Malkhan Singh: A Man of Integrity and Humility
Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
No other student of NIT Rourkela could be better suited to the above lines other than the man of integrity and humility- the ever cheerful Malkhan Singh. Appending to the array of inspiring ‘Final Year Interviews’, Team Monday Morning is here with the journey of a final year Dual Degree student from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering who is a perfect quintessence of someone who emanates an undying passion for the stream he chooses to fall in love with, be it robotics or computer science. Malkhan served as the Technical Coordinator of Monday Morning, Team Captain of Tiburon, interned at Pattern Effects Labs and currently placed at Publicis Sapient.
Team Monday Morning caught up with him along with the ex-Coordinators and his friends. Join us through the article and witness his remarkable journey throughout college life.
A SNEAK PEEK INTO LIFE BEFORE NIT ROURKELA
Monday Morning (MM): Shed some light on your life before joining NIT Rourkela.
Malkhan Singh (MS): I came from a proper rural setting in Uttar Pradesh, where I studied till 2nd standard and continued my education till 5th standard in a nearby small town. I came from a background where there was no awareness about higher education institutes such as IITs and NITs.
In 6th standard, I moved to Onkareshwar Saraswati Vidya Niketan, Kanpur and stayed in a room on rent, did the housework and cooked for me all by myself.
It was a big transition from a small village to a city like Kanpur. I was not able to understand their academics and English. It was a tough time for me. However, not to forget the teachers’ contribution, they arranged special classes for me and helped me in every manner to make me adapt to the surrounding environment. A drastic change followed, and I managed to get the first rank in the upcoming years. In class 8th, I decided to pursue engineering. After securing 94% in the UP State board, I prepared full-fledged for JEE in the college's integrated curriculum. I had to prepare for boards, entrance exams and even had to look after the housework. Achieved 94% in 12th boards as well, cleared JEE and voila! I am here.
MM: How did NIT Rourkela happen to you? Why did you choose to pursue a Dual Degree (DD) in Computer Science?
MS: After getting an OBC Category rank of around 5k in IIT-JEE Advanced, I was sure of getting into IITs, but I preferred branch over college. I had a stint and passion for Computer Science, and I stuck to this branch while filling the choices in JoSAA. Then I had to decide between MNNIT Allahabad and NIT Rourkela, but I chose the latter as I wanted to move out of Uttar Pradesh. Regarding Dual Degree, I read in the newspaper that these guys chill when the B.Tech students crib about placements and higher studies, and this is how I chose Dual Degree over B. Tech while filling choices.
KEEPING UP WITH THE PACE: LIFE AT NIT ROURKELA
MM: What has it been like shifting from a village in Uttar Pradesh and sustaining on your own in a premier engineering institute?
MS: There are some sweet and bitter experiences. To start with, I’m not fond of the samosas of Odisha! I have had it at different places, but in Odisha, I would not say I like it. NIT Rourkela’s vast campus compelled me to buy a bicycle. I didn’t know how to ride one, which led me to hit a few people (chuckles). Such bizarreness was the condition for which I had regular visits to the dispensary to heal my wounds every 3-4 days.
One thing that mattered to me the most was the language barrier. My school was converted to English-medium when I was in 8th grade, but as teachers remained the same, they used to teach in Hindi. As a result, I could only read and understand English. Moreover, here at NIT Rourkela, professors used to teach only in English, and I could barely understand anything. This was when my friend Shubham Ekka (2021 batch, Department of Electrical Engineering) came to the rescue. Meanwhile, I worked on it myself, and in the 2nd semester, I started understanding things.
MM: How has your academic experience been in NIT Rourkela?
MS: I used to attend all classes and never bunked any of them. However, I would not look at the subjects after class hours. The reason being, I was more interested in co-curricular activities, i.e. participating in club affairs, coding and robotics-related stuff, than our curriculum. I was the kind of guy who starts to prepare a week before the exams. However, there is a downside to this; I sometimes regret not having a CGPA of above 8. As for placements, some companies don’t allow students with less than 8 CGPA.
TEAM TIBURON: WIRES AND BEYOND WATERS
MM: Share any anecdotes from your international competition trips to Singapore and San Diego. What is your biggest takeaway from such international level events?
