The Epitomes Of Talent And Integrity : Vineet Agarwal and Bishwanath Sahoo
A strong overseas alumni network plays a paramount role in the development of an institute. NIT Rourkela has a substantial overseas alumni network which is formally assembled under the roof called NITROAA (NIT Rourkela Overseas Alumni Association). On a sunny day, in the department of Computer Science, Team Monday Morning got a chance to catch up with the current treasurer of NITROAA, Bishwanath Sahoo, Mechanical engineering graduate (1998) and Vineet Agarwal, an esteemed alumnus of the Department of Computer Science(2000). Below is an unabridged segment of the conversation with them about NITROAA and it’s annual conventions, scholarship programs, and activities and their vision for NITROAA along with an insight into their personal and professional accomplishments.
Monday Morning: Could you please tell us about your journey to REC Rourkela (presently NIT Rourkela) and how did you end up choosing REC Rourkela?
Vineet Agarwal (VA): I wanted to pursue engineering from one of the best institutes of India and REC Rourkela at that time was one of the best REC amongst other REC’s. Luckily I got the opportunity to study in REC Rourkela and I did not let this opportunity slip away.
Bishwanath Sahoo (BS): I was trying for IIT’s, but got into REC Rourkela. I spent a really memorable four years in the institute and learned a lot as well. I was also the cultural secretary of the institute.
MM: How do you think the skills you acquired throughout your four years of journey at REC help you in both personal and professional life?
VA: I followed the curriculum and my academic time table regularly. I was consistent throughout and was supported well by my professors, seniors, and batch mates. I cleared my fundamentals about my course subjects and practised on a regular basis. So yeah, students around me and the environment around me was very supportive and helped me throughout my four years.
BS: I did my B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering, joined TATA Steel, but after that, I moved on to consulting and software development. But still, the skills I learned in NIT Rourkela helped me reach greater heights. The skills that you learn like logical thinking, analytical thinking and above all connecting all these dots help you grow in life. The leaders or the ones who make great progress in life are the ones who successfully connect the dots and have an effective plan for the future. We get too indulged into scoring marks and securing good grades and forget to realize how the skills that we learn can be implemented effectively in shaping our career and also for the progress of the nation.
MM: Did you plan to pursue M.tech after B.tech before joining REC or did someone suggest you go for M.tech? How was it helpful?
VA: The plan for pursuing M.Tech came to my mind during my final year and I did not have much idea about the benefits of M.tech during my B.tech years. Moreover, my seniors were the one’s to guide me about my future studies. Two of my seniors were pursuing M.tech in IIT Bombay and IISC Bangalore. According to them, B.tech was definitely useful but pursuing M.tech would give a different direction to my life and they were right. It helped me to achieve success in the future.
MM: Last year you completed your MBA, how did you make a decision whether to pursue an MBA or not?
BS: Yes, I completed my MBA last year from Columbia Business School, which is world-renowned. It took me nineteen years to decide whether I should take up an MBA or not. When I graduated from Rourkela, I knew I had to do an MBA.
MM: What do you think of the alumni outreach of our institute? And how do you think the alumni interactions can be improved?
VA: I think we do not have enough interaction between the current students and the alumni in different parts of India or abroad. We definitely need to have more interaction, I don’t have a very concrete idea about how to do it but it is something definitely needed.
BS: I think for outreach the thing is primarily in school or colleges we are more focused academically in our own curriculum whether it's civil, mechanical or any other stream. And then the focus is mainly on securing good GPA and clearing the campus and not more on alumni activities and interactions compared to some other good institutes, where the alumni culture is built in from first year or second year itself. Few people know about alumni associations, I think there is no formal mechanism that has been introduced here. Students get to know about alumni when they get recruited in new places in India or abroad, that’s when they try to find out who else is an alumnus of the institute. It’s more on a necessity basis that they find out about alumni and not in-built already as part of the culture. I think that’s what we need to change, as people should know about the alumni base. Like in abroad we have two to three thousand people but only five eighty of them have become a part of NITROAA.
MM: Many of our readers, must be unaware of the fact that we have a broad alumni base in abroad in the form of NITROAA, so can you please brief the readers about what is the role of NITROAA and what it basically does?
