Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Engineering: Surviving it my way!


“Mera beta engineer banega!” (My son shall become an engineer) is the beginning of about 80% engineers in India. Gladly, I was in the rest 20. Flashback to grade 8, when asked in an oral exam, what I would like to be in future, and my answer, even back then, was Engineer. In an age, where I should’ve been choosing my favorite superhero, I was more engrossed in checking out how the toy worked. In grade 10, I was put to aptitude tests, the result again was, Engineering. Putting all the efforts ever needed in the first 15 years of life, I joined the illustrious 90% club. The rat race had begun. Well, that day, somehow sealed my fate!

In the huge vacation that followed, if there was a hobby I could take up, it was reading. When I started with a book, I was scolded by my cousins who had done engineering, never to touch that book if you do not want to get demoralized in your pursuit, the book was, ‘Five Point Someone’ :-P 

Cut to being a collegian, with all the transition from school to college being settled, I was now faced upon a new challenge, the CET. Grade 12 boards were not ‘significant’ although all knew those marks could spoil the party. The boards went by good and we faced the daunting mammoth task laid in front of us, the CET. The date 12th May 2011, time 1600 hrs and we had just finished the mission, the biggest one in our life. I was a free bird then, no more stress, no more sleepless nights, tight schedules, continuous prayers. 

I began reading, this time a better one, ‘The Secret’ and applying all those in real life to check it. Few things did happen well, like what they call it the ‘Beginner’s luck’. The party had begun, only interrupted on the midnight of 14th June when we got our CET results. 

The marks were decent and in the background of low results overall, those were considered good marks. The stage was set; marks were at hand, Secret in the brain, the admission kicked off. We had the privilege to choose any college in the state, but few times such ‘privileges’ drive you crazy. Reading about every other college, its past results, reviews, brochures, blah blah end up to be quite frustrating. Added to it, to get all documents prepared before the rounds started was another hill. Here was where I understood why we ever had corruption in the society. Welcome to the real world, grownups! 

The first round was a washout, the college which I always wanted, never seemed to be interested in me. The Secret did fail here, and a huge one. Scattered dreams gathered, set out for Round 2. This time playing safe, I had all safe options there, guaranteed a seat into engineering. As expected, the ‘dream’ came true and I got the admissions to a nearby decent college. It was no lesser than a battle won, riddled with the thought of finally materializing your dreams, coupled with the pressure of a new beginning, new friends and new life. 

‘All the First Year students are welcome for the orientation function at the auditorium’ read the board outside. “Welcome to engineering” I said to myself.

First Year

The first day of engineering, every moment felt to be captured, though it wasn’t a lavish classroom or super interesting lectures like in the MIT or Stanford. It was a shift, something colossal happening in life. The junior college attendance was even poorer than India’s annual growth rate (not in terms of population), but here in engineering, it was back to being a school guy, full day lectures, rapt attention even if you understand nuts and especially around new faces in a new environment. What I call FE is the ‘all-rounder training scheme’; math, physics, chemistry, programming, drawing, mechanics, electrical and even carpentry stuff! Hardly anything left from the prospect of engineering. Perfect implementation of the Darwin’s theory, isn’t it?

Along with the college, what helps you cope with this stuff is coaching institutes. Somewhere between juggling classes and college, we lost our weight, and some brains too. Back in college, we were introduced to the concept of assignments and tutorials. It felt cool that you did it on your own without any help and managed to ask a doubt or two to the professor. All the life before, we Science grads are taught to respect the trilogy of Physics, Math and Chemistry. But I hardly felt any respect towards Physics and Chemistry, like some two subjects which can be ignored and this was the first ‘sab moh maya hai’ moment.