MS: From my first year, I was much into robotics and was aware of Tiburon and wanted to be a part of it. Though I could not get selected in my freshmen year, I kept in touch with my friends who were part of Tiburon. I did not lose hope, started preparing for it, and was inducted easily into the team in my sophomore year.
The lesson I learnt from this was if you fail, then don’t lose hope; instead, try again with full preparation.
In my third year, the competition timeline was announced, and only the best from the team were selected, those who had proper knowledge of the project. The first competition in Singapore was between Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), organised by IEEE-OES (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Ocean Engineering Society), Singapore Chapter. As Tiburon is not a club under SAC and is a research team under the Department of Mechanical Engineering guided by Prof. Haraprasad Roy, we don’t get any funds to participate from the institute and have to self-fund ourselves.
The second competition in San Diego, USA, requires a huge budget. As we can’t afford that, we participate in another competition of Students Autonomous underwater Vehicle (SAUV), which is organised every alternate year by the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Chennai, where our team got 3rd rank in 2017 and emerged as joint-winners with IIT Bombay in 2019. There is a rule that the organisers sponsor four students worth 10.55 lakhs of the winning team to participate in the World’s oldest and most prestigious competition for AUVs, the RoboSub. It is the only competition that uses saltwater making it more challenging for 22 countries to participate. However, we did an excellent job considering that this was NIT Rourkela’s first time with RoboSub. We stood 30th out of the 69 teams who participated. We went till the 2nd round with IIT Bombay, who had some more points than us, while IIT Kanpur got eliminated in the 1st round.
MM: There was a case of battery failure at RoboSub. How did you deal with it?
MS: We were three students in that competition as the fourth one’s visa wasn’t issued. Thus, handling the machine and toiling hard for daily 12-hour tests at RoboSub was very demanding and cumbersome. The thing I had to do was I had to transfer the video captured by the vehicle to my laptop, but in the meantime, being exhausted, I slept. Then waking up after 2-3 hours, I was shocked to find out the battery drained out and stopped working. Without wasting further time, I called upon my senior Dipam Chakraborty (2018 batch, Dual Degree from Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering, Click here). I asked him to buy a battery at that very moment. The battery was readily available in the US, but it required a credit card for payment. The issue was resolved by morning, and our participation got delayed by 3-4 hours. However, after receiving, we started altogether with full vigour and enthusiasm.
MM: Funding for technical clubs to participate in international events has been a problem faced by the students. What is your experience regarding this as the team captain of Tiburon?
MS: When a student from NIT Rourkela participates in an international competition, the institute has a confusing set of rules. Moreover, the rules are outdated and do not fit the current scenario. For instance, we had a limitation of spending $100 per day as a daily allowance, but as per the current scenario, $100 is very little. This rule is so old that it was devised when the dollar price was nearly one-third of its present value. Therefore, the rules need to be updated that will cater to current needs.
EXPLORING THE WORLD OF OPEN SOURCE
MM: According to you, what role does contribution to open-source and Github play in a developer’s journey?
MS: Regarding open-source projects, Github is not the only one destination; we have GitLab and GitBucket as well. I applied for Google Summer of Code (GSoC) in my third year. To work for an open-source project listed by GSoC, one has to know the functioning and the level of understanding of that project is reflected in the proposal. So prior contributions to the project make it easy for the selectors to accept your proposal. So the first step of working at such organisations is to know the git commands and Github properly; otherwise, one can face many problems while submitting a pull request.
MM: You were a part of OpenCode when it was founded and are credited for organising various hackathons. How did the idea of doing this strike your mind, and what kept you going?
MS: OpenCode was the brainchild of Shaswat Lenka(2020 Batch, Department of Biomedical Engineering). He felt that open-source culture wasn't explored or well built into people in NIT Rourkela, and a club dedicated to this was required. I, Shaswat, Abel and others started working on it. And a year after its inception, we conducted the first-ever Hackathon of NIT Rourkela, RunIO, during Innovision-2018. My role in the club was to introduce the new inductees to the world of open-source projects and web technologies.
MONDAY MORNING: OF THE CHANGING ROLES AND THE UNDYING SPIRIT
MM: How was your journey as a sophomore in Monday Morning?
