Sunday, December 31, 2006

SURVIVING THE ENGINEERING COLLEGE EXPERIENCE - PART TWO

Continued from the previous post...

5. Copying during exams: The moralists among you would be taken aback. How on Mother Earth can copying be deemed a virtue?! But the fact of the matter is, it's the way to survive! Microsoft made billions copying the Mac OS. Apple admitted that the ubuititous iPod is not their own idea. Eddie van Halen became one of the greatest guitarists though his techniques are borrowed from others, notably Jimmy Page's tapping.
Copying in exams is just that - a way to survive in a rat race where only the streetsmart get through. But there is another angle to this - a willingness to help others, even while risking their own marks! In an industry, will any professional take a decision without consulting others? (Leave George Bush out of this for now) Of course not! So what is wrong in a student confirming whether his answer to question 3(a) is correct? You tell me!

Furthermore, to avoid the prying eye of the invigilator, the copier has to master many a skill... Acting, sign language, reading esoteric cutpieces of minimal font size (the epitome of space efficiency, surely!), mentally calculting how much more he needs to score before he can ensure the safety of not having to buy another exam form (I always said if Shaun Pollock had been an engineer, SA would have won the '03 World Cup... Instead of that quite terrible communication error). Add these to the aforestated list of friendship, judicious risk-taking, survival... How can copying be looked upon as anything other than noble?

6. Tackling Failure: They say that the stepping stone to success is failure. In that case, the engineering student is quite simply among the cream of successful people! From suppli to appli, he is the quintessential manifestation of someone who has looked failure in the eye. And the *success*? Well, the very fact that he manages to pass out of college (erm, most of them, anyway!) is itself a great success!

7. Adjustments: Ah. Now this is a part of college life that noone can avoid. The lab is, quite simply, one place where honesty does not pay. Adjustment (or 'standardization of values', as I prefer to call it) is an age-old tactic. And before you yell at me saying this is going too far, take a minute off and think what the higher echelons of the faculty do to our internal marks before publishing them. Isn't 'normalization' a type of adjustment too, so that everyone becomes happy? I've been to companies and I know that 'adjustments' are a very common tactic... It's essential to survive in the industry! I'm not talking Enronesque billions being sifted away from the rightful owners. But our type of adjustments ensure that everyone is happy, and have less work to do.
Minor example: Software training: "Mark course complete". Need I say more? ;)
Sometimes I think they make us do experiments just to get acquainted with the fine art of adjustments....

There you go :)
Engineers: Now don't you feel much prouder of being who you are?

Non-Engineers: You poor guys have no idea what you're missing!

SURVIVING THE ENGINEERING COLLEGE EXPERIENCE - PART ONE

This is an article I wrote in my college magazine a few months back... And thought I'd put it up here as well ;)
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For those of you who are apprehensive, who think this is going to be an other article that rubbishes our course, and talks of how useless the subjects we study are, can allay your fears. This article does exactly the opposite - how great engineers are groomed in an engineering college - or to be more specific, our grand alma mater, GEC Thrissur!

Now please understand, when I say 'Engineer', I don't allude to someone who knows a hundred equations by rote, a thousand circuit diagrams inside-out, or a zillion experimental theories like the proverbial back of his hand. For that is not what makes an engineer. Yes, anyone can become a university topper by locking himself in a room with stacks of references, cutting himself off from all civilization (my apologies to actual toppers... I tend to exaggerate at times!).
Being an engineer is not about knowing the derivation of the Darcy-Weischbach relation, the corollaries of all of Kirschoff's laws, or the reaction conditions of the Perry-Wilkinson synthesis. Really now, once you're in an actual industry, do you think your boss would actually allow you to rely on your memory? Imagine - in your calculations, if you used density where you needed to use pressure drop, your faux pas may run the industry to bankruptcy!

This is why, 'memorizing', the common tactic we adopt to steer clear of supplementary examinations, won't help you become a good engineer. However... In our stormy GEC lives... Four years of chaos, struggle and doing nothing at all, we learn a lot of other skills. Subliminally, these skills are imbibed into most of us... Here are a few...

1. Planning and deadline-meeting: If we really want India to develop,p we should get rid of all politicians, kill all bureaucrats, and put engineers in their place. Tell them to get things done in two months or they will face demotion. In the first month nothing will happen. In the next two weeks, there will be minor activity among the junior members. In the suceeding two weeks, though, there will be frenetic activity to meet the deadline. Sounds familiar, all this? Rewind to what happens a month before the University exams. Engineers are like the best bikes: We can go from 0 to 60 in almost no time!
[Another analogy would be the time period of 09:25 to 09:30 in MH bathrooms]

2. Diplomatic Skills: Many a time, business deals and bilateral talks fail because of the inefficacy of managers and diplomats. Engineers make excellent diplomates. Need proof? Watch what happens in any class in which an internal exam is declared upon the poor souls. Hectic lobbying and discussions with the concerned teacher ensue, only to get the exam postponed! Kashmir would have been solved in two weeks!

3. Endurance: Engineers have an infinite suppli... Oops :P ... Supply of patience. This skill arises from the practice of four years, pretending to nod your head in lectures.

4. Strategists: Engineering students are among the best planners that I have ever seen. This is not becasue we studt graphics - which has plans and elevations. For example, there are a few people who utilize a system I like to call the Cut-O-Meter, wherein he/she tabulates how many hours he has cut, and how many more he can afford to do so without compromising the 75% barrier. Such planning would do the Harappan Municipal Corporation proud.

