Interview: Pavithra Seshadri – EEE (2013-2017)

Please state and explain your current profile. If possible,help us understand any previous profiles you’ve worked for.

I completed my BTech in EEE in 2017 and I’m currently in my final year, pursuing an MBA from IIM Bangalore. I recently completed my internship with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and received a PPO from them which I accepted.

Some quick facts about me – I’m an NTSE & KVPY Scholar. In school, I passionately competed in Olympiads and have managed to bag a few national ranks & medals. My hobbies include dance, carnatic music, theatre, cricket and throwball. I have learnt Carnatic music for ten years and Bharatanatyam for twelve. I was a part of the cricket team  in NITT. I’m a part of the IIMB cricket team as well.

I had a strong inclination towards dance in primary school. I was so good at one point of time that my dance teacher suggested I take it up as a profession. However, since I was also good in academics, and my parents are scientists in the Nuclear power plant at Kalpakkam, it was a no-brainer to sideline dance and music as a hobby and focus on an academics. My interests shifted from mathematics to social science to chemistry while I pursued my high school. Unsure of what I wanted to pursue as a career, I ended up taking engineering as it left my options open.

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

I have done many internships during my time at college. Since I wasn’t sure about my interests, I tried to explore as much as I could.

The first internship I did was in the winter of my first year. Acting on a senior’s advice, I approached an ECE professor- Dr. G Lakshminarayanan for a project. He was puzzled initially & asked me what I knew about Electronics. I said I’m here to learn exactly that, and that I will try to understand the basics and come up with a problem statement myself. If he felt that the idea had potential, I would pursue it. This was the phase when I learnt the most. There was no direction, and I could figure out from scratch what I wanted to do. When I finally went to the professor with the problem statement, he was very impressed. He put me to work with an M.Sc student so that the idea, if successful, would accelerate her degree completion. I was always interested in problem solving and worked on this passionately for a month. I actually ended up publishing an IEEE paper. It was a very fruitful and memorable internship.

The next summer, I applied to the Indian Academy of Science fellowship, which opens applications for colleges from all over the country. It is affiliated to a number of colleges like IISc Bangalore, IIT Bombay etc. So a pool of professors from these institutions match and select the students according to their preferences. That summer I interned in IISc Bangalore in Electronics Design. It was a very lab oriented internship in the field of Nanoelectronics. I was a part of a team that was designing lightweight transistors. Electronics is a very sought after branch in IISc. Activities of the scale of 10-40 were being undertaken under microscopes, and I got to handle sophisticated microscopes and equipment worth crores of rupees. It was a beautiful experience, one you very rarely get to have. I was a part of the optimisation part of the project. Half a year later after I had left, the project was completed and I heard they actually had created a world record in creating the ‘world’s lightest transistors’. It was patented and the patent was bought by IBM.

The summer of third year, I was really interested in P&G. I enthusiastically completed their psychometric test received a positive response from the firm. I was to appear for their final interview. Two days before my eagerly awaited interview, SanDisk had its own written test. Around 200 people were writing the test, so I thought I will give it a shot, since I wouldn’t get in anyway as I was not great with electronics. It turned out to be an aptitude paper. On the next day, I got to know that I had done really well  in the aptitude paper and that I was to appear for their final interview in half an hour. I was in a great dilemma. I consulted my mom, who said I should give my best for every interview. Although I had applied for hardware, I was called for the software round first. I got through the round because of my logical puzzle solving skills. I said my main strengths were logic and gate optimisation, both of which I had worked on during my internships. They gave me the job after all. I remember crying the entire day. That was how I got my SanDisk internship.

My 2 months at SanDisk made me realize that I wasn’t really excited to start my career with the firm and I knew that my lost love P&G wasn’t going to come to campus for finals. I also thought I did not have good enough grades to go to a good MS College for electronics, so I started preparing for CAT. I decided to get a PPO in SanDisk so that I get time to prepare for CAT and if CAT doesn’t happen, SanDisk was the next best option left even in finals. So in those two months, I really focused on the work. Most of the work was coding and problem solving, which I always had a flair for. It was a nice experience. I remember one day the Vice President bumped into me and he told me that he had heard about me. He asked me if I wanted to go for higher studies. I wasn’t prepared and ended up speaking my mind and said “I don’t really see the point of going abroad and studying nanotechnology for 2 years and coming back to do PERL scripting here. I think it is a better investment of my time if I spend my time learning the work we do here and making progress rather than studying something else and then coming back to start in a firm from scratch. I would rather spend 2 more years in the firm rather than outside.” He was impressed with my response. He said, not now but anytime in the future, if I ever wanted a job, I’d always have a job in SanDisk. That year, out of the five people who interned in SanDisk,  I was the only one who got the PPO.

