understands complex topics, and have strong ability to learn new (and difficult) subjects
  • Can work hard and beyond what is required

It should be evident to all students, that if you want to be taken seriously, you have to be in category II. And this not just for technology job – even for non-tech roles, category II student will be highly preferred.

And which category you belong to is entirely your choice. It is not about the institute, particularly institute like ours where excellent courses are being taught by extremely qualified and competent faculty. All the things mentioned above are choices you make. So, it is up to you to decide which category you belong to and which doors you want opening for you.

For being in category II, you need to reflect about the (i) your level of effort, (ii) your learning approach, and (iii) your level of engagement.

Finally, if you want to do something to be in category II, here is my suggestion. Reflect upon this and resolve to take some actions. These should be such that you can yourself measure and examine if you are following them. Write them down – the post it on your laptop, make it your wallpaper, or whatever is needed to be reminded. And then follow it relentlessly.

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