The Prodigious Geek: Swayam Purna Mishra's story
Being down-to-earth, establishing benchmarks, having clarity about whatever one gets into, are a few of the many characteristics one can associate with Swayam Purna Mishra, a final year student from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Be it academics, extra-curricular, or social life; you name it, and Swayam Purna Mishra has proved her worth in it. Holding a position of responsibility as the President of Clarion and excelling in academics that brought her an internship and PPO at Microsoft, her hard work and sincerity have brought highly commendable achievements and prestige for the institute.
Team Monday Morning got in touch with Swayam Purna Mishra over a video call and discussed her journey, memories, incidents that she will always 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.
A WALK THROUGH THE PRE-NITR LIFE
Monday Morning (MM): Walk us through your childhood and schooling days.
Swayam Purna Mishra (SPM): I was born and brought up in Cuttack, Odisha. My entire schooling is from DAV Public School, along with the 11th and 12th class, affiliated to CBSE. I have two siblings, and I am the oldest. Since my childhood, I am more of a hard-worker than a clever or intelligent child. I made my peace with the fact that I have to put in some efforts to achieve something because, during the middle school days, I wasn’t the kind who finds it easy to score, but I wanted to score and perform better, and this was one of the early lessons I learnt in my life. So, it has been relatively easy for me to work hard to achieve something. I chose science in the senior secondary because I started to enjoy Mathematics by the end of class 9th and a lot of my friends were also fascinated by engineering. I also enjoyed studying whatever I was studying, so all that added up in the end.
MM: What was the reason behind choosing NIT Rourkela? Was it your choice or your rank?
SPM: It was more my rank than my choice. After JEE, I talked to many people, friends, family members going through or who have gone through engineering nuances. Then I concluded that anything circuital has more scope or is more lucrative comparatively. I would have got non-circuital branches at other NITs ranked higher than NIT Rourkela at my admission. I wanted circuital branches, so considering all the factors, I filled the form, and that’s how NIT Rourkela happened.
MM: How do you see your decision of joining NIT Rourkela now?
SPM: NIT Rourkela has been good to me from the beginning, and I liked my branch, the subjects we studied, the atmosphere I was in and the growth I got. Maybe I would have had better growth, had I been somewhere else, but I wouldn’t know it now.
EXPLORING SKILLS AND PASSION: EXTRA-CURRICULAR
NIT Rourkela is famous for its vibrant club culture and provides the freshers with a wide range of options to choose and explore their interests and skills. From being a coding enthusiast to setting a whole new legacy in Clarion, Swayam Purna Mishra has established an example of sheer dedication and commitment to fulfil responsibilities. While she believes that her infamous tagline, “Thu Thu Thu” has a role in determining her luck factor, here’s what she has to say about her experience in Cyborg and Clarion:
MM: You were a part of Cyborg since your first year. Shed some light on your experience of working in Cyborg.
SPM: Cyborg conducts Create Classes every year, which is open for freshers and sophomores. These classes aim to give you an introduction to robotics; I’ll say the “Hello, World!” of robotics. They teach how to build the line following bot. I, along with three other people, Amartyaa Avizeeta, Triya Pattnaik, and Shriya Aishwarya Pati, was in a team along with a mentor and we built the autonomous bot. The aim was to participate in the competition organised by the club itself during Innovision. After that, in the second semester, Cyborg conducts their inductions, and that’s how you get in. However, if you have been through these classes, you have a heads up because you know an introduction to robotics, which a normal fresher won’t have. It was a good learning experience because that was the first time I worked with electronic equipment and my first experience with hardware failure, your code not working when you are implementing it on a physical circuit, etc. After getting inducted in Cyborg, I had many good takeaways and things that I got acquainted with, from the club. I wouldn’t have learnt these things this early had Cyborg not happened to me. I learned to code as early as I did because it was required, and I was exposed to a lot of concepts like Image Processing, Machine Learning, because of the various workshops that they conduct and the mentors that we had there.
