A Young Veteran: Soumya Sambit Rath

A Young Veteran: Soumya Sambit Rath

K Aditya Magna Mishra | Jun 15, 2020

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The phrase “young veteran” is an oxymoron, how can someone who can be young be a veteran in his work. Being a veteran comes from experience and our interviewee has gathered tons of it in a mere 5 years. Today, we bring you the story of Soumya Sambit Rath, a final year student who has earned his niche in the institute with equal ounces of success and modesty. An academic, an automobile junkie and a lover of all technical fads, he is a “young veteran” in the field of electronics. Read on to know more about his journey. 

An Introduction

Born and brought up in the coal city of Odisha, Talcher, Soumya Sambit completed his schooling from DAV Public School, MCL Kalinga before moving to DAV Public School, Chandrasekharpur for his penultimate years of schooling. He joined NIT Rourkela in 2015 as a dual degree student in the Department of Electronics with specialisation in VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration) and Embedded Systems. While speaking about his family and personal life, he says 

I belong to a family of teachers. Both of my parents are academics, my father is a lecturer in Botany and my mother is an English teacher. My parents constantly encouraged me to take up my interests and were supportive of my dreams. While growing up in Talcher, I saw the industrial life closely and developed an interest in machines. So naturally, mechanical was my first choice but I ultimately landed here. Later on, it worked out great.

A series of triumphs

In his time as a student in NITR, Soumya Sambit bagged the coveted Academic Excellence award thrice between 2016 and 2018. He secured prestigious internships at IIT Bombay and IIT Kanpur, worked under a sponsored project at NALCO and Diesel Loco works of the Indian Railways. He also won several prizes through his participation at various tech fests and competitions. Excerpts from the interview below.

Monday Morning(MM): How did you apply for your internship at IIT Bombay? On which area was your project-based? 

Soumya Sambit Rath(SSR): During the internship, my project was to design a 3D scanner using only open source technologies. My team had made both hardware and software for the project. It was the time when I got introduced to image processing

I was a complete novice back then. Thankfully, I had seniors who could guide me. I got to know about the internship program from Rohit Suri Bhai, the founder member of Team Tiburon who had completed this internship the previous year. Along with me, 4 other students namely, Sriya Sainath(CS), Debakanta Kar Bhai(CS), Sagar Satapathy(EC) and Swetalin Priyadarshini(EI) had also qualified for the Ekalavya program at IIT Bombay. For CS, EC and EE students, there are three types of internships available at IIT Bombay: Ekalavya (For CS and EC), FOSSEE and the generic internship (by mailing the profs). The announcement for Ekalavya is made during February every year. Earlier there used to be both software and hardware projects, but now they undertake only software projects. They give tasks which the students have to submit online. They usually take around 100 interns for Ekalavya. For Ekalavya, after the initial screening of online applications, the CS and IT students were given tasks (related to web designing, algorithms and animation) and the EC students had to give an online test. It was a subjective test. There were around 10 questions. We had to write the solution, pseudo code, circuit diagrams and whatever necessary on paper and submit the scanned copy. Out of 10, I had barely managed to answer 6. I was lucky that I got selected. 

I got to know about the entire software development process, version control tools like git. I went from a noob who couldn’t write a 100-line script properly to somebody who learnt how to write an entire software along with its GUI in python. 

Attached below is a snap of my project

MM: Elaborate on your research experience at IIT Kanpur. 

SSR: I consider myself lucky to be selected for the SURGE internship program (which is only for 3rd-year students). Along with me, Rohit Chaturvedi(CR), Saswat Chaudhury (MM) and Nimisha Panigrahi (MM) were also selected for this program. Applications were screened based on our profile and statement of purpose. 

I was assigned a project in the EE department in the field of non-linear control systems. I was working on developing algorithms for controlled landing of quadcopters in case of a single/dual rotor failure. In the initial phase, I had to make a complete model of the quadcopter using Matlab and Simulink. I had to study the basics of flight dynamics and the basics of Aerospace Engineering. After the successful simulation, my code was included in the software of the controller of the quadcopter which was made in the lab. I had found a new method apparently but since I was not much into that field, I lost my interest and didn’t carry that work further. 

The internships helped me create a network of likeminded people from different colleges. 

MM: Apart from interning at IITs, you also did projects at NALCO and Indian Railways. Brief us about the internship experience. 

