Days of My Life

Name:
Location: Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India

What I say today is what mohammad ali said once , "It is very hard to be humble when you are as great as me". Lest people may be mistaken I am not into boxing. and therefore I resist from praising myself :)

Monday, March 27, 2006

NP-Hard ... or is it NP-Complete

All of us have our own fears. Some fear the dark, some fear cats, some fear failure, some others fear dogs (especially pet dogs :). But the biggest fear one comes across usually in the final year of graduation is the fear of interviews. Perfectly sane young men and women start looking like zombies when an interview approaches. In my own batch I have seen technically and even otherwise strong people develop cold feet in front of the interviewer. Why someone else ? I fancy myself to keep my cool under pressure and there is only some anxiety and no tension. My cold feet situations are many but I somehow managed to wriggle out (as this post says) or give up (my Infosys SETlabs interview). The TCS interview was good as I knew what to expect and was prepared for the unexpected. But the real test of character and preparedness were the two B-School interviews I had to attend.

First one was IIFT:

First there was an essay. We had to write about "Is cricket on the decline in India especially in the context of alternate sport ?" in 20 mins. Essay writing, according to me is a simple activity when a time-limit is given, as you know you can write only this much. So 5 mins of jotting down all the points that come to my mind. And 15 mins of filling up the given sheet with strict instructions to myself of not including any point that I had not jotted down unless it is amazingly good. I was the first guy in my panel to finish off the essay.

Then we had a Group Discussion (GD), "Should there be dress code in schools, colleges and universities ?" As an unambigous supporter of individual freedom,my perspective on the issue was clear. Dress code in schools- yes, to create a sense of identity and unity. Dress code in colleges, universities - strictly no, their purpose is to create a sense of individual self-worth and not some arbitrary identities. As far as vulgarity is concerned, society/peer pressure will take care of it. The points are not exhaustive. GDs are more about finding a voice in the group rather than some points or things like that, because unless earth-shattering, everyone would have thought of the point you wanted to make. I had my moment when I got a chance to moderate the GD and I gave it a different direction than where it was heading. GDs also have a fair amount of luck involved as you need to have a strong voice, and a decent neighbour apart from knowing something about the topic. That is the problem one acquaintance P faced. She had good points to make, but her neighbour was a real pain.

Interivew:

I was the 9th on the list of 12 people in my group. Enter room, three members (A,B,C), good morning, asked to sit. Give file.they say not interested in the file. interview starts:

C)So Ravi Shankar huh! Do you know of any other prominent Ravi Shankars ?
RS) There is the sitar player. then there is a politician from Bihar called Ravi Shankar Prasad. I can recall only two.

C)WHAT !!! only two. Think man.No one in South India.
RS)Oh yeah ! Sorry Sir. There is the spiritual guru.Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of Art of Living fame.

C)Did you hear of Ravi Shastri the cricketer? His middle name was also Shankar.
RS)I did not know that, Sir.

B)And did you hear of an IIFT professor called Ravi Shankar ?
RS)I just saw the name in the list of the faculty.But do not remember his profile
(I found out after checking the brochure later that C is Dr. Ravi Shanker, one of the best professors of IIFT)

A)So given these five prominent people, Who is closest to your role model ?
RS)It would be something between the politician and professor. Some kind of a thought leader, who apart from thinking the right stuff, is able to make people understand it well and enthuse them.

B)So what made you choose MBA and IIFT ?
(This is the standard answer, everyone would have prepared something. I only added that my cousin was an IIFT alumni and she suggested to me that it was a good program suited to my interests - the biggest of which is discussing and debating on issues
of Globalization which was the best non-technical course I did at college. They asked me something about my cousin)

C)What is this Muskaan ?
RS)It is an initiative to bring underprevileged children into the school system.Dr.Prosenjit Gupta - a professor at IIIT is one of the founders of the initiative(Muskaan is not yet an NGO). Today we have about 40 girls and boys from the various batches in IIIT volunteering for the cause.