Vivas and submissions, two words enough to scare the shit out of any engineer. Those still searching a better way to lose weight help a guy to get through his submissions and necessarily a guy cause a girl won’t face those harassments from the faculty. Long queues, standing for hours, cursing the professor, following him like a stalker, sometimes even embarrassingly till the restroom, skipping lectures and lunch just for that one little signature and the joy when you got that, who thought these would one day become cherished memories. After all these antics, it was time to face some music, the external ones. Basically, vivas are the official ragging ceremonies organized by the university and college, which extend till the last semester. Luckily, I scraped through all of them in a far better manner, making lives tougher for the ones to follow. Did I just mention luck? Oh, yes, you need that thing in an engineering college and it paved in for a new S-word in my life; superstition.

“University exams are one month long?” mom asked. Sadly, it was true and others had already told her, that it’s a test of endurance, for everyone in the house. Every possible superstition followed, same lucky pen, visiting every temple in the area, in the same order, only white shirt during exams, water bottle always to the right, hall ticket always in a plastic sheet, always write the date first and then rest details, glancing through the paper before beginning, having a chocolate after the exam invites sweet results and God only knows what else I followed, and this way I completed my first semester of engineering!

Second semester had started and everyone was in the ‘chilling’ mood when we knew it won’t be as hectic and we shall have enough time to have fun. The shock came upon us was the first semester results, to my and everyone’s surprise, I had flunked the exam. ‘The result for seat no. 17684 is FAILED’ hit me in the face like a thunderous blow. I wept like someone had died, yes something within had. I never felt like having food and sleep those 2 days until it wasn’t clear how many subjects I had to repeat. Mind speculations were rife, as to it would’ve been only 1 subject. I was in depression, people around me never liked the change in me, but this was the time when I realized who my real friends were. Rather than feeling what I feel I was thinking, what will my friends think of me now? I’m a failure, the age old ‘log kya kahenge’ syndrome! Well, years to be followed taught me another syndrome, ‘log bhulte bhi hai’! When the results came, it was as expected, only 1 KT in Computer Programming. And overall percentage was 67% despite the failure. This was when I understood by what it meant, “Every cloud has a silver lining”. Interestingly, Programming was my special domain in my junior college and I was quite sure I knew the subject better than few ones who had passed in it. Reality check lesson: University never checks your knowledge mate; it just checks your mugging and presentation skills! 

I had become news in the college, ‘The boy who scored 67% despite a KT’, so the professors had a soft corner for me then and my friends were quite proud of me and few others, well the reason why the temperatures rose in the college :-P This was the point where I had started becoming the badass bully.

It was time for the festival, seen as the perfect time for bonding with friends, relaxing your mind, enjoyment in the campus. Rather than having fun inside the campus, we bonded better at theaters, parks, hangout locations, restaurants and cafes. Who ever had thought, that a simple meal with collegians at the McDonalds would be a cherished memory?
Apart from the enjoyment thing, we had learnt to juggle the study part and were better organized for the semester 2 exams. Come semester 2 exams, we had done with 2 papers; I was getting ready for Programming papers 1 and 2 back to back. 

After this, we get the shock of our life that the initial 2 papers had been leaked and there would be a re-examination. Abuses and curses flowed, petitions were signed, black bands and shirts worn, agitations outside the campus and social media outburst everything was done. The media coverage gave it the outlook of a high profile criminal case. In spite of all the efforts, fate was sealed, the papers were considered waste and re-examination was decided. Math and Physics again, no lesser torture! Others went smooth, although everyone had their outburst of frustration, few threw their drafters, few tore pages, few wailed through the period but in the end, everyone did appear for the extra exams :-P
After the long wait, the vacations had been thoroughly enjoyed, 15 days or a month didn’t matter, having fun was the agenda. The results came; I settled my ‘score’ with the university, all clear in the exams and bagged the prestigious ‘First Class with Distinction’ and thus started my obsession with it.

