A Tale Of A Diligent Data Maverick: Mr Nirmalya Patra (Batch of 1998)
A strikingly distinct personality with an aura of humility, Mr Nirmalya Patra, a 'Royal Mechie' and a graduate of the batch of 1998, has been utterly enchanted by the IT sector. As quoted by Walt Disney- "The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing”. Thus, he chased his dream and landed into one of the giants of the sector-Infosys. However, his love for Data Analytics became the driving force, and he didn't limit himself to Infosys. Now he is currently working as the Senior Program Manager at Apple, the dream company for millions.
Team Monday Morning got in touch with Mr Nirmalya Patra to have a long talk about his life and experiences, and the time he spent in the then REC, Rourkela.
Monday Morning (MM): Could you walk us through your early life? Tell us something about your schooling days. How was it all then before joining REC (Regional Engineering College)?
Nirmalya Patra (NP): I was born and brought up in Bhubaneswar. I did my +2 in BJB junior college. As my sister is a doctor, my parents pressurised me to take up medical entrance exams. However, soon, I realised it was not my forte, and I decided to give up trying for MBBS. In the next year, I got admission to Basic Science College for +3. Nevertheless, I parallelly prepared for Engineering entrance exams. In the first attempt, I cleared JEE and landed up here at REC Rourkela.
MM: How did REC Rourkela (now NIT Rourkela) happen to you? How did you end up choosing Mechanical Engineering?
NP: Back then, my rank was 75, and Mechanical Engineering was one of the best branches of REC. One of my relatives was studying in the pre-final year at REC. Those days the students from REC were used to be called 'Rencolians’. He got to know of my result ahead of me and suggested my parents make me study here at REC. He advised me and guided me in the counselling procedure. I ended up taking the 'Mechanical Engineering' at REC. I honestly didn't choose Mechanical Engineering.
MM: Tell us something about your REC days. Would you like to share some of your fondest memories during your days at REC, which you still remember today?
NP: Every semester at REC was fun-filled. The whole feeling of those moments is very nostalgic, not just for me but for everyone. I don't know if there is anything specific; I want to recollect, but every day made me a better individual than yesterday at REC. I was a part of a students' group which raised charity for a social cause. As you know, during 1995, people were not socially literate; it was tough to raise funds for a purpose. However, we did, and the event turned out to be great, and I am sure this has created a long-lasting impact on our lives.
In our days, we enjoyed the 'CultFest' only during our sophomore and final year of UG. Talking about fun times, we arranged our sort of 'Floodlight Cricket' and played inside the hostel premises. From pulling an all-nighter right before exams to playing cards and carom all night, the walls of the hostel rooms have witnessed the fun we had during the golden years of our life.
MM: How do you think the skills you acquired throughout your four years of journey at REC helped you in both personal and professional life?
NP: I came from a lower-middle-class background. My exposure to life was minimal. I wasn't the captain of my ship. As said earlier, I didn't select my college and the major I had to pursue. My elders decided my life until REC. I was following the path guided and trodden by others.
When I joined REC, it was a whole other world for me. Those four years taught me the most valuable lessons of my life. I never stayed in a hostel before. The first thing that REC taught me was life is a compromise. I learnt how to adjust and mingle with friends. One thing I want to highlight is a particular aspect of diversity at REC. The fact that 50% of students are from outside Odisha made REC a 'Mini India' where there was a glorious mix of cultures. This diversity helps to build someone as a person as he gets to learn from people all around India.
MM: Being from a non-software branch, how did you bag a job in Infosys?
NP: Back then, in 1998, the IT sector was booming in India. There was an outrageous demand for IT engineers. Because of this demand, they couldn't take everyone from Computer Science as they alone cannot cater to their needs. Through the campus placement procedure, I bagged a job at Tata Steel. After returning to Bhubaneswar and discussing with some of my friends, I got to know that Infosys is having a Walk-in-Interview. I always had a soft-core for the company as it was the only IT company in Bhubaneswar, and I always wanted to stay close to my parents. The technical rounds and the interview happened, and I passed with flying colours. In this way, Infosys happened.
MM: How was your experience working at Infosys?
NP: It was a dream company for me for the reasons mentioned earlier. I was initially posted at Bangalore, but soon after, I applied for a transfer and returned to the Bhubaneswar branch. Another thing admirable about Infosys is that it had an excellent brand value. By brand value, I mean that the value system, the principles, and the socially conscious employees it had like Mr Murty. So, it is a company where one can have a long-term career. Every day, I learnt something new. So, I continued at Infosys as I found something exciting each day at work. In return, I got rewarded in terms of career progression. Hence, I had a relatively lengthy stay at Infosys for 19 years.
MM: Back then, how did you see a future in Data Analytics with Mechanical background, considering the fact that in the present time, Data Analytics has been one of the most sought-after fields amongst the fresh graduates?