MS: To be honest, I did not attend Monday Morning inductions or orientations (laughs). During my fresher and sophomore years, I wanted to focus on robotics and programming. Then in my 2nd semester, Siddharth Manu, one of our Teaching Assistants who had been the technical coordinator of MM, invited all of us to work on MM’s induction tasks. Even then, I did not attend the inductions, and upon knowing this, he said, "Malkhan, mai nahi janta tum kaise karoge but tumhe yeh task karke lana hai tum induction mai aao ya na aao." (Malkan, you ought to submit this task in spite of not attending inductions) I had to design a webpage for a website. As I was pretty handy with HTML and CSS, I felt that it was an easy task. I did the task and went in for the PI round. The panel consisted of 3 people, Siddharth Manu, Dilip Raj Baral and Astitva Srivastava. They reviewed each line of code and found mistakes in most of them. Ultimately, they inducted me into the team. Upon joining, I started enjoying my work. Gradually I worked on my skills and actively participated in activities.
MM: How has your experience been as the Technical Coordinator (TC) of MM? Please share some anecdotes from your tenure as the TC.
MS: At first, I didn't have the urge to become TC. However, towards the end of the year, I felt that I should continue working with this team and contribute more to MM.
During my tenure, initially, it was hard to cope with the team's demands. We were revamping the website, and there were many changes that the teammates had suggested. We worked hard day and night and made changes, including UI & UX. They worked well on localhost. However, there were issues while on the server. The results were not what we expected. The bugs were hard to be figured, and consequently, the website had to be down for around two days. Upon fixing all the bugs, the seniors, the former executive board members, did not like the revamped website. So we had to revert many of the updates. However, during our tenure, we added and updated many features, including the Ask a Question, notifications, internship database, and opportunities section, among others.
Abel Mathew, who worked alongside Malkhan Singh as Technical Coordinator of Monday Morning, had the following to say when asked about his experience working together and on revamping the website:
One of the things that I learnt from that experience was that it is not always necessary to follow everything seniors say. The problem was not that we did something wrong. The problem was that many people don't like change even when the change is good. So it takes time for people to get adapted to the changes. It was the finest technical team that we have ever had. All of them were brilliant. Even today, if any technical event on the campus is set to happen, then one of them is behind that event.
Mrinal Chaudhury, then Chief Coordinator of Monday Morning for 2018-19, shared her take from the entire instance.
We made some mistakes, but we learnt from them. We could have ventured on other possibilities to avoid server failure, like testing the updates on-off traffic days. And there were many other takeaways from that situation. All technical team members stayed overnight under the Technical Coordinators supervision and debugged. They pulled out all the stops. I believe that all of this process helped them become the stellar tech team members that they are today.
MM: How would you distinguish your experience in MM as a technical team member, a TC and as a mentor in terms of responsibilities, workflow, etc.?
MS: A lot of things get changed as you shift from one role to another. As a member of the technical team, we had to do the assigned work. While, as technical coordinator, my work was to inspect and implement things made by the members. And as a mentor, I was responsible for teaching the intricate things involved and providing guidance whenever required.
THE PI ROUND: PLACEMENT & INTERNSHIP
MM: You bagged an internship at Pattern Effects Labs Pvt. Ltd in your pre-final year. Can you brief us about the work you did there? How was your overall experience during your internship?
MS: The founder of the company is an alumnus of our institute. It was an on-campus internship. The process included resume shortlisting and PI round. They required python developers, and I had some past experience in python, which helped me get selected. However, the internship didn’t turn as expected. We were shifted from one project to another. And ultimately, I got to develop an API for pan card detail verification.
Internship at Pattern Effects Labs
MM: Tell us about your placement experience. What was that feeling after you got to know that you have been placed at Publicis Sapient?
MS: Publicis Sapient was an on-campus company. After the online test, I thought I would not get shortlisted even though I did well. However, later, I got the PI call and the time that I had for preparation was just an hour. And somehow, I found a quiet place with decent network connectivity. The PI went well; most of the questions were based on the core subjects and internship project. Upon its finish, I relaxed, thinking that the HR round will take place the next day. However, half an hour later, they called me to inform me that I had an HR round in 5 minutes. It, too, went well, with the majority of questions directed towards behaviour and management. At the end of the day, I felt exhausted, having undergone two back to back interviews. Therefore, I slept early only to wake up the next day to a bunch of calls and a dozen messages. I felt ecstatic, and the first thing I did was to inform my parents. Seeing them happy was a proud moment for me.
