A Coaster Ride to the Zenith: Debabrata Panigrahi

A Coaster Ride to the Zenith: Debabrata Panigrahi

It isn't every day that one meets an achiever who wears his stories of failure more proudly than his medals of glory. It isn't every day that you look at an outstanding personality and his humble roots and tell yourself that you can do it too. Because it isn't every day that you get to witness Debabrata Panigrahi, a final year student from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, recount his tales of pain and glory. In this walk through the pages of his life, Team Monday Morning, accompanies him as he and his little troupe reveal to us the very possibilities that lie in front of us and tell us how low life can get and how high passion can fly.

The Convivial Days of Childhood 

Natively from Berhampur, Debabrata Panigrahi was born and brought up in Rourkela. He was a rather playful kid since his childhood which he describes as unrestricted and jovial. Completing his schooling in DPS, Rourkela without any academic pressure he moved to Berhampur to pursue his 12th to prepare for the medical entrance examinations at a time where many of his friends were inclined towards engineering, given the presence of NIT at Rourkela. It led him to Saraswati Sishu Vidya Mandir, Nilakantha Nagar, and it was during this time, he saw fierce academic competition for the first time. Being from a family with a rich academic background, he couldn't choose any option other than the ones in the mainstream. Even after he got AIR 7 in AIIPMR, he had to drop the opportunity because it wasn't considered a primary option. Reluctantly he appeared for JEE mains in the online mode, which wasn't even preferred by the serious applicants back then. Without attending the entire math section and coming out of the exam hall in just 2.5 hours, he qualified and got into NIT Rourkela.

Embarking the journey at his Alma Mater

From dropping out of JOSAA counselling in Round 5 for another year of preparation for the medical entrance examinations to getting admitted in Biomedical Engineering in NITR through CSAB, his induction into the college was nothing short of thriller and very atypical for any achiever.

Coming from an environment that was filled with competition and academic pressure, it was now time for him to let some steam off. Fun, careless, and enriching is how he describes his first year. Marred with unprecedented incidents and adorned by the company of friends and guidance of the seniors that would become his home, it was a memorable period. He witnessed misunderstandings with seniors where his mentors had to swoop in to save the day and several backlogs and bad SGPAs.

In the beginning, I used to feel overwhelmed whenever anyone mentioned that they were from circuital branches because I had a belief that they were high up in the branch hierarchy. My bad history with math came to backbite me again in the first year. After two horrible semesters and extremely low CGPA, I had almost made up my mind to drop out and prepare for medical entrance examinations again. But I always had friends and seniors that guided me in the right way and helped me handle situations that might have gone out of control had it not been for their benevolent interference. Talking about clubs, since I got admitted through CSAB I missed out on most of the orientations of the clubs. So I waited till the second semester and joined Cyborg and Clarion.

Recounting a tale from their first year P Pritesh Kumar Patro, a final year student from the Department of Chemical Engineering, recalls 

People don’t usually talk about backlogs openly but I remember we were simply not aware of this, even though we told everyone about it and we were surprised to find so many familiar faces in the summer. We were struggling to keep ourselves at a place that hadn’t been home to any accomplishments or feats yet. I remember once we came up with an idea to make a startup that aimed at selling customizable products on the campus. We went into the TIIR building and pitched it to the professor who asked us in return to explain the breakthrough that we were banking upon which obviously we had not thought of due to the lack of awareness about the functioning of all this stuff. We watched as many doors closed on our faces. But all this while it was pretty evident that Debabrata had that knack to find new ways and loopholes to get himself out of his mess. But when he was fascinated by coding and started acing in it I have been sharing his stories almost every month.

Debabrata remembers how he thought coding was supposed to be done by computer science students only. His mentor observed that he was losing interest in his branch during that time. Hence, he suggested that Debabrata talks to a professor about a project. After talking with a professor from his department, he started out with python to help him with a project that needed him to sample ECG signals. But the resources that the professor sent weren't structured for a beginner, which again made him run into dead ends. He managed to find a solution eventually, and the thing was a success, but he hadn't found his way yet.

