First Year of College may be Critical for Success

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Many faculty have observed that often performance of students in later years of a 4-year program is similar to the performance achieved in the first year. At IIIT-Delhi we did some analysis of student performance in the Institute in various years and relationship between them. IIIT-Delhi has a rigorous and demanding education program, as good as the best in the country, and taught by faculty with qualifications similar to those of faculty in established IITs. Its program, though somewhat different and more innovative than in older institutions, is similar to the programs in IITs and top universities across the world – it has a common first year program, core courses for the discipline done in a few semesters after the first year, and mostly electives in final few semesters. Therefore, I suspect the trends in our analysis may hold for other similar autonomous institutions which have high quality education.  Some interesting findings are:

  • Correlation between performance in first semester and second semester is over 0.8. In other words, for most students, performance in second semester is similar to the performance in the first semester.
  • The performance in an academic year is very strongly correlated with performance in the previous academic year – again correlation of more than 0.8. In other words, performance in 2nd year has a strong correlation with performance in 1st ,  3rd year performance is highly correlated with 2nd, and 4th year performance is highly correlated with the 3rd.

Before discussing what these correlations may mean, it should be emphasised that these are statistics – they apply in a general sense and not to an individual. An individual student’s record may not follow the above pattern at all – someone may have had a bad 1st semester/year (due to illness, lack of seriousness,…) who can do much better later. And someone who takes first year seriously and then slacks off, will find performance falling.

What do these mean for students in a general sense.   The data seems to suggest that the first semester and year can often be the most defining year of a students’ college education, and the performance in first year often reflects the level at which the student is likely to perform academically in the rest of his/her program. First year of the program is when the students are settling in their new life at a university/college with the freedom and responsibility that comes with it – a life very different from that in school which is far more structured and defined by the teachers, school discipline, uniform, parental oversight, etc. It seems that the students define their approach to college life and academics in the first year and often develop habits, discipline, and balance (or lack of it) which is likely to stay with them for the rest of the program.

As mentioned, while the data suggests this for most student, it need not apply to all students. If a student misses building the discipline and balance in the first year, but realises the folly of his/her ways later (say after a semester or a year), this data should be treated as a statistic that can be overcome – by putting the due effort for making up for the lack of effort in the first sem/year, or by repeating the first year, if the university allows. (In IIIT-Delhi students who do not pass some number of courses in the first year have to repeat the first year. In the past we have seen that there are some cases of students who have changed their behavior after repeating the year and have successfully completed the program with good CGPA.)

What does the data mean for academic institutions and administrators? One clear insight is that first semester (and the first year) can be extremely critical to a student’s success in the program. Therefore, to help students succeed in the program, it is important to provide good support to them in their first semester (year) – not just for academics but also for developing good habits and discipline. This implies that the systems we have for later year students, may not be well suited for students in their first year, who require closer monitoring and more support and counselling.

To conclude, data suggests that incoming students should be extra cautious and alert when starting their higher education program – while a student must explore new ideas, build new bonds, try new activities, pursue non-academic interests, engage in deep discussions in the canteen, etc, he/she must not lose sight of academics, as that is the primary purpose of entering a university. Students must develop sound habits and a good discipline and balance in their first year – the habits and discipline developed in first year is likely to persist through the rest of their program; laxity in the first year may make it harder to make up in later years.

And for Institutions the data clearly suggests that special measures must be taken to handle students in their first year – they are just transitioning from school to college and support must be provided so they can develop a proper balance and discipline to handle college life. (At IIIT-Delhi, a few years ago we started a one-week induction program for the new students where issues like this are discussed with them by counselors, senior students, and other professionals. And we have started a program of monitoring first year students more carefully in the key courses and provide extra support where needed.)

Selecting a College for Admission

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This is admission time again for higher education, and most students have multiple choices of higher educational institutions (HEIs – colleges, universities, institutes)  for admission. Finally, of course, the student has to get admitted in one HEI and study there. For most students and their parents, this is a hard choice – which HEI to chose from the colleges, universities, institutions where the student can get admitted. This note points out some parameters that can be used for assessing an HEI (or a department).