SSR: I was part of a project sponsored by NALCO in my 6th semester. Prof DP Acharya had this sponsored project of developing an online system for monitoring air pressure and temperature of the pneumatic circuit at various places of the plant in NALCO, Angul. My seniors knew that I had done some IoT projects and recommended my name. I worked on making a few PCBs, writing some codes. The major part of my work was to design the backend server, the database and the frontend website. I learnt a lot about NodeJS, Javascript and MongoDB. Even today, the system is online and used by NALCO employees.

In our 3rd year, we had the opportunity to do a project for Diesel Loco Works, Hubli (Indian Railways). We were a team of 6 people who went there during the winter vacation and did that project. We made a DC-DC converter circuit to convert 72V DC Voltage from the Locomotive’s battery to 5V/12V. We were lucky to be inside the cabin of a WDG 4B engine when our mentor decided to take us on a short joy ride. 

Soumya Sambit bagged several awards through is participation in various technical fests. Listed below are some of his achievements.

  • Quarter-finalist in Texas Instruments India Innovation Challenge Design Competition (IICDC): 

TI-IICDC is a prestigious design event held every year. Soumya and his team had proposed a project on “Adaptive Headlights in Automobiles”. Speaking on the event, he says

The organizers sent us the components required to design the actual prototype which had to be displayed in the annual event. But due to a lot of reasons, we couldn’t complete that on time and finished as Quarter-Finalists. I would suggest all the 2nd year and 3rd year students participate in this design event if they have any groundbreaking project ideas or solutions.

  • Secured the second position at Techkriti, IIT Kanpur: 

Techkriti, the technical fest of IIT Kanpur had organized an event related to IoT where Soumya Sambit represented the club Plugged-in. The team had designed a prototype of a Wi-Fi-based Home Automation System. They received the 2nd prize, a cash prize of Rs. 10,000 and some goodies worth Rs 5000.

  • Secured the second position at the National Students Space Challenge, IIT Kharagpur: 

Their team designed a semi-autonomous robot which had to be controlled remotely. In that competition, the rover had to clear obstacles, avoid collisions using its onboard IR and Ultrasonic sensors. 

  • Secured the third position at Wi-Fi Think Fest, IIT Bombay:

 Wi-Fi think fest is conducted by IIT Bombay in association with Mojo networks. In this event, participants have to propose solutions to existing problems by using Wi-Fi. Here is what he shared about his experience

I had proposed an idea of Smart Restaurant. A system in which QR codes can be used to order food items seamlessly in a busy restaurant. Surprisingly, that proposal bagged the third prize. It was mentioned in leading newspapers of Mumbai too. I received a Lenovo K6 power smartphone as the 3rd prize back then. It was something which I never expected.

 Research and interests:

Soumya Sambit has worked across multiple areas in the field of electronics and some other non-core fields as well. Some those fields are Embedded Systems, Internet of Things, Aerial Robotics, Image Processing, VLSI and Web development. Here’s what he says about his research work:

MM: Why did you pursue your research interests in varied fields? What is your domain of research currently? 

SSR: Every student (who is aspiring for research) goes through two phases. The first one is the exploration phase. Here, the student will try to know about all domains in which he/she might be interested in. In this phase, the students should try to gain maximum experience, try to learn about diverse areas and get a taste of everything. Often the projects and internships that we do are not of our choice but it builds our profile and helps us in deciding for the next phase. The next phase is where we have an option to choose in which field we are interested to work on. Here, we get a clear picture of what to pursue as a career.

The same thing happened to me too. Initially, I was exploring the varied domains in electronics and computer science. I worked on projects in the field of power electronics, robotics, IoT and even image processing. My CV looks vivid today, but at the end of the day, I got to know about my interests. My M.tech major is in the field of VLSI Design and Embedded Systems. I enjoyed working on my final year M.Tech project in the field of Analog and Mixed-Signal VLSI and have decided to pursue further research/ work in the industry in this field.

MM: You have multiple projects listed on GitHub and LinkedIn. What are those projects based on? 

SSR: Those projects are mostly from my past internships and some of them are my hobby projects. In LinkedIn, I have mentioned about the projects for which I have a certificate/ project completion letter. Everyone who is working on any software/ firmware related projects should publish them on GitHub along with the complete documentation. During recruitment, our GitHub profile plays a significant role in signalling the recruiters about our past work experience. 