He then came in contact with Annapurna Pradhan, a PhD student from the Department of Electrical Engineering, who was pursuing her research under Prof Sushmita Das, the then Head of Department of Electrical Engineering. Annapurna was into machine learning and communication research and did some freelance projects for foreign clients. She needed someone to help her with the coding part, which is where the protagonist of our story comes from. She provided him with the necessary resources and guided him in his approach as he started. But since he didn't go the classical DSA way, there were multiple difficulties that he had to go through. He was getting stuck in small things, making him seek resources online. But he managed to move ahead regardless, and things started becoming familiar, and his work with Annapurna Pradhan was a great success. It was a project about image captioning at traffic signals, and it impressed the clients. He continued to work with her even in his second year on some of her projects and also helped her in some of her PhD related stuff like ultra-low latency communication. They presented it in hackathons, IEEE and even participated in world finals. The opportunity that he had got made him confident, and that feeling that he was capable of doing things made him go ahead despite the roadblocks. This is how his summer of the first year went, and at the end of it, he was happy due to his accomplishments and was sad because his grades were still bad.

Debabrata is regarded as a highly resourceful guy in his circles, and the skills he possesses at thinking about a project and making a presentation are rare to come across. Marvelling at this Sibasis Sahu and Ankit Samota, final year students from the Departments of Electrical Engineering and Industrial Design respectively, recount the days when he started participating in hackathons and would come up with applications and pointers that no one could think about coming up in the first place.

Crediting his success to his seniors, he recalls how his life changed after meeting Shaswat Lenka, Class of 2020, Biomedical Engineering (to know more about him, click here), whom he credits for all the skills that he gets to flaunt. Modifying Shaswat bhaiya’s pitch to making one of their own is how they have improved, he says. Even today he believes that had he met him earlier in his life, things would have been much different, and he would have stuff much more comfortable to deal with.

For the beginners I would say there is no absolute path to learning a skill. I share this belief with my friends Ankit Samota and Vedant Raghuvanshi, a final year student from the Department of Electrical Engineering, that it is much better to learn along the way while working on something rather than learning and then applying it; though this might work differently with various people. Some might find it easier to go through documentation and then do projects. Adding to that one can start anything with a basic google search and  the top results are most often than not the way to go forward. And never skip the basics says Ankit Samota while elaborating on their shared stance.

On being asked about being a successful developer the first thing he blurts out is the love for coding, the love for opensource. He elaborates by saying that if someone is working on a certain project, then the appreciation for that concept is a must and then the features to improve the whole thing will come easily. The second thing that he believes is crucial is the curiosity and eagerness to learn new things and adapt. He cites the example of Linus Torvalds and elaborates how learning new things will make us more able to grab new opportunities and even though it is difficult to learn everything that is emerging, the ability to adapt will help to push one's horizons. The thing that makes a developer good is their desire to bring a change or solve a problem and to put necessary efforts behind it. He talks frankly about how he gets bored if he stalls things and how even after his placements, he continues to code daily because the job or the prize money was never his primary motivation in the first place and will never be. 

On being asked whether everyone can become a good developer, he gladly talks about a lot of people who work in that same environment as him but come from diverse and unconventional backgrounds. He talks about people who are good developers in spite of being veterans in the US Army in the past. The love for coding and change is what is essential. Being a student from Biomedical Engineering, he shares how for people like him, Ankit Samota, and Pritish Samal, a pre-final year student from the Department of Ceramic Engineering, whose coursework differs very much from the work they do, it is tough to sustain in such an environment though it might be easier for the student pursuing their specialisation in Computer Science, Electrical and Electronics. He cites the example of people leaving their jobs to become stand-up comics just because they love the art of making people laugh. He says that it is the fascination that keeps them at it and without it, one just ends up questioning his/her efforts and stops after a while.