KNOWING THE DOWN TO EARTH PERSONA
MM: People perceive you as a respectable and honest leader. What, according to you, should be the qualities of a good leader?
MS: A team leader has to understand each person's capabilities and working methods. Not everyone does things in the same way. Each individual has his own approach and comes with his own unique skill set. So a team leader must realise this fact and plan accordingly.
MM: What is the most appropriate name of the front basket carrier of the cycle which you popularised across the campus? Share the story behind this.
MS: The backdrop of the entire incident revolves around the distribution of the print issues in all the hostels. We had to make sure that print issues reached every room. And on one such day, we were returning from SD hall in the late hours, and I was accompanied by Debasis(Debasis Choudhury, Chief Coordinator, MM, 2017-18), Yash, Rohit and Abel. Debasish was riding a cycle, and it had a basket carrier in front of it. All of a sudden, I asked him why there was a ‘Dibba’ (roughly translates to carrier) in his cycle. Hearing this, everyone burst out in laughter, and since then, most of my friends on the campus call me ‘Dibba’ rather than calling me Malkhan (laughs).
MM: Looking back on your years in college, are there any regrets or special moments you would always cherish?
MS: Looking back at my stay at NIT Rourkela, there are a couple of moments that I will always cherish, the first being when I became the technical coordinator of Monday Morning and the other being when I got an opportunity to travel to the United States.
Coming to the regrets, I think I don't have any except that I missed a chance to dance at MM’s commencement party! (laughs).
MM: Has NITR been able to transform you in any way other than engineering?
MS: I got ample opportunities to lead various technical teams, be it Tiburon, Monday Morning, NITRUtsav, Innovision or NIT Rourkela International Model United Nations (NITRIMUN). So while I was a lead member of these teams, I mastered the art of managing difficult and crunch situations which usually occur during such big events. Such fine experiences have helped me inculcate this skill.
Seems like NIT Rourkela transformed him a bit more. ;)
Recalling his days after clearing JEE Mains and JEE Advance and how his college principal was his guardian angel, he expressed:
My parents didn't know about such exams and asked about the fees at such institutions. After inquiring from my friends, I informed them that it would be somewhere around two lakhs per year. They immediately told me to stay at home and enrol in a BSc course as they couldn't afford that much. I cried and did not eat anything that entire day. They consoled me and started arranging money for my studies but eventually, they said that arranging 45k for counselling within the deadline would be impossible for them. That is when my college principal Ram Milan sir, came as a guardian angel and arranged the counselling fees After that, I took an education loan to continue my studies. My principal, to date, helps such needy students. Even during my US trip for the competition, arranging one lakh for the air tickets was beyond my parents reach. Again, my principal helped me to participate in the World's most prestigious competition for AUVs.
Malkhan Singh with his parents.
Upon being asked whether he would be helping other students taking inspiration from the generosity of his principal, Malkhan says,
It was because of the generosity shown by my principal sir, that I am what I am today. And I wish to follow his footsteps and help students in realising their dreams as I did.
His close confidant Yash Shah (2021 Batch, Dual Degree from Department of Chemical Engineering) shares:
We have seen the background he came from, what he had to face, and the responsibilities he has on his shoulders. Even in such situations, Malkhan did not limit himself to academics like any other person would have done. He stepped out of his comfort zone, managed academics brilliantly and at the same time worked on his extracurriculars and brought laurels to the institute. He is open to learning and never panics; however worse the situation may get. That undying spirit and zeal are truly praiseworthy. His journey is a perfect example that language is not a barrier. If one is focussed and has the right efforts, then nothing can stop them. He is one of the best people I have met here.
MM: How do we see the Computer Science maestro Malkhan Singh ten years down the line?
MS: Even before joining NIT Rourkela, I was deeply fascinated by computers. I always wanted to get an in-depth knowledge of computer science. I have decided to work in the industry for the next 4-5 years, take some experience out of it and then ultimately use it to build a successful startup.
MM: What would be your message to our readers out there?
Follow your passion, be consistent in your efforts. Don't just focus on the marks you scored. Rather focus on gaining knowledge and try to use that for the betterment of society.
With his humble persona, this final year student has won the hearts of many people on the campus. Team Monday Morning wishes Malkhan Singh the best of luck for all his future ventures.