Acing It The 'Able' Way: Abel Mathew's Story
Abel Mathew, a final year student of the Department of Physics and Astronomy has not just been a person with numerous feathers in his cap but an achiever stepping ahead of odds with his quirky demeanour and a passion to ‘know-it-all’. With unparalleled technical skills and unmatched leadership, Abel’s story is that of an optimist, who would always start making plans to execute any difficult proposals that came his way in his five years at NIT Rourkela.
With an inspiring campus life, his deck of roles spans from being the DSC (Developer Student Clubs) Lead of NIT Rourkela, President of the TEDxNITRClub, former Technical Coordinator of Monday Morning, an active member at NITRAA, to prominent contributions at Roots and NIT Conclave, a jewel of a catch at ASME and OpenCode, an ICS (Institute Counselling Services) Mentor and Tutor, a member of the Training Committee. You name it, Abel has done it!
Team Monday Morning caught up with Abel Mathew and his companions over a virtual meet to garner insights of his campus life- a journey worth to look up to. You can listen to excerpts from this interview on our Podcast ‘Candidly NITR’ on major streaming platforms: Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts.
Turning The Leaves Of Childhood
Sharing the reminiscences of his childhood, Abel recalls:
I was born in Mumbai and while growing up I have lived at multiple places across the country owing to my father’s mobile job who is a church priest. I have completed a major part of my schooling in Ranchi. Presently, I live in Kerala. During the last 4 years of college, I have travelled to multiple cities where I resided once. It feels nostalgic to look back at those places and recollect old memories. It feels good to see how those places have changed from the time I used to live there.
Embarking on the Journey in NIT Rourkela
Abel’s selection into NIT Rourkela was not by choice, it was rather by chance. He feels grateful that he made it to NIT Rourkela. Expressing his contentment, he says:
Considering my JEE rank, I did not expect to get into NIT Rourkela. BIT Mesra was just below NIT Rourkela in rankings and I expected that I would be offered a seat there. I was quite happy and a tad surprised as well when I came to know that I had got selected for NIT Rourkela.
He further adds:
One of the things about NIT Rourkela that I'm happy about is that you get to experience the engineering life while pursuing a pure science course. If you go to a pure science university like IISc or IISER, the kind of experience, connections, events, and the entire scenario differs. I am happy that I could get these experiences in NIT Rourkela. Had it not been NIT Rourkela, getting these experiences would not have been possible for me.
Monday Morning (MM): Why did you choose to pursue a 5-year integrated course? How has your academic experience been in NIT Rourkela?
Abel Mathew (AM): I wouldn’t have chosen a 5-year integrated course if there had been a 4-year course for BSc and MSc available at NIT Rourkela. While I was looking up for the colleges that offered a 4-year integrated course, very few colleges had that program. I chose Physics because of my absolute love for physics during my 11th and 12th grade.
Speaking of my academic experience, I was told not to take the first two semesters lightly by my zone seniors and I am very thankful to them for this. The CGPA of my first two semesters has greatly helped me to maintain a decent and stable CGPA throughout. I had never scored well in Maths in my school exams or board examinations but I managed to get an EX in Maths-1!
Embellishments Of Campus Roles
MM: You were a part of ASME in your sophomore year. Please shed some light on your experience of working in ASME
AM: ASME orientation was the first orientation that I attended and it was the first club I got inducted to. I was active in the club in my first two years and was involved in various projects. We also participated in different government-sponsored events. Being in ASME has been a learning as well as a fun experience in all. In my third year, ASME conducted the EFx event, which was a mini version of the ASME E-fest that is conducted globally. I was a part of that team as well and I got an opportunity to get in touch with the members of ASME India. It was a phenomenal experience.
MM: Please share with us the memories from your Roots days and tell us about the roles you played in the team.