The last event that I was a part of was Epreuve in 2018, an online tech hunt. I was part of the content team responsible for making the questions and clues that the people needed to solve to move through the levels. I haven’t been much active in Cyborg after that because many other things started consuming my plate. I think it is valid for all the technical clubs, that if you have given that amount of time, you have such a lot to take away from, so many hands-on experiences which otherwise you won’t get in college. But I find that after a point I wasn’t able to give that time. It is something that I wish I would have managed, but again, the other experiences that I got were also good takeaways anyway.
MM: You have been a very active member of Clarion. What were the factors which made you join this club?
SPM: I wanted to join Clarion because I have been quite attached to the whole concept of debating ever since my school days because of how we were bought up; my father, our relatives, used to converse with my sister and me in English from an early age. So I had a hold on that language way ahead than my peers, which helped me converse in English and that's how I ended up debating in my school days. I enjoyed doing that. When I joined college, just like any other fresher, the first thing I got to know was that NIT Rourkela has a very vibrant club culture. I wanted to know if there was a club for debating. I found out about Clarion even before they had their orientations or inductions. After getting inducted, I felt Clarion is the first place where I felt valued, the feeling that you get when you realise that you are good at this and people respect me for that. That was the first time I felt like that after I joined college. That’s the kind of feeling that I’ll always associate Clarion with. Clarion taught me a lot. It taught me to debate in a better way, and it gave me so many friends, seniors, juniors. Clarion is one of the major and main memories that I’ll attach with college.
MM: In your tenure as the Clarion president, the club saw several achievements at a stretch. How did you manage to pull off a period of successful leadership?
SPM: Firstly, when people tend to say that in my tenure, the club saw a very good time, I firmly believe that that success shouldn’t be attributed to me. That credit goes to the team members who themselves walked on their scales, practised, and ultimately ‘broke-in’ (making it to the out rounds). That is one thing that I will not take credit of.
MM: You were the winner of 11th CNLU Parliamentary Debate (PD), 2019. What was your initial reaction when you got to know about this? (To know more about this victory, click here.)
SPM: I had gone to CNLU the year before as well. In 2019, it was my second time that I attended the same, but this time I went with Aditya (Tripathi) and Siddhesh (Borkar). They were perfect teammates, and we were very complementary to each other, making up for each other’s weaknesses and everything. When we got on that train to Patna, we never expected to win. What we were hoping was that last time we finished eighth, this time, let’s desire to get into the semi-finals. In the post-break rounds, I think those were the finest performances of debating, I had ever done individually, and it was the same for my teammates. After the finals, I wasn’t expecting a win. I think Siddhesh and Aditya expected to win to some extent, but I wasn’t. So when they announced the results, I was shocked. More than just being surprised, I was trying to figure out how did this happen? (laughs). I hadn’t heard anyone winning a tournament from the club before that. Even when we walked up to the dais to receive the trophy, I still hadn’t accepted in my mind that we won. It was only when we were returning, in that train journey, when our contingent was cheering us, we were getting phone calls of seniors congratulating us that we made them proud; it was then that it hit me that we did something substantial. It is one of the fondest memories that I’ll carry for a long time.
MM: One of Clarion’s significant events, ‘NITR Parliamentary Debate (PD)’ couldn’t be conducted in the academic year 2019 as well. What was the reason behind it?
SPM: Several factors need to be taken care of when you are talking about organising a tournament. Firstly, because of the very nature of PD, it will not be a good one if we don’t impose some rules to participate. That is why we don’t allow participation from NIT Rourkela itself. For this reason, it has been a problem to get support from the administration. Apart from that, the usual concern about being in Rourkela comes up. There are these communication and travel problems for which people don’t see a reason to travel to Rourkela after spending Rs 2000 or more for registration. We are not able to provide proper accommodation, the kind we get when we go out for tournaments. That is also something which people complain about. Pertaining to all these reasons, the PDs we had had in the past saw a very stark drop in the participation.
