The Perservering Powerhouse : Siddharth Samal
A man of a few words, a person who always shuns away the limelight and lets his works speak louder than anything else, a designer who conveys the most powerful message with the least use of graphics, and a CSE undergrad with almost no motivation towards scoring marks, but with a never ending thirst to accquire the most sophisticated skills needed practically, Siddharth Shankar Samal, a final year Undergraduate of the Department of Computer Science Engineering is one of those students of NITR who evolved as a true example of hardwork and dedication. On a wintery evening, in the midst of Mokshaa restaurant, he speaks about his future plans, his experiences, his journey till Microsoft and how he managed to make a mark in the NIT Rourkela fraternity.
Monday Morning (MM): Where are you from? Please give us a brief about your childhood and schooling days.
Siddharth Samal (SS): I am from Puri, Odisha. I completed my post matriculation from Mother's Public School, Bhubaneswar. I have spent a huge chunk of my childhood playing in the beaches. I had always been a bit of a recluse and spent a lot of time pursuing my interests. Photography and cricket fascinated me since my childhood days. We didn’t have professional cameras so easily available in those days but I nonetheless pursued photography and tried to learn new tricks. This interest propelled me towards graphic design in my high school days. Playing cricket with my friends is a passion that has stayed constant over all these years. From playing casually to developing finesse in the game in college. Since my elder brother was from the Computer Science background, I too developed an interest in it. Though academics wasn’t very endearing in general, I used to read his books and learn a lot of things. But there was always a balance that I tried to maintain between these interests of mine.
MM: How did NIT Rourkela happen to you? Was it by choice or chance that you landed up in the Department of Computer Science?
SS: I had always wanted to pursue engineering in the field of Computer Science owing to the inspiration that my elder brother was to me. After appearing for JEE Mains for the first time, I couldn't secure a rank that could fetch me CS in any good college. So I decided to drop a year. On my second go, I performed better and so I got admission at the Department of Computer Science in NIT Rourkela.
MM: According to your friends, you prioritize work over fun. How did you manage to adjust to the social and academic life in the first year?
SS: Honestly, I wasn't that serious about academics in my first year. I was a sleepyhead (laughs) and used to play FIFA all nights. In terms of academics, I read only those subjects pretty well which I was interested in and left the others without putting in much effort. However, I managed to gather a bunch of like-minded friends who lived near me and got close to them soon after.
MM: Were you an active sportsperson from childhood? You are known to have propelled the NITR cricket team to some great wins. What were some of your most memorable victories and tournaments?
SS: I was a sports enthusiast since childhood. Cricket was something I was interested in greatly. One of the most memorable matches with the NITR cricket team was my first tournament as part of the Institute team when we went to sports fest at IIT BHU. There was a lot of respect for the NIT Rourkela cricket team at the sports fest owing to the fine game displayed by our predecessors and a huge audience gathered around each time for matches of NITR. Though we could not make it to the finals, still we had a neck-to-neck fight with the team of IIT BHU alumni, where we lost by 2 runs. The match was eye-opening and made all of us realize that we definitely have the potential to go to greater heights and there is a scope for improvement in our game which would help us reach the win. Also, other wins like the one in Vriddhi 2019 are cherishable.
MM: How did second-year fare for you? Being actively involved in MM, Cricket, other Clubs and Academics, how did you strike a balance?
SS: I hardly slept (sighs).It is very important to have clarity of thoughts and prioritize things. There were times when I never used to get ample amount of time to sleep and feel haywire. But this is how it works. One must not be completely focused on academics. To be very honest, I never fared amazingly in academics, so I hope we won't talk further upon it (laughs). There are other aspects of life too that needs to be explored and enjoyed.
MM: Being in Computer science, how did you become interested in Graphic Design and even go on to become a sought after designer on campus?
SS: I was always interested in photography which inclined me towards design. I still recall my first design in the first year which was for departmental freshers. I had designed numerous posters for elections and NITRutsav, which were well appreciated by people. From then on I found my calling in designing and I continued it.
MM: How did Monday Morning and being the Design Coordinator happen to you?
SS: I was quite fond of photography, and this inclined my interest in designing. NITR gave me the platform to nurture this talent of mine. I used to design posters for elections when my friends were nominees since the first year. During NITRutsav, there were several posters designed by me, and thankfully they were liked by my seniors. During the induction procedure of Monday Morning, I was not on campus due to some reasons, and so I could not appear for it. Sibasish Mohanty, who was in the Design Team of Monday Morning, had witnessed my works earlier and he gave me the chance to apply for Design Team of MM. Monday Morning gave me a lot of chance to explore and implement new ideas that I had in the field of designing. I was given the responsibility of the design coordinator and then I had worked really hard for the print issue. It was one of the toughest yet rewarding experience.
MM: You have always been known as the one who works silently behind the scenes. What is your principle of work and why do you choose to stay away from the limelight?
SS: I work because I love to. I don't aim for appreciation. Working for the things I like gives me immense satisfaction, so I don't actually want to be highlighted for my work.
MM: You had interned at Karma Labs in Bangalore in the summer of your third year. How did you secure this internship and why did you choose it?
SS: My third year was a very difficult and confounding phase for me. I had to face 13 rejections while applying for internships. Though I qualified till the final round of every selection procedure, I would be rejected then. This had greatly reduced my confidence and I finally contacted some seniors of mine. There was this senior of mine who had earlier interned at Karma Labs, which was an artificial intelligence based start-up. Thus, through an employee referral and some tests, I received an internship offer as I possessed the right skill sets to contribute to the ongoing project. It was about Real-Time Face Recognition and Human Activity Analysis. The work had been pretty hectic but I cherish due to sincere and innovative work culture there. There was a genuine focus on innovation.
MM: Were you satisfied with your internship?