MM: Which areas of electronics would you suggest for a beginner? What are some good fields in which sophomores or freshers could do a project? 

SSR: First-year students should learn C/C++ properly, understand Basic Electronics and learn Arduino Syntax along with an interpreted language like Python/Matlab

Sophomores can begin working on mini projects based on different microcontrollers (Arduino, MSPs etc), learning PCB designing and prototyping and participating in the various design events and hackathons (you can find many in HackerEarth). Those interested in ML and DL should start learning the basics.

Pre-final year students can undertake projects in IoT and Image Processing. They can earn through freelancing if they wish. Students interested in the semiconductor industry can try some projects in Digital Design and FPGAs.

My advice to final year students is that they should select their final year project wisely and concentrate their efforts. They should try to present their work at a conference.

Striking It Big: Qualcomm Placement

All the hard work finally paid off when he got placed in a dream-company like Qualcomm, adding another feather to his cap. Let’s find out how did he plan out his preparation strategy and what suggestions he would like to give to our readers.

SSR: If one opts for core Semiconductor/ VLSI profile companies, they should start preparing from the 3rdyear (for B.Tech) and 1st year (for M.Tech) itself. One may consult their faculty members who are working in the related profile and try working on FPGA projects. I found the NPTEL Video Series of Prof. Indranil Sengupta to be very helpful and one must make sure to master Verilog/ System Verilog. The number of companies recruiting in this domain is limited, hence, students should actively search for off-campus opportunities.

On the other hand, if one opts for core Electronics/ Hardware profile, then they should learn the skills and get acquainted with all the necessary tools and software. A decorated CV always sets the stage for which you should complete some good projects and having a good and consistent academic record acts as an icing on the cake.

MM: For the VLSI job profile, what core and non-core subjects are important?

SSR: Core subjects like Basics of Digital and Analog, Microprocessors & Microcontrollers, Memory, Digital VLSI, Analog VLSI(only for Analog and AMS profile), Testing and Verification, ARM Programming, FPGA Concepts are essential and especially VLSI Design flow is of utmost importance.

Speaking of non-core subjects- Operating Systems, Data Structures, Basic Programming are relatively important.

MM: Other than Qualcomm, which other companies are a good starting place for a student interested in the hardware profile?

SSR: Companies like Analog Devices, Samsung R&D, Marvell Semi, Synopsys, Cadence, Intel, Texas Instruments, Nokia, Ericsson and  Mediatek visit our campus for recruitments, whereas, for seeking an opportunity in companies like ST Micro, NXP, Seagate, WD, SK Hynix, AMD, Xilinx, Mentor Graphics, Nvidia, Altran, Mobiveil and Maxim Integrated one has to apply off-campus.

Cracking the nut called ‘GATE’

Qualifying the GATE examination in 2019 with a remarkable AIR of 607 has just added another chapter to his saga of success. Let’s hear it from him, how he went about cracking the examination with a commendable rank. 

SSR: Like others, I had also made plans but I was not able to execute them as it so happens with everyone (laughs). I started preparing for the GATE exam from January, with such a small duration of preparation, I was lucky enough to qualify GATE with AIR 607. Mind you for dual degree students, qualifying GATE is essential to receive the M.Tech stipend in their 5th year. To make things simpler, I would suggest everyone practice previous year GATE questions a lot if they want to score well or else one can also opt for All India Test Series conducted by various coaching institutes.

MM: Which subjects are of utmost importance while preparing for the GATE examination in instrumentation and communication profiles? 

SSR: For Instrumentation subjects like Digital and Analog Electronics, Instrumentation Devices are fundamental. For scoring big, one must be very thorough in Control Systems and Networks. For Communication subjects like Digital, Analog and Signals and Systems are the cardinal ones and for scoring high, one must be thorough in Networks and Electromagnetics.

MM: Which online and offline sources did you follow during preparation?

SSR: Fairly speaking, if a student religiously studies all the subjects in B.Tech curriculum, then it is more than sufficient to qualify GATE, but for scoring big, one has to practice a lot. All the handwritten notes of toppers are available online, institutes like The Gate Academy, Kreatryx have all their videos released on YouTube and previous year solutions are also available online. So I believe resources are available in plenty but it’s the determination of students that lacks.