During my time and Siddhesh’s tenure previously, we felt it was better if we gave all our time to debating and ask the members to debate and focus, instead of rallying them into organising a PD. Managing a PD takes up a lot of time for the club members, mostly the sophomores and the freshers batch. They are the people who should actively incentivise to debate because that is when they will be able to take it forward. When we knew that there are significantly fewer chances to make that PD a grand one, it didn’t seem right to engage these people in organising a PD. Subsequently, we were losing our time on good debating, so it wasn’t a fair trade-off in our eyes at that point. That’s why we decided that instead of conducting a PD, we will focus on improving our debaters and teaching the junior batches to continue that one.
MM: Your tenure in Clarion has set up high standards for the batches to come. Tell us about your journey first as a debater, and then as a President. Any unforgettable memories that you’ll always cherish?
SPM: When I think of unforgettable memories, the CNLU win comes first to my mind. Apart from that, there was a time in my second semester, when our contingent was getting ready to go to NUJS; one of the teams had an empty slot, and I was supposed to fill that up. We were debating against our seniors, Aditi Raj, Rohit Biswas, Deepak Kumar, Siddhesh and everyone. They were legends already, some of them had broken in CNLU before, Aditi had been to 10 tournaments, everybody in Clarion knows about Rohit as an adjudicator. So in that debate, after I finished my speech, I could see all of them impressed with my speech and Aditi nodding to Deepak to convey- ‘it’s good that you had her in your team’. Being a first-year at that time, it honestly felt amazing to be recognised like that by people you look up to as debaters. That is something which has stayed with me. As of my journey, especially during my presidentship, there were many things that I didn’t expect to encounter.
When you are a postholder, it’s just not about debating. There is a lot of organisational stuff, a lot of running around, convincing people, getting the signatures, etc. That kind of workload was like a surprise to me, but I’m happy that I had my fellow postholders, Chodaganga Pradhan, Siddhant Guru, Phalgun, Rishi Dakarapu, and Kishore to help me through that. At the end of the day, I won’t say that I have no regrets. There are many things that I wish I could have done better. I hope that everyone else also remembers that year the way I do or at least close to that and not with any significant regrets.
Apart from the meritorious journey in different tournaments and events, Swayam Purna Mishra has also proved her worth in Academics. She was awarded the Academic Excellence Award for 2018-19 and was also given a rare opportunity to be a C Programming tutor in her second year. As a friend and a branch mate, she is extremely sincere and balances everything without any miss. Here’s what she has to say about her academic journey in NITR:
MM: How will you describe your academic experience in NIT Rourkela?
SPM: I like my branch, coding and a lot of subjects that we were taught. I don’t have any complaints in that field which is typical for many people in engineering. I had this thing from childhood, a thought in my mind that I need to perform well. I have this fear of not performing well in exams. It has lessened a lot after joining an engineering college (laughs). The fear is still there, and that’s why I didn’t become the kind of engineer you read about; the one who studies before exams and all. I feel that my interest in my branch and its subject made it easy for me to fit into it and go with the flow. I wouldn’t say I’m a very bright or smart student because things that people could grasp quickly didn’t feel that easy for me. I am that kind of a person who has to work harder than everybody else. This has stayed with me throughout engineering and indeed has increased my confidence for that matter. In short, the experience has been okay, no major complaints.
MM: You were awarded the Academic Excellence Award in 2019. What was the daily routine that you followed related to academics that brought you this award?
SPM: If I feel that any class is good enough, I do take notes and listen. That sometimes changes if I had a tiring day. I would say I am ’a two weeks before the exam’ kind of a person (chuckles). I start preparing a bit earlier than everybody else. As for the Academic Excellence Award, there have been a few points in my life where I think luck favoured me. I am not downplaying the effort that I put in, but apart from the effort, this luck factor determines what happens in exams, tests, tournaments. So, this was one point where I feel I got lucky apart from the efforts that I put in, and that’s how Academic Excellence happened to me.
MM: How did you maintain a balance between academics and extra-curricular?