First, let us understand that there are two main end goals of college education. (i) Education: gaining knowledge and skills for productive careers,  and (ii) Self growth: developing interests, friendships, associations, hobbies, etc which help in leading a happier and richer life. A high quality HEI should provide good support for both.

For assessing  the capability of the HEIs, or one of its departments, to deliver high quality education, there are some well understood parameters. I am giving some of the key ones here. These are the parameters which I advise parents and students to look at for making a decision, and I myself used them when my daughters were seeking admission. Importance of most of these is self evident, and many of these are also given in the World Bank framework for World Class Universities.

  • Faculty Quality and Qualifications.  This is undoubtedly the single most important parameter that decides the  quality  of education in an HEI. World over, the best Universities indeed have the most qualified faculty. In India also, you will see the same pattern – places like IITs, IISc, some IIITs, some ISERs, etc, which are known to be the best places for education, have the most qualified faculty. By qualifications of faculty I mean  – highest degree obtained (PhD, Masters, or lesser), and from where the degree was earned. While higher qualifications are clearly desired in faculty, the second factor is also very important – an Engineering institute that has faculty with  PhDs from reputed universities of the world, or from places like IITs/IISc, clearly has superior faculty than a college that may have PhDs from other institutions. This can be checked easily – see where the faculty of established IITs have obtained their PhDs from – you will see that they are from  top Institutes in the country, or from good institutions overseas.
  • Faculty Student Ratio. This is clearly the next important parameter  – an HEI which has lower F/S ratio is likely to be better for learning and education, as it allows more faculty time per student and only with manageable ratio can faculty spend time with students for projects etc. In many US universities, about 20:1 is a standard ratio that they try to maintain – some lower ranked universities may have ratios as high as 35:1 or more, and some of the Ivy League and other top univs may have lower ratios. In older IITs, the ratio is about 15:1.
  • Infrastructure. The quality of infrastructure is another important parameter – clearly for education delivery, quality of classes, libraries, labs, etc. is important. But even other infrastructure – facilities for faculty, quality of student hostels and facilities, quality of sports and other facilities for extra curricular activities, etc. matter as they have indirect impact on education.
  • Quality of the academic program. All good HEIs spend a lot of time designing their programs. First important factor here is the structure and layout of the program – the courses the program and the nature and variety, and the degree of flexibility it provides to students to chose their courses. The second aspect is very important and can be assessed by the  number of electives a student can take in the program and the number of choices offered for electives. Weaker HEIs will have fewer electives, and fewer choices for them, as electives require a larger range of courses to be taught.
  • Delivery of academics. Getting a good program on paper is not too  hard – programs of the best of HEIs are available on the internet. It is, of course, the delivery of the program that matters the most. Quality of delivery is decided, first and foremost, by the quality of faculty. However, there are some other indicators – e.g. the level and nature of work a student has to do  in the courses. If the student has to spend minimal effort and that is mostly around taking tests/exams, you can be  sure that the delivery of  courses is weak. Good delivery of  courses requires students to put  in effort outside the  class in assignments, projects, labs, term papers, presentations, etc. Learning happens largely when students are asked to apply the concepts covered in lectures in the assignments/labs/projects… Learning without due effort is a myth – effort and practice is essential for learning and developing skills.
  • Administration, leadership, culture. Administration and leadership  impact the overall functioning hugely – good administration and leadership will ensure that the HEI continues to improve and keep addressing issues that may come up. Seriousness with which academics is taken, how students are supported, are students’ feedback on programs and courses taken, etc. are all important cultural aspects that have impact on the quality of education.

