We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry, Stay foolish - Motivational speech by Steve Jobs - CEO, Apple

This is the text of the Commencement address by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12,2005.
I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.The first story is about connecting the dots.I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months,butthen stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with,
and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one
good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be
priceless later on.

Let me give you one example:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in
the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later. Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.
I was lucky ,I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple
in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation - the Macintosh - a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out.When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over. I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I retuned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from
Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

My third story is about death.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now. This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Thank you all very much.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


I many times wonder why people fall short of appreciating things that deserve appreciation?

Appreciation is very good. Even if it means saying things are good even if they might not be great and outstanding. It helps build positivity and confidence and a feel good environment, which is beneficial for both the receiver as well as contributor. It gives motivation. It makes one feel being noticed and for however small time it might be, worthy of doing something that has some value.

We are humans. We stay in society. We depend on each other for different things. We constantly feel threatened by competition for better things. All it takes to keep moving forward in such a competitive world is a bit of notice of the work that you have done. Some positive words, some encouragement, some positive attitude that even though things might not be great, they will improve in the future with more hard work and concentration and dedication. A small note of appreciation can go in a long way to establish all these claims in the receivers mind. It will build a feeling of respect towards you, because you care to take a note of his/her work. Criticize if it has fault, but be constructive. Criticism is also a type of appreciation, though it might in a different sense, but still it conveys the main message, that Yes, somebody cares, my work is not a waste.

All it takes on ones part is to be frank and open minded and value the quality. You might be present in an environment where all the people around you are extremely ahead of you in terms of whatever you are doing. If in this kind of environment, you get neglected because you can not be on par with them, it could act as a major deterrent in that person progress and thinking attitude. But this is what that exactly happens in our society. People chase the bright, they chase the ones who are already established and could provide immediate benefits. Many a stories could be found where a small appreciation could have resulted in long lasting impression in ones mind.

Appreciation is good. It helps both parties. You do not do any good by discouraging a person who is trying to do something. The appreciation by you might result in a better confident attitude which might bring more talent, which might bring out hidden positivity. If you want to be better than your competitor do better work, build healthy competition. It will result everybody. The positives of appreciation are much higher than the negatives.

Try it. Be good to those who try and appreciate the efforts they take. Because all it takes on your part is some word, but it might be the only hopes the other person has in terms of moving ahead.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why having a good mentor is important?

Having a guide / mentor who helps you get the vision is one of the most important things that could happen to a person in one's life.

I always cry aloud on what is the importance of exposure and how it matters. A mentor kicks in exactly at this stage. He is the one who gives you the correct exposure to the outside world when you are still growing. When you are grasping for the newness of the outside world. Many people find mentors in their parents may be father / mother, many find them in their teacher, many in their Professors, many in the colleagues. The person may be different but the role stays the same.

Exceptionally fortunate are those kids, who are born in a family of well educated, well connected people where there is large awareness and exposure right from the early age, from the time when you are groping yourself with new child like enthusiasm and questions, the role of mentors grows manifold. Here is your chance to grow to your potential, develop intellectual curiosity, ask the right questions and most important get most of them answered in the most appropriate manner. Fortunate are those kids who get such early exposure.

Fortunate are those kids who get an outstanding teacher who makes them believe in themselves and in their abilities, when they will grow up to face the changing world. This teacher may not be at all well knowledgeable, what matters is how he makes you interested in whatever he knows and teaches. Such early stage development and confidence brings a lot of different attitude in a kid's mind later.

Getting a visionary Professor during ones formal higher education is equally important as this is where the "Big Vision" of what one wants to do in one's life later comes into picture. This is the critical stage when you can transform those ideas that were bubbling into real life work. This is where one can get correct guidance to what direction to go in one's life and what vision to have and how to achieve it. This is where you learn how to address the correct problems and how to find the correct solutions or at least make a sincere wise attempt towards them.