Second Year

4th floor, Department of Electronics and Telecommunication, that’s where now I belonged to for the next 3 years, a new circle of friends was to begin, who had thought, it would be the best family ever. The subjects were quite interesting by the names and here is when we understood, ‘All that glitters is not gold’:-P

So, it was time to being ‘independent’ when it came to your admissions. Parents were quite tensed and had done it in the first year but its time you accept the baton. So, with all the documents, photocopies and the demand draft, we stood in a queue which felt like half a semester. Waiting for an ever depressing man to verify your documents and give the thumbs up, we run to another queue to pay the fees. This was the work done most efficiently because it hardly pains to accept money, eh! Never thought that this time would give us a new friendship.

I had heard this probably a hundredth time, “First year is quite hectic and then the final year. You can always ‘enjoy’ life in the middle.” To gel up with friends and seniors, I thought, there would be no better place than student committees and I joined one with my friends. It was fun to watch and learn how things work in an organization through this and learns management effectively but with a few harsh side lessons.

‘Once bitten, twice shy’, I learnt this after two semesters of authentic assignments, where in none of the word was acknowledged and nothing verified stuff. So, it was time to get rid of the old skin and adapt yourself to the new one, for the ‘effort’ you had put in, will always end up being recyclable trash, and the reason the non teaching staff gets their salary.

It was the festival time, again to cheer up and be happy, all the hangouts would be more special and the food, however it may be, the time spent would always be special. This time a new addition was made to the fest, it was the ‘Teachers’ Premier League’:-P, an enthusiastic activity for the department staff to unwind and be a part of the fun. Well, it may have been success or no, but it was surely the ‘inspiration’ behind our very own version, the ‘Balcony Premier League’, where in we used our balconies in the free time to have a game of cricket and to our surprise, even our professors had seemed to like it, although hated it when done in their lectures!

Three semesters had passed by and people had begun ‘falling’ in love. As in, love blossomed everywhere except my pond:-P and I was quite happy about the fact that a lion had not become a pet dog ;) At a time where lovers met in each others in dreams, I was busy solving Double Integration and Triple Integration even in my dreams, err, should I call them nightmares?

Although what had caught my attention was the notice to Industrial Visit! The first ever trip with college friends, that too the scenic northern hill stations, the perfect treat after yet another month of torture exams and non sensible exam schedule. So the excitement begun, this quite well, had surpassed the levels of concentration for the semester 3 exams. We did study the best for the exams and went into the shopping mode right from the next day. Everything of the IV was worth it. Be it the 24 hour long journey, chilly weather; long nauseate bus rides, hotels, gardens, locations and every bit of Simla, Manali, Chandigarh and Amritsar. It’s because of this trip; I found a new meaning to life and memories to last for a lifetime.

What I call the 4th semester is the hangover semester, as I hardly remember anything significant of it. The results of sem 3 were as expected; the good one. I had finally managed to become shameless and bunk a few lectures when I felt the need. It was the last semester where we officially had the subject ‘Applied Mathematics’, good riddance! The IV had truly been a catalyst, all the boring lectures and practical sessions had turned into a fun time and there’s when we had started learning as well as enjoying engineering, just before the interval of our 4 years!

Third Year

Welcome to the toughest year of EXTC! Seniors as well as professors told us, it was in this year you understand whether your decision on the first place was a good one or no. This was start of the life they said because it’s like you make the decision now and later you understand whether it was the right one or no. But, this journey always had the amazing companionship of friendship which became better as the time passed by, just like the wine.

Third Year also marks the preparation for handling the ‘baton’ as the super seniors are busy in their career decisions. So, whichever committee or council may be, time had come for the politics to make an entry; which still is the one of the worse memories of engineering. Reality checks once again: What matters are the posts and not the work that goes behind it. Although I abused these morons all the time, but when I look back, I let out a silent thanks for the bitter lessons learnt.
Well, this time brings with it the most feared question of all: “Aage ka kya plan hai?” I was proud of myself that I learnt the art of avoiding this question pretty soon. But the maze of future is quite complicated, everyone enters it in their life, some solve it wisely, some crack it by hook or by crook and few others, well never get the heck of it.