Speaking about his introduction to opensource projects, he talks highly about Shaswat Lenka who was key to him getting interested in this domain because after his first Hackathon in Bangalore, which he participated in alone, to realise that it wasn't enough to present ideas and demo simulations. He had to learn to make websites. Upon his return, he, fortunately, found himself working in the same laboratory as Shashwat Lenka, then a pre-final year student who took it upon himself to guide him along with Ankit Samota and Vedant Raghuvanshi. He started by guiding them about git and Github and introduced the trio to the videos of Daniel Shiffman. Under the guidance of Shaswat Lenka, he explored Opensource projects and delved deep into them which started when this new mentor of his pointed out the opensource libraries that they used.

He believes had it not been for Opensource, he would have simply done DSA like he did in his third semester and grabbed an internship. After the AMEX hackathon, it was clear to him that he lacked a bit in machine learning, and after that, he left it altogether. He unsurely concludes that he might have picked up web development along the way. But the love for opensource helped him grow and stand where he is now.

The Turning Point: Sophomore Year

After the debacle that was the fresher year, Debabrata found his path and a mentor to guide him through. In the Autumn of sophomore year, the team' Scoop Troop' was finally taking its first steps towards winning and at the forefront guiding everyone was Shaswat Lenka. He was and still is the captain of the team and someone Debabrata feels as his cornerstone. 

Saswat Bhaiya, Vedant, Ankit and Me are the team Scoop Troop. We were very proud as we were the only sophomores going to a Hackathon that was happening in Bengaluru, the GE Hackathon. Everyone else who was selected was from the third year and Saswat Bhaiya who was from the fourth year.

In the hackathon, their team was favoured as they had the previous year winner of the same hackathon on their team. The team still continues to participate in hackathons with the same name. The secret sauce for the successes of the team is their abilities that complement each other perfectly. They are like a tightly wound clock fresh out of a factory with paramount precision. The team Scoop Troop is the living embodiment of the phrase 'Teamwork makes the dream work'.

I believe it is our abilities that compliment each other and our teamwork that has led to our victories. Vedant can do the front end really well. Debabrata can do DevOps and deployment part really well. I can do the backend and data-based part really well. We just mesh together really well. We never participated in hackathons to get a job or an internship, neither did Shaswat bhaiya told us that we will get some offers. We did it because we loved it and I think that is one of the major factors.

-Ankit Samota

The zenith of the year for Debabrata was getting a call from Google North America for an internship. Although he thought he aced the interviews, he was disheartened by not even getting a reply from the team after the final interview. He was so sure he scored the internship that when he realised that he didn't get it, he was devastated, albeit getting a call from Google was an achievement in itself. Debabrata recognised the low, and with the help of the great people he always has around him, he yearned to bounce back and bounce back he did. 

In November, the team went to the Rakuten Hackathon, and in the following month, they rolled out the offer letter, but then the world closed its doors as a virus took over its host, and the internship got delayed. During the abyss, Debabrata started working for a startup called Cast Technologies, and then another major experience crossed his way, and he didn't hesitate to seize it. 

Then MIT Covid-19 Hackathon happened and there I met with an engineer who was a scientist at Calico, a sister company of Alphabet Inc. He liked my work and he asked me to assist him with his team’s project. There I was able to help him with some bacterial micro-motion work which was detected by a chip. Following this, he rolled out an internship offer letter from Calico. (To know more about his internship, click here)

It is only humane to ponder how did he manage to land so many extraordinary internships; what was his driving force? What did he do to score them? The secret, as he told us, was that he never seized from applying. Debabrata always was and still is one to grasp an opportunity whenever it is presented and make the most out of it. No matter how bad his performance was at the interviews, he was never drawn back, he just took all of it under experience and moved on to the next application. 

