Alumni Interview – Abhijat Sharma

How did you decide what you want to do after graduating?
I spoke very often to my elder cousins and college seniors about whatever they were doing after graduating in computer science. When I talked to the people who were working as software professionals in various multi-national companies, I learned about their work culture and daily routine, and got a basic feeling that It would be very difficult for somebody like me to survive in that kind of a job. Meanwhile, during my last 2 years at IIIT-H, I developed a keen interest in theoretical computer science, as I completed a lot of advanced courses related to the topic and talked to some research scholars at CSTAR.

I had previously been fond of courses like algorithms and formal methods that involved a large amount of mathematics in their underlying concepts. Therefore, as I studied more and more about these areas, I figured that 4 years was not enough for me to satisfy all my curiosity, and I decided to give myself some more years of research to thoroughly explore the depths of theoretical computer science.

What are you currently doing?
When I was unsuccessful in my M.S applications for Fall 2013, I took up a software engineering job that I was offered during campus placements but decided to give it another shot. Thus, I was working independently on a research area in graph theory, under the guidance of Prof. Kannan Srinathan. Therefore, I applied again to a lot of M.S/ PhD applications, both in India and abroad and when I received my first admit, I quit my job after around 10 months of experience. Thereafter, I have been attending some interviews for admissions to research programs in Indian universities.

How was the admission process at IISC? Which entrance exams did you write and how did you prepare for them?
IISc has 2 kinds of post-graduate programs for B.Tech grads, one is M.E that is similar to M.Tech and is mostly curriculum based, the other being M.Sc(Engg,) and Integrated PhD programs that are focused around research primarily. The M.E admissions are directly through GATE, where as the research programs involve a series of entrance examinations followed by a personal interview. I am joining the M.Sc(Engg.) program at the Department of Computer Science and Automation. I appeared for both GATE and JEST, but I qualified for the interviews based on my JEST score. The preparation for the GATE exam is very similar to preparing for your placements as you have to brush up the basic concepts of all major topics of computer science and practice a lot of previous years question papers. JEST, on the other hand is a very specific exam, that involves both objective and subjective questions that test your basic knowledge in theoretical computer science, involving topics like algorithms, theory of computation, discrete mathematics etc. So, preparing for JEST involves thoroughly revisiting the course textbooks such as Cormen for algorithms, Sipser for TOC and other similar books that strengthen your basic knowledge in these areas.

How important or necessary do you think is a good CG?
A good CG definitely forms a very necessary and important part of your graduate profile, if not the most important. Do not let anybody else tell you otherwise, or you would be making the same mistake I made. When anybody looks at your resume, irrespective of whether they are recruiting for a company or managing graduate admissions at some university, your CGPA is the first thing that grabs their attention, and contributes significantly to the first opinion they make of you. Now, if somebody has a good CG, he might even pass with an average profile otherwise, whereas when your CG is below average, you have to show a very extraordinary profile otherwise to compensate for it. But after you have got your first job or a post-graduate degree, your undergraduate CGPA no longer holds any value; it is just another number like your score in the 12th boards.

What’s your opinion on dual degrees? At IIIT-H specifically?
If at the time of joining an undergraduate program, you are sure In your mind that you will be pursuing a masters degree eventually, then you definitely must go for a dual degree. It saves you a lot of time and effort, which you spend in freshly applying for masters after graduating. But, you must carefully consider the institute that is granting you a dual degree as you might want to go to a better university for your masters. At IIIT-H, however, the dual degree is a tad-bit different from the 5 yr B.Tech+M.Tech programs in other Indian universities. A lot of institutes offer an independent M.S(Reseacrh) program, but I have not heard of any other institute that offers a B.Tech + M.S(Research) dual degree program. This raises two issues, firstly whether this would be aptly recognized as a masters degree, and secondly it tends to extend beyond the standard duration of 5 yrs. Both the issues will be resolved as the institute gains some more years of good reputation that it has been building over the last few years.

Any fun,memorable experiences you want to share?
Everybody’s college life is incomplete without some awkward and funny experiences. I was infamous in my batch for missing a large number of classes, especially those that were held at 8:30 AM in the morning. So, I was largely dependent on my roommates or neighbors in my wing, for making it to the 8:30 class. As I mostly remained in a semi-conscious state during that hour, I have only been told by those unlucky souls, what they went through when they tried to wake me up. Sometimes, when they managed to wake me up at 8:35, I would go back to sleep saying that I didn’t want to disrespect the professor by showing up late. Ironically, I didn’t show any more respect to the faculty by sleeping in my bed when the class was going on.

Which teachers have you been most inspired by at IIIT-H?
It is the eminent and well-distinguished faculty that sets IIIT-H apart from its counterparts in computer science education. I have acquired valuable guidance and knowledge from all my professors during my stay at IIIT-H. I leant a lot of technical lessons from my professors but during my interactions with Dr. Kannan Srinathan, I learnt many valuable philosophical lessons too. Apart from the fact that, I had a special interest in all the topics that he taught us, I was also a TA under him for 2 semesters. It was primarily his lectures that raised my curiosity in those topics, and inspired me to study them further. He had a very different kind of devotion to his subject and a unique outlook on research. I was denied an honors project because of insufficient CG, but he told me that it was not necessary to be an honors student to pursue research, and that is how I came about working with him for almost 3 yrs to build a decent background of research that would help me in my future endeavors.

What are your areas of interest?
I am primarily interested in cryptography and information security. These are based on concepts from complexity theory, computability theory and discrete mathematics.

What advice would you give to students who want to pursue research?
My advice for those who want to pursue research would be the same as for anybody who aspires to do anything else – ‘Whatever you do, do it for the right reasons’. It is a false notion that a career in research is not economically very fruitful. Every top company is setting up a research lab now as they realize the importance of thinking more than implementing. And once you have established yourself, proved yourself as a pioneer in any specific area of research, you become an indispensable asset to the society, and any institution would want to lay their hands on you. Then, you can work on your own terms, live your life the way you always wanted and the best part, you would be working on something you have always enjoyed studying about. But, before you set out in the world of research, the most important thing is that you should be absolutely clear in your mind, as to why do you want to do research, and then there is nothing in this world that can stop you from doing what you want. Wish all of you all the best in your lives!!

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