SPM: I just followed the idea of doing what is immediately required and figuring out what I am facing difficulty in. If there was a club matter which needed my immediate attention, I felt it is okay to postpone the academic commitments for a while if they weren’t immediately required and vice-versa. This is the strategy that has worked for me. Just find out what you want to be or want to get the next day and focus on that this evening. After that, you can start thinking about what you want to do the day after. Sometimes I make elaborate plans spanning over a brief period, which gives me an idea what all am I supposed to do in the upcoming days.
Instead of thinking that “Oh my god, I have so much to do!” it is better to complete one thing at a time with a proper plan.
MM: You were a C programming tutor in your second year, which is quite a rare thing for a sophomore. How was your experience of interacting with your immediate juniors and being given this big responsibility?
SPM: It was an excellent experience. When you teach a subject, it intrinsically gives you the interest to learn more about the same. During the process of teaching something to the students, numerous doubts arise in your mind as well like why a particular thing is happening the way it is right now. This experience of mine helped me learn many things that I otherwise wouldn’t have read about. Interacting with the people who attended the class was a great experience. A number of them were enthusiastic of these classes, and I felt that I could help them improve in the language. One person came up to me and said that he used to face many difficulties in C lab, and these classes helped him a lot in coping up with the same. I used to tell them that these are the kind of questions that I used to face when I was in the first year, and they are likely to be there. Sometimes I used to give topic wise questions. When people say that it helped them through it, it was a very good moment for me. I felt happy that I could help someone, which is always a good feeling.
THE JOURNEY OF MERIT AND RELIEF:
College internships are admittedly quite vital and help to nudge you in the right direction. Along with excelling in academics, Swayam Purna Mishra bagged two estimable internships, including Microsoft. She interned and eventually received a Pre-Placement Offer from Microsoft. She sheds light on her work experience, preparation strategy and domain of work:
MM: Share with us your first experience as an intern at Kriti Tech.
SPM: Kriti Tech is a startup in Bhubaneshwar. I interned there in my 2nd year. My main motive behind the internship was to get an idea about what it is like to work in the corporate setup. At that point, I hadn’t made up my mind about whether I wanted to pursue higher studies or get into a job. The internship was an opportunity for me to see if I fit into the corporate environment, and I think it was successful in that regard to a lot extent. I was working on a small project related to python, and then I did another small project related to databases. I then realised that I enjoy taking that challenge and researching the tasks and solving them. My main takeaways from that internship were learning a couple of new tricks, and apart from that, another takeaway was to finalise that I would like to do a job after my B.Tech because I enjoyed that kind of setup.
MM: You bagged an internship at Microsoft in your pre-final year. Can you brief us about the work you did there? How was your overall experience during your internship? (To know more about the internship, click here.)
SPM: Microsoft was a very happy (yet not surprising) opportunity I got! In Microsoft, I was lucky enough to get a perfect mentor, Chiradeep Biswas. He was very motivated to make sure I had all the resources and help I needed. I worked under the Bing team (which is their search engine). My work was all about improving the search results and making it more user friendly.
As it was a completely virtual internship, we encountered many problems, which we wouldn’t have, had it been a regular internship. We faced a few issues like getting access to our machine’s data and sometimes even network fluctuations. The main thing that was missing was the man-to-man interaction where a person explained everything to you through a computer screen. Despite those challenges, the team I was working with was really helpful! Everyone was very welcoming and always eager to help and clear your doubts. You would never feel like you are bothering them if you ask them any doubts. My manager was also accommodating. It was overall, an outstanding experience! I learnt a lot. Definitely, two months were not enough to complete the project, but the kind of learning I took away with me was substantial.
The people in Microsoft are not there to bully you. They don’t take you in just so that they can get cheap work done off you. Rather, they want to help you so that you can help them by working for them. That is a mindset I deeply appreciate in Microsoft. I am thankful to our Placement Committee for bringing the company and allowing us to sit through the on-campus procedures.
MM: What was the preparation strategy that helped you bag this internship?
