Breaking the Common Code Sedulously: Kasturi Panda
The adage "The future belongs to them who believe in the beauty of their dreams" aptly resonates with the charisma of Kasturi Panda who bagged a coveted internship at Ernst and Young in the Summer of 2018. Despite hailing from a non-Computer Science background in school life, she managed to clear all her obstacles and emerge victorious in her academic regimen as a student in the very same alien department. In the backdrop of scrumptious meals at Joz, Team MM caught up with her on a cloudy evening. She went on to narrate her infiltrated vintage from being the most pampered kid to a fighter with coding at NITR, and how she aims to crack UPSC in the near future. Read on to know more as she raises up the curtain over the splendid journey she has covered so far without letting any force take hold over her dreams and ambitions.
MM: How do you remember yourself as a child? How were your school days?
Kasturi Panda (KP): I was born in Rourkela and since my father is an administrative officer in the state government, we experienced many transfers and hence I completed my preliminary education till Class 5 in two schools, in Bhadrak and Baripada. After that, I joined DAV, Chandrasekharpur in Bhubaneswar and pursued my matriculation and Intermediate from the same school. As a child, I was very lazy and being the youngest kid in the family, I was very much pampered and never forced to study.
I tried my hands in varieties of extra-curricular activities including dancing, music, learning violin and karate but I never indulged myself in those areas with much diligence and very high pedestal. I was good with academics since childhood but it was only in Class 11 that I started taking academics more seriously and eventually turned out to be the school topper in CBSE 12th board examinations.
MM: How did NIT Rourkela happen to you? Was Computer Science and Engineering your preferred branch?
KP: I was never interested in engineering in the first place, I had a dream of pursuing Economics at Delhi University but we found issues with its hostel and other amenities. My parents were very protective regarding this matter and hence I dropped that plan. Although I had better options in engineering than NIT Rourkela, eventually I chose it because it was in my home state.
When it became clear that I was joining NIT Rourkela, there were numerous suggestions regarding the choice of branch. Some of my relatives wanted me to pursue mechanical engineering while few others wanted me to go for Chemical Engineering. It was my elder brother, who himself is a graduate from the Department of Computer Science Engineering, who advised me to choose Computer Science hoping it would be easier for me as compared to other branches. He held the opinion that I would eventually enjoy coding. So, Computer Science was never a personal choice and it all happened by sheer chance.
MM: Having no background in Computer Science in school career, how did you deal with the hectic schedule of the first year?
KP: I found the curriculum and schedules of the first year very hectic and horrible. Having no idea about engineering and not even the slightest clue about coding, it was very difficult to cope up with my batchmates who would code like professionals in the labs and hence the teaching assistants would expect me to perform with such efficiency. I always found myself being pushed to code, but being very frank, until now, I have developed no interest in coding.
Again, in the first year, we had to study varieties of subjects from different disciplines ranging from Basic Electrical to Engineering Mechanics, that made me confused. I could not really figure out what interested me the most at such times of disorientation. But, it was obvious that I found coding the toughest of all.
MM: How did you overcome such problems regarding computer science as you never developed a real interest in coding?
KP: Being inclined towards academics, I had always tried to get a decent CGPA and I have always managed to do so. I would give the entire credits to my friends who helped me in coding and programming. I never used to start the problems from scratch, rather, it was my friends who always guided me to solve the problems. I was comfortable with the theory and somehow I studied to a level that the examinations demanded and did fairly well. However, as far as developing a real interest and passion for the coding is concerned, I always used to ponder how will I be making a change or helping someone by coding or with something related to that. I never got a satisfactory answer and hence that never intrigued me.
MM: What are the areas of Computer Science that interested you the most?
KP: I would say it is Data Analytics and my both internships were based on it only. I found it very interesting. It is very unfortunate that our syllabus does not include such subjects but ironically these areas are the needs of the hour and that’s what the industry demands.
MM: You interned at Bhubaneswar Smart City Limited at the end of your second year. How was the experience over there?