To be very frank, engineers themselves criticize their education field quite extensively, but we have fair enough options to choose our career ahead. MS, MBA, M.Tech, M.E. or appear for the placements, just name it and you can pursue it. Just have the ‘talent’ enough to clear these entrances, or ‘luck’ works even in this case.

A part of growing up mostly involves being independent. It was a decision made and chance to prove it right. It wasn’t any more dependence on the tuitions thing and bringing in the ‘reference’ books for better ‘understanding’. Bitter lessons from the past had taught us that the reference books answers weren’t rewarded handsomely at the university exams rather the local publications had always proved to be a boon for us.

The first step to being independent was the frequent visits to library. Although it was well known about the 'hazards' of being stuck to reference book material. But here was where I understood, why books are our best friends. They hardly demand anything but time and attention and they guarantee you the best 'returns on investment'. Plus, you can hardly use them in a use-and-throw manner. Once you start it, you have to have the company, till the very end!

Till half time, I had been a pretty decent student. High percentage of attendance and good internals coupled with decent marks in the university exams. It was time to develop the extracurricular part so that you never get labeled as a bookworm or a nerd or few other expletives. Student Council, most revered committee of the college, responsible for the tech and cultural festivals was the place to be in. I thought, whatever the situation may be, however dirty the politics is, it’s the best in interest to keep on working professionally and earn those prestigious certificates. I miss those days a lot, working after college, sometimes till late evening, the bonding sessions, the fun mingled with work and the previous night preparations which went till the wee hours the next day. Those moments seem worthless but indeed they teach you a lot! Whatever skills you possess, you are never revered until you have the elusive one: leadership. The responsibility of the team, extracting the right amount of efforts and ensuring them the best results; looks pretty well on the paper but indeed is a task. I learnt this when I had the opportunity to head an event at the technical fest. A shy introvert school boy manages an entire event at the college; somewhere the alchemy had been done.

At the brink of the final year, it was the time to prepare for the ultimate assignment: the project. Well, basically the reason behind a project work to be done at the end of engineering is just to test the students as to how efficiently they could apply the ‘knowledge’ they learnt in the years and provide solutions to real life problems. It’s an open secret that there are agencies which help you get the project done from scratch. Luckily, my group wasn’t one of them. I am really lucky to have had the opportunity of working with my buddies who were as adamant as me to get the project done originally. Well, the groups weren’t easily formed. In went a lot of recommendations, boot licking, self appraisals, name callings and the politics.
Reality check: People can afford any price to make sure they do not fall in deep shit in the future!

All dirty games played, it was time to ‘bury the hatchet’ and start preparations for battle round 6 with university. It was déjà vu in the manner that this was going to be followed by Industrial Visit no.2 to the south. I thank my college for that I could experience the north and south of India within a span of year. We never thought that the contrast of location of the trips would also yield contrast memories. The fun of the first was replaced by grudges in the second. Once where the vows of lifelong friendship had been made were now crushed with vows of vengeance and hatred. Very few memories to be carried forward, to be frank, none of them!

The Final Year

The beginning of the end had started, it all ended in a few months now! It was time to bring on all the #OneLastTime tags into reality. The feeling of being the ultimate seniors of the college brings with it an amazing wind of power, all the professors turn friends and career counselors and make you feel weary of the fact that college will be over soon.
One dialogue which always had my focus is: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” It was time for this to happen because there was to be a visit by special team for the college accreditation. There was pressure, serious pressure to perform, to help the college bag that elusive grade (well, I still wonder what changes it brought to the college). The situation was grave; every professor had to keep his slates clean and would ask the students to help him/her to get it done in lure of a decent ‘payback’ during the internals. The jury was smart enough to understand that clean hands usually suggest dirty work and we could see our desperate hard work somewhere go down the drain.

