She has achieved what many vie for. She has so many laurels in her kitty: she is the Google Student Ambassador of the year, the Joint Secretary at Training and Placement Cell, and one of the brains behind the widely popular online cryptic hunt: Treasherlocked. But she is as down-to-earth as one can imagine to be. Team MM had some candid discussion with Smriti Singh, about her life and journey at NIT Rourkela.
MM: How has been your journey and life at NIT Rourkela?
Smriti: It has been a roller coaster ride, good actually. I have been able to achieve some of my goals, the basic ones. It has been a learning process. I have learnt a lot from this place; not just the classroom learning, the kind of learning that you can take from the institute, how to grab the opportunities and how to deal with the people. I learnt to be patient and considerate, make and care for your friends.
MM: Microsoft Campus Club has gone a long way under your leadership. The widely successful Treasherlocked is your and Dhruv Joshi’s brainchild. How would you describe this experience?
Smriti: You must have heard of Segreta, the online cryptic hunt of Techfest, IIT Bombay. Their competition is on a huge scale, and a lot of people take part, so we decided to do something on the similar lines, but focus more on technical questions. We formed a team to conduct the entire stuff. We have Dilip Raj Baral, who is very talented. We are blessed to have him; he designed the interface. So, we didn’t have to worry about that part. Then we have Mohd Suleman, who helped us with the website hosting. And, apart from that, the whole club contributed the questions. I and Dhruv made some of the questions. We wanted it to be interesting enough for the people. We had more than 2000 participants from all over India. This year we had more participation from outside Rourkela.
MM: How do you manage time, juggling between academics and extra-academics?
Smriti: (Laughs) Now, I have to very careful answering this question. Well, after coming over here, I didn’t stop studying. Probably because I had many favourite subjects. I liked physics the best. I wanted to read space science when I was at school. I like to keep myself busy in doing things that I love and believe in. I think we all have enough time apart from academics to pursue our interests and club activities.
MM: Why did you decide to take up engineering?
Smriti: Look, it happens with almost everybody: you want to study something, but end up in something else. I liked computer science, so I went for it here. I think government is giving a lot of emphasis on engineering right now and we are getting a lot of funds. Also, studying engineering is considered very prestigious. My interest in computer science started at school; we had BASIC and LOGO in junior classes and C/C++ in senior secondary school. And also it wasn’t monotonous as compared to many other subjects. Your decision is heavily influenced by your parents then. Had someone shown me the prospects of other subjects, maybe I could have chosen something else. Also, the professional growth level is higher for engineers, if you become a good one.
MM: You belong to the first batch of Dual Degree students. Is your Bachelors’ life any way different from the others who pursued four-year-course?
Smriti: It is different. See, for the first three years it’s the same. I made many friends. But then, in the fourth year, you see many of your friends getting placed all you can do is “yay!” and be happy for them. You cannot sit for the placements, but you get an idea from them, how this system works. A lot of my good friends are not there in the institute and I miss them. Because now, what happens in Masters’ is that, you have two subjects in first semester and this semester, we have only projects. I kind of wish that we had classes, with all my friends. We have our placements now and this is the time we the need support of our friends. But then they aren’t here! We get stipends in the final year which acts as some compensation.
MM: How do you think NIT Rourkela has changed in the five years of stay? How have you evolved as a person?
Smriti: Infrastructure wise, a lot. I wish it changed in terms of syllabus; there is nothing new in the stuff we study. In my department, I wish many other important and contemporary subjects were introduced. I believe there should be some students in the syllabus setting committee and take our opinion as well. A couple of new subjects have been introduced, but then some heavily theoretical archaic subjects have been done away with. In the first year, we study a lot of unnecessary subjects. Instead of just optional electives, we should have some autonomy on choosing the subjects we want to study. So, I think, by the time we go for internships, we hardly know anything. The population has increased and the condition of internet is worsening day by day.
Well, the institute helped me to change into a more responsible person. Having really good and motivating friends brings about a positive change in a person. The Training and Placement work has helped me in my team work and managerial skills.
MM: What are some of your fondest memories in NIT Rourkela?
Smriti: The day I got placed. I got a job offer from Unisys in the morning and the same night I also came to know that Teradata had hired me as well. That was my happiest moment. My winter internship at IPTSE Bangalore (CMU) was the best learning experience for me, to be able to learn and work with the brightest minds. I had some good moments at the GSA program at Pune where I got to meet a few Googlers, get to know them and had amazing fun.
MM: How has been your experience with Rotaract Club?
