An Architecture graduate from NITT Batch of 2012, Rishabh Gupta worked at Morphogenesis for 3 years before turning to freelance. He is currently pursuing his MBA at York University- Schulich School of Business.
Could you explain your current profile? Do state your past profiles/experience if any.
I’m currently doing an MBA from York University- Schulich School of Business and will be graduating this year. Before this, I was an architect at Morphogenesis, one of the largest architectural firms in India. I worked mostly on projects that were housing related, for example – I worked on the Adani township in Shantigram. I was associated with the project until the end of its design phase.
I had interned in Morphogenesis while in college and was selected to work there for another 3.5 years. In October 2015, I left my job and became a freelance architect for a year. It was during this time that I decided to an MBA from abroad. Freelancing helped me not just do the projects that I was interested in, it also gave me time to prepare for GMAT.
What kind of skills did college equip you with? How did they help you later in your career?.
Being in college, you learn a lot of very important technical skills, like AutoCAD and sketching. I was also the Unit Secretary of NIT Trichy at NASA (USEC) during my time in college. We won the trophy that year. This was a great experience for me in terms of leading a team. It helped me learn networking skills too, which is how I landed my internship.
How does one do this networking?
You have to reach out to people, find out who works there. Not just at my company, but a lot of architecture and design firms. Go to their websites, write them emails. Networking and hands-on leadership skills were my main take away from college.
You’ve associated yourself with CRY as a teacher and a mentor, and you’ve also done volunteering work in Nepal as a part of All Hands Volunteers, where you were part of a team that rebuilt an earthquake-hit school. What kind of impact did this experience have on you?
Architecture is a very collaborative profession and you tend to interact with all kinds of people on the job. But you generally collaborate with people of the same background and education, so communication is easy. Working with CRY gave me an experience of interacting with all kinds of people, coming from different backgrounds. It was a unique experience, apart from the fact that it feels really good doing social work. I needed a purpose beyond work and it gave me something worthwhile to do during my weekends.
Once I had finished all my design commitments, I had around 2 months before I went for an MBA. This was when I decided to go to Nepal to do some volunteering work during the earthquake with All Hands, where we helped build a school. It was an intense and rewarding experience for me. I was given a lot of responsibility because I was an architect, the whole experience taught me a lot about teamwork. We did all the work, from making the concrete to building the foundation and the base camp for volunteers, so it was a really enriching experience. Organisations like All Hands are very open to accepting volunteers – they need volunteers, so it is not very hard to get selected once you contact them.
What made you pursue a career in management after architecture? What kind of advantages/jobs are open to this path?
I have always been interested in business. I applied to some architecture schools also, but I wasn’t very sure about it. I really wanted to learn something more, which made me wanted to do an MBA. While I was working, I started investing my money in the stock market, which also got me interested in this field. I also wanted to develop a ‘T-shaped knowledge structure’ – which is essentially a deep understanding of one subject, and a working understanding of a lot of other fields, which makes you innovative and cross-functional. The whole MBA experience was very helpful. I just followed my interests.
I’m currently looking at avenues that are both design and business related , so design and product management companies would really covet this profile. These companies like Microsoft, that have done very innovative things and are always looking for people with different backgrounds. Working in this profile increases your associative thinking and ability to innovate.
I’m also very big on sustainability and the concept of ‘Human-centric design’, which involves understanding your customer and learning what you actually need of them, doing ethnographic surveys, understand their needs, observing and design a solution to their problem. You essentially put the customer at the centre – the product of design thinking.
Another avenue I’m interested is to be involved with smart cities, which is something I really look forward to working on.
What are the challenges you’ve faced learning these new skills and adapting to new environments?
There are challenges having uncertainties about what I want to do. Being an engineer and choosing to do an MBA is a proven path, but it’s not the same with architecture. To make the decision and overcoming the uncertainty was difficult because not many people have done it before.
While doing an MBA, getting my point across was a little difficult sometimes because there aren’t many people with a design background. Getting on the same page with people of different backgrounds and cultures is challenging. My parents were very supportive of my career choices. Leaving the comfort of a good work environment and a secure job was a little hard.
How did your work experience help you with your MBA?
It didn’t help much while preparing for GMAT, because that’s usually your own effort, revising English and 10th standard math. Job experience, however, does matter while applying to B-schools. Having around 3 years of experience did help me get a good program. Being an architect also made my profile stand out, giving me the diversity MBA programs look for.
What kind of work has been done in sustainability and smart cities in India?
There are opportunities in India, it is a picking up. There is a smart city council that has been created, the work is in very nascent stages. This is a field that’s predicted to grow so much. We’d be a population of 9 billion by 2030, and we do need to look at smart cities as a technological solution. If someone from architecture or any field wants to work for smart cities, a course on Urban Planning or Urban Design would really help. I’m sure it’ll pick up soon in India, as this is an area that is very cross-disciplinary.
Is there something you wished you knew in college? Are there some issues with the quality of education at NIT Trichy that you’d like to address?
In retrospect, it would have been nice if I realized I was interested in other non-architecture options in college. If I had that kind of education before, it would have been nice. If I knew how big a role networking plays, I believe I’d have done that even more. There should be some international component too, there should be options to collaborate, do semesters abroad and gain wider exposure. These really help you open your mind and I’d really like to see something like that in NITT.
In my time, the syllabus was very outdated. It helped us build a foundation, but we wasted so much of time. What we did in 5 years could easily be done in 3 years, I think. I learnt this when I went to work at Morphogenesis, where a lot of people did their bachelors programme abroad. They finished their bachelors in 3 years and did their M.Arch in 2 years, the same time it takes us to finish just our bachelor’s degree! They were far more capable than us. A lot of the syllabus was mediocre and time-wasting. Moreover, we are moving towards a time of technological advancement. Some of the material (like earthquake resistance and such) is from the 70s and 80s, where despite the basics being the same, technology has really developed. Even software wise, we were only taught CAD, when so many other softwares are being used in design. We should be taught more softwares. Our counterparts from other universities are very proficient with these softwares, which gives them a definite advantage. One good thing about NITT is that the students are smart, so we learn things faster. But yes, the syllabus NEEDS to be updated.
Is there anything you’d like to add? Some advice?
People from NITT aren’t okay with dealing with uncertainty and dealing with failure.
It is important to know how to make decisions without full surety. Without being able to see the whole picture.
The uncertainty makes a lot of people hold back. They’d rather play it safe and not explore despite being really smart. Overcoming this fear of uncertainty is really simple. You have to take chances.
In NIT most people who came are toppers, who’ve studied well and achieved what they want. Whenever they come across a situation they’re not excelling, they get very put off. Our ability to cope with failure isn’t very good. Experimentation is key today, and the chances of failure also increase. Overcoming that fear of failing and coping with failure should be something we should learn to do.