AM: Roots is the annual creative confluence of NIT Rourkela that was started during my second semester. It started as a club event by DesignTab and Cinematics which went on to become an institutional event, This is what I call the real progress. It started as a get together of like-minded people who are enthusiastic about art, design and culture and later went on to become a full-fledged confluence. I have been a part of the logistics team, content team, and technical team over years. So, Roots is an event that I have contributed to in all aspects. The sweetest memories of Roots include getting an opportunity to have one-to-one interaction with guests who are eminent figures in their respective fields.
MM: You have served as an ICS mentor as well as a tutor. Shed some light on the purpose of being in that role.
AM: I have been associated with ICS for the past 3 and a half years. During my first year, the institute had a student mentorship program which is not the same as the ICS that we have today. It was a separate program that didn't function the way it was supposed to. An entire revamp and overhaul was done and the present ICS was set up. I felt that I could have made better decisions if I had got better guidance right from my first year. I would say that one of the reasons why I have a decent CGPA today is because my seniors told me on the very first day itself that getting a good CGPA is of immense importance to maintain a decent one throughout. There could be people giving you wrong advice like mid sem is not important because it has a lower weightage as compared to end sem. You'd find people like that.
Having the right mentorship is something that can change your entire four years at NIT Rourkela. I felt that it was my duty to be a part of an organisation that could help me getting my junior batches to understand the institute better, making sure that they're on the right path.
MM: You were also a part of OpenCode when it was founded and is credited for organising various hackathons. How did the idea of doing this strike your mind and what kept you going?
AM: OpenCode is the brainchild of Shaswat Lenka, a graduate from the batch of 2020. After participating in some hackathons it was actually his idea that NIT Rourkela should also organise such hackathons. He discussed this idea with some enthusiasts which included Malkhan Singh, Sainandan Mohanty, Prabin Rath, me and a few others. This is how OpenCode was created. There were many tech clubs in NIT Rourkela but none of them emphasised on organising hackathons, participating in them or building software to participate in open source programs. RunIO was the first full-fledged hackathon that happened in NIT Rourkela during INNOVISION. It was planned to be an independent hackathon but since it was the first-ever event of its kind, we decided to conduct it during INNOVISION to get proper publicity and high participation. The next hackathon organised by OpenCode in collaboration with DSC NIT Rourkela took place during NIT Conclave.
In the 9-year history of NIT Conclave, this hackathon was the first one to be conducted. This is something that OpenCode and DSC are really proud of.
In March 2020, HackNITR was organised, which was supposed to be a single flagship hackathon event for the NIT Rourkela.
MM: Speaking of NIT Conclave, you participated in NIT Conclave at NIT Surathkal and then organised it in NIT Rourkela the following year (2019). What is the importance of organising such conclaves? According to you, how successful was the event?
AM: NIT Conclave is an event that has gained importance over the years. The newly established institutes (NITs) that do not have a well-defined set of curriculum and structure, get a lot of benefits from the NIT Conclave. NIT Rourkela had hosted the Conclave in 2016 as well. Due to these events, the students get a chance to build connections with people across different NITs. The people at the administration level also get an opportunity to interact with the students. Since it is an official event, the invitation is directly sent to the Dean. The NIT Conclave at NIT Surathkal has been really close to my heart. The idea of starting TEDxNITRClub struck my mind when people at NIT Conclave in Surathkal were discussing conducting the TEDx events and its importance. They also talked about ways to get the license back if the institute had one but lost it. That particular conclave is the reason why we have TEDxNITRourkela.
I was also a part of the organizing committee of NIT Conclave 2019 but I couldn’t attend it because I went to attend an All India Summit by DSC India in Goa. One of the proudest things for me about organising NIT Conclave at NIT Rourkela is being able to organise the hackathon. The administration immensely supported us for this event and the HoD of Computer Centre had a lab open for us the entire night.
MM: We don’t have a student council in our institute particularly. What is your take on this?