NP: I can't believe, but back then, the only exposure that we had to computers was the VAX VMS machine. We were taught only FORTRAN as a language during our four years of the curriculum. We didn't see a computer but only the monitor where we used to do our coding in FORTRAN. And going to the IT sector from a non-IT background, go with an open mindset. As beggars can't be choosers, the only thing that we had is the aptitude, and one has to adapt to what they teach during the training period. Infosys took us through three months of rigorous training. If level 10 is a professional, then these immediately boost you up to level 5. After getting assigned to a project, you start to think about the career you want. My first project wasn't Data Analytics, but the second one was. I developed my soft corner for Data Analytics and continued working in that field for 18 years.
MM: Now, most are taking Data Analytics as their chosen field, as it has become a very achieving platform. How, according to you, a student should groom himself/herself to get into this field?
NP: Different people have unique philosophies and ideologies. With no exposure, one can still land into the field and do well. How to know if you are passionate about Data Analytics? You love numbers. You look at a spreadsheet and try to make sense out of it. You see a problem, and you try to solve the problem with numbers. So if this makes someone excited, then he/she can build a career in this field. Furthermore, one can go for Machine Learning, AI, all kinds of things. But if you enjoy yourself while playing with numbers, you can see yourself as a Data Analyst.
MM: How do you think this field will revolutionize the entire global economy in the future?
NP: It is a revolution. Almost 50% of the jobs in today's world are related to data. Without data, one really can't do anything. Data is going to fuel the world. Moreover, Analytics is also into everything. It is happening, it has happened in the past, but the realisation is happening slowly, and I feel it will continue fostering the future.
MM: From being the Head of Data and Analytics of Manufacturing at Infosys to being a Program Manager at Apple, what was your journey like to land up in Apple? Why did you wish to switch roles?
NP: No wonder Infosys was my dream company in college, but when I moved to the USA, my perspective started changing. I found Apple also very compelling in terms of value system, culture, and social consciousness. Together I can call it a long-term sustainable company. So that's how Apple enchanted me and became a part of my life. I was also not looking for something short term that could get me back to India, So I had to look for something to make my career long term again. That is when I found Apple to be more relevant, and thus, I persuaded myself to work for Apple.
MM: What should an undergraduate student do now if he has the ambition of reaching such significant administrative roles in the corporate fields?
NP: The definition of success for me is quite different. It is a relative term. It is to be happy with what you have in life. Some people may be the head of a company and still are not pleased, and that doesn't mean success for me.
Success personally means to me how satisfied one is with life. Follow your passion and enjoy whatever you do in life, and automatically your career will follow you.
MM: How was your working experience in the USA and India? What were the significant differences you observed in the working department?
NP: Honestly speaking (chuckles) for the first 7-8 years for Infosys, I was working six months in the US and six months in India. I wouldn't say there is a significant cultural difference in the working culture.
The one difference that I would say is the mindset and perspective. We treat most of the people as colleagues rather than that of customers. The mindset has to go away, i.e., we need to see the people on the other side of the fence as individuals and expect the same respect as we give them.
But in the end, that doesn't make any difference. We all are the same individuals at the end of the day.
MM: What do you think of our institute's alumni outreach through NITROAA (NIT Rourkela Overseas Alumni Association)? And how do you think the alumni interactions can be improved?
NP: NITROAA has been quite successful lately, and the credits go to our seniors and my colleagues who are giving it their all. Everyone has their busy schedule, but the kind of focus they have brought in is quite amazing.
It has developed a lot in the last 5-6 years in the US, and it has seen a considerable amount of success. All the credits go to the founding members, and all the hard work, passion, and dedication they put in are amazing. Personally speaking, I had no idea regarding the alumni outreach five years ago. But now, it has improved drastically, and the outreach of college has developed.
Everyone feels nostalgic for their college, and it's up to them how they leverage it. I will not say that there is much scope of improvement. But the only way it can be improved is to tell if I become an ambassador, I need to bring in 5 further ambassadors. I think outreach can increase if it is going to happen in this manner.
MM: How do you see yourself in the future?
NP: There are two parts of my life, i.e., professional and personal aspects. I am aspirational and would instead take small baby steps keeping my goals and perspectives insight. As of a personal part, I would like to be a good husband, father, brother, and at the end of the day, a good human being who can socially impact as much as possible and help others.
MM: What is your success mantra? Please enlighten our readers with a few lines of inspiration.
NP: (Chuckles) Well, I don't have any success mantra. It's all about doing what you like, following your passion, and deriving pleasure from it. Going high up in career may be fruitful to someone but not for all. But at the end of the day, if you are happy with what you are doing, then it's your success mantra.
After an insightful talk with him, Team MM wishes Mr Patra, a happy and prosperous life ahead.