Interview: Sivaranjini Subramanian (CSE – 2015)

A very brief description of your career profile, research experience and background to date.

I am a graduate of the class of 2015, B.Tech, CSE. I am currently working at Adobe Systems, Bangalore and am an incoming graduate student at King’s College London. I worked at Oracle Hyderabad for about 1.5 years after graduation. Along with my mainstream career, I am also involved with Toastmasters International, Silhouette – a film appreciation group and Jitheshraj Scholarship for promising freshmen.

What are some things about your career path you wish you knew in college, in retrospect?

Just having a job in a reputed company does not entail a career, at least not a successful one. You need to develop the passion, confidence, and discipline to sail through the work pressure, further learnings and lead a balanced life.

What skills should one develop to follow the career path you’ve chosen? Do include courses, internships etc.

My answer is specific to software engineering: involve yourself in a LOT of coding projects. Try and think of the problems in campus/classroom as a coding problem and work on them. Develop a small app to monitor how many days you’ve bunked classes. Develop a website to share class notes. Put your work on GitHub repository: a good list of projects matters more than academic achievements in CS. Participate in ICPC, in GSoC, in any other hobby/open-source project that you find interest in. There are plenty of resources both online as well as via seniors/established alumni who can help you get started down this path.

How can one be sure that a certain career path is right for them? What is a good way to make that decision?

Definition of “right” in the question is subjective. Are we judging “right” based on financial prospects, recognition, challenge or comfort? Each of us has our own metric of “right” but one rule of thumb that helps with these decisions is “Pay attention to what you pay attention to”. Does not matter which branch you are in, what you have done so far etc. What are the things that grab your involuntary attention? What are the things that you find yourself reading about dropping every other task at hand? There might be more than one thing like that. Try to find the common denominator or the field that brings it all together. There is a good chance you belong there.

What do you go for after you obtain your first job? Should you learn the basics of it and continue to grow in it? Or shift to your original “dream job”.

The concept of a “dream job” connotes an end in itself, which is never true. People switch companies/jobs not just because they do not like the profile. Sometimes you are not happy with the pay. Sometimes you do not like your manager or your peer group or the company culture. I know people who did not pursue higher paying jobs because they liked the people they worked with. Sometimes you switch to try something new and/or challenge yourself. Your first switch might not be the only switch you make in your life. But a job switch should be driven by what you deem to be a substantial need. Switching from your job should not be a part of your agenda: I often see students leave college with the notion, “I will work for this company for one year and then leave”. That shows that you are not even ready to see if you might actually enjoy the job/company. If that is the case, instead of doing shoddy work at a job you do not respect, do not take the job in the first place. It will save you and the company a lot of time/resource.

There is nothing wrong with sticking to one company. There is nothing wrong with wanting to switch either. But whatever job you have at hand, give it your best.

How to make (if you need) the very important shift from the first job to the next?

There is no one-guidebook to this. I have seen people switch smoothly in one shot. I have seen people take very many interviews before they land their second job. I personally took a month’s break before even trying for my second job. I realized the things I didn’t give enough importance to back in college (academically) and tried to make up for it during my break – it paid off. You can either play safe or go the length to get what you want.

How useful is your technical knowledge gained at college?

My time at NIT Trichy has taught me a lot of things but technical knowledge was unfortunately not one of them. After beginning my career in the software industry, I realized how the learning culture in our campus is dysfunctional. Even now, technical pursuits do not get as much spotlight/social reward as other student activities. There are negligible ACM-ICPC regionalists every year. Final year projects have rarely produced anything technically rich. Coding clubs on campus are either dormant or engrossed in sexism and/or an illusion of grandeur. The problems women face in STEM are real and it starts from our own campus. Sure, there were some really good coders, but it is a fleeting phenomenon and has not contributed to developing a technical interest as a student culture. The sign of real change will be when the prospect of reaching ACM-ICPC world finals, interning at an established company or publishing a research paper is more alluring and recognized than volunteering for a fest/symposium for any given CS student. (I think this can be translated to other disciplines too)

The nation-wide recognition that NIT Trichy basks in is still a result of the admission process which brings in raw talent and not a result of what the community grooms. Often it is attributed only to the faculty quality but I believe that that is not the full picture. Students and alumni have a long way to go on this front.

What is the extent one should go to find a balance between work satisfaction and monetary satisfaction?

Monetary satisfaction is a necessity and there is no second opinion about it. But that alone will never suffice. People who have jumped from job to job in pursuit of better pay soon lose the trust of their professional network, the motivation for work and ultimately burn out. It is important to recognize when you have enough money.

Why do people get bored (occasionally, even if not always) with the jobs they wanted in the first place?

Any job, even if it is your “dream job” will have its boring and dull and difficult days. So, it is not a choice of which job is not boring but that of which one you find meaningful. (I am reminded of this comics: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/unhappy )

Is there something the T and P cell can do which does not even come under its umbrella currently, but is important?

Encourage students to identify their strengths and pursue their interests. The current T&P structure of placements broadly fits the whole job spectrum into either core-tech or management and the winning criteria becomes exclusively that of the scale of pay. But sometimes, people have other or interdisciplinary interests and there is no one stencil that fits all. Encouraging students to identify their uniqueness and pursuing them will help break the “follow the herd” norm and will bring out the best in students. This can be done through personality tests in the first year of college, exposure to varied exchange, study-abroad, short-term programs, scholarship programs etc. Currently, all focus is concentrated on the pre-final and final year of college, whereas the training needs to start from the first/second year. A student-friendly career guidance cell should be initiated as a part of T&P to work exclusively on this.

What to do after getting placed, i.e. how to not waste time in the final year?

Explore. If you have never done a research project in your life, take up a small one. If you have never traveled solo, learn to travel with limited means. If you are curious about a field like public policy or calligraphy, take a two-month course. Take responsibility for the education of a school kid. College is the phase with a lot of time and resources at your disposal and limited finances. Anything you do during this time (other than slouching away in a hostel or spending money on unnecessary parties) will help you discover a facet of yourself. Getting a job is not and never was the ultimate goal of your education.

How permanent is any choice of career? Do you think one should stick to a particular field or keep changing and experimenting as they grow in the industry?

Differs from person to person. Depending on your interest palette, exposure, financial condition, work environment, peer group and personal clarity, you might end up having a diverse or in-depth work experience through your career. There is no right or wrong way about this.

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