AM: This discussion happened at both the NIT Conclaves that I have been a part of. When I said that we didn’t have a student council, we rather had fest convenors, the first question that I was asked was-how had we organised events and how had people coordinated. I feel that the post of convenors is just a namesake. The procedure that a convenor follows to book a room in LA is the same as the procedure followed by other students. When the convenor is elected by 6000+ students, how come the channels to be followed remain the same? I did put forward a proposal regarding this to SAC once. However, the administration has reservations for the misuse of power by students.
MM: You are also the Lead at DSC NIT Rourkela. No DSC Lead before you ever thought of opening a chapter but you did. What was your vision behind it?
AM: I became the DSC lead in January 2019. We had a DSC at our university and I was a part of the first chapter as well. We did conduct a few workshops but the club wasn’t active for reasons unknown. If people at Google put their trust in you, you ought to work sincerely. When I became the DSC Lead, I considered it as my responsibility and strived hard to live up to the expectations.
MM: You missed out on being the Dean's Nominee, what is your take on this?
AM: The Dean’s nominee is a position that is directly under the control of the Dean and I respect the decision of the Dean. He has a better judgment of whom to chose to be the leader.
As a note on the role of student representatives, he adds,
A post holder of a club is also a student representative. I would say many didn’t take their position as a responsibility, they rather took it as a position of power and did not do a lot of things that they were supposed to. However, I have made peace with it.
MM: You are known to be an all-rounder and a multitasker with the tagline “Ho Jayega”. You come with a set of paraphernalia wherever you go. It is thought to be the source of all your abilities. What are these accessories?
AM: This is something that I have achieved over the years. Multitasking is something that I had found to be extremely helpful. However, during the lockdown when I had sufficient time to ponder, I realised multitasking is not actually the reason why I was able to do so many things. In fact, I have to say that I am not a good multitasker. I understood that at NIT Rourkela, what motivated me for multitasking was the company of my friends.
There was always some sort of liveliness around the work in college which is something missing at home. I find it difficult to do things here that I did pretty easily at the institute. So I personally associate my success to the people around me.
MM: Tell us about your experience while being associated with NITRAA.
AM: NIT Rourkela is an institute that has got phenomenal alumni base. Being a part of NITRAA is something that I deeply cherish. I was a part of the NITRAA 2018 Summit that happened in New Delhi. The experience has been very enthralling. I have been able to connect to various people who we think we could never even reach out to like CEOs and MDs of eminent firms. All these people take out the time to interact with you because of just one common thread - NIT Rourkela. NITRAA is something that the institute and the students must value because the connections and the amount of value addition that NITRAA does is phenomenal.
Citing an example he recalls,
One of the members of NITRAA interned at Tech Mahindra. His manager was someone who had never met Mr. CP Gurnani, the CEO of Tech Mahindra but we, the students of NIT Rourkela had an entire event with him. I appreciate the present President of the Executive Council of NITRAA for having taken the initiative of setting up NITRAA Mentorship Program which is working with the present batch.
MM: Tell us about your experience while being associated with the Training Committee.
AM: My experience as being a part of the Training Committee has been very cherishable because I was able to take a few sessions and imbibe the knowledge that I have gained over years to other people for their benefit. The Training Committee was initiated with the sole purpose of training students. I have taken two sessions: the art of writing effective emails and the art of making an effective CV. I conducted the first one along with Rashmita Chaterjee at BBA and the second session was conducted online. I was extremely happy about the second session because it was the first student organised YouTube Live session by NIT Rourkela. However, there did occur a few mishaps during the session. I even got disconnected once and there was no order at that time. A cat arrived at Rohit's House (one of the presenters). There was no audio in the entire stream and the entire audience of around 500 people heard the cat in the background. It went on for around 10 minutes. After this incident, we thought that we had lost the entire reputation of the Training Committee. However, it was a hilarious incident and we learnt things like this do happen in an online scenario. Despite the mishaps, the participants were kind enough to stay with us. We also had an interactive QnA session at the end that proved to be very fruitful. We were able to cover some imperative aspects of creating an effective CV. The knowledge that I imparted to the junior batches in that session is something that I have gained over the years as a part of DSC India.