For assessing the quality of an HEI for supporting self development, one should look at the breadth and flexibility in the curriculum – does the curriculum include courses other than main subject courses, and does it provide flexibility and choice to take a variety of courses including those that may help more in self development. For example, one can look at if there are course on humanities, social sciences, music, art, etc, and if it is possible for students to do independent study, independent projects, etc to pursue their interests. For students who may be interested in research, one should look at if there are provisions for UG students to undertake research.

Other important factors that affect the self growth dimension are the level of extra curricular activities (which may get reflected in the variety of student clubs), infrastructure (the quality of infrastructure to support the extra curricular activities) and support (e.g. is there sufficient budget) for such activities.

While these are main factors that affect the quality of education,  another way to assess the quality of education and overall development of students is to examine what the graduates of the  HEI do after graduation, and how well the alumni of the HEI are doing. Opportunities after graduation include – placements after graduation (quality of placements, median offer, etc), higher education opportunities (how many students get these opportunities and where), and entrepreneurship.

This note focuses only on assessing the quality of an HEI. Choosing a program to study is a different issue – it depends on the students aptitude and capability. In an earlier note, I had discussed this issue. Of course the complication comes when the two factors – choosing the HEI and the program of study – are combined. The most common question is “I am getting X in A but am getting Y in B – which option should I choose”.  In general, if one is sure that one wants to study X and is fairly sure that  he/she has the aptitude for it also, then I would say that find the best HEI you can get X in, and go study X in that HEI. The problem gets more complex when the student does not know what he/she is interested in or has aptitude for – I have discussed this briefly in my earlier note, though have no good advise to offer.

Finally, I would end by saying that choosing the  HEI for your college education is a serious decision,  and a lot of people try to  influence it – mostly to try to convince others about their own view/decision. I have had students write later “I was misguided and I took admission in A as many of my friends were taking…. but I find no academic atmosphere here …. can you please consider me for admission now….”. You don’t want to  be in this situation. So, I suggest that you take inputs from all – your parents, friends, teachers, experts – but be aware of the biases that are often there in such suggestions, and make up your own decision by doing your analysis of the information/data available.

For information on IIIT-Delhi:  On BTech programs visit the BTech programs page; for information on faculty, visit the faculty page; for information on research, visit the research page; for information about student life, visit this page – more information on student clubs is available here.

Other notes you may want to look at on this: Article comparing various institutes, and blog of Prof. Dheeraj Sanghi.

Assessing Students for Research Internships

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Recently I participated as a member of committees which were to select candidates for summer internship for two major collaborative sponsored programs. Though the number of internships were decent in each, still the number of shortlisted candidates were about 10 times the number of internships – indicating the strong demand for such internships. Other members of the committee included Senior professor from the US university, some senior academicians from Institutions in India, and senior members of scientific organizations. Given the volume of applications, each application had to be assessed quickly. The discussions clearly indicated that all members were looking for some features in the application. Based on these discussions, I noted down a few important aspects which experts were focusing on, and then briefly reviewed them with the members of the committee. I am sharing these here so student readers have an understanding of what such committees often look for. This can help students prepare suitably, and perhaps also to assess if research is a career that is suitable for them.

  • Academic Preparation. In any such research internship, what is being assessed is the potential of the student to do research. Clearly, for such an assessment, academic preparation is of great importance. This is largely assessed first by the grades of the student, and the standing of the institution where he/she is studying. Normally, it is expected that for research internships the student should be in the top few of his/her batch. It helps if the student is from an Institution which is respected for its research capabilities and focus.
  • Projects and internships. The next important factor is the projects the student has done. Generally projects beyond the course work, e.g. those done as independent study, BTech project, internship projects, etc are looked at more carefully. If these projects are research oriented and are challenging assignments, it strengthens the case. If internships/projects are far removed from research (e.g. internship in a bank), it can be negative as it indicates an interest in a business oriented career.
  • Publications. If some project done by the student has resulted in a publication in a decent forum (international journal/conference), this is a huge plus as it is a strong indicator about the capability to do good quality research and take it to completion. Submission to good quality forums also counts favorably.
  •  Aspiration/Goal. Often the applications will require some statement about what student aspires to do in future. This is often looked at carefully – and it is for the students to convince that they are indeed interested in pursuing a research career. It is best if the statement is brief, concise, consistent, and convincing.