Speaking of offline sources, one can purchase the study materials available from various coaching institutes. Thanks to two of my seniors who had offloaded their shelves and had given me two different complete sets of GATE books. Those two complete sets of GATE books are in use since 2015-2016 and have been passed from one batch to the next. 

MM: What estimated time of preparation would you suggest? 

SSR: In my opinion, 3-4 months should be sufficient for cracking GATE if one is clear with the fundamentals.

MM: Do you feel that appearing GATE is a must? Why or why not? 

SSR: For all the students who have an interest in the core, GATE is very important. GATE score fetches PSU Jobs, helps in M.Tech and PhD admissions and GATE score is valid for 3 years, hence one can use it as they wish. For dual degree students, a GATE score is essential to receive a stipend in their final year as I previously mentioned.

The Other Side of NITR Life

Being the former President of Plugged-in and the current Chief Coordinator of the Training Committee, pictures a new version of Soumya Sambit Raths’ life apart from his academic endeavours.

MM: How would you describe your experience as a member and as the president of Plugged-In 2017-2018? Why do you feel the club couldn't continue? 

SSR: Those were one of the best days of my NITR life. Two PhD students Debajit De and Sambhudutta Nanda of EE department had formed the club Plugged-In in 2015. I got inducted to the club during my second semester in 2016. I was a very active member of Plugged-In during my sophomore year, I participated in a lot of events conducted by the club. I used to take technical classes for the club members, we coordinated a lot of workshops and short term courses as well. The club had organised a workshop by Texas Instruments in 2016 and the first two versions of ROBO SUMO during Innovision 2017 and 2018. Then in my third year, I was chosen as the president of the club. The club was sanctioned an annual budget of Rs 50,000/- from SAC. It was, in fact, a big achievement for us during that time. We encouraged the club members to participate in different Robotics events in tech fests of different IITs and other reputed colleges. We had multiple teams who participated and won in various events. We purchased a lot of electronics components that year for various projects and also conducted three workshops. I am really happy about the fact that the SAC funds were judiciously utilised for the club activities under my supervision.

Speaking of the downfall of the club, majority of its active members entered their final year and as a result, they couldn’t devote much time to the club and for some reason, we couldn’t host inductions. The club was active till last year but gradually died a slow death. The club might be inactive, but my bond with my club mates is still intact.

MM: As a formerly active member of the technical society, what changes would you like to see in it in the upcoming years? 

SSR: Lack of involvement of Professors in the clubs, especially in the technical clubs is a major drawback. Some professors wanted to create an IEEE Student Chapter a year ago, but due to reasons unknown, they dropped that idea eventually. Had it been established, the circuital branch students would have benefited a lot. The purchase and procurement process of equipment and materials followed by the tiresome procedure of reimbursement of bills is a loophole in the functioning of SAC and should be worked upon. During my tenure as the president of Plugged-In, I faced difficulties in purchasing materials, as a result, we had to give up on some of our projects.

Some of the clubs like SAE, Team Road Runner were sanctioned very high budgets earlier as per their requirement, but due to the cumbersome bill reimbursement process, the clubs aren’t able to utilise all of their allocated budget, as a result of which SAC shelves down their budget to some extent in the following year. Some sorts of changes must be implemented to curb such situations between the clubs and SAC.

MM: As the Chief Coordinator of the Training Committee, what challenges did you face and what were your exact roles? 

SSR: TnP this year, decided to make a separate committee for handling the placement related training activities of pre-final year students. So, a group of interested final year students who were already placed and had some experience in this regard were chosen as Training Committee members. I had not planned it but some of the Placement Coordinators persuaded me to join the committee. After the formal induction, I along with Rohit Dash and Deepak Kumar were made the chief coordinators.

My role is essentially to plan out the schedule for carrying out the various training activities, I’m also directly involved in the training activities and communicate with students apart from supervising the coordinators. The training committee is also working to make the second year students familiar with the various internship opportunities available for them in their third year. We are planning to provide a manual regarding the various internship opportunities and how to prepare for them to the third year students.

MM has already covered an article related to placement preparation in which I have already mentioned a lot about the activities of the Training Committee. The major challenge we faced was to handle so many students. We often have to carry out a lot of activities on short notice. I appreciate the zeal of the pre-final year students who have helped us a lot till now in conducting all the proceedings. 