KP: In the winter break of my second year, I went for a training at Centre for Environment and Development in Trivandrum where I learned about a mapping tool and software ArcGIS that dealt with surveying a particular area using image analytics. Although we had to use Java, more than that I enjoyed the analytics and surveying part. We were supposed to analyse, filter and organize the data sets and draw conclusions regarding certain developmental schemes and Government of India would implement them based on our observations.
They have Amrut Scheme that hires interns from different institutes and allocates them different projects. Although only the third years were allowed for this program from our college, the then Training and Placement Officer Late Sanjay Kumar Jena was considerate enough to give me the opportunity to apply to the program. I got selected and worked for Bhubaneswar Smart City Limited project with a consulting firm named IBI. I worked under Mr. Sambit Kar who was the manager in the project and I owe him a lot for guiding and helping me with the future internships I did.
We analyzed the data provided to us, processed them, filtered them using the desired inputs and made educated guesses and eventually came to conclusions that would help the government to understand the needs and necessities of the people well to implement developmental schemes.
MM: You bagged the prestigious internship at Ernst and Young, Hyderabad at the end of the third year. Walk us through the selection procedure and how did you come to know about the internship.
KP: I would say there was a huge factor of luck and contacts that helped me to get into Ernst and Young. Mr. Sambit Kar was in touch with me even after the completion of the previous internship. He was impressed with my work and had advised me to do something related to data analytics and consultancy services since I was very good and comfortable with that.
I got an internship at Skaipal Consultancy through on-campus placements. But, I desired more and dreamt of interning at a more prestigious firm. I found out about Ernst and Young providing internships and hence decided to apply off-campus. But, unfortunately, they are very less operational in eastern and southern India and they do not even go through the resumes sent via online. I approached Mr. Sambit Kar to help and recommend as he was impressed with my previous works. I got to contact Miss Hina Garg from EY who was hiring interns for public sector administration and since my previous internship was in resonance with what they wanted, I was shortlisted for the interview.
I had to go through the technical interview where Mr. Ruchir Raj, Senior Manager of EY asked me about the basics of Python, MS Excel and other related areas of computer science including C and C++. I performed well in the subjects of Computer Science. Being over-confident, I failed miserably in MS Excel that significantly lowered my chances of being selected. This was followed by the HR interview where I performed satisfactorily and was told I have fair chances of being selected. I was immensely scared due to very contrasting judgments in both interviews but finally, I got selected. So, getting into Ernst and Young was very hectic and bit dramatic.
MM: Which according to you is more important: the profile of an internship or the organization of the internship?
KP: I feel the organization of the internship is the most important part. Unless and until we get a good platform to work on and a good bunch of people to work with, it's very difficult to showcase our talent. In an established organization, we get to know the challenges the real world gives and eventually we learn to handle such stressful situations with calm. It will provide you with a lot of scopes to improve your personality and communication skills along with the technical expertise you need. It will ultimately aim to enhance your role as an intern. If the former is a good decision, the latter gets better automatically.
The process of choosing where and whom to intern with should be done wisely by the students. The role of an intern is like icing on the cake - in a good organization, your skills can be revealed extraordinarily.
Our institute can be a bit flexible by helping the students to know about the scope of internships off-campus too because the number of on-campus internship recruitments is very low. This would reduce the confusion we face during the start of our pre-final year and help us choose our niche wisely. In most cases, students blindly apply for companies visiting the campus and sometimes, even after bagging one of them, decides to forego it for a more lucrative one which may lead to a very stressful situation of facing placement penalties later.
MM: Tell us something about your experience at Ernst and Young.
KP: We were assigned the tasks in a group of four. 3 of my teammates belonged to BITS, Hyderabad. Within the group, we had subgroups of 2 each. The project on which I was working on was RERA (Real estate regulation and Development Act). It was similar to the Bhubaneswar Smart City Limited in the aspect that we had to consult with the Government. I, along with another teammate of mine were asked to analyze the data sets. The scheme related to this hasn’t yet been implemented. All the aims and outreach of the Government to the people had to be presented in the website. The website consisted of various tabs which in turn handled information. They had already collected the required data through various interviews, polls and surveys. Our sub-team’s task was to filter the set of those data, allowing only that set of information which was deemed eligible to be included in the website. The basis for screening and processing of the data comprised which faction of people will need this particular set of data, and which not. It was called the Housing Scheme. After we had provided them with all the requisite information and data, they were supposed to create a website. They consulted with third-party cloud services to host the website. I was also interested in this because my final year project is related to cloud computing.