It is well known that while academic preparation is necessary, to do well in research (or any career for that matter), motivation and drive is extremely important without which not much can be achieved. Most of the factors above not only indicate the academic credentials of the student, but also indicate the drive and motivation of the applicant – that is why committees look at these, and other such factors. I also believe that committees are able to assess whether the student is just claiming interest in research or is truly interested in it. Consequently, I feel that if a student is not interested in research as a career, he/she should perhaps not apply for these internships, leaving them for those who want to pursue research and for whom these internships can be truly a turning point in the career.

 

Effective Study Habits

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Most students want to do well in their studies – they want to learn, get good grades/marks, and do well in opportunities that good education can provide. In College life, besides studies, self growth is also an important goal for students. Therefore they need to effectively balance the two goals, which often conflict. In this pursuit, effective study habits can be very useful. They can help to learn effectively and efficiently, thus leaving sufficient time for other activities in life without compromising your academics. However, we have realized that many students are not clear on how to study effectively.

There is literature on this subject available – indeed there is a full book on it (multiple copies of which are in IIIT-D library). However, students often think these are too idealized or impractical, or that they do not apply to their environment or situation.

To better understand what works well in an environment like that of IIIT-Delhi, one of our graduating students (Digvijay Singh) interacted with a set of students from his batch who were known to have good understanding of various subjects, who we will refer to as effective students (this set of students we determined not by grades but by their performance in interviews and exams conducted by best companies that visited us and general input from faculty and students about their understanding, knowledge, skills.) We further validated the outcome of this study by interacting with a set of students of the current batch who have been doing well. It should be noted that not all of them are in the high CGPA category – many of them are below 8.0. It should be pointed out that this is not a statistically and scientifically rigorous study. Also, the habits mentioned here are the common ones, which most effective students we talked to followed. It does not mean that these are the only methods. However, I believe if these practices are sound and if students follow these, they can expect to be effective in their learning.

The three main effective study practices that emerged are:

  • Lectures. Attending lectures regularly and taking notes in them, even if the lectures are not very exciting/engaging, is a practice most effective students followed. This makes sense –students who do not follow this in the hope that they will “make up” for the lectures they miss, generally do not end up “making up”, and soon find themselves lost with too much to catch up. And missing lectures can easily become a habit, which is clearly to be avoided. The two aspect of this practice are (i) attend the lectures, (ii) make notes in the lectures – not copy what the faculty is writing, but making notes in your own language. The second point is important – copying from the board/slide is a passive act which does not help in learning, but making notes in your own words is an active learning task, which engages the student and helps in learning. Paying attention in lectures actually helps save time – a student is likely to take much more time to understand and learn the topic by him/herself, if he/she does not attend the lecture, or is inattentive.
  • Assignments. Do the assignments yourself – most effective students did most of the assignments themselves, even if it took them more time or even if they were not able to complete in time. While lectures introduce the topics and concepts, the real learning and skill building of a student happens during assignments – this is where the students practices and tries to apply the concept/method. So, without doing assignments yourself, there can be really no learning. It should be noticed that taking help (not copying) from friends in assignments is fine, particularly when one is stuck. Indeed taking and giving help in form of discussions, explanations, guiding is a good way of learning.
  •  Weekly revision/sync-up. All effective students have some method of ensuring that they have revised the material covered in the previous week or so, and that they prepared for the next week’s lectures and work. This practice I am calling weekly sync-up (even though students might be practicing this over somewhat longer periods.) Some revise regularly, some do revision with the assignment, some during the weekends, etc., but one common theme is that they sync-up regularly and ensure that they are not behind or lost, as they realize that if they continue while being lost, they will not recover. (One student said that if he could not follow two lectures well, it was a big warning sign and he would put extra work to catch up.) This practice ensures that even if they missed a lecture/assignment, they make up for it and do not fall behind. Without this practice, there is a real risk that a student can fall behind so much that it will be very hard to catch up,…. In a semester of 4 months with a student doing 5 courses, one simply can’t really afford to fall behind too much!