B)So what do you teach there ?
RS)In my last session I taught some Telugu alphabets and the spellings of some basic English words like Bus,Auto, Truck etc.
(nowadays I mostly teach math in Muskaan, My telugu stops with alphabets and basic words, there are much better people for English)

A)How much time does a 6 year old take to learn the alphabet ?
RS)With constant practice, I believe ... 6 hours would be enough. But they learn Telugu quickly as it is their mother tongue and there is no gap between the teacher and the taught, English is a bit tougher.

B)Why were you all shouting ? When I came to quiten you people I saw you standing. Were you giving a speech or something ?
(The group became close over the period of the GD and tea. As people were coming out, the questions and answers were being discussed and considerable noise was being made, it was coincidental that I happened to stand)
RS)We became a close knit group.So as soon as someone came out, they gave out the questions and we were deliberating the right answers, probably a bit too loudly :)

C)(smiles) We've had lot of people from IIIT over the last two days (Feb 6th and 7th were the interview dates). So many of you are interested in an MBA ?
RS)The best thing about IIIT is that it provides the freedom for an individual to do what he/she likes. We are a minor part of the group interested in Management.There are technically brilliant people going to places like M$ and also a fair number of research oriented people interested in higher education abroad or at the college itself.

B)So this minor group of management people have no interest in academics ? I remember all of your CGPAs are less and yours is the lowest at 6.7. You seem to have neglected your studies.
RS)Sir, There are two ways of looking at the academics at IIIT.First is doing good projects which as you can see in my CV I have done. the second is studying hard for exams. I studied hard for the subjects I liked and not so hard for the others. And
IIIT being a highly competitive place a majority of my classmates are very smart and definitely more hard working than me. I think that is a complement to them rather than a castigation of me.

A)How have the others done their interviews ?
RS) They are all confident of their performance sir. They prepared well and I think they must have done well too.

B)One of your classmates missed the interview yesterday. One mr Rishabh. What happened ?
RS)Sir, it was really unfortunate. He had some issues and could not come. With our fest finishing late night on the 5th we were all asleep. So we could not ascertain whether he went to the interview or not.

A)So what does Miss P think of her performance ? (P went in before me)
RS) She usually does such things very well sir. She had a decent GD and her interviews are also usually good. She was confident of her performance.

C)Ok Mr. Ravi Shankar. Thank you for your time. You may leave.
RS)Thank You sir.

The Second interview was for XLRI

IIFT was at Hyderabad. My hometown, effectively janmabhoomi, till now karmabhoomi etc etc. XLRI was in Chennai. A city I somehow love. This would be my second visit after the IIT counseling. Though I was not offered any seat during that time, interaction with fellow students and IIT profs changed my perspective towards life. All this is of course unrelated here. My dad accompanied me to Chennai for two reasons - he knows the city well, he knows me inside-out and upside-down and is the only other person who can control my sometimes over-exuberant nature (my mom is the first).The interview was at Loyola College (of Prema Desam fame :). It looked much like HCU. I instantly felt at home.

For XLRI I carried out a thorough research. Special thanks here is due to Sreekanth Reddy (Samba) of ug2 for giving me the contact of his sister and her Hyderabad based friend (both of whom are XLRI alumni and I applied for the same program that they graduated from). I understood that there might be a stress interview, there is usually a psychologist in the panel, a focus on ethics in the interview and that XLRI takes people for potential rather than past record.A probable plus. But the point is that I had a low percentile (92.85), so I must have been in the latter half of the qualifiers. There was an essay at the exam stage itself. Though I botched up the exam, the essay was well written (according to me).No GD for XLRI.

Reached Chennai on the same day morning. It was a train filled with VISA aspirants and I was thought to be one more. I did nothing to dispel the notion and enjoyed the conversation while offering 'tips' to those people.

I was given a slot at 4:20 pm on the 7th of March. The atmosphere was very stiff with tense applicants some of whom were jet-setting the length and breadth of the nation for various interviews. All my fellow aspirants were people with considerable work experience. The eldest guy was someone who worked for Coca-Cola for 6 years and resigned in protest of their policies.You could set your time at 1620 when they called me in. There were three members (P,Q,R) very smiling and cordial. An air of relaxation was palpable. I was totally relaxed. It was less tense than a IIIT FYP viva. The panel specifically asked for my file and a copy of the CV (which they retained).