VA: As a part of NITROAA, one of our focus areas is the growth of the NITROAAN’S in the U.S itself, like the people who are already there. We have our annual convention where we invite some speakers, we have a kind of networking event where we get in touch with our batchmates or seniors who have achieved some accomplishments in their life, so there’s a lot of learning opportunities as well as we are able to make connections with them. And other than that we are collecting some funds there, we make use of that fund for providing scholarships for the students presently studying in NIT Rourkela as well as collect funds for sponsoring the travel for students willing to attend some conferences. Like for instance, once we had a student of NIT Rourkela who wanted to go to the U.S for her Masters and she was in a state where she had to leave her degree halfway and come back due to financial constraints. So NITROAA, helped her continue her studies. There was another example, where a 2002-2003 graduate, he is presently staying in Canada, had come to the U.S and suddenly fell sick and was hospitalized for close to two months so in that case, NITROAA collected more than eighty thousand dollars to support him and his family. So we do a lot of these kinds of activities which help not only the current batch of students but also the students who graduated from the institute recently and trying to pursue higher studies or even if they have a certain problem during their professional life.
MM: Does NITROAA organize a convention every year?
VA: Yes, every year NITROAA organizes a convention somewhere in U.S or Canada. We want the students who are currently studying in NIT Rourkela or are currently undertaking higher studies in abroad to attend the convention and get benefitted. Usually, it is a bit expensive, the cost for the convention, accommodation and all other stuff. We try to sponsor those students and this year we are sponsoring twenty students and two other students are in the waiting list, we are trying to get a sponsorship for them as well.
MM: You emphasized on the fact that the alumni outreach of our institute needs to be improved, so are there any plans that NITROAA is planning to implement to expand the alumni outreach of NITR?
BS: We formally started our NITROAA association abroad in 2014, so it’s been five years. Many people know about it, they are coming to know about it because of the annual meets that we are organizing. Last year we had it in San Francisco and this year we are going to have it at Boston. And that is how people abroad are getting to know about it. In the institute also we are forming a lot of MOU’s, that’s where the institute is also recognizing that we need to promote alumni activities more and more. Thing is we need to work in conjunction in order to market the power of alumni as an organization. That’s kind of our goal, the more people that come under the formal umbrella, we can provide them with the one platform like a website where they can communicate with each other. That will be our basic agenda, but it’s still early days. From an alumni perspective, as long as you are connected to your branch mates or your batch mates, you can become the connecting agent. We have a formal website which connects the alumni and also in NIT Rourkela website we have a link which contains the alumni database.
MM: How was your working experience in India and abroad? What major difference did you notice in the work culture in India and abroad?
VA: I found the work culture of the US to be very supportive and helpful. In India, I wasn’t very fond of the daily routine that I followed as it felt like I was pre-programmed to get some job done but I couldn’t really involve myself into it. I could not find what value I was adding and how could I improve. Then I went to the US, I could see how huge the market was in the US on which I was working. Now I had the transparency about my work value being added to the market. Moreover, I participated more and started adding ideas to product development. I was sitting next to the manager and we used to brainstorm together on many ideas. These opportunities were missing when I was in India. I was not much satisfied while working in India as I could not actively participate with people above me and was assigned particular work which I had to do with my team and that’s it. So I changed a lot after moving to the US and was satisfied with my work.
MM: How does your regular day at work go and what is your daily routine?
VA: Since my team is still in Bangalore, my day starts early in the morning and I go to bed late at night. I manage my team on calls mainly in the morning and at night but have not much work with my team in the afternoon. Other than my teamwork, I regularly attend meetings with the product developers, managers and work on product development.
MM: On a closing note would you like to convey any message to the students?
VA: I would definitely encourage the students to go for higher studies. They could even go for Ph.D. but if someone is not interested in Ph.D., they should at least go for Masters. Students should work on their interest and find out what excites them. They can even go for MBA if they wish to.
BS: My advice would be enjoy your four years at the institute, learn new things, connect with as many people as you can and make optimal use of the resources and opportunities available to you.