Zealous and Sangfroid : Zia Saquib

Zealous and Sangfroid : Zia Saquib

Afif Janjirkar Harsh Mohan | Nov 19, 2018

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Mr Zia Saquib is an alumnus of NIT Rourkela (then REC Rourkela) from the Department of Electrical engineering, class of 1985. He is currently serving as the Senior Vice President- Technology Innovation and Development at Reliance Jio having previously served as the Executive Director at C-DAC. Alongside NIT Rourkela, his alma maters include FIT, Melbourne, Florida (MSEE) and NIT Surat (Ph.D.). Team Monday Morning corresponded with him where he shared his personal and professional experiences before, during and after his time at NIT Rourkela.   

Monday Morning: Tell us something about your days before joining the erstwhile REC Rourkela? Also, share with us some cherished memories from your childhood.

Zia Saquib: Before joining REC Rourkela I was a student at Government college at Panposh. I lived in Kansbahal where my father worked at L&T. Commuting daily from Kansbahal was a memorable experience. Before that, I studied at St. Pauls School Rourkela where I met the most amazing friends, made connections with legendary teachers and learned how to converse with people.

MM: How did the erstwhile REC happen?

ZS: I was preparing for both IIT-JEE and REC-Entrance exam during my +2 years. I did not think of any other option but to get admission into an IIT or REC. I obtained 36th rank in REC entrance exam in 1981. I was offered seats in REC Jaipur, Kurukshetra, and Rourkela. I chose Rourkela because of proximity to my parents who lived in Kansbahal. Electrical Engineering was my first choice, and I was lucky to get a seat in EE.

MM: Share with us your experiences in the erstwhile REC Rourkela. How important do you think were the four years at REC in your life, both professionally and otherwise?

ZS: REC Rourkela was the best part of my life. I made lifelong friends. It did teach me engineering and beyond. In those days ragging was not banned. I was ragged pretty harshly but in retrospect, my best friends today are those who ragged me back then. REC-Rourkela taught me to be emotionally resilient and independent. I think this trait has stood by me in most difficult of situations so far.

MM: Tell us about your time at NIT Surat while pursuing your Ph.D.

ZS: I was a part-time Ph.D. student at NIT Surat. I was in my 40’s when I chose to pursue Ph.D. It was more of personal ambition than a career decision, but it has certainly enhanced my career prospects. More than technical expertise, a Ph.D. has given me a new perspective to problem-solving.

MM: Elucidate your time at the Florida Institute of technology? What were the significant differences you noticed between your time in India and abroad?

ZS: Florida Institute of Technology was a decision taken out of an ambition of going abroad. I wanted to pursue Computer Engineering but chose Electrical Engineering because of a professor who taught me the importance of knowledge, more than a tag or a degree. I ended up taking 50% courses in computer engineering within my MSEE.

REC was more fun in the sense that there were freedom and formality of education at the same time. We were responsible for doing well, and the teachers also had the onus that we did well. In FIT, the burden was entirely on the students. There was not fixed course requirements. Timings were flexible. We were only required to finish 30 credit hours within a framework. You could take one year or three years to finish your MS. Nobody cared. I took two years. I worked part-time while pursuing my MS because of financial constraints. Between FIT and REC, REC days were more carefree and fun. In REC we were still kids. In FIT we were young adults and expected to take care of our own lives.

MM: We have gathered that you have worked as the Chief Investigator of the project 'Cyber-security of SCADA Systems'. Could you share with us information about your role and experience on the project?

ZS: I was Executive Director at C-DAC and by 2013 had gathered quite an understanding about cybersecurity in Electrical Power Systems. SCADA security was also my topic of research in Ph.D. This combination enabled me to propose a project on SCADA security to the Government of India which was accepted with me being given the responsibility of Chief Investigator.

MM: What are the differences between your career with C-DAC and now at Reliance Jio?

ZS: As Executive Director of C-DAC my role was a combination of an administrator and a technocrat. I spent more than 60% time on administration. I managed more than 300 excellent technical personnel.

In Reliance Jio I am responsible for technology innovation in areas relevant to telecom, retail and government space. Its 100% technical role with almost no administration. Here I manage a smaller team of personnel.

Both jobs have given me an opportunity for self-awareness, self-control and people management.

MM: Could you explain the e-Pramaan Authentication System for the National e-Governance Plan of Govt. of India in which you worked as the architect?

ZS: e-Pramaan was conceived as a national level project for single sign-in and authentication for all the government services online. A more detailed information is available at epramaan.gov.in.

MM: Outside your professional life, what are your hobbies and interest that you like to pursue in your leisure time?

ZS: I am learning to play the Violin as it is my life-long ambition to play the violin in front of an audience. I am also an aero-modeller and I design and fly remote-controlled aircraft with my son.

MM: You have occupied numerous positions of responsibility throughout your career. How did you handle the pressure and the disappointments? What are some of the things that you had to learn along the way?

ZS: Our lives are full of uncertainties and unpleasant events. In spite of your best efforts and intentions, things will not go as you plan. I have learned to accept disappointments not as malevolent as they appear. I have embraced stoicism as my philosophy.

MM: Have you visited the campus recently? If yes then what were the most noticeable changes that caught your eye?

ZS: I visited the REC Rourkela campus in 2010 at silver jubilee celebration of our batch. The campus looks fabulous with many new and tall buildings. I am proud of how REC Rourkela has evolved over the years to be an internationally reputed institution.

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 can be improved?

ZS: The alumni association is very active in many regions. Our alumni are doing well, and some are reputed professionals in their fields. More national level events may be arranged across the country.

MM: How do you keep your spirits high amidst professional pressure?

ZS: I am a practitioner of mindful & body scan meditation that keeps me in high spirits during tough times. I believe in virtue as the only good as in Stoicism.

MM: A person of your stature can be easily searched online and researched upon, keeping your every available online description aside, how would you describe yourself?

ZS: I am grateful to my alma mater REC Rourkela for imparting life skills in addition to technical education. I am a regular person with a certain level of control over my life. However, I am open to uncertainties and I do not get cowed down by them.

MM: What advice would you like to give to the current aspiring generation of engineers?

ZS: Do not plan too much into the future (say beyond five years) as life has a habit of throwing punches at you. Have goals but be flexible to accept alternatives. In the end, things will work out in the way they should.

I will be glad to interact with the students at NIT Rourkela any time. For career or otherwise.

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