R) So Mr. Ravi Shankar Bulusu.Tell us something about yourself.
(This is another standard question. Everyone has a tape-recorded answer. They expect a bit about your family but not heavy details like your relation in marriage alliance to the 25th king of the 5th Chalukya dynasty. It is mostly about your experiences and your ideas about your future)

Q)So you are a computer scientist ?
RS)Yes, Sir.

Q)Did you like the subject ?
RS)Yes, sir. Some parts of it were interesting, other parts were... well (smile)

Q)Which were the quantitative subjects you did at college ?
RS)Engineering Maths, Discrete Maths, Algorithms & Data Compression.
(I did not know what quantitative subjects were, so I gave the names of those subjects which had something to do with math. I remembered some concepts of the Maths courses and DC, and a fair amount (or so I thought) of Algorithms.)

Q)Didn't you do something like Graph Theory or Computational Geometry ?
RS)There was Graph Theory in Discrete Maths. I did not do CG.

Q)So can you tell me what is meant by complexity of an algorithm.
(Answered, gave big O small o notations, generally explained complexity, Q was satisfied)

Q)Do you know what are NP-Hard and NP-Complete ?
(Answered again, but Q asked me whether I was sure. I hesitated and finally I told them the other way round. It was really stupid of me to not figure it out)

Q)Then give me the Traveling Salesman problem and analyze it from the NP perspective.
RS)Sir, I am sorry I do not remember the statement.
(Point is my NP concept went for a toss and I did not want to go into further soup)

Q)Then what do you remember of your undergraduate subjects.
RS)For the past year I have been working in Software Engineering. I am confident in that subject.

Q)Then I will not ask you anything from that (smiles).

Q)What is the usual profile of the IIIT students ?
RS) About 50% go for higher education ... like in my batch about 25 are proceeding for an MS/PhD abroad.About 10 are doing their MSBR in the college itself, and about 15 go for an MBA.The rest of the 50% have fairly good jobs.

Q)So you did not go for a job ?
RS)Yes Sir, I did. I have an offer from TCS.

Q)Then why don't u work for some time and then come back for an MBA.You must have seen the profile of students outside.
RS)Sir, I believe that B-Schools like XLRI while admitting students look for their receptivity towards an MBA education. Working is one way to gain that receptivity but I don't think it is the only way. I have worked on various projects at college whose
deadlines were as strict as any industry projects.Only thing is,I worked on those projects for myself and not for money. Also I've been a Pupils leader at School and a member of the IIIT Student Parliament. I've done considerable amount of management.
Though I don't claim that it is exceptional, I think it is good enough to consider a management career.

Q) (Sarcastic smile) Though you seem to have thought over this a lot, I am not entirely convinced. Anyway ...

Q)Which of the companies on campus had good HR policies and which had not very good policies ?
(I did answer the question in the interview, but would like to keep it confidential here. I have no bias against any company.)


R)So Ravi, you seem to be a fan of APJ Abdul Kalam. What was your study all about ?
(I stuck my photo with APJ on the front page of the file and also included an abstract of a study on him and his importance to the nation during my first year as part of the English course, I answered everything about the study, extolling APJ all
the way)

Q)Since you did so much study, give me one reason why Kalam is unfit to be the President of India
(Now this was not expected)
RS)Well... Sir... I never thought on those lines, but I think he is politically extremely naive, this we can see from the way he handled the Bihar issue for which the Supreme COurt pulled up the Governor. But then had he been politically more aware, he probably would not have become the President. Ethics and politics do not go together a lot in our country.

P)(Speaking for the first time) Ravi, Are you given assignments at IIIT?
RS)Yes sir. A lot of them.

P)So did you ever copy an assignment ?
RS)I regret to say this sir, but many times. In recent times however I stopped copying.
(Though people might laugh, this is the truth. I have stopped copying assignments in the final year)

P)Why did you stop copying ?
RS)I realised that it was hurting my self-esteem and personal growth. I believe a healthy self-esteem is necessary for a healthy individual.

P)Do you know about the NHAI?
RS)It is the National Highways Authority of India.An autonomous body constituted under the Ministry of Surface Transport to oversee the construction of National Highways.