This can be viewed as the LAW for effective studying. Follow the LAW, with suitable enhancements/ modifications to suit your style, and the chances are that you will become an effective learner, and derive the benefits that come from that.

There are some other practices which some effective students also used:

  • Prioritising work. When there are many tasks from multiple courses, as well as from other activities, there will clashing deadlines. Prioritising will clearly be important in such a situation to achieve the most in the limited time. As one student said: “In such a scenario, life becomes a lot easier when you manually set down targets to be achieved by what deadline (which maybe before/ same day as your submission deadlines). Use sticky notes as gentle reminders to yourself so you can use your time wisely when brunt of work is more.”
  • Group study (though many prefer individual study)
  • Group and individual projects. As said by one student: “While it is good to do projects in team to learn teamwork and leadership qualities, I used to push myself and sometimes go forth with individual projects. Undoubtedly, it takes more effort and time, but it boosted my confidence in my own abilities to handle projects single-handedly and made me more self-reliant and self-sufficient.”
  • Help other students – explain to them as explaining helps them understand better (my note: by discussing/clarifying you are helping your friend, but by providing your assignment to your friends for copying you are actually hurting them as you are discouraging them to learn, besides taking them the slippery slope of using unfair means.)
  • Take help from friends for understanding – most students indicated that face-to-face discussion with friends was the first and most common approach they used for clarifying doubts/material. If this did not work then they will go to discussion forums, instructor,…
  • Academics gets the first priority – this is more a value statement but was commonly echoed by most of the students. While they all engaged in other activities (most of them are quite active in clubs, events, etc., they are clear that academics get the highest priority

Besides these practices, there is one attitude/trait I would like to highlight, which I have seen in many students who have done well in whatever they do after college education – and that is curiosity and initiative to go beyond the courses. Many effective students engage in some technical activities that they do which are not needed for their courses – i.e. they take the initiative to go beyond the courses. Examples of these initiatives can be: participating in competitive programming, participating in technical clubs, learning on your own about topics that interest you, listening to some technical lectures on YouTube/Coursera/EdX, trying out some concepts, learning some programming language on your own, teaching students who are facing challenges in their courses (teaching, it is well known and established, is the most effective way to learn – teaching to someone else truly clarifies the topic in one’s own mind) etc. I believe that those students who are ambitious and want to reach higher in life, developing this trait/style is absolutely essential.

I hope the students will devise their own methods for being effective students using the LAW, and going beyond. I hope this little study will be helpful to them in devising their own strategies.

Advise to Incoming BTech Students

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I often ask incoming students “What do you want out of your 4 years in college”. Replies are generally like: become a great programmer, engineering, mathematician,…., get a good job/career, gain deeper understanding of subjects, do exciting project/ research/ innovation; get good overall education, become a better professional, help for entrepreneurship career, make good friends, enjoy life, etc.

 Most of these can be grouped in two basic expectations from college education:

  •  It provides strong platform for good career opportunities
  • It provide environment to grow socially and as a person/individual.

 Let us discuss each of these. While in school, particularly class XI and XII, the main outcome you, your parents, and your school are looking for from school education is admission into good colleges/universities. And for that, performance in exams is what maters the most – whether in board exams or competitive exam. Hence, you, rightfully prepare for mastering the factual and theoretical knowledge that is tested in these exams.

The situation changes dramatically when your desired outcome from college education is good career opportunities. And to achieve this you need to take a fundamentally different approach to education than how you approached it in school. Let us use getting jobs as the primary career goal, though the argument will apply to other types of career opportunities as well.