Exceptionally fortunate are those who get a spouse who is equally enthusiastic about his / her other halves interests and take pride in carrying them forward. He / She also acts as a mentor to guide you during your troubled times, when you need direction, when you seek some one so close to yourself to whom you can confide in your personal space and personal thoughts and on whom you can rely and trust when the entire world seems to be going against you.

Fortunate are those who get some mentor of some sort during atleast one of these stages. And I would say unfortunate are those who even after realizing the importance of these stages could not get one of these. Really unfortunate are those who even after getting one of these, could not make use of them for their betterment under their ego and over-confidence.

A correct mentor is very important. He / She can make your life great if you find the right one.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Day.....My Graduation, A big day .....

Finally I graduated, well not technically yet, but conceptually.

What does that mean I will explain soon. A big day for me. Well, to some extent I had forgotten that I am close to graduation. I was too tired after all the hard work and the uncertainty that lies in the future. But today, once I was amongst the crowd and amongst the fellow graduates, I was suddenly cheerful. Suddenly a great excitement came in me. It was a great moment. A great moment which I had never thought would come so fast. Suddenly 2 years seems to have passed so fast. Everything seemed to have gone beside so fast. It seems time flied so fast. So many experiences and so many bad/good memories. When I take a look back now, things seem so different.

I was not so happy till I went to my department today. I mean I sadly was comparing myself with all the PhDs that were around me who were graduating with me. Who had struggled even harder than me. Who had spent more than 5 years doing research and great work. In front of them I was nothing. My accomplishments were so less. That is the sad part of being a Masters student, you always have PhD students to compare yourself with, professors compare you with Phd students. Professors give more time and attention to PhD students. Masters student though do equal work as Phd students for first 2 years, always get less recognition. So somewhere down the line, I had that thought lingering in my mind. I was thinking, what did I achieve? What great work I did? I was comparing myself with others. Clearly I was grossly wrong. But his is how somehow you feel when the atmosphere around you is like this. I am in a university where 95% students are Phd students. Well I really wanted to do a Phd and if God permits some day I will again be back to school and complete it. Lets not talk about it it now. The conditions at present are not supportive for that for me.

So slowly I recalled all the memories of my past, my struggle to understand this system. My struggle for doing research, my struggle for taking care of responsibilities of family and doing studies, my struggle to survive, my struggle from my days in Pune and the struggle I took to be here where I am at present, the struggle of my family, the struggle and support of my friends. And suddenly I felt so confident, suddenly I felt so accomplished,so deserving, so successful, so glad, all the bad memories went away, all the struggle seemed worth it. A look back filled me with a feeling of gratitude towards my family, towards my friends, towards my near and dear ones who helped me being where I am at present. Towards my critics, towards all the people who made me what I am today. It felt so great. It felt so worthy. There was a peace of mind. that was a great moment. It was a cherishing moment and a big smile appeared on my face.

Many people helped me in my struggle. Many people supported me in my hard work in different manner. I troubled many people in my immaturity and impatient nature during all these years. May people helped me understand what I am and what my problems are. I felt regretful of all the things that I did during all these years. I am deeply thankful to all these friends, family, closed people who made this day possible for me. Its a really big day. For a small village guy, who grew up in a village, with not enough resources for education, who was so immature till recently, who struggled with finances, who struggled for keeping his ambitions high, who struggled to keep a close family even though he grew up in a hostel since 5th standard and never witnessed what a family life is, what a home cooked meal is and what fun is, because he had to take lot of responsibilities so early in his life as early as a 5th standard kid. This is the day of the guy who constantly felt an innermost urge to help people understand the value of education in bringing prosperity in families and surroundings, bringing exposure to people so that they can think wisely, and who always thought of other people before himself and for whom an innermost satisfaction is the most important thing. This is a big day for me because I could see a great satisfaction in my parents eyes when my professor praised me by saying "he is a good responsible person and he will do good in life". Its a great day to see that happiness in my parents eyes of having their son achieve this feat. Managing 36lakh Rs as expense that went in my Masters, on my own is not a less big task without any loan. Somehow I managed to achieve it. Doing lot of experimentation that I did is not so easy. As another professor who spoke today during function said, well I will write it separately in a later paragraph. I came here when I knew nothing, when I was innocent as compared to other students around me and who did not know much things. I created and still commit lot of mistakes. But I grew up in the process and learned important lessons in my life. UCSC will have a great place in my heart. This was a nostalgic moment.