Scaling Peaks: Junior Year

With all the experience in hackathons, Debabrata understood that he had to acquire more skills and hone the ones he already had. He turned towards developing his proficiency in DSA and other fronts of coding and development. He went on and perfected his C++ and achieved another internship at NASDAQ. During this time, he was inclined to participate in GSoC (Google Summer of Code), but the LFX (The Linux Foundation) mentorship happened before GSoC. He attended the LFX mentorship, and there the chamber of wisdom in his brain was unlocked. (To know more about all opensource programs, click here)

Before LFX I never heard of a programming language called golang or something called cloud native technology. Had I waited and relaxed as I have gotten an internship I would’ve never been a part of LFX.

During the conclusion of LFX, Debabrata found some free time and applied for a summer internship at Innovaccer and got through the seemingly easy examinations and interviews. There he worked under the Infrastructure division, where he was working with frameworks like Docker etc.

The interesting thing is I was introduced to Docker while my time at Calico, I loved the concept so much that I took a professional course from Simply Learn to learn about Docker and container technologies. That had built up my basics and boosted my confidence.

Debabrata's work at LFX on cutting-edge technology of chaos engineering sent ripples through the universe and helped him secure a job at Red Hat as well. His mentors at many internships and his sheer networking skills did wonders to his professional career. 


 

The Thinking Mindset: Life in NITR

Achievers often babble about managing their time, multitasking, planning your day, etc., but Debabrata, who is a phenomenal achiever in every context, takes a different approach to life. He prefers concentrating his entire energy and time on one thing and excelling in it. He manages his time by the merit of his work and not by hours of a day. 

When my first priority is set I never even bother to think about the second priority. In a set period of time, I focus on one thing and one thing only. Luckily all the dots connected and it turned out to be in my favour and things started to get better. I never took up multiple things at the same time. Most of my time at college, I spent in labs with Shaswat Bhaiya and Kaibalya bhaiya, Class of  2020. Kaibalya bhaiya is the sole reason why I don’t hate Machine learning, he taught us many nuances of ML.

No student's life is complete without an association with clubs and communities. In some manner, the community shapes us as a personality, and Debabrata was one such personality. He was part of prestigious clubs like Clarion, Cyborg and so on which played a pivotal role in his life and career. The family he got at these clubs were with him at times of celebration and also at times of grief. 

Cyborg has played an instrumental role in my life. It is a very active club and it is a part of my college life and I am proud that I have been involved with such a club. Coming to Clarion, I always loved debating. I was a good debater at school but I couldn’t give the time that Clarion needed.

Being a person who has a knack for networking, Debabrata was naturally pulled into fests and events by his close seniors. He was closely involved with fests like Cosmopolitan and Roots from the very beginning of his college life. He learnt a lot from these seniors about how to manage people and how to organise an event. He even was an integral part of the Films and Music Society body of SAC again through his seniors but in his final year, utilising all the experience he had, he contested for the post of FMS Secretary in the 4th year constituency and ended up winning the elections. 

I have been involved in elections since my sophomore year. Sibasis Sahu was the first to hold the post FMS in the second year constituency. Among our friends, we decided that one of us would contest the elections. This was because we have been involved with FMS for a long time. We know the inner workings of the fests. Not many people cared about SAC and it wasn’t much of an election. Most positions were uncontested and so was FMS. This is a very alarming position for the institution and something for the present post holders to think about. So, that’s how I came to hold that post.

When asked about zonism and its implications, Debabrata said,

Debabrata Panigrahi (DP): My take on this is very different. I have realised from my time at SAC that if not for zonism, no one really cares about SAC and its functionalities. Everyone is interested in the fests, but an alarming minority, no one is interested in the workings of a fest. With those minority we SAC can't function, fests can't happen. It is the responsibilities one takes and how he executes them after winning the election that matter. I think, at times when work needs to be done it is easier for the students to work under a senior who is from their region. The hesitation people might feel to get some work done might be minimal if a senior they are familiar with is the one who is asking for the work to be done. I am open to change and if you have a workaround for zonism then I am all for it but so far I haven't come across one.