Companies give you good jobs, and compensate you well, if you have deep knowledge in areas in your discipline, and possess strong skills for applying that knowledge to develop solutions – since it is these skills which generate value for the companies. Any good company, when it comes to a college for recruiting, thoroughly checks how well the student understands his/her subjects, and how well has (s)he developed the skills of applying the knowledge for problem solving. Top companies will do as many as 3 to 4 rounds of interview to assess various facets of this – e.g. in computer science, they will try to understand how deeply you understand programming, data structures, algorithms, operating systems, and how effectively you can use this knowledge for solving problems. Unlike exams, which are conducted on a large set of students and are limited in what they can assess, due to the thorough one-to-one interviews they conduct, companies do figure out how deeply you understand the subjects, and how good are your skills and capability.

So your goal for education in college is not to get marks, but to develop the skills, gain the knowledge and understanding of subjects. Marks are going to be a bye product – any good university will have decent assessment methods to ensure that if your understanding is good, you will get good grades. I have not met any student in my life who has good understanding and skills but has poor grades – may not have the best of grades, but still good grades. And inevitably these students do well in career.

 This is the main shift incoming students need to make in their approach to studies – study with the purpose of understanding and building skills, not for getting marks, as this understanding and skills is what will get you the jobs/career you seek. There are two other direct implications of this in how you approach your studies in college:

  1. Use of unfair means in assignments, exams etc will be counterproductive. When you copy an assignment, say from a friend, then it is the friend who has done the learning from it, not you. A universal truth is that nobody else can learn on your behalf – only you can do your own learning; even the richest of people have to do their learning themselves. So, you must do your work yourself and must not resort to “short cuts” like borrowing from the Internet, your friend, as these short cuts hurt you in achieving your goal, besides also taking you down the slope of moral decline.
  2. You have to work hard and put in sufficient effort. Learning takes effort and time – nobody can learn a new skill or obtain mastery in something without putting in hours and hours of practice, reflection, studying. Anybody who thinks otherwise is fooling him/herself. There is simply no other way to learning, but to learn, and that takes both physical time, and mental and physical effort.

So, to achieve your first goal, these two must be cardinal principles guiding you during college life, and your approach towards education should be to build skills, deepen understanding, etc.

Second overall goal of these 4 years is your social and personal growth. This is the period that will have the maximum impact on your life. Growth here means that you are a much better person, have an improved understanding of things, people, friends, world, … improved social and people skills, a better friends support system….., improved ability to enjoy things like art, music, dance, literature, and other things that bring joy and happiness and satisfaction to a personal’s life, etc.

For this goal, ensure that you are actively engaged with the people around you, with the college you are studying in, various activities like reading, watching films and discussing them, debating with friends about contemporary issues, existentialist issues,…. in learning and playing different sports, instruments, arts,….

These two goals of college life will often conflict. While they do often conflict, you must not pose it as an “either-or problem”. You actually do not have to make a choice between the two – you can and must achieve both. There is sufficient time to do both – assuming that sleeping, eating, commuting,… takes 12 hours each day, you still have about 85 hours per week available to you – this is plenty to achieve both goals. But this requires you to develop two meta-skills, which will serve you not only in these four years, but also in life: Balance, and Discipline.

In college, you have more freedom than ever before – in fact you have more freedom than you will have after college life. And you have two somewhat diverse goals. To use this freedom properly so it helps you achieve both your goals, it is imperative that you develop some discipline and sense of balance. Balance means that you spend your effort and your energy judiciously among the different activities to ensure that not only are your growing professionally/academically but also personally.

Discipline means that if you plan to do something, you are able to do it. So, if you want to study x hours every day or week, or go for a jog in the morning, or play computer game only for one hour per day or only during weekends, you are able to follow it. Most students are smart to make decent plans. Yet, they often end up not following their plans because they have not developed the discipline to execute their own plans.

To end, college life has two basic dimensions: grow professionally through the education a college offers, and grow personally through the variety of outside-the-class opportunities that colleges offer. Go after both – and you can achieve both through discipline and balance.