This is a big day for all these self claimed accomplishments. This is a day when I want to celebrate myself and pat myself on my back. This is a day which will stay special in my heart always. This is a day my parents will cherish always.

Professor's excerpt. "You are engineers. You are here because of all your hard work and struggle and the sacrifices. You are here to observe, question and analyze. You are here to break rules and form new paradigms and bring changes to our society. You are the ones who have the responsibility to see a better future. Learning should never stop. What UCSC has given you are the tools to learn. Your employer will never want you to learn, the society will never want you to learn. Its you, who should have that innermost desire to keep on learning, questioning and understanding. Its you who would really make the difference in your life. Its you who will commit lots of mistakes and who will fail. Its you who will get up and learn from the mistakes and move ahead in life. Making mistakes is good because that shows you tried doing something differently. Do things differently and do not regret the mistakes that you did. Learn from them and understand them. The more mistakes you do early in your life, better person you will become. Recessions will come and go. Its you who want to understand what you want to make out of your life and how you want to shape it. More challenges you have, more tough you should get. So be a better person and a better engineer.". It was touching and so relevant.

I am so happy today. Class of 2009, we did it. We are proud of ourselves. Hurray !!!!
Thanks God, for being there for me and helping me out in all my difficulties. Thanks my friends for being supportive and thanks my family for the sacrifices and pains and struggle you went through. It all seems worth now.

p.s. Technically I am not graduated yet as I have to yet submit my final thesis, on which I am working. So its a conceptual graduation.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Silicon Valley, Indian Entrepreneurs and TieCon

Stable government was awesome news. Finally I hope we would see some great bold decisions from government. Indian's are finally coming together. Awesome verdict.
I liked Rahul Gandhi's role. I wish he becomes a HRD minister in the cabinet. We need him. This election saw lot of changes in Indian politics. Awesome to read all of them and felt great to see things finally happening and Indians thinking for a better future. Long way to go. I wish the success continues.

I spent my entire day today in Santa Clara, Silicon Valley, attending the largest conference of Indian Entrepreneurs in the world. TieCon as it is called. It was an awesome learning experience and cleared lot of conceptions I had in mind about the way things happen in Silicon Valley. It brought lot of surprises. It revived memories of my commute in Silicon Valley during the summer for Internship. It was hopelessly tiring then 

Here is a link to TieCon

Around 700 Indian entrepreneurs under a single roof. White people are rare to be seen in Silicon Valley. There around 1 million Indians in Silicon Valley in all, with around 700 startups or other businesses to their credit. Every time I visit Silicon Valley I return home with new experiences. In my school there are just 8, 10 Indians and just 30 miles away in Silicon Valley all you see are only Indians. Today after staying amongst core professionals I could see how immature the crowd in Santa Cruz which mostly constitutes of students, looks like. I could observe that Santa Cruz felt like a laid back village in front of Silicon Valley. I could sense that I had a different behavior in there and as soon as I entered Santa Cruz, the behavior was changing. As soon as I entered my house it was different. It was great to observe the way my mood was changing. It was great to be present amongst real people in flesh than virtual people on Internet which I am always, in Santa Cruz. I felt blessed to be away from Internet, where I could think without disturbance. I could sense the change.