SPM: I knew a couple of seniors who got the internship in their 3rd year. They advised me to practice many competitive coding questions and to be clear about the subjects that we had completed by the end of our 2nd year. In the summer after my 2nd year, apart from doing my internship at Kriti Tech, I also worked on that advice. I tried my best to solve as many questions as possible and tried to increase the number of problems I solved per day. However, I will say I wasn’t entirely prepared when Microsoft did come. There were many topics that I hadn’t covered by then, which is why my online test didn’t go as well as it should have gone for me to be safely confident that I will make the cut-off. After the test, I wasn’t sure that I would be selected. I thought that this company is done for, and I should focus on the following companies to come. However, I think they took in more students than they usually do, which is how I made the cut. The night when the results came, at 10:30 PM, I found out that I was one of the shortlisted students for the further rounds. The whole day I had spent getting over the fact that I will not get selected and making my mind up to focus on the future companies to come, which is why I hadn’t prepared anything for further rounds on that day. Although I think that is what helped me in a way as it made me less nervous(chuckles!). When I went in for the written round and interview, my mind wasn’t cluttered with all the thoughts I would have had, had I spent the whole day preparing for the interview. The interview was more like the answers which came to me naturally or based on the preparation I had done during the summer.
I would like to say that one should try to keep clear the basics of the subjects like DBMS, data structure algorithm and practice coding a lot. They can ask you anything ranging from puzzles, to your previous internship experiences, or they can give you random questions. And you will have to explain to them what you think the answer is. In such good companies, people are looking for what you can bring to the table. So they won’t bully you with cross-questioning. Instead, they would encourage you to create your thought process and develop an idea of how you think a particular thing is working.
MM: You also bagged a PPO from Microsoft. What was your feeling when you got to know this?
SPM: The first thing I felt after the disbelief was a relief! (chuckles). Our internship ended on 3rd July, and we got the PPO letters towards the end of July. During this one month in between, we had no idea whether we got selected for PPOs, which is why we weren’t allowed to sit for a couple of companies according to Placement Committee policies. I was preparing for future companies, during that time, just in case I don’t get the PPO. When the mails arrived, I wasn’t one of the first people who got the mail. Instead, I saw a few people in the WhatsApp group saying that they got the letter. So, I just kept refreshing my mail, waiting to get either an acceptance or rejection letter. Finally, when I did see the acceptance mail, I was quite numb for a while. Then I told my sister and my parents, and they got to the happiness phase before me. I got to that part after I crossed the relief threshold. I was just happy that I won’t have to take the extra pressure after this.
A SNEAK PEEK DOWN THE MEMORY LANE:
Swayam Purna Mishra’s friends paint her as an extremely sincere student having a perfectly balanced life. Some even describe her as a bookworm, and like every other bookworm, she too dreams of having her personal library. It is evident that her juniors and her batchmates, look up to her; not just for her achievements but also for being the person she is in general. To know how she describes herself, we asked her regarding her personal experiences, fondest memories, hobbies, and many more.
MM: Your friends and juniors look at you as an ‘achiever’ who sets a legacy wherever she goes. How does Swayam Purna Mishra see herself?
SPM: I think I am a person who works hard for what she wants, but I have also got lucky in some important junctions in my life, which is how I arrived at where I am right now. I wouldn’t say I am an inspiration by any means because there are so many people who have lesser resources and yet have done so well for themselves. Those are the people I look up to, and I would instead like to ask the people who look up to me (if there are any), to instead find them as inspirations. I would say I still haven’t figured out many things about what I want to do with my life during my job or after that. There are lots of things I’m still figuring out.
Up until now, I have made some good choices, and I hope I continue to do that. I hope that I continue to be the person who doesn’t give up easily. Even if I am not immediately good at some things, I recollect that I was not good at many things before, and eventually, I got good at them because I didn’t give up. I think that is a trait of mine that has helped me till now and I’m confident that if I keep that up, it will help me in the future as well.
