Ashish Jha’s Indomitable Peregrination: Cisco Diaries
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
Inspired by this thought-process, Ashish Jha, a student from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering bagged a coveted internship in Cisco. Calm and subtle in his approach, he generally maintains a low profile in the campus. But at the same time, people like him are the ones who fit in the cogs that keep the wheels of our progression in motion. Being enthusiastic towards whatever interested him, Ashish Jha has had a wonderful journey so far; be it as a student, a coder, a club member or even an intern. Therefore, to get an insight about the journey he has had so far team Monday Morning caught up on him on a chilly evening where he unfurled his experiences.
Monday Morning: Please tell us about your background and schooling.
Ashish Jha: I am from Darbhanga, Bihar. I did my schooling from Kendriya Vidyalaya from class 1 to class 10th after which I took up Physics, Chemistry and Maths as my primary subjects. I did my 11th and 12th from Woodbine modern school, Darbhanga which was a kind of dummy school so that I could do self-study for JEE. I somehow got good grades over there and ended up doing engineering.
MM: Did you have a special interest in Computer Science during your schooling days?
AJ: Well, I was doing some basic Photoshop, basic HTML etc on the side but nothing at all as far as coding is concerned.
MM: How did NITR happen to you? What made you opt for the Department of Computer Science and engineering?
AJ: After 12th I talked to a few of my guardians and they recommended me to take up Computer Science Engineering and even I had some interest in the branch. So, when I checked which colleges I could get with my rank, NIT Rourkela was the best one. Initially, during counselling, I was allotted NIT Kurukshetra so I was there for almost 3-4 weeks and then there was a final round of counselling and I finally got allotted here. That final counselling was a one-time event, especially for the 2015 batch. Even after a month, the shuffling continued.
MM: What are your current areas of interests?
AJ: My current areas of interest are Machine Learning, Artificial intelligence and Blockchain. Currently, I am working on early detection of gait abnormalities and gait classification.
MM: You did not do any specialized courses in you 11th and 12th related to Computer Science. So how did you carry on with the stream of CS after you came to NIT Rourkela?
AJ: I was interested in designing and I was making a few websites which provided the basic motivation for me. Initially, I was not familiar with the different coding languages, but when I came here I realized that we have to code from the first year itself. So I started learning for it.
MM: Tell us how you applied to Cisco?
AJ: In my third year, there wasn’t much of the internship season at NIT Rourkela that you see these days, not a lot of companies came for internship recruitment. Only the big companies like Microsoft and Amazon came. At the time I wasn’t very good in the coding aspect but was fairly equipped in the web domain so I couldn’t get an internship on-campus. So I started applying off-campus directly through the websites of companies like Intel, Cisco etc. I got the online test call from two companies, one of which was Cisco. At Cisco, they just conducted an online test which consisted of an aptitude test and a coding test (the questions were MCQ). Once I cleared that, I had a further two rounds of interview which were mostly technical. The questions were asked on the fundamentals of computer science and a little bit of coding. The last round was an HR round so there were three steps in total and that is how I got selected. I also mailed many professors and got an internship at IIT Madras on parallelizing BLAS and machine learning algorithm. I also got another internship through TEEP (Taiwan educational exchange program) which was based in Taiwan and was a fully funded internship. It was a really tough choice to make between Taiwan and Cisco but I ultimately chose the latter. My project was a log analyser and the reimbursement I got was 45000 Rs per month and on around 92000 Rs overall over the course of 9 weeks.
MM: You made a choice between Taiwan and Cisco. What were the factors that pushed you towards the Cisco internship?
AJ: The topic I was getting in Taiwan was not very intriguing to me whereas Cisco was offering an industrial internship. The Taiwan Internship was purely research-based whereas I was more inclined towards the industry as I am more of a product making guy.
MM: Share with us your experience as an intern at Cisco.
AJ: I was luckily allotted into the Enterprise switching division of Cisco, the largest Business unit of Cisco. I was working under Mr. Ganesh Shankar on the design of Intelligent log analyser. Basically, we needed to extract meaningful and important information from a very large log file and detect and classify the bug as a new bug or an existing bug using text similarity algorithm. The best part of any product based company is the work-life balance. Initially, I was nervous about how I will fit in, but the orientation program was pretty good and they introduced us to different projects and business units of Cisco. My manager at Cisco was a principal engineer whose age was around 50. It added to my apprehension but he was extremely friendly and was a renowned photographer, which I later came to know. During the internship, they took us to few clubs for team outings where we mingled. My colleagues were extremely helpful and they helped me a lot during internal hackathon where our team stood 5th out of the 117 participating teams. The amazing hospitality included free coffee, table tennis and a lot of other indoor games.
MM: Share with us your experience as an intern at the Kharagpur open source society.