At this point in time, all the students, after knowing that there was an election, are hoping for the fests to occur (To read more on the conduction of fests this year, click here), when asked about this Debabrata said,

I also have no answer for this. In the SAC meeting, we discussed having fests and everything but that meeting happened before Omicron. All the elected representatives and all the students want the fests to happen but the administration had worries. I had a long conversation with our Dean and considering 6500 people who would be attending it doesn’t seem feasible, but we are hopeful. We are all trying our best.

Plans and Perspectives

After all, is said and done, all people care about is where the student got placed and what his package is. Luckily, Debabrata has no need to fret. Being the opportunistic man he is, he has been offered many positions in profuse companies. With all the experience he has from the extolling internships he did, he got many referrals for many companies, but for now, Debabrata seems to be inclined towards the offer from Twitter.

There is also a considerable amount of research achievements under the name of Debabrata. One of his recent publications was a book chapter about the work he did as a freelancer with a scientist from the USA. They made an extensive review of the recent telemedicine technologies. The chapter, authored by Debabrata himself, discussed all the companies that are using telemedicine technology and the breakthrough technologies for remote healthcare. 

He further mentions that two of his initial projects are based on Shashwat Lenka's initiatives. SADRAT (Smart Adverse Drugs Reactions Assessment Tool) was the first project that he, along with Ankit Samota and Vedant Raghuvanshi (team ScoopTroop) worked on. He worked on the research and the data programming part with the help of his all-time mentor Shaswat Lenka. His next project was about the movement of a certain species of fish. They were trying to detect the behaviour of the fish through their motions after injecting a few drugs. Now, Debabrata is more focused on Elixir, a project started by Team ScoopTroop. Project Elixir is a platform that helps us to share healthcare data across various modalities and networks, between patients and doctors. It is integrated with the NDHM (National Digital Health Mission) Sandbox and the work is in progress. His work is about using healthcare informatics to build a healthcare information transfer system. He says: 

My projects from the first year have been more about technological innovations in biomedical applications like telemedicine, machine learning, or any other stuff.

Debabrata has a unique appreciation and practice of generative art. Sharing about how he got interested in it, he says: 

At that time I was much into open source and I was trying to figure out how and what to do in open source. I got more interested in that and I saw the amazing works the folks did in the community like p5.js. I didn’t even know this word. I started exploring things on my own. I took ideas from the videos of Daniel and experimented with the code. Even now, whenever I'm bored or want to take a break, I turn to generative art. On the Kubernetes contributors celebration day last week, I was showing some generative art to the folks there.

When asked about his future plans, Debabrata explains-

DP: My plans are never certain. It varies from time to time. However, I am now planning to join Twitter. Until now, I've realised that I'm more interested in distributed systems and parallel computing, which requires additional study. Since I come from a biomedical background, I do not see my degree as a credible measure to help me in the industry. So I'm looking forward to pursuing a master's or doctoral degree in the field of my interest. I am a maintainer at Kubernetes and I want to continue maintaining that project. Also, if any project comes, I would love to contribute. So, yes, I will be working with open-source, and I intend to make a career out of it. At some point, I will quit my job and give my undivided attention to open source. I'm not sure when that will be achievable, but it's a possibility. However, in terms of knowledge, I need to pursue other courses.

The Times of Mirth and Melee

Traversing down his memory lane he collects some of his fondest memories and regrets from his life at NITR. He says the only regret that he has is the unsatisfactory support extended by the administration to students who do not have a decent CGPA

There's no rule that says if you have two URs, you'll clear them in a specific semester; it's all a gamble. You have to stand in front of the AR office till the last day, not knowing if you will be admitted or not, which was a highly traumatic experience for me as a sophomore. Despite the fact that my Facad was not very supportive, the Dean-Academic was generous and assisted me. Many students in comparable situations are unable to overcome their difficulties, and they sometimes get "institute out." This section must be cleared. The administration should also consider the 5 or 4 pointer students. We should not judge them and be harsher to them; instead, we should assist them in finding a solution. Regret is just that had I not been judged so much I would’ve been more confident.