The following winter, I applied and got an operations research internship in IIM Ahmedabad. The professor I interned under was the former director of IIM Indore. I was his first intern in his 30+ years as a professor. During this internship I spent a lot of time in the library reading about statistical models and case studies on how they were applied to solve real-life managerial problems. It was this exercise that introduced me to case studies. To get hold of how cases are structured, I took old exhaustive cases studies, went over them to spot the critical data points and reworked them to 2-3 page transcripts. It taught me how to look for the important details in an exhaustive description of any context. He used whatever I wrote for his course materials. This taught me the art of case writing: how to setup a context, identify the problem and establish it, collect data that would support your solution and give actionable recommendations. I eventually got to document a case under him, a rare opportunity I will always be grateful for. The case was to be used as a teaching case in IIM Ahmedabad. Another mind blowing experience, I must confess. After this I shifted focus to CAT.

I was subsequently selected by IIM Bangalore.

What are the soft skills to be acquired to adapt to work culture? Has college equipped you with any of them?

Managing time, crisis management, prioritising tasks, people skills and hard work.

What should students know before taking up management studies?

MBA is surely a boon for those who want to start their own ventures at some point of time. It will give them the necessary tools. MBA in general gives you a taste of a fast paced life and puts you amidst very career oriented peers who teach you so many intangible things. An MBA degree essentially gives a boost to your entry point in the corporate ladder of any firm. For example, if you like electronics, you can still go back to the electronics company that you were working for. You will enter at a higher level in the firm. The higher you go in the corporate ladder, the greater responsibility you are given. Knowing the subject well will now help you guide your team better. People do an MBA to get to a position which will better leverage their ability to handle responsibility. If you can handle more, then why not be given more responsibility?

How to decide between an Indian MBA and one from abroad? Do we need to have a fixed perspective on this during B.Tech?

It’s costly out there. Lot of people take Indian MBA because they want a job in India. Also, MBA is very competitive abroad. Here, you just have to be good at something, there you have to be good in everything.  All the companies, small & big, that come there also come here for the same roles. But you should be ready to work being based in India.

How useful is having work experience before applying for higher studies? Is one year time for work experience enough?

I might be biased but I honestly don’t think work experience is necessary. If you can make the slope of your career growth steeper with an MBA why operate on a smaller slope for 2 years initially? But one of the main advantages of work experience is that it will help you lessen the struggle to adapt to this place. Secondly, in lateral placements (an additional opportunity apart from the summers & finals),  some of the companies that come, ask for work experience. However, it’s not like you will lose out on companies if you don’t have work experience because the same companies come again in the summers as well as finals. Thirdly, it helps build the quality of content in your resume. You will have 2 more years of your life to talk about in that sheet of paper. You will have a better profile and more things to talk about. Also, it is a fair assumption that recruiters can make that if you had taken a choice to do an MBA after 2 years it will be a much more informed choice. And you will be better able to evaluate whether you want to work in an industry/job role or not. Having said this, I don’t think I was at a disadvantage in any way joining IIMB as a fresher and I’m doing great here.

In your opinion, 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?

Most jobs today are not permanent. It, hence, should not be a consideration factor for choice of doing an MBA. But it helps to be aware that post MBA, careers get more performance oriented – you either grow in that industry or you get out.

I would say, don’t just shift for the sake of experimenting. Experiment & explore during internships. The earlier, the better. Shifting jobs post an undergraduate degree makes sense. For example if you work for SanDisk for 2 years, Texas Instruments will easily take you. But in the process, you should be careful to not fall below the quality of work you do now. Shifting jobs should not be a conscious choice. It should happen organically. Do not go with the mentality of wanting it see it all as soon as possible. Before jumping, have the mentality of exploring opportunities in that field.

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

Always keep thinking what’s next. That’s what has kept me going till date. It’s important to stay driven, have a goal at every point in life. One must keep updating it by always thinking what’s next. This will help you find your niche in this world full of opportunities, reach your destination.

In your opinion, what is the extent one should go to find a balance between work satisfaction and monetary satisfaction?

Work satisfaction is very important. To be brutally honest – you should be able to satisfy your ego. You should feel like a valued member of the firm you’re working in. You should feel proud about the firm you are working for and you should feel good about the work you are doing. Money is of course significant but having this feeling about your work, is very important for a stable life and that in my opinion is what one should look for.

Is there any advice you’d give to engineering students? Is there anything students can take away from college genuinely on a qualitative basis?

Explore your interests thoroughly. Everyone has different paths. It is about being your best version of yourself at the end of the day. Always try to think one step further, about what you can do more. Four years of engineering is a golden time to explore yourself, build your character and emerge as a different person. Talk to a lot of seniors, get help, explore with zeal and grab opportunities briskly.

If one plans to pursue management, is it worth learning to code?  If yes, then considering the current scenario, which languages or tools should one begin to work with?

I will answer this question like this: it is not the language that is important.  It is the flair for coding that is. Knowing the way to build an algorithm to solve your problem is more important. Coding really helps because it develops your problem solving skills. Honestly my problem solving skills is one of the major reasons reason I received an offer from BCG. You can hone your problem solving skills in many different ways. But develop the flair for problem solving. Coding I know for a fact helps. So why not pursue it?

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