MM: There’s a notion that the Training Committee currently is not catering satisfactorily to the third-year students. How could this scenario be improved?
AM: One of the main reasons why the Training Committee has not been very active during this particular year is that the coordinators have graduated and new coordinators have not been appointed yet by the institute’s Training and Placement (TnP) Cell. The TnP Cell, Professors and the PIC take unanimous decisions to get the Training Committee up and running for the next academic year. The Training Committee for this year has not been even officialised. Once the institute does this, only then the Training Committee can function properly.
MM: The idea of Souvenir is very unique and it had to be a heartwarming experience for the graduating batch. You were very determined to get it done with utmost perfection. What challenges did you face while working in the Souvenir team?
AM: The main challenges are getting the souvenir printed and its distribution. It's a work in progress and so are the challenges. Another thing that I was strongly trying to get done alongside Mrinal Chaudhury and other design coordinators were to have a dedicated photography team from our institute and valuing their contribution. Over the years, I have heard many seniors say that we cannot remunerate the students. It was said that even if you did a work equivalent to a CEO but you were a student, you wouldn't be paid for it by the institute because your work wasn't considered worthy of payment. We set out with a notion that if someone helps you with any job, you have to respect it. If we get photographers from outside the institute and they get paid a huge sum for getting the photographs of entire batch shot, why can't we get it done by the students of NIT Rourkela itself? Why can't they be remunerated for what they do? It is true that being a government institute, it cannot directly pay to the students in cash but there was a way around that we could give them some photography-based gifts that they, as photographers, would always value. We pulled off a deal with SAC that they would get the work done by photographers from the institute and would respect their work by compensating it with some photography related gifts like an additional DSLR kit or other photography equipment. The entire process and printing is still a work in progress.
MM: You are the President of TEDxNITRClub, which is still in its infant stage currently. What is your vision behind the club and what are your plans for it?
AM: TEDxNITRClub is founded with the sole motive to host TEDx events at NIT Rourkela. Presently, TEDx is a global brand. It is a way to connect people, to generate ideas, and to build connections. It is not something restricted to a very specific genre like technology or art or culture. You would find talks on a particular day ranging across a wide variety of topics. The kind of impact that TEDx talks have is phenomenal. Having a TEDx event in NIT Rourkela is a vision that a lot of my friends and I had for years. I am very happy that NIT Rourkela has finally got a club which is planning to conduct TEDx events in the institute. We are planning to have the first event in March followed by multiple events in the course of one year itself so that the culture continues to grow. As you asked about my plan for the club, I would say that it is to make sure the club continues functioning. We used to have TEDx talks in NIT Rourkela around 2012 but it discontinued. I want this culture to grow and sustain.
MONDAY MORNING MEMOIRS
Remembering the days when Abel appeared for the Monday Morning Inductions, he recounts being motivated to join Monday Morning by one of his friends. Later on, he went on to become the Technical Coordinator of Monday Morning (2018-19), then a mentor and now serves as a super mentor for the Team 2020-21.
Recalling his journey, he continued,
AM: My journey at Monday Morning started as a technical team member. It was before the release of the annual print issue on Annual Convocation where one of the Chief Coordinators introduced me to an article about the 50 years journey of NIT Rourkela. One of the members of the article resigned from the team due to some personal reasons. So one of the Chief Coordinators asked me if I was interested to work with the content team and that’s how my journey as a content team member started!
My first ever task as a reporter was to interview Prof S.K. Patel that lasted for about 3 and half-hours. I was glad that the interview went smooth and that marked my journey as a content team member of the Monday Morning. I have written around 10 articles. I went on to be the Technical Coordinator for the session 2018-19.
I was glad that changes could be brought under my leadership. I was more inclined towards the technical aspect of the organization and I strongly believe that having other batchmates who had actually worked as a content team would make excellent Chief Coordinators alongside.