The four years of college life shapes every aspect of a student and Debabrata was no different. NITR has contributed immensely to his all-around growth. He is considered to be a hopeless romantic and a party lover in his friend circle. Agreeing to the assertion, he explains this sphere of his life with a grin on his face. He says: 

DP: NITR taught me how to strike a balance and not to entirely disregard one thing, as I did with my academics, and as a result, I suffered. NITR aided my development and taught me so many lessons. It also provided me with memories that I would treasure for the rest of my life. Most significantly, it gave me a platform to experiment with new ideas, something which I will not have at least in the near future. It shaped who I am now, and I am proud of it. It made me more confident and a true engineer, which had happened by chance but is no longer an accident. I now have reasons why I love engineering.

Debabrata celebrates the assistance and motivation that he has constantly received throughout his journey at NITR. Upon being asked about these significant people of his life, he had the following to share:

DP: These are the folks on my contact list who I will contact if something happens. These people were always in communication with me, starting with Debasis, Sanatan, Bibhu, and Sudipta (Class of 2019). I could go on and on with the names. It's an endless list. These were the ones who helped me get back on my feet whenever I experienced a setback. For me, they were the most important stakeholders in what you would consider a success. I am grateful to all of these people, everyone at Cyborg, my teammates, my pals, and my branch mates. They have ensured that I survive four years of undergraduate. They were all aware of my academic setbacks and took steps to ensure that I did not suffer any further. I am glad that these people are connected with me.

Final Notes

MM: The campus sees you as a formidable developer, what does Debabrata think of himself?

DP: I consider myself to be a novice, and I am a curious individual who enjoys reading and learning new things. I haven't yet attained a level of expertise or am entirely well-versed with the projects I'll be working on at my organisation. I'm still learning. I've always had a lot of admiration for those who have made learning easy for us. These folks, like the creators of Kubernetes and Linux, are my inspirations. I wouldn't describe myself as a developer. I suppose you might call me an open-source software contributor. But I believe I'll still need years of study to become a developer. Learning is a never-ending process, particularly in the software industry. It's impossible to predict what will happen to the software you create today. That is my perception of myself.

People normally consider my placements to be a success, but I do not consider them to be such, especially after witnessing the placement scenario for this year.  My accomplishments are my friends and the memories I've created.

MM: Between exploring everything and mastering some things, what do you think is the ideal way for college students, especially freshers? What should be the extent of exploring things and when should one start narrowing their focus to one goal?

DP: There isn't anything like it. People graduate without having set a goal for themselves and that is completely okay. For newcomers, I recommend exploring as much as possible. Also, try experimenting because you won't find a platform like this anywhere else. Only exploring new things will lead you nowhere. You will simply learn new things and then forget them the next day. Experimenting with things will make it permanent, and you may even grow to love them. Even in our orientations, it is stated that we are an academic institute and that academics should take precedence, which I agree with. Keep your academics intact and then venture forth. Don't be under pressure of anything nor be swayed away with one thing. Do crazy things, but most importantly, be a good person. Make as many friends as you can since I don't believe it is possible in the corporate world. College is the best period of your life, so make the most of it.

As a final message to all the readers, he adds

I would advise them to be good, maintain their circle, and keep their friends closest to them. Never try to be bad for your own goals. Make yourself and your friends your top priority. There are a plethora of other issues that arise throughout this phase of our careers. Your friends will be able to help you in your life, personal or professional. So prioritize them.

The college life of Debabrata Panigrahi is a tale of passion, hardships, and curiosity. It's amazing how he weaves his success saga through his volumes of failure. Team Monday Morning congratulates him for the remarkable feats that he has pulled off and wishes him luck for all the adventures that he wants to be a part of.

Team Monday Morning congratulates Debabrata Panigrahi for his wonderful journey till now and wishes him all the success for all the future endeavours. 

Designs by – Saksham Devkota

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