MM: Now that the training committee and the placement cell have been separated, what's your take on that? 

SSR: I believe that it has reduced the workload of Placement coordinators to a great extent. The sole purpose behind the establishment of such a committee was to offload the work from PCs and independently continue the training related activities of pre-final year students.

MM: Dual degree courses for many branches were discontinued. What is your opinion on it? 

SSR: I will state both pros and cons of this decision. Although I don’t have the authority to comment on it, what I observed was the institute increased the number of regular M.Tech students after scrapping the Dual Degree courses of some departments. As far as I have interacted with different professors, they are of the view that Dual Degree programme was meant to incline students towards research, but this purpose was not fulfilled, as dual-degree students preferred to work in the industries rather than opting for research. Students usually prefer to pursue M.Tech from an IIT or a tier 1 institute after completing their B.Tech from NIT, which I feel is one of the reasons. 

MM: What other clubs were you a part of?

SSR: I was a part of Udaan Club in my first year. I remember I had made a hovercraft for competition in Innovision 2015. But I gradually became less active in Udaan Club after I joined Plugged In.

MM: Is it necessary to be a 9 pointer?

SSR: It’s both a yes and a no. It depends on whether you need a job or you aspire for a job, if you need a job desperately then you need to build your profile but that doesn’t require you to be a 9-pointer necessarily.

The core companies do take a look at your CG, but the non-core companies don’t pay much heed to your CG rather they look for the skills you possess.

One should always try to maintain a good academic record while doing that if your CG falls below 9, it’s no big deal. It’s just a psychological thing but if you have a high CG (like 9.5+), that makes a huge difference though. 

Exploring Personal Dimensions and Future Endeavours

Let’s get to know the lighter side of Soumya Sambit Raths’ NITR life, his cherishable moments and how he plans to shape up his life post NITR.

MM: Which year(s) of engineering taught you the most about life? and Why? 

SSR: I feel I have learnt a lot during my second and third year of college life. During these years, I made a lot of friends, did a lot of adventure, enjoyed a lot, and went on a lot of trips. I remember there were also days when we would gather in DBA and play Counter-Strike all night. I was never a pro gamer (laughs), but I even enjoyed losing in those matches. I used to play a lot of Badminton mostly during the winters. We used to visit various places in Rourkela by cycle. We used to cycle a lot. I was a simple boy with very less “kaand”. We used to watch movies in a single room by connecting an external monitor and sound system. Second-year and third-year taught me how to tackle any kind of situation with patience and self-control. There were times when I felt dejected, but I had a good company of friends who encouraged me and cheered me up even in difficult times. Our gang has spent some memorable time together. Those were the years when I truly lived the life of an engineering student.

MM: Given your credentials and the deep research projects, your profile is very suitable for higher education. Why did you refrain from choosing that path? 

SSR: I had a deep interest to pursue research, to go for PhD till my third year. In my fourth year, I somehow got inclined towards joining the industry first. So, I started preparing more seriously for my placement (targeting core companies). I haven’t completely given up the plan for higher studies, it's still on the cards. If everything goes well, I would surely like to join academia after working for a few years in the industry. In the given date, work experience has also become a requisite for joining PhD programs.  

MM: Where do you see yourself five years from now on?

SSR: If I continue in the industry, I will mostly be struggling with my MBA preparation, as pursuing an MBA would be crucial if I decide to remain in the industry. But if I go on with PhD, then I would probably be struggling with my thesis, listening to rants of my professors (laughs). I’m also drawn towards entrepreneurship and start-ups but I know it’s not everyone's cup of tea, I may consider taking up that as well. Let’s see, life is unpredictable, so you never know what’s happening the next moment so five years is a lot of time.

Final Words

SSR: Don’t be overwhelmed by anything from the beginning. Don’t be unhappy when something doesn’t go as expected, accept it and try to make things better in the next chance. Academics aren’t everything. Those who preach about academics only, do that to hide their incapability everywhere else. Everyone who joins NITR as a student is wise enough to decide what’s their niche and what isn’t. Whatever you do, whatever you go after, do it with all your enthusiasm. Never lose self-confidence. I wish the best of health, mind and spirit to everyone. I would like to quote a few lines by Harivansh Rai Bachchan -

Lehron se darr kar nauka paar nahi hoti, 

Koshish karne walon ki kabhi haar nahi hoti.

 

 

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