Priyanshu Singh: The Coding Legacy
One of the finest coders that NITR has ever witnessed, Priyanshu Singh is the first to feature in the series of Final Year Interviews for the academic session 2015-16. A humble and good natured person, not only was he the tech head of the Microsoft Campus Club, he has bagged some of the most coveted internships in companies like Amazon and CodeNation. He is the one who took competitive coding to the next level in NITR. Team MM caught up with him on a lazy Saturday afternoon at Jo’z Kitchen to know the secret behind his success story.
MM: Tell us about your childhood and your early days before NITR
PS: Originally, I'm from Kanpur. My teachers used to say that I was a very naughty kid, and I have often been busted for doing a lot of naughty things. My favourite subjects used to be History, Mathematics, and CS (obviously).
MM: How did engineering happen? Was CS always your first choice? Why Dual Degree?
PS: I was always interested in computers and they fascinated me. But just like every kid in India had to go through the IITJEE cycle, so did I. However, I used to regularly attend school, and concentrate on all my subject. I did not just sit at home like other people, and study PCM, which is required for IITJEE. So, my rank in JEE wasn't very good. I ended up with CS in NIT, Rourkela. I didn't opt for upgradation and stuck to CS Dual because I would be saving a year and get my Masters degree.
MM: How was your initial impression of NITR? How did the freshman year go?
PS: The first thing that struck me was the infrastructure. The infrastructure of NIT, Rourkela is very good. Next up was the attendance policy. School going kids usually don't have a problem with attendance. But, with time, I realised that our attendance is a lot stricter than necessary and that began to bug me. I also went through ragging, but I enjoyed it. It let me interact with my seniors and I realised it was for our own good.
MM: How would you describe your journey in the past 4.5 years?
PS: Starting second year, I was mostly busy with coding, and I started paying lesser attention to classes. Academically, I tried to do some research under Prof. Bidyut Patra, until he went to Finland and it got paused. In third year, I was mostly into competitive coding. I didn't have much interest in fests, and preferred staying in my room.
MM: What would you list as the best and worst aspects of this institute?
PS: The best thing that happened to me in the institute is friends. I ended up with a bunch of people who were very constructive and progressive. All developments in me are due to my interactions with them. They inculcated the entrepreneurship spirit in me.
For me, personally, one of the worst parts is that this place is very far from home. It is a 24 hour journey by train. Also the climate here is awful. Also, the professors here are not so friendly. Most of them have a set of rules set in their mind, and everybody is expected to abide by it. Innovation is not very encouraged here.
MM: Five years is a long time. How did NITR change in this period?
PS: The biggest change that I have seen is in terms of infrastructure. When I had joined in 2011, the construction of Hall 8 had just begun. I have seen 5-6 new branches being introduced, and 2-3 buildings being erected in NITR during my stay. In terms of academics, there has been a change in curriculum, which is good. Also in Computer Science, people have realised that competitive coding is a major criterion in deciding their future and have started coding.
MM: What further changes and immediate developments would you like to see in the institute?
PS: I feel that practical coursework should be given a lot more emphasis. They should be evaluated using online judges. For example, in other institutes, in order to clear a subject, greater weightage is given to the associated practical work. It should be absolute. That seems more constructive than writing records. Also, the attendance constraint for classes should be slackened. The internet connectivity should be improved.
MM: You were an active member of MS Campus club. Tell us about your involvement and how the club has grown during your stay. What other clubs were you a part of?
PS: Frankly, I wasn't a very active member. Shantanu, Ankit, Yogendra and Smriti Ma'am worked a lot for it. I was the technical head of the club. I was mainly in charge of looking after the technical aspects, and preparing questions for Codenigma. I feel that if the students continue working for it diligently, it can become one of the best technical clubs in NIT, Rourkela. I wasn't a part of any other clubs in NITR.
MM: The dept. of CSE is one of the most popular choices among JEE aspirants. What is your take on NITR CSE? How does it stack up compared to other NITs, IITs and IIITs?
PS: Students should refrain from opting for a branch just because it’s booming. They should opt only if they have a passion for it. Judging on the basis of competitive programming, NITR CSE is way behind a number of IITs and IIITs. The students need to make an effort but there hasn’t been any significant effort from their side. I don’t have much knowledge regarding the research paper being published by the department.
MM: You have had the opportunity to undertake some of the most sought-after internships. Let’s start with Amazon. What was the source, how difficult was the selection and how was your experience?
PS: Honestly I didn’t prepare a single day for the interview. It was an off-campus offer. The selection process involved a written test followed by two PIs. I was in Amritapuri for the ACM ICPC when I got a call for the 1st interview. I convinced them to postpone it till I reached NITR. I couldn’t study because I was travelling a lot. The interview went well and I was selected.
The internship lasted for three months. I was a part of the pricing systems and had to design a testing framework in two and a half months. I was given two projects which I completed in two months and the rest time I was handling the documentation.
MM: You also interned with Codenation during summer 2015. Tell us about the selection, the job profile and your experience.
PS: The selection process was the same as Amazon but five times more difficult. I hadn’t been coding since February and the interview was in April. But my prior experience helped me to get through.
My experience with Codenation was simply amazing. The amount of work was 10 times more than that of Amazon, hence the work pressure was really high. We had to abide by the deadlines and the work hours used to be from 11am to 4am during weekdays. But the HR made sure that we had fun during weekends.
The work was in .NET. We worked with a technology dealing with Kinect devices. Our team of 12 interns had to develop a product in order to enhance the experience of users in retail markets.
MM: You have been one of the best coders of the institute. Where is NITR lagging in the national competitive coding scenario? What can be done in this regard? How do freshmen and sophomores get to pace?
PS: Students here are of the view that competitive coding will help them notch high profile jobs. But unless they have a passion for it, neither would they become the finest coders nor would they get a job. For the freshmen the seniors and professors need to act as a source of inspiration. No doubt academics should be given top priority, but they should also motivate them to take up coding, competitive, developmental or otherwise.
MM: You were a part of the 1st team from NITR that participated in ACM ICPC. How was your experience?
PS: Swaraj, Aditya and I were the 1st ones to take up competitive programming. We were competing against teams with 3-4 years of experience. Also we didn’t have any coach to guide us. During 2013-14 we were ranked around 200 from the competing 400 teams. We didn’t participate in the event at Amritapuri in 2014 but were ranked 33rd in the Kharagpur event.
MM: What plans do you have for the future after you finish your stay at NITR?
PS: I’m looking at some off-campus opportunities in some off-shore locations. If I don’t succeed I am definitely joining CodeNation. I’m planning to stay there for a minimum of 4-5 years before thinking of moving towards higher studies or something else.
MM: What are your fondest memories from your stay at NITR?
PS: The day I was called for an interview by Google was the happiest day of my life. I gave a couple of interviews and it was easier than Codenation’s. I couldn’t figure out what went wrong that I was rejected.
MM: Any regrets or things that you would differently if you could go back now?
PS: I think I should have been a bit more social. My friend circle was restricted to three to four people and there was hardly any active campus life on my part.
MM: What message would you like to give to your juniors and the readers in general?
PS: Work hard! Definitely college life should be fun but along with it they should try to develop products and take up something that inspires them, something that makes them passionate. People from other branches should also take up coding, because it is a skill that is becoming essential in today’s market. The professors need to be a bit more lenient and give students their own space. After all life here is not only about studies, research and publications but more about learning as much as you can!