SS: My internship was based on Artificial Intelligence, which is a trending topic today. Since Karma Labs was a startup, so I gained vast knowledge by working more and more, which would not have been possible in a conventional company.
MM: Reflecting upon your internship, what would you have done to secure a better internship?
SS: I would have gone for a conventional company, where the workplace is more practical as they are already well established. But in the case of startups, they are still in the growing stage. In the former, there are copious opportunities to know more about the industry standards, which is absent in startups.
MM: You were also doing a project in Southwestern Diesel Loco Shed. Please tell us in detail about it.
SS: I was a part of a short-term project for southwestern railway – Hubbali Diesel loco shed. They had 131 diesel engines which had to be monitored. My project was regarding monitoring the trains even when the engines were under maintenance.This was done remotely and then we had to come up with solutions and suggestions. The project was started in around August and we went to the loco shed during Dussehra vacation. We gave them a couple of feasible solutions, but due to lack of resources, the project could not be completed.
MM: How did the startup Fruition come about?
SS: It is not a venture many people know about. When I was in my sixth semester, Saurabh Choudhary , Yogesh Singla and I decided to start something of our own. Our startup was an innovative E-Commerce Framework which was selected in the pre-incubation phase. Unfortunately, due to lack of resources and time constraints, it hasn’t been able to advance as much.
MM: Despite your affirming that you were not great at academics, In the fourth year you bagged a placement at the most desired company, Microsoft! Take us through the entire procedure and your state of mind when you bagged it.
SS: After facing many setbacks in my internship application during my third year, I didn’t really expect much out of my on-campus placements. And so, I decided that I will sit for four to five companies on campus that come initially as the placement season kicks off and In case if I don’t manage to get placed in these companies I would go for higher studies.
During my internship days, I would have a tedious 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. working day. And after working for such prolonged hours it is very difficult not to sleep. In spite of this, I ensured that I practised coding for at least one hour each day. I ensured that I stuck to this routine from Monday to Saturday. This practice was the reason behind me being placed.
For Microsoft, there are three qualifying rounds, online test, group fly round and personal interview in that order.
The online test had three coding centric questions with the points weight age of two, three and five respectively. The first two are standard questions whereas the third question was relatively tricky. But I managed to clear the round.
The second round was a group fly round where they test your problem-solving skills. For this particular round, there were many shortlisted and everyone was equally good therefore I was very doubtful about this round but luckily I made it through.
The third round is an interview round which again was divided into three, two technical rounds and one HR round. I waited from 2 p.m to 8.30 p.m for my turn and I was the last candidate to get interviewed.
The first technical round was one hour long and they asked questions on System Design, algorithmic questions and from core CSE subjects.
After about five minutes they called me in for the second technical interview which lasted about forty-five minutes. They basically asked about my projects and most of my projects were dwelling on Computer Vision so they got a gist about my interests.
And finally, in about five minutes they called me in for the HR round. The questions are more or less standard HR questions which involved an overview of my journey throughout my years. In the end, they asked me if I had any questions for them. I asked them about how their product “HoloLens” works and I also wanted to know about its further research progress. They answered my questions to some extent and seemed a little confounded and pleasantly surprised at the same time. They assured me that they would get back to me about the question in near future. At this point, I had a hunch that I made it and Voila !! I got placed on the first day of the placement season.
MM: Reflecting upon your Internship season and then the placement at Microsoft, what would be some of the biggest lessons you learned about landing the right opportunities?
SS: The biggest lesson I took away from the placement procedure at Microsoft is that ‘One has to ask the correct questions’. When you ask them the right questions, whether it is about their products or work or about your own opportunities there, it shows that you have done your research with a genuine interest. In the internship season, most of the off-campus interviews were held via Skype or were Telephonic. Whenever one interacts with potential employers or say at a competition etc., It is the passion of the individual that has to shine through. This happens best when you are in a face to face interaction. One has to take care of these small things from the very outset.
MM: You're told to be an avid traveller. Please give us insights into some of your memorable travel diaries.
SS: In my second year, along with my friends we planned a trip to Bhutan. One instance I recall strongly is that of when we were crossing the road and there was a car approaching at the same time. We were accustomed to Indian ways and we were waiting for the car to pass by. Surprisingly, the car stopped and the driver asked us to cross. It was definitely a culture shock at the very beginning of the trip. I think the trips were more about being with my friends than it was about the places.
MM: You have been a part of E-Cell, Monday Morning, Microsoft Campus Club and are now the coordinator of codehub. What have you taken from and given to each of these clubs? What is your take on balancing club life with the ultimate goals of an Undergraduate at NITR?
SS: Clubs mainly teach you communication and team player skills. Making compromises, adapting to various situations are just some of the things that you assimilate from clubs. All this greatly contributes towards moulding of your personality.
And coming to your goals, know what drives you and do things that will sail you closer to your passion. For example, if you are someone who wants to pursue higher studies, you need a good CGPA for it so work for it. Bottom line, come up with a good plan.
MM: It is said that you were the designer behind several fests, but your profile mentions no fest. Can you shed some light on your association with fests?
SS: I think for the last one and half years or so I have been an inactive designer. Before that, I have made designs for every fest that came my way apart from an edition of Roots. I still remember that I used to receive design requests as late as 2 A.M which were needed within 15 minutes or so.
MM: What are your plans for the future?
SS: As of now, I am planning to work for about two years and hopefully I may opt for further studies.
MM: What would be your message to the readers.
I would say that it is always good to have a plan. As the saying goes “A fool with a plan can beat a genius without a plan”. Put sincere efforts in what you do. Never forget to enjoy as well because if you will do something you feel for, you will for sure enjoy it. Most importantly, do not freak out in exploring multiple options. Have patience for the efforts you put in.