Note: This is based on the welcome speeches I gave to incoming students at IIIT-Delhi as Director, and to students in DTU as interim Vice Chancellor.

Placement Record/Statistics of IIIT-Delhi, 2014

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A new BTech batch is about to graduate from IIIT-Delhi. For the counseling of incoming BTech students, I compiled the placement data for the graduating batch. I was pleasantly surprised at the result – vast majority of our students got placed in technology companies, which not only offer technically more challenging work, but in general, also offer higher compensation for the better trained people that they try to recruit.

While it is not the case that best companies (work wise) offer the best compensation, compensation has become a yardstick of assessing the quality of placements. So let me put the basic placement statistics. The total no of students up for placement was 76, out of which 90% (69) were placed (till May end.) The placement record is:

  • 21% of the students got International jobs, each of more than Rs 30 Lac per annum
  • Highest overseas offer was Rs 60 Lac ($100K); highest Indian offer was Rs 20 Lac
  • 28% students got offers of 10+ lac
  • 55% students got Rs 5-10L offer
  • 8% students got offers of less than Rs 5 Lac
  • Avg compensation: Rs 12.6 Lac (Average of Indian offers: Rs 7.3L)
  • 10% (8) students got offers for higher studies abroad

What surprised me somewhat was that 10% of the students got admission for higher studies, mostly in North America, and most of them with financial support. With little historical record and few alumni, it was surprising to note that so many had got offers. On careful thought, however, it is understandable – most universities in US give a lot of weight to the quality of projects and research done during the undergraduate program, and to the credibility of the people who write recommendation letters (all applications require three recommendation letters.) Given our faculty’s record in research and their background (about two-thirds have PhD from Europe and US), their letters must have carry weight. And as many of our advanced courses have project/research component, often students have a good experience with them. These two must have considerably strengthened the application of our students. This high percentage can easily compare with that of IITs, where the percentage of students going abroad for higher studies has declined over the years.

The average compensation also needs a mention. In India, 90% or more of IT jobs are in the large services sector we have. While this sector is indeed the pride of the country and is immensely valuable and employs the largest number of engineers in our country, it is well known that their starting compensation is around Rs 3.5 Lac even in the biggest software companies. In this context, the average compensation that our students go is quite remarkable – I believe similar to that of IITs (thought they don’t often share it publicly).

The distribution is also quite important from a student perspective. In an college, if 80% of the students get jobs in the services sector, and 20% in technology/product sector (say with average compensation of Rs 12 Lac), the average compensation will be a respectable Rs 5.2Lac – and many of the top institutions outside of IITs have averages around this. But for a student it means that he/she has 80% chance to getting an offer of appx Rs 3.5Lac! In the case of IIIT-Delhi, 80% of the students have offers of more than Rs 5 Lac!

In this overall context the record very satisfying – most students getting offers in high technology and product companies that can better utilize their fine training and education (and also offer better compensation.) And this record is for our 3rd batch – clearly it is not due to the historical brand value but due to the education and training we have provided to our students. This continues to strengthen my belief that our high quality education is creating high quality opportunities for those who are willing to learn and work hard.

Desired Skills/Capabilities in Graduating CSE Students for a High-End Engineering Career

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At IIIT-Delhi, objectives of BTech program are to develop graduates for careers in high-end engineering professions and research. (We want to emphasize on “high-end engineering careers” as the vast majority of software careers in India need moderate expertise in computer sciences – as demonstrated by the fact that many large software companies take engineers from any discipline and make them suitable for their work after a couple of month’s training. As at IIIT-Delhi we have a rigorous program in CSE, we believe that it should be to prepare the students for more cutting-edge work in technology and product companies, research, and innovation and entrepreneurship.)

