Why You Should Not Do An Undergrad in Computer Science at IIT Madras

I did my undergrad in Computer Science and Engineering at IIT Madras. My parents wanted me to study Electrical Engineering, but I had liked programming back in school, and my JEE rank “normally” “implied” Computer Science and Engineering. So I just went with the flow and joined the course. In the short term, I liked some subjects, so I was happy with my decision. Moreover there was a certain aura associated with CS students back in IITM, and I was happy to be a part of it. In the medium term too, the computer science degree did open doors to a few jobs, and I’m happy for that. And I still didn’t regret my decision.

Now, a full seven years after I graduated with my Bachelors, I’m not so sure. I think I should’ve gone for a “lighter” course, but then no one told me. So the thing with a B.Tech. in Computer Science and Engineering at IIT Madras is that it is extremely assignment incentive. Computer Science is that kind of a subject, there is very little you can learn in the classroom. The best way to learn stuff is by actually doing stuff, and “lab” is cheap (all you need is a bunch of computers) so most courses are filled with assignments. Probably from the fourth semester onwards, you spend most of your time doing assignments. Yes, you do end up getting good grades on an average, but you would’ve worked for it. And there’s no choice.

The thing with an Undergrad is that you are clueless. You have no clue what you’re interested in, what kind of a career you want to pursue, what excites you and the stuff. Yes, you have some information from school, from talking to seniors and stuff, but still it’s very difficult to KNOW when you are seventeen as to what you want to do in life. From this perspective, it is important for your to keep your options as open as they can be.

Unfortunately most universities in India don’t allow you to switch streams midway through your undergrad (most colleges are siloed into “arts” or “engineering” or “medicine” and the like). IIT Madras, in fact, is better in that respect since it allows you to choose a “minor” stream of study and courses in pure sciences and the humanities. But still, it is impossible for you to change your stream midway. So how do you signal to the market that you are actually interested in something else?

One way is by doing projects in areas that you think you are really interested in. Projects serve two purposes – first they allow you to do real work in the chosen field, and find out for yourself if it interests you. And if it does interest you, you have an automatic resume bullet point to pursue your career on that axis. Course-related projects are fine but since they’re forced, you have no way out, and they will be especially unpleasant if you happen to not like the course.

So why is CS@IITM a problem? Because it is so hectic, it doesn’t give you the time to pursue your other interests. It doesn’t offer you the kind of time that you need to study and take on projects in other subjects (yeah, it still offers you the 3 + 1 months of vacation per year, when you can do whatever you want, but then in the latter stages you’re so occupied with internships and course projects you’re better off having time during the term). So if you, like me, find out midway through the course that you would rather do something else, there is that much less time for you to explore around, study, and do projects in other subjects.

And there is no downside to joining a less hectic course. How hectic a course inherently is only sets a baseline. If you were to like the course, no one stops you from doing additional projects in the same subject. That way you get to do more of what you like, and get additional bullet points. All for the good, right?

After I graduated, IIT Madras reduced its credit requirement by one-twelfth. I don’t know how effective that has been in reducing the inherent workload of students but it’s a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, if you are going to get into college now, make sure you get into a less hectic course so that the cost of making a mistake in selection is not high.

Alco Haalu

Does anyone know why the colloquial name for liquor in Kannada is “oil” (eNNe) while the corresponding word in Tamil is “water” (thaNNi)?

Is there some kind of a caste/class origin to it, with me being biased given that most Tamilians I know are upper caste/class, and that there is a different colloquial word that is in vogue among other classes? Because “eNNe” has more of a working-class feel to it (the name, that is), and one that has been appropriated by all sections of society.

While on the topic, I learn that the Gult word for alcohol is medicine (mandu)!! Fantastic!

What is the colloquial name for alcohol in your language, and what does it mean? Put it down in the comments here.

PS: and does anyone know why alcohol bottles are sold in black polythene covers? Never seen these things being used elsewhere so if you see a black polythene cover you know there’s a good probability it’ll contain a bottle of alcohol

MBA specializations

During some casual conversation earlier this evening, I realized that I get irritated when people talk about ‘MBA finance’ or ‘MBA marketing’. I realized that I feel like not continuing the conversation when someone asks me my MBA specialization. Later I spoke to Baada about this, and he too agreed about the lack of respect for the counterparty when this topic gets mentioned.

I think it has to do with a lot of people assuming that “MBA” is just a set of courses that one does in order to become a manager. Maybe they assume that one can become a manager in a particular domain by reading a set of books. Maybe they think that an MBA is just like any other course where you get “knowledge” rather than change your way of thinking (ok a lot of people say MBA is useless and suchlike but my MBA certainly changed the way I think).

Or maybe it’s just that people find it easier to classify. Sometimes people overdo it, to the point of stereotyping. I’m reminded of my last company which worked on two kinds of products (let’s call them Product A and Product B – details are, er, classified). I started off doing a bit of A and soon I became “Associate for A”. Soon, I started doing some other stuff, which would easily fall under B. Yet, the CEO kept referring to me as “Associate for A”. It was ridiculous, but somehow he couldn’t get this classification out of his head – even when most of my time was spent doing B.

Anyways, point I’m trying to make is that people are used to classifications in education. For example, in engineering you have electrical, mechanical, etc. – all very easy. Similarly in postgrad for medicine – you can easily classify as ‘eye’, ‘bone’, etc. So isn’t it the duty of “management” also to get duly classified? And it did help the classifiers that there were three or four major areas in which most MBAs sought employment, and this made classification convenient.

Most local MBA colleges use this “specialization” funda to optimize on the number of electives that they need to offer. From a couple of interactions¬† with people from local MBA colleges, I found that they had very few electives – the major choice that they had was in specialization. And once you picked your specialization, your set of courses would get more or less frozen which made it easy for the college to organize.

Some local MBA colleges seem to have taken this specialization thing to ridiculous levels. The other day, one of my cousins had come to me for career gyaan and he said “I’m wondering whether to do an MBA in Aviation or an MBA in media”. I completely lost it at that point and blasted him and asked him to work before thinking of an MBA. Hopefully the current bust will take care of such ridiculousness that exists in the colleges.

Even a large number of good colleges had this “specialization” funda. I’m told that IIMC had this funda of “major” where if you took five electives in a particular area, that would go on your degree certi as a “major”. However, I’ve never heard anyone from IIMC (even from those days when this classification existed) describing themselves as a “MBA in XXX”.

Anyway, the next time you ask me what my specialization was during my MBA, you’ll make sure that I lose all respect for you.