MM: How has your experience been as the Technical Coordinator of MM? Please share some anecdotes from your tenure as the Technical Coordinator.
AM: One of the things that I enjoyed was the autonomy due to my super-cool batchmates. I had the full freedom to decide what goes on the website and what goes on the app. We worked on the Monday Morning app and it has been developing ever since.
One of the major achievements that we were able to pull off during my tenure as a Technical Coordinator was the full-fledged development of the Monday Morning App from scratch in a new technology known as Flutter.
I remember the first version of the app was released during Maktub, Nitrutsav. I was the lead of the second version of the Monday Morning app which was also released during Maktub, Nitrutsav. I am glad that the app was launched at an in-person event.
One of the things I loved about Monday Morning is that although I was a part of the technical team all of our opinions were equally considered regarding any executive body decision being taken,
We had also pulled off smaller projects like we had introduced an animation of the Monday Morning app on its 12th Birthday.
The team I had, I believe is the best team that I have ever had!
MM: You started to revamp the MM app using Flutter which was earlier built with native android as you said. The beta version was successfully launched two months after you started working. How has your experience been working on the app and what challenges did you encounter?
AM: One of the difficulties that I had faced was taking decisions, the consequences of which I couldn’t predict. Taking a calculated risk of what the future might hold has been a challenge. The constant challenge over the years were those uncertainties along the way and the ability to change those outcomes.
MM: Please share some of the memorable incidents with Monday Morning
AM: The launch of the Monday Morning app at Maktub, Nitrutsav would top the list. Apart from these the commencement parties and the interactions that I have had with the other members were the best moments I cherish. Another incident that I missed and really wanted to witness when it happened was when Malkhan (then Co- Technical Coordinator) said – “Website khet Nahin hai ki tum kuch bhi kardo’’ ( The Monday Morning website isn’t a field where you can go on to plough with liberty). I got to hear it from friends later on and it went on to become a statement that urged everyone to maintain certain standards while working on it.
Journey As A Developer
The campus sees Abel as an ace developer. When asked about how he began his programming journey and what his success mantra has been for becoming a successful developer, Abel had the following to say:
People consider me a person who codes a lot which is not true (chuckles). Smarak Das, Chinmay Kabi, Ankesh Anku and Harish who have worked with me in the MM technical team are well-aware of this. A lot of people know that the work that I have done in the technical team is passing messages between different teams and coordinating, ideating and getting things done, leading the team rather than coding. Coming to how my journey started as a developer, till tenth grade I did my schooling from an ICSE school and I had JAVA in my curriculum. That's where I learnt the basics of coding and it was an added advantage for me that I got my basics cleared quite early.
Abel’s word of advice,
One should start with basics. Know that you learn by making mistakes. I quote Chinmay, "Try to make a mistake and that’s how you'll know what works and what doesn't. The right way to learn things in coding is by breaking things." So, keep breaking things. At the end of the day, you will become a developer with experience who has broken multiple things and you will know what works and what doesn't work. If you learn this way, you will be able to debug things better. This is something that you would experience only by falling multiple times and then rising up gradually. This is how I have become a developer. This is how I suggest everyone to become a developer rather than watching a YouTube video or a tutorial. That does give you knowledge but not hands-on experience.
Career Aspirations and Future Plans
Internship and Placement At Goldman Sachs
Shedding light on bagging the prestigious internship, Abel says:
I would thank the former placement coordinators which include Anshuman Bebarta (Placement Secretary, 2019-20) and others for their phenomenal support. NIT Rourkela is one of the few institutes where Goldman Sachs visits to recruit people from all branches. They do not accept people from all branches. The placement committee has been highly supportive in convincing the HRs of Goldman Sachs to allow students of NIT Rourkela from all the branches. Hence, I got an opportunity to write the online test. Coming to how I cleared it, I knew the basics of programming.