Continued in part 2!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

LESSONS FROM A MISSING PENCIL

Yep. This Sunday I realised that I could make a decent manager, if any institution worth the foundation on which it is built decides to enlist me in it's rolls.

The reason for this sudden enlightenment is not because I have scored 99.9999999 percentile in certain exams abbreviated to give feline family members, or because Warren Buffet calls me up every other weekend to seek my advice on whether the market is bearish, bullish, or exhibits characteristics of any other member of the wildlife club.

This is because I sat through a whole Management entrance exam with just one pencil.

Yep. One - Ek - Onnu - Un - Uno - Waaaan - Pencil.

Sceptics who have for long believed that I should be in the safe custody of men in white coats may please use the Exit and leave for the time being and allow me to gloat over my fantabulous achievement.

For, ladies and gentlemen, and anything in-between, it is not easy to get through an exam with just one pencil.

Before I tell you why, let me give you the gory details.

On Sunday, 10th December, 2006 in the Anno Domini, I had two management entrance exams - JMET in the morning, NMAT in the afternoon.

I finished off JMET, rushed off to have a Pizza, and then caught an auto where the son-of-unmarried-parents charged me double the rate of what any conscientious auto driver would charge. However, the exam was scheduled to start soon, and I was not in a mood to discuss illegitimate gynaecology, so I decided to resign myself to this fate, and just hop into the auto. Did I mention it was raining?

On reaching the exam center, I was finally relieved. Until the time came to open my bag, to scavenge for my pencil box.

Now, at this point, I just ask you to think back. Look back into your life. Dig into the deep recesses of that scarcely-used medulla and see if you can think of any moment in which your heart feels like it's left it's casing and finds itself sinking?
That is how I felt when, on scouring my bag, I realised that my pencil case was not to be seen. No wood-enclosed graphite to be seen.

So I sheepishly had to borrow a pencil from the guy in front of me. And told the gal sitting behind me that I may borrow her sharpener during the course of the exam.

At the end of it, I finished a decent paper (how decent it was, I'll let you know on January 5!). But I was left reflecting. I managed to finish a goddamn 2.5 hour, 200 question paper with just a pencil. The operative word was 'managed'!

So on the bus ride (Oh no... Not that auto guy again!) back home, I reflected. Yes, the mirror helped, but not that type of reflect.

What skills did I realise I had? Hmmm....

1. I had to make sure that I used the lead properly - I had to do calculations for 100+ questions using them, and mark the OMR sheet. So I had to use a fine 50-50 between too light and too dark :-/

2. I had to use minimal calculations, obviously, so that my precious lead would not get wasted doing looooooooong calculations. So at the end of it, I actually managed to skip the questions that were extraneously long, and do the ones that required minimal calculations!

3. I had to put on a nonchalant face while signing the attendance sheet with a pencil, while everyone else did it with pen.

4. I used my pencil so economically that I didn't need to borrow the sharpener :D

5. I had to make sure I made no mistakes while marking else I'd have to borrow an eraser too :O

Well, there we are. Quite an insipid thing to post, I know, but for me, it was like a whole new realisation. I am now confident of steering a Fortune-500 company to greater heights after I pursue a Management degree.

PS: If that guy and that girl who were helpful during the exam happen to read this, thank you ever so much :)

Enough pencil-iary action for today!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

REFLECTIONS OF A SOFTWARE ENGINEER - PART THREE

Dementia returns. Another post outlining the life in Chennai follows.

I'm going to keep this short and sweet. Well, as pygmic and sucrosic as my previous posts, that is.

So what's been up this month?

An earth-shattering revelation for all of you now : My company has actually saddled me with work! Yes, can you believe it? Computer-gazing, keyboard-pounding, AC-room-sitting WORK!
But it really isn't too bad.

After all, I learnt a lot of Excel. And the fruit juice at the cafeteria rocks. Why, I'm upto my ears in Vitamin C!

What would a blogpost chronicling the happenings of the month of November ever be complete without a mention of the Common Admission Test? I allude of course, to the not-so-furry, but still very cranky, CAT.

I'll spare the gory details and just sum it up saying it was okay.

And by okay, I mean that I should get a call from MICA, which is all I care about anyway. I am not one of those people who get onto management education forums and post things like "my scr is 190....... ppl cn u tell me if i'll gt a call frm atleast 1 iim.... plleeeeeeeeeeeez... i'm deper8"! I mean, for Chrissake!!!!! :D

Moving on, the other exams were okay tool. My last post would have enlightened you on what is likely to happen when you don't make sure you're well-stocked with stationery before going to the exam hall. :|
So that's CAT, JMET, NMAT, SNAP down... XAT and FMS to go!

Moving on to life @ office.

The day is a very well-structured routine of getting there by ten, eating, doing some arbit work, Wiki-ing, pretending to work, checking mail to appear busy, more Wiki-ing (now you know why we call this the knowledge industry?), eating, drinking (er... fruit juice!), spending some time at the Gym (Really!!!), blah blah. Oh and eating.

People have asked me how *aesthetic* the place is. I'd say that Salim Ali would have had a decent time here. If you didn't understand this line, don't ask questions, just move on!

Get back home, read a bit, waste time on GTalk and Orkut before collapsing to bed with the soothing music of Iron Maiden putting me to sleep (yes, I have a strange choice of lullabies. Duh).

Uhmm... That's about it, really...

Let me confess I'm getting writer's block :(