AJ: In the winter of my third year I went for the Kharagpur winter of code. The thing is that the open source culture of our college is not very good. I was working in open source for a long time and then I heard about this program called Kharagpur winter of code. The project there was to design a virtual assistant which will accept speech command for a user and act accordingly. It was a remote internship which you could do from your home and it was a 4-week long internship. The purpose of the entire internship is to make you comfortable with how the open source community works. I got familiar with git and git hub, I learnt how version control happens, overall it provided a good exposure to open source. The Kharagpur winter of code will again happen this winter so I hope that many students from our institute will apply there.
MM: What were the challenges you faced in these internships?
AJ: At Cisco, one thing that was different but not exactly a challenge was the work culture. The work culture was pretty relaxed, there was no pressure on you and there were a lot of outings so they won't force you to work. You will have to prepare everything from your side and make your submission to the company. So there weren’t any specific challenges at Cisco.
At Kharagpur winter of code, keeping pace was tough because there were many coders who were making lots of commits and I was lagging a bit there.
MM: What factors did you look for while applying for these internships?
AJ: Basically I had the urge to intern in any decent product based company so as to substantiate over my skillset. Therefore, I started searching for companies and made a list of ten companies including Google, Microsoft, Intel, DE-Shaw, Cisco which were off-campus. Having enlisted these companies, I started applying for these companies and got selected in DE-Shaw and Cisco. But then, Cisco being at a higher preference for me than DE-Shaw, I chose to go for the former one.
MM: What do you think is currently lacking in the institute's CSE curriculum? And how can students overcome these lacks?
AJ: The number of students participating in competitive coding is bleak. Some things that can improve this are:
1. The students knowing why competitive coding is important.
2. The students getting in touch with seniors who are good at coding.
3. We can have regular coding class taken by seniors.
4. We can have regular developer conferences and open source summits.
For Competitive coding, one can read the necessary theory from GeeksForGeek and Code Monk tutorials from Hacker Earth.
One should start with basic data structures and then move to basic algorithm paradigms. After that one can start doing the long contests on Codechef and can gradually move to advanced data structures and advanced algorithms.
MM: Do you think the NITR CSE curriculum has helped you in any way in these internships?
AJ: Perhaps not so much because from the perspective of applying in any software company or be it a product based company, the course curriculum of CSE department is pretty obsolete and outdated as well. Apart from that, the coding culture at NITR is not at par with that of most of the premier colleges in India. I remember that when I was interning at IIT KGP I was surprised by the number of competitive coding events and guest lectures that they have at IIT KGP. This facility is still lacking here at NITR. Apart from this when I joined NITR as a fresher, we did not have any mobile-friendly website for the fests like Innovision, Nitrutsav etc. So initially, we did not even have a strong foundation built to emancipate open-source culture as well. But the positive aspect is that we are gradually developing the coding culture at NITR and this can be boosted by the inclusion of cutting-edge technologies in the CSE curriculum like Block Chain and IOT (Internet Of Things).
MM: Were you involved in any clubs at NITR?
AJ: Since I was very much passionate about designing, in the second year I got inducted into Design Tab. Here I got to learn a lot from my seniors and they too helped me invest my time in developing soft skills.
Apart from that, I was a part of the Web Domain team and it was during this time that we officially developed the websites for Innovision, NU and SCHEMCON.
MM: According to many on campus you are an extremely dedicated and hardworking person. What according to you is the driving force in your case?
AJ: Having said that I did not have a firm background in coding skills when I joined NITR, I struggled a lot during my first year to get at par with others who were really marvellous in coding. So in a way, it was the heat of the competition that made me more and more focused on the coding aspect. Also, if I develop an interest in a particular subject, I dedicate a whole chunk of my time in pursuing it so as to get a clear insight about the topic. I generally set my focus on one subject at a time. Moving ahead step by step rather than taking a huge leap, even if you aren’t certain of the consequences is my principle.
MM: What are your plans after you graduate? Where do you see yourself in the foreseeable future?
AJ: Right now, I’m planning to get more exposure to industrial jobs following which I will go on to pursue higher studies. To be very specific, I am planning to pursue PhD abroad, following which I would like to join any company in the research position. But as of now, I will be investing a couple of years in the software sector.
MM: What were the different ongoing projects at NITR which you were involved in?
AJ: Apart from being an active member of the Web Domain team, I was involved in numerous other projects at NITR. One of the remarkable projects which I’ve worked upon was in my 3rd year where we designed a self-driven car through the concept of Machine Learning. That one project, according to me, was one of the high points in my career.
MM: Do you have any message for the NITR junta?
AJ: Try to explore everything that comes in your way. These four-five years of your college life are highly essential and being sensible NITians it is binding on us to get the most out of it. So keep exploring, keep learning new stuff, improvise upon your skill set and most importantly prioritize your passion. Keep a track of what you need to know and what needs to be done by you to know the stuff.
Team MM congratulates Ashish Jha on his wonderful journey so far and wishes him all the luck and prosperity in his future endeavours.