He further adds
One of the coolest things about Goldman Sachs is that you get an opportunity to connect with anyone and everyone in the entire firm, be it the CEO himself. The CEO has a part-time hobby of being a DJ and he has also played in multiple sunburn DJs. At Goldman, people work passionately and they enjoy their hobby passionately. I have personally interacted with a few managing directors. There's no barrier in reaching out to anyone across all the divisions.
The entire world was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and many internships were converted to work from home. Sharing his experience of the virtual model of internship, Abel said:
You do not feel when something started or something ended. You just feel that it's just another day when you start the work and it's just another day you end the work. There's nothing out of the ordinary about it. The lack of connection with people is a big gap. The experience of having an in-person internship would have been definitely better. You get to meet new people, hang out with them after work, you get to spend weekends with them. Those experiences are something GS tried to offer in the online event. They also organised catch up calls and interactive sessions. I would say that Goldman Sachs was completely prepared for a virtual internship and there were no hassles. Based on the present work culture that they have, anyone can easily work from home because the entire work they do is online. Even if you're working in the office, you work on a system connected to the Web. So, the entire work can be done from home itself. The entire onboarding process was very smooth and efficient. There was no wastage of time because they were already ready for it.
Abel has had a very vibrant and inspiring college life. When asked where he sees himself in a few years from now, he adds:
To be honest, I don't have a long term plan. I have accepted the PPO from Goldman Sachs and I'll be joining whenever the offer letter and joining date arrive. If you ask me what my long term plan is, I, presently, don’t have any. I want to get into the tech industry, I want to keep experimenting with things.
MM: Five years is a lot of time to excel in a fair amount of things and you have excelled in everything you have tried to touch. But it doesn't necessarily imply that all can happen as we wish it did. How have you evolved over 5 years in dealing with unprecedented setbacks? What do you think you will take away from those setbacks to the bigger stage of life beyond the institute?
AM: This is something that I understood over the years that what you are good at may not be something that you would like to do. So, what you like to do and what you are good at may not always be the same things. It’s important to realise the difference between the two. I would share an incident that a very few people know about. I did not score very well in one of the subjects of my department, Quantum Mechanics. I had to reappear in the exam. That is a subject I loved very much but I wasn't good at it. Physics is something that I love more than the tech industry but the tech industry is something that I am better at. That's why I chose to excel in this field.
Coming to the setbacks and learning from them, I have understood that it's important to learn from the previous incidents and it's important to improve. However, regretting and trying to change the past is not going to do any good to you. Accept the reality, accept the responsibility, and try to improve yourself in the upcoming days instead of just regretting it blaming somebody else.
MM: Looking back on your years in college, are there any regrets or special moments you would always cherish?
AM: I would always cherish the moments I have had with Praisy and my friends, the personal connections I have made with people in NIT Rourkela.
Speaking of regrets, there aren't many. However, if you ask me about something that I wish I had done differently, it would be starting my journey in tech earlier. There are multiple things you could do differently knowing where you are right now. However, there isn’t much you could have done when you didn't know what the future held.
MM: How has NIT Rourkela shaped you over the years?
AM: The person that I am right now is all because of NIT Rourkela. It has moulded me, it is the reason that I was able to improve myself and push myself beyond my limits. Had it been any other institute, I would not have got the opportunities that NIT Rourkela provided me.
MM: What are you going to miss the most about NIT Rourkela? What will be your perpetual remembrance?
AM: The thing I would miss the most about NIT Rourkela is the carefree nature of being a student. You don't have to worry much and there isn't much thought you have to put before deciding because you have got seniors backing you. When you are a student, you are free to experience whatever you want in life. You can do anything without the thought of being responsible and this is something that would reduce with years after you graduate.
Team Monday Morning congratulates Abel Mathew for all his achievements and admirable college life. He will serve as an inspiration for junior batches to come. We wish him the very best for his future endeavours.