The season of GRE had dawned upon. My friends had put in all their efforts for it and had got amazing score, well most of them had! The first step towards the American dream had been taken; I knew they would be in another land in a few months, felt little emotional back then but never thought that would become an avalanche one day!

My GATE coaching was going on smoothly, the focus had been back to studies, revising all the hard learnt concepts in these 3 years had been a tough task but the library as a friend had been to the rescue. Never to forget it was back to the juggling stuff, the assignments and tutorials at the college did follow. Castles were made in air; the qualification, selections, admissions to M. Tech and so on had started. But having a backup operation is necessary; engineering had taught me this, that’s why I had chosen one.

The most important ‘festival’ of the college life was to begin; the big P-word, the placements 2014-15. The tension, pressure, excitement, uncertainty looming over, added superstitions, roaming around in crisp formals and so all had begun. I took a chance by not appearing the first aptitude test sincerely purely because I wanted to soak in that tension and the atmosphere and to get ready for the bigger plump fruits!

The days of 22nd and 23rd September 2014 are what I describe the toughest 48 hours of my life. A dream company for many was set to visit our college, Infosys. The first roadblock was the criteria which was a walk in as I had much better marks than required. The aptitude was one I could never forget; much was said about it to being one of the toughest in the industry, all the sections had their cutoffs; so scoring well in all was mandatory. Being an online test, we expected spot results but we were made to test our patience as they declared that results would be declared in evening! Those hours were the toughest; however I believed in the Hindi proverb, “Sabr ka fal meetha hota hai.” And my belief had paid off well; the list sent to all selects had the candidate no. 48 as selected to next round! I was on seventh heaven after reading it, however soon I would be seeing an HR answering questions to impress him/her in an attempt to bag my first job. The D day had arrived, 23rd Sept; I was getting ready but with slight nervousness. Every single prayer was said, every superstition followed and the best wishes from my buddies. An impressive resume at hand, confidence at heart, stable temperature inside the brain, I gave the interview. It was a great experience and a little bug of excitement was jumping in my stomach. The results would take another 4 days. After this gruesome drilling interview sessions, it was time to gear up for college fest that followed. We should have enjoyed the fest to our delight as it was one of our One Last Time things to do but the results were a constant flicker of worry; however they say; Time is the greatest healer.

27th Sept, 2014: The result was out and the dream was fulfilled, the desire to work with India’s leading IT brand had been realized, joy knew no bounds; happiness flowed and I hugged my mom tightly, wept for about 20 seconds, symbolizing 20 yrs of living and watching dreams for each other. One of the best moments I’ve lived till now!

The semester continued and assignments, lectures came and went by. The submissions were rather tedious one this time but all’s well that ends well. Round 7 was to begin and it was the first ever time I fell sick during an exam; it’s the most frightening thing I could ever think of especially during a time when dengue was on the rise. Blood tests were negative, a huge relief but the weakness was taking toll that too before the subject which was biggest pain in the back, Fundamentals of Microwave Engineering, which I cleared with good marks. The struggle I could never forget!

The vacations had begun but it wasn’t rest time yet. The GATE exam was just few weeks away and preparations were at the peak, mock tests, revisions and everything possible was done. Even then, owing to the pressure, I fell sick. Somehow I prepared myself in the best manner and appeared for it. Those 180 minutes were sickening, adrenaline was at the peak, completing the questions, applying logic and choosing the right option, the final submission of the test was a huge relief, like none other witnessed in a time.

The wait for the result was again testing me; the results came and got what I feared the most: Failure. In a way, the start as well as end of engineering was marked with failure, which taught me much in the long run. My friends witnessed my depression regarding it and the way they handled me during those turbulent times; feels like having the same friends in all births.

Time goes on, you have to move on, and so I did. The final semester had begun. With only 4 subjects, we had ample time to devote to our project which had been progressing smoothly. Semester 8 really was a cake walk; except the project thing. Every single day we left early from the college, which gave us more time to play and bond with our friends, for the last few days together; mind you, the countdown had begun!