P)Why do you think I am asking you this ?
(By this time I had figured out that he was the psychologist/ethics guy)
RS)You are probably refering to the Satyendranath Dubey case where he was killed by the land mafia in Bihar.

P)So what do you know about the case.
RS)Satyendranath Dubey was an IITian who chose to join the NHAI as a civil engineer.He pointed out some discrepencies in the tendering process in a confidential letter to the PMO. Unfortunately the letter got leaked and he got killed.

P)Don't you think Satyendranath was foolish.
RS)No sir. He was perfectly fine. Such risk is part of his job and he had the worst of the risk.

P)But charity begins at home,So don't you think he should have saved himself first.
RS)I cannot agree with you sir. Where would all of us be if our Army people think of saving themselves first. Be it Satyendranath or Shanmughan (an IIM Lucknow guy killed under similar circumstances) every job has some ethics and they followed those ethics.

P)So are ethics and morals the same.
RS)Ethics pertain to the job/activity.Morals are personal.

P)SO what is the relationship between them.
RS)Corruption occurs when there is a mismatch between the ethics and the morals.What Hitler did was probably moral but not ethical.

P)So what would you have done in the same situation
RS)Dying is a very scary idea.But Integrity and honesty do occupy a very high position in my value system. So I would have acted with integrity.

P,Q,R)Thank You very much. It was nice talking to you.
RS)Thank You sirs.

The interview was for a total of 25 minutes.

Conclusions

The readers may draw them as they want.I will not bias them.I have an admission offer from IIFT and am waitlisted at 8 for the PMIR program of XLRI. My tryst with B-School interviews hopefully comes to an end.




PS:This post started off on the lines of giving some interview tips. However I have a principle of not giving unsolicited advice/suggestions. And the post started sounding like a homily, so I changed it. I hope I do not sound boastful, but I usually do my interviews decently. That is the result of a considerable amount of research I put in for the job/activity/seat concerned. I mean the point is clear, when you have only a minimum of the qualifications required for the job/activity it is things like a proper research and knowledge that would save your ass. In case anyone likes to have some tips I'd have no problems to pass on the fruits of my hours of net-searching and book-reading. Only personally though :)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

SE7EN

Q:What is your CGPA ?
Q:You have good percentages in school. Why 64 % now ?
Q:Well you seem to have neglected your studies. You are just 6.7/10.

With my good friend Gautam Kumar making our batch CGPAs public, I guess my life has turned some sort of a semi-circle.It is one thing to tell people that you have a bad GPA and its completely another for them to see that you are in the bottom half of the bottom half of the class. And people's perception does change when they know that you are a guy with bad grades.

The above three questions were asked at various times during my stay in IIIT. The first was by our dean Dr.Govindarajulu. He asks everyone the question.With his awesome memory he still recalls my GPA.Being the good man that he is he also used to ask whether I am working towards improving it or not. He stopped asking a year ago, when in one of my uncharacteristic bad moods and one of his characteristic tirades, I told him that I do not consider GPA to be a true measure of what sort of a Human Being I am (what nonsense from my side !!! the dean never talked about good or bad Human Beings).

In my first semester I got 7.2 and believe me I had not read even a single page of any subject. I disliked DLD.Already knew the Math being taught, already knew the ES being taught.I loved Physics but IIIT killed that love for reasons beyond the scope of this post.The only subjects to be studied were programming and ITWS. I absolutely loved the math aspect of programming but negelected the actual practice part with the result getting a really bad grade. ITWS was the best. More than teaching it was about exploring. Loved it, decent grade.

Well things actually don't work so smoothly in life. As per the karma theory bad breeds bad. My bad bred bad in the next sem itself, I had a grand SGPA of 4.9. Till date I have not been able to figure out the reasons for the same. A detailed study reveals only one fact - total, complete, holistic screw up.The CGPA became 6.02.AP govt stops the Pratibha award if the GPA goes below 6. God is great and I am saved.

It has been a constant struggle since then. The mind divided into two say Atma Ram(AR) and ParamAtma Ram(PR). AR telling me to study and PR telling me
that there are bigger things in life. As has been the case for a major part of my life... PR usually had resounding victories.

