An Epistle of Commitment: Ajay Kumar Behera
Team MM caught up on a rainy evening with one of our illustrious alumni of the erstwhile 90’s. A post-graduate of the 1995 batch of Mechanical Engineering, he is currently serving as the Manager, Prognostic System Lab at GE Global Research. Recently on a campus as a part of a recruitment contingent, he shares his experience, his struggles and sheds some light on his path to success. Read on to know his views on life, success mantras, and happenings in the world of R&D.
MM: Could you recollect some of your best memories from your childhood? Share with us experiences of your hometown, before REC happened.
AKB: I hail from Kurujanga Cuttack, where I received my primary education until the 5th grade. Thereafter, I came to Rourkela and finished shooling from Ispat High Schoool.I completed my higher secondary from Ispat College before making my inroads through the entrance examination to UCE, Burla, where I pursued my bachelor’s degree. REC was the final step, where I continued my Master studies.
MM: You did your Masters in Engineering from REC. How important do you think those two years were for your career?
AKB: I was very fortunate to complete my master degree as I had to leave a public sector job (Bharat Electronics) during this tenure of two-years. It certainly played a key role in my entire career. It gave me an advantage in cracking the public sector examinations like BE, IPCL, BHEL etc and helped me to solve technical problems at work. Master degree is what really helped me to get into GE Global Research, where minimum qualification required a Masters. It also helped me to propel my career in GE from a research scientist to a consulting data and analytics scientist in a decade span. It also gave provided an advantage, helping me crack public sector examination like IPCL.
MM: You have worked with Indian Petrochem Corp, Reliance Industries before joining GE. How would you describe your experiences in your initial days in your workplace?
AKB: My initial days at Petrochem Corp were extremely challenging. I joined as a part of the Project and Commissioning team in IPCL, Dahej, Gujarat in 1995 where we built and commissioned two new Petrochemical plants from scratch. I was one of the core team members to implement SAP across the plant. Reliance took over the plant in 2002, and I continued my association with Reliance till 2004, following which I joined General Electric.
MM: From your experience as a recruiter, how prepared do you think are the students for the MNCs’ like GE?
AKB: I believe, given the current scenario students are very capable of getting into industries like GE. We have selected few candidates for GE Power Business as well. GE also has multiple businesses like Aviation, Power, Transportation, and R&D. R&D prefers specific skills where masters and/or doctorate candidates have great opportunity to work with industrial research on specific domains. For R&D job, it needs a lot of fundamental understanding of the subject.
MM: How was your experience as the Senior Engineer, and then as the Manager in GE GRC, Bangalore?
AKB: As a research scientist, I primarily worked in the area of predictive analytics and advanced sensing applications. As a research engineer, I worked with a multidisciplinary team to develop the technology for a product called as Blade Health Monitoring, to monitor the health of compressor blades. This product has found applications in more than 100 turbines across the globe. We have over 10 patents, in this technology. That's how as a research engineer invests time in understanding the fundamentals, learning and applying technology for developing innovative products.
Then I took over a managerial role, with the additional responsibility to handle a team. I used to work with a team of 10-20 people. I primarily focused on the new areas and new technologies, that we were going to develop and their delivery to their target customers. I think it was the most challenging job in my entire career because instead of depth of the subject, you are focusing on the entire breadth of technologies, let it be aviation, power, transportation, oil and gas, healthcare and more. Understanding and grasping the technology and delivering the solution for such business needs was really challenging but was the most enjoyable part of the job.
Since the last two years, I have again moved from a managerial position to a more technical role, as a Consulting Engineer in Big Data Analytics. It is an emerging field with lots of challenges, and GE is venturing to produce digital solutions for these. This is how I would describe my experience with GE.
MM: How recently did you visit the institute? What changes did you observe on our campus, and what is your impression of the current NITR in contrast with your previous experience?
AKB: I visited NITR 6 or 7 years ago, with a good friend of mine. It was amazing to see such tremendous growth. I think I am thrilled with the way it has grown. One thing I noted is that the level of expertise of students, at least the ones I interacted with, and the way they presented themselves, the work they are doing is far advanced than what we used to do. That is something I really liked.
MM: What is your take on the role of alumni for an institute of national importance like ours? How do you think the present scenario of alumni interaction in our institute can be improved?
AKB: I think the interaction can definitely help the student community in multiple ways. Primarily it is helpful in guiding the students, mentoring them, which is much needed for their exposure to the industry. In addition, when someone needs help at foreign places, alumni can certainly help them. Maybe in terms of infrastructure, network or guidance, alumni can offer any form of the above assistance.
MM: According to you, how can we improve our alumni relations, any specific suggestions on your part?
AKB: I think we should have a unified group, with an efficient communication mechanism, so far I think an effective group is missing. Nowadays we have many means to stay connected, be it WhatsApp, Facebook or Group mail. In addition, there should be a communication in a periodic rhythm like during events etc.
MM: You have occupied prestigious positions of responsibility throughout your career. How do you handle the pressures, expectations, and disappointments?
AKB: This is a very interesting question. I think it is in the way I typically take a decision. Obviously, when you take a decision, it may be good or bad, the consequences of which are unknown to you at that time. Only time can tell the difference, that your decisions will make. As long as I am fair, and not biased, I believe in my decision and stand by it. At times, you need the support of your superiors, when there are conflicts and challenges. It is equally important that you stay connected with the right set of stakeholders, like your manager or your HR, or your counterparts. As long as there are 3 or 4 helping you take a collective decision, you can handle a situation.
MM: You have come a long way in your career. What are some of the lessons you had to learn along the way?
AKB: I think for each individual, the lessons are different. One thing I believe in is hard work; there is no substitute for that. Second is passion, you do what you believe and you have to pursue that. The third thing is staying updated with the latest technology. It is difficult to fathom the way changes are happening rapidly and your knowledge becomes irrelevant if you do not keep up with the technology in the area you come from. You must keep up the pace with the advancements, which are all different in different areas.
MM: What are the positive changes you expect when you return to the institute in future?
AKB: I think the first and foremost thing you look forward to is the industry interaction, how much exposure the students receive to the corporate and manufacturing sector. Are they equipped to handle the needs of the industries? How can they engage with various internship programs, and really interact with the business and get to work on the business challenges? These are certain aspects that the students can really work on. What makes the fundamental difference is that students learn before they go to the industries or R&D or any other field.
MM: On a concluding note, would you give a few lines of inspiration for our readers?
AKB: Believe in what you like and do it passionately. Do not do anything half-heartedly if you want to achieve it. There is no shortcut to success. Understand the fundamentals. Like what you do, with passion fuelling your drive towards your goals.