The project was a brainchild and it was handled with that care. A working project is an absolute treat to eyes, all those nights, grueling sessions and planning, designing was finally functioning properly. All the professors wanted to have a look at it because Virtual Reality Headset is such kind of project. Few were astounded, few others jealous. The B.E. project had been done and with full levels of authenticity and sincerity.

It was time for the vivas for the One Last Time. All those tense faces before it, the ‘kya pucha tujhe’ syndrome and the victory moment when we came out without any taunts from the external; all this would finally come to an end. Although we hated these days, these were undoubtedly one of the most appealing days of engineering.

It was time to party: the farewell and convocation ceremony was one day we had waited since day 1 of engineering. That cloak and posing for the class photograph was so Bollywood but again, all works when emotions are involved! The farewell in evening was one of the best evenings of college. All suited up, clean shaven faces, dapper looking, girls in dresses and gowns, all looking pretty. Never had thought, engineers would look so good at any day inside the college. Those long photo sessions, the dinner we had together, DJ night where we danced our hearts out; because it would be officially the last time we meet each other before the final exams! Teary eyes, sincere hugs, promises of being in contact marked the end of the farewell.

The stage was set, final 4 exams of engineering; it all ended on June 1st 2015. An amazing life experience which began in 2011 would have curtains dropped on this day. At the stroke of 2:00 pm on that day, when our pens stopped scribbling on the paper and the supervisor snatched our papers, we were free, Engineers officially now; it was time to party, a party which would not end so soon. I had lived my dream, a promise which I made to myself when I was just 13 had been fulfilled; it was time to be called Er. Ankit Satanekar, B.E. (EXTC)


The party had begun, all those trips, hang outs which had been planned and missed out were completed now. I had missed nearly all family functions during this period; it was the time to compensate for all that. Although a corner of heart was worried for the results. I was waiting for my joining as well. Few had started their job life and sharing their experiences. Few were flying off to US. I agree that airports have witnessed the most sincere goodbyes ever. I was at my birthplace with my sister and nieces when I got the glad news that I had cleared the exam with distinction. The obsession had found its right medicine. The place where I had breathed my first was where I officially got my graduation status.
Rather than the lectures I managed to scrape through, I shall remember the life lessons engineering taught me; it taught me a different way of life, a new dimension to life!

In a matter of days, I leave for a new journey in my life, shall start my first job. Learn many new things and more importantly start earning and start an independent life. I hope that I have a journey as scintillating as these 4 years.
I believe, “When I look back in life, at my deathbed, these 4 years will stand apart from the rest ones.”

As I go past my college today, I hum the song, “I Hate You like I Love You”, well this sums up the relationship I had with engineering.

I hope that one day, I share all these experiences with my children and grand children and end it with, “So children, that’s how I survived Engineering!”

Friday, March 6, 2015

Final Year Engineering Project: Virtual Reality Headset

Its been an amazing past few months having got the opportunity to work on this project. To be very frank, I was in double minds about the credibility of this project, much like any of our professor. But the only fact of YOLO (You Only Live Once) and also you do a final year project only once (unless you extensively "love" your college that you decide to repeat that "final" year) got me to buck up and gear up for this venture. After lots of technical papers, journals read, trying out the components that work the best, raking up the programming brains, getting that electronics shop guy familiar to you, here we are, with the project ready to be shown to the world by 4 such idiots. Reactions have been amazing, some encouraging, some jealous equally, but that's how it has to be! Yeah, that's a brain child, cherished for lifelong. Although the concept of virtual reality headsets is not new to the world but making that one at such a level is for sure. I'll do the less talking, let the video speak more words. But just a word for my other "idiots" for being a great team and pulling up this one.
Thank you Nitin Saini, Ashrit Shetty, Pratik Sule. Thanks a lot!