PR thankfully left me with about an year ago. Placements were looming large and the Placement committee decided that they will use only the GPAs upto 6th sem, I fought my battles but Priyanshu and Co were adamant. That left me with only three or four companies to appear for. I decided that it will be ARs all the way in the interview panels - asking me why I did not study etc etc. We can't do anything about that now. So I struggled like hell. Salvaging even bits of projects. Projecting them on the CV, pulling out the books, burning midnight oil and daylight sun. Had I done even one tenth of this struggle before ... well :) By the time placements began with the exception of Operating Systems I knew enough about things in my CV and Grade Sheets that I would have gotten a GPA of 9 had exams been held now. Of course most people would have.

In this context was the second question. By the TCS interviewer. PR came to my rescue when I showed my extra-curricular achievements. They were convinced and with good reason. At least in the extra-curricular aspects there was no cramming, no last minute novel reading or soft skill sessions. They came naturally and I said so. Of course I knew Software Engineering very well and said that I can take on any comers in that field but that is not boasting , if we do not know even one subject that can save our lives. I guess we should seek a well with water and jump in it.

I sat (or was allowed to sit because of my GPA) in only one other company. The interviewers and me were at total cross purposes. They were experts in a field which I was just entering. I did not know that Software Architecture needed a lot and lot of compilers, the fact is it does not, they asked me only because they wanted to stress me out. One of the two guys (even sadistic interviewers hunt in pairs) asked me to draw a parse table of a multi-filed programme. I was clueless and said the same to them. I told them that I was not the proper guy for the job and came off. A nightmare but a lesson nevertheless. btw if someone know the answer to the question please tell me.

The third question was asked in a B-School interview. These interviewers are better placed. They understand that the students who seek B-Schools are usually the ones who have some extra-curricular activities and may possess bad grades. No Generalization though. I showed my extra-curriculars as a reason. Of course I am not so bad as to not give the credit where it needs to be given (or the Devil its due ... as you may). I said that IIIT is a very competitive place and my classmates are extremely brilliant people. They worked much harder than me and that is the reason for my bad grades. The profs from IIFT surely saw some sense in the answer.

Fear of a bad GPA did haunt me for a long time of one and a half year. Then I let the fear go below the carpet, it never disappeared though.In hindsight I feel,
fear is good. I'm not advocating people to be guilty all thet time. But a small flavour of fear in your inner conscience would go a long way in structuring your IIITian life, for this is considered by many as a spring board to launch one's career.

Now what does the title of the post mean in the context. When I joined IIIT my mom said two things - don't become a smoker and don't become a drunkard, my dad too said two things - don't take drugs and never fail. I said only one thing - I can't promise for the rest of them but I will never fail and get at least 70%. Now that translates into a 7 CGPA. It is strange for AR to make such a comeback when PR is the need of the hour. But today I am paranoid about my grades, I need to get an SGPA of 9 in the final semester to get a se7en. At this juncture with a good B-School admission (IIFT took me in) and a job to boot (TCS liked my SE and PR did the rest) it might not really matter. No one needs it or wants it.

But strangely I seem to want it. I think a bottom line can be drawn here. CGPA matters. You need enormous amounts of other efforts in case you do not have a good GPA. Probably Vishwas Rao is the only guy in the batch who has a job in tremendous disproportion to his GPA. He had an awesome interview and a good internship too.I do not know about the luck part of his achievement and I will not take any credit away by calling it luck.In recent times I've also realized that CGPA is one of the criteria for associating with people. Wierd but true.

Of course how you get your GPA also matters.One should be able to vouch for every point in that Grade Point Average as his own. I have poor grades true, but i've never sought the "guidance" and "suggestion" of tutors. This fact is true for the majority of the junta, but those who sought the easy way out will find the going tough some time or the other. A bad GPA is much better than an undeserving one. And a good GPA, as they say in Math, is only a necessary condition not a sufficient one.

PS: Gautam Kumar, if you are reading this will you add the "Going for MBA" statement to the publicised GPA sheet. Will probably save my face in front of some important people :D