One of the perks which I experienced was, we were given a chance to interact with the Secretariat ministers at Hyderabad. We were given the passes. It was one of the most wonderful experiences I would like to share. Another unexpected incident occurred where we all flew to Bangalore. We interacted with the people involved in RERA at Bangalore. I was supposed to give the presentations. We had to present people’s preference before the government so that they prepare their requirements accordingly.
Initially, I was posted at Gurgaon, because everything started from there including my interviews. Somehow I missed this part of giving my preference for place of work in the form. As a result, the default I was allotted was Gurgaon. I had already travelled to Hyderabad after consulting with Hina. She provided me with the address at Hyderabad. After reaching Hyderabad, I realized that my workplace has been allotted at Gurgaon. Since I could not travel all the way long to Gurgaon, and given the fact that my manager was quite supportive, I continued to work over at Hyderabad. He conveyed me that he would be monitoring me form Gurgaon. We had to give all the briefs and reviews every week on what we were working. Every Friday I used to have a brief chat with him over Skype or EY setup about the progress of the work and the necessary inputs required. The best part was that the working hours were flexible. There was no hard and fast rule pertaining to the work hours till you are committed to your work. In no other place is there a provision of allowing interns to work from home, but EY allowed this. My workplace was far away from my residence. So this flexibility of working from home helped me a lot.
MM: Tell us about the difficulties which you faced during your internship.
KP: What I did not like in a consulting firm is the vivid party culture. You will be judged from the dresses you are wearing, the way you are talking, your command over your language and gestures. Formals are mandatory. Yet you will be judged on the level of your dresses. You would be trying to focus on your work, but they would come and start discussing things quite irrelevant to the work. You have to join them or else you would again be judged on the basis that you are not an effective participant in conversations. So initially I faced a lot of difficulties. In due course of time, I got accustomed to it.
MM: Coming to life at NITR, what all clubs are you a part of?
KP: I have been a part of Cyborg from my freshmen year. Initially, I was interested in Robotics. They used to prepare bots, manual bots, line followers etc. When coding overwhelmed in the curriculum, I faced a lot of issues. I would acknowledge the contribution of Cyborg for helping me overcome the fear of coding and also making it easy for me to choose what I actually want. It helped me a lot with academics also. Seniors were always very helpful. They rescued us from those frustrating labs in the freshmen and sophomore year by taking classes. I, thus, owe a lot to Cyborg.
MM: In your opinion, how are the lab facilities in the Department of Computer Science Engineering at NITR? How far are they in resonance with the industrial needs?
KP: I would comment that the lab facilities are very poor and in dire need of improvement. I am not into research so I don’t think I would be able to comment much in it. The theory could be made more versatile. There should be a wide variety of options available. The curriculum keeps you constrained. Even what I worked upon was related to Computer Analytics and did not deviate much from computer science. But I got to know about it from other sources. Such depth and variety are missing from the curriculum. Short term courses will be of immense help as well.
MM: What are your future plans? Where do you see yourself after 5 years from now?
KP: My future plans contradict the trajectory of my career until now. I have got a Pre Placement Offer from Ernst & Young, but I don’t think I would be accepting it. There is a dream budding within me since I was in Class 5, that I want to become an Indian Administrative officer. So as of now, I would be dropping EY and I think I would be going to Delhi in the next year for preparing for the UPSC Examinations. I am inspired by my Dad.
MM: What is the success mantra that kept you moving despite your disinterest in the subject?
Hard work is not the only option, you have to do smart work. You can excel in academics as well as extracurriculars simultaneously. I feel I have done that and I have judged myself on the basis of my needs. You don’t need to be what people expect from you. Don’t keep your options constrained on the basis of what people think, say or expect from you. You have to be yourself. Stick to your dreams. You need to excel in that. Learn where you can do the hard work. Don’t just go for it.