MM: We got to know that you have a keen interest in reading books. Can you tell us what is your recent favourite book and why?
SPM: I would say there is no recent favourite book I have. Currently, I’m reading a series by Ken Follett- The Century Trilogy. It’s about World War I, World War II and the Cold War. It’s a fictional piece based on historical events. I’m enjoying it so far.
However, if you ask me my favourite book, I would say it’s The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. When we were younger, we were told about these stories with heroes who are perfect and evil villains. When I grew up, I realised I liked stories where the heroes are flawed and have weaknesses because they made me relate to them better. The kite runner is a book where the protagonist makes a huge mistake, and it’s about how he tries to repent from that. It’s written in very simple words, and yet you are drawn to it because you relate with the characters so much. You can connect to the people who make mistakes and want to improve on that. It was just a very pure way of portraying how we feel about love and repentance. I don’t think any other book has ever touched me in such a way.
MM: Share some of your fondest memories and regrets (if any) in your journey at NIT Rourkela.
SPM: Some of my fondest memories will probably be debating, going out with my friends and the feeling we used to get when our mid-semester exams were over. I don’t think I will ever get that feeling again. We feel the carelessness and relief when we don’t have any other immediate commitments, and we can relax for some time. We don’t think a lot about these things, but after spending a year virtually, we could realise that these were the kind of things that made us attached to college life.
As far as regrets go, I think I could have done a little more to improve the level of debating in the club further when I was the President. As I said, I don’t want to attribute the success of the debating teams during my presidentship because I didn’t have a lot to do with it. However, I wish I had. I hope I could have inspired more people to love debating. Apart from that, I don’t think there is anything that I regret in college life.
MM: How do you think the four years at NIT Rourkela shaped you, academically, personally and also in regards to your professional career which you would be commencing soon?
SPM: I have a better idea about what I am doing at least in the immediate future than when I joined. I figured out a lot of things about my branch: the prospects, what I enjoyed etc. So on the professional front, I have improved as to where I was in 2017. I would say I am a slightly more confident person now than I was back then, and NIT has a massive hand in that. Apart from that, I think I have grown as a person. I understand a lot of things a little better. I have grown less judgemental, more patient, taking things in stride instead of complaining about many things.
MM: How do you see the souvenir happening?
SPM: I really hope it happens! It is one thing everyone is excited about throughout their college life when we see our seniors going through photographing themselves and all of their juniors coming to get photographs with them. Our batch had a substantial emotional loss as 4th year is the time when you make a lot of memories in college after your friends are placed, and there is no immediate pressure on you. You are in that mindset that we will start our job six months later, and now we should make as much out of this time as we can, and that was taken away from us. I hope when we do go back to college for exams, we would have a souvenir photoshoot. I think it is one of the last things my batch is holding onto.
MM: Your batch has been missing out on the one-last-time things and much other stuff you must have planned on.
SPM: I hope our clubs will still give us a farewell at least(chuckles!). Apart from that, missing out on things was a major disappointment for everyone in my batch. We all had a lot of things planned for the final year, which we couldn’t do. However, the same thing is happening to people all over the world. So, after a point, I guess we stopped complaining and started hoping that we will get something in your final year at least. I’m hoping the souvenir happens in the right way. I hope we will be able to get back to campus for some time to feel like college students before we start working as employees. We missed out on a lot, but then many people around the world suffered a lot more. That’s how I sometimes console myself to stop complaining too much about it.
MM: What would be your message to our readers out there?
SPM: Don’t give up on things you are not immediately good at, if you want to do something and you see people around you find it more comfortable and are better, be assured that if they don’t put in the hard work and you put in the efforts consistently, you will beat them at some point, this is something I learned and will keep with me for the rest of my life. It’s crucial when you come into engineering, you need to keep faith in yourself and all the hard work you have put in to end up in this college, keep going, and things will fall into place at some point.
Team MM congratulates Swayam Purna Mishra for her commendable college journey and wishes her good luck for all the future endeavours.