Smriti: I was very shy in my first year. Not too street smart types. Probably, I was a much simpler version of what I am right now! (Chuckles) When I joined this institute, I wanted to enhance my personality and interact with people in a better way. I had a stage fear. I wanted to improve myself. So, I found it fun, and got to know more people. I got to break the inhibitions and express myself in a better way. Also, the seniors were very supportive and helpful. I found them very amicable and become good friends with them. I learnt a lot of things from them.
MM: You became the Google Student Ambassador this year. Please tell us more about this experience.
Smriti: The Google Student Club has been there from last year. You see, D Yogendra Rao became the Google Student Ambassador and it is kind of a duty of an ambassador to form a club and conduct activities. I became the ambassador this year. There hadn’t been much activities last year, so we decided to conduct one this year. We conducted the Droidfest and I think it was moderately successful. We were given resources and option to choose between two workshops: Android or Google Cloud. We thought Android is more popular among the crowd and we got some help from the Google Developers’ Group (GDG), Bhubaneswar. They happily helped us out with the lectures. You cannot learn Android in two days, but as a head start, it was, I think, a satisfactory one.
MM: There are so many clubs in the institute and managing time is hard. What is your opinion about this?
Smriti: I think it’s better to stay in a couple of clubs and work for it sincerely than to have your name in ten different ones. For me, the only clubs where I have been significantly active are Microsoft Campus Club, Rotaract Club and this year, the Google Students’ Club. I was interested in D361, but then I thought I couldn’t handle all the workload. I really wanted to join Monday Morning even! (Chuckles) But, I missed the induction poster and wasn’t able to join. So, when my brother came over here, I really insisted him to be a part of this team.
MM: Being of the TAs, you taking the C++ lab for the first years. How do feel returning to the same laboratory, albeit with a reversal of roles?
Smriti: It’s really fun and kind of reminds of the old days. We generally take up the doubt clearing sessions and try our best to make the concepts clear. Many of them are not from computer science background, and I cannot imagine how tough it must be for them. You understand the stuff faster if you have knowledge beforehand. We have to evaluate them out of ten. We check the approach and how they handle the problems. We have to do a lot of running around. You feel like a rock star! (Laughs) “Oh! This problem? It’s a piece of cake” because it's easy for me, but not for them. But I like teaching them.
MM: Any regrets that you have?
Smriti: Not being able to take part in competitive programming much. I’ve always wanted to do well in that area.
MM: You are the Joint-Secretary of Training and Placement Cell. What are your job responsibilities?
Smriti: The members that you see at T&P cell; not all of them wanted to be there. Because, at the end of the pre-final year, your only aim is to get the best job for yourself, not everyone. You have to be very selfless to handle the responsibility and devote a lot of time. I was cold feet at many times. We cannot just think about ourselves. We have some targets; get a hundred companies, a thousand job offers. We have reached about 70-75% of our target.
As the Joint Secretary at T&P, my responsibilities include: act as liaison between the institute placement cell and the campus recruitment teams of companies, schedule the campus visits, and arrange logistics and coordinated with students for the on-campus recruitment process. We divide and coordinate the work.
We have a pretty big team of around 25 members: the Placement Coordinators of all B. Tech, Dual Degree, M. Tech, M.A., M.B.A. and M.Sc.
You get a lot of blessings of the people.
You put some extra effort, bring some more companies and a lot people get placed in that, of course, the credit goes to you.
You feel that inner happiness that you have done something really worthwhile.
MM: What are your comments on the placement scenario of NITR?
Smriti: This year’s placement has been going well, *touch wood*. Especially for circuital and mechanical branches. We have crossed last year’s mark already and we are still in January and many more companies coming up. We have got 700+ job offers and a lot of internship offers as well.
Being the dual degree PC, I would say: Most good companies offer to recruit dual degree students as well (at least in the case of circuital branches), barring only a few companies. A few companies offer higher package for the Masters students, especially the R&D divisions. Having said that, at the end of the day, it all depends on the talent of the student and how well he/she has invested his/her time on the campus.
MM: What are your plans after your Masters’?
Smriti: I am taking the job at Teradata. I have not ruled out the prospect of higher studies. But before that, I would like some work experience. It will be exhausting for me. I want to understand and handle outside world jobs. But right now, I just don’t want to spend my time studying again. If I feel the need after that, I may go for it. Another course of studying will be very monotonous and a long stretch. I may end up not being productive.
MM: What message would like to convey to your juniors?
Smriti: Make the most out of what this institute has to offer to you. Involve yourself in online self-study and also keep in mind that the extra-curricular activities have a lot of importance and bring about a lot of change in you. Most importantly, value the whole learning process more than grades. Being a part of a club of your interest is the best use of your “hobby time”.
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