To develop the skills needed for high-end engineering careers, we need to clearly understand them and then ensure that the BTech program is developing them. During a recent review of our curriculum, for the objective of developing high-end software engineers, we decided to take feedback from senior engineers of some technology companies on what skills they expect in graduating engineers. The companies included most of the top technology players like Google, Microsoft, Adobe, Yahoo, EMC, Siemens, Netapps, and smaller technology players like AirTight Networks. The questionnaire we sent asked what Technical skills they expected, and what Meta/Soft skills they expected in graduates of a CSE program. (It was satisfying to note that our curriculum focused on developing many of these skills. Still some ideas emerged from this exercise for which we have taken suitable actions.)

This note  gives a summary of the feedback obtained. It is worth pointing out, particularly to students, that the feedback almost entirely revolved around understanding and skills – grades and marks were not mentioned even once by anyone. It needs to be emphasized to students that short cuts to getting good marks are of no help in careers in these companies – almost all of these companies conduct multiple rounds of tests and interviews to assess the understanding and skills. I hope this feedback from the very places which often constitute dream jobs for students might strengthen the resolve of those students who want to work hard to learn and build their capabilities (the only way!) to continue on their path.

–In Meta/Soft skills, a few skills/capabilities that were highlighted most in various forms are:
  • Ability to quickly learn new concepts, languages, technologies, best practices. As one might expect, in today’s world, continuous up gradation is essential and it is to be expected that whatever one knows may become obsolete soon and so one must have ability to learn. In a high-end technology career (like most knowledge-based careers), ability and desire to learn is critical, along with desire and motivation to keep improving in whatever one is doing.
  • –Problem solving ability. This has many aspects and were variously expressed as: logical and critical thinking; ability to connect new challenges with old problems and past experience; ability to apply diverse/disparate concepts for solving a problem; ability to think at abstract level, and drill down to details; ability to leveraging existing tools and knowledge for problem solving; ability to formulate a problem, thinking of different ways to approach; ability to work with unknowns/ uncertainty ; ability to identify bottlenecks and articulate them well; ability to search for information to fill these unknowns, reduce uncertainty, remove bottlenecks
  • –Communication skills.  Explaining things to others in a clear and structured manner; ability to speak and write with clarity and succinctly.
  • –Team work. Ability to work in teams, which can need skills like taking leadership when needed, but following when required; skills to negotiate and resolve conflicts, work in time constraints and with responsibility, etc,

While the meta/soft skills may be general for any high-end engineering skills, the feedback for technical skills was far more focused for CSE (as the questionnaire was focused on computer science). The list of desired capabilities and skills here is longer and more detailed. Some of the key skills that were highlighted are:

  • –Solid Data Structures and Algorithms. Deep understanding of these subjects, how to combine them, how to find/design suitable ones for a problem, etc. This is not surprising as indeed these are the most foundational topics on which much of CS rests.
  • –Strong in OOPS.  OO Design and principles, subtle aspects of language, strong understanding of the language capability and limitations, its design and implementation,
  • –Good understanding of OS, DBMS, Networks. These subjects were highlighted whose understanding is extremely important on being a successful software engineer for high-end work.
  • –Ability to write well structured and efficient code.  This view was expressed in various ways.  E.g. ability to evaluate efficiency of the code at different levels – algo, DS, execution level (OS), hardware – to reduce memory as well as time; understanding of different layers of the system, and ability to evaluate/assess the program at these different layers
–Various other skills that were pointed out were: ability to leverage libraries from disparate sources and create abstractions on top; good debugging skills; familiarity with different programming paradigms – what they can do, how they are implemented, where they are useful…; understand different situations in which a system can work or fail or may be used; working knowledge of standard tools and IDEs; ability to read others’ code and analyze it, provide feedback on it, work with it / enhance it efficiently; experience of working on a real project (with real delivery and users/customers).

We found these inputs very useful in fine tuning our courses and the type of projects and assignments we give. I hope others find it useful as well. I sincerely hope that students will get the message loud and clear: build these types of skills and capabilities if you want to have a high-end (and well paying) engineering career – and leverage your Institution’s education program and courses effectively towards strengthening these.

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