I went there to have an experience of the spirit of entrepreneurship and I was spellbound with the struggle people make. So many diverse areas, so many experiences. Listening to inspirational speeches by great entrepreneurs such as Founders of LinkedIn, Zappos and listening to lot of success stories surely builds inspiration. Networking session is something which is really worth to watch as people linger in hallways to make new contacts, exchange business deals and grow their network. Its worth an experience to see a mix of seasoned entrepreneurs ( very very few of them actually) and young entrepreneurs mingling around, sitting discussing lot of business related things. This is a crowd of mostly new aspiring entrepreneurs. So you mostly do not see established ones. Lot of learning by just watching them like how they behave and conduct themselves. Lessons of how to communicate in the professional world and network with people.

From attending lot of panel sessions right from social entrepreneurship, mobile trends, cloud computing, latest trends in technology, venture capitalist sessions to Indian economy, new Indian Government’s role and how business community feels relived of a stable government it had lot of food for thought. Well, it is a different story altogether that such conferences do not discuss how badly some startups closed and how bad the effect was overall. At the end after receiving so much information you feel tired 

Some lessons to be learnt and some experiences to be remembered. The major lesson learnt is there is always somebody with a better view of things, wiser and it is really important to keep in mind that there are always people out there with more experience, knowledge and wisdom. You will reach there some day if you take enough efforts. Do not stress out yourself. And look up to them. Do not get complacent that you know everything, and at the same time do not feel bad that you do not know many things. It will come eventually. Listen to what wise people say and share about their experiences. Always stays in a group of people wiser than you, so that you will grow always.
Well American entrepreneurs are very smart and exceptionally talented. But they are really very few, but they stand out, because they grow in the exceptional culture of Silicon Valley which nurtures entrepreneurship and the spirit. I witnessed it live today.

It is observed that great companies are born in recession and depression. Let’s wait and watch, who is the big one that emerges out of this recession.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Tips for Masters students ...

Some tips for MS / PHD students for being successful in their studies while at graduate school.

1. Be open minded. Do not fall in the trap of I want to stick to this specialization. This is an Indian mentality. Get out of it. It does not work in US. Explore and get exposure to different areas and take courses accordingly.

2. Chose difficult projects, different projects, long projects. Do projects in groups. Understand the good practices that your team members are using. Observer their work methods and chose the good ones. Discuss. Chose group members such that you will end up sharing and learning things. Do not chose group members because you are his friend. Chose on the basis of knowledge. If you are less knowledgeable, go to a group which has clever people so that at the end of it you would have emerged wiser.

3. Chose the courses wisely. Do not get bogged down by the course content. Have a diverse yet related courses. Like if you are in systems, good courses are statistics(undergrad level) (this is needed for analysis of data), operating systems, storage systems, distributed systems, data mining, database systems, multimedia systems, computer networking, algorithms, logic algorithms etc. Do not fear the ones you do not know. Understand the way this system works and try to build up the context and prerequisite for the courses you are not good at by taking extra undergraduate counterpart courses. US education system is very flexible and it allows you lot of flexibility in terms of lot of things. So make most of it. Get exposed to different problems so that when similar situation arises you can have atleast some background to think on it. You need not emerge out expert.

4. Take some courses which are inter-disciplinery ie. take some course in departments other than Engineering like say Psychology? Music? depends on your interest. Understand the life other than engineering. You will be surprised to see how different it is and what attitude it carries. Be socially responsible.

5. Professors are weird people. Do not feel bad if they do not talk nicely sometimes or not reply to your mails. Each professor is different. Some are really good, some are really considerate, some are good researchers but not good lecturers, some are good lecturers but not good researchers, some are harsh with spoiled attitude, some are very humane, some are not so. Understand their behavior and analyze them.

6. Difficult courses usually have a Teaching Assistant session where students are helped with their difficulties. Make most out of it. Learn how to use this time for a better learning and understanding of the material. Do not break your head on a complex problem under ego. Take hints and help of other people. Acknowledge the hints and help in your work. Share the credit. Do not brag. Plagiarism could be dangerous.

7. Homeworks are meant for making the material covered in class better understandable. You can learn new subject only if some problem in it is given to you and you break your head thinking about it. It is only during this time that you will face more problems and then only you will explore the subject more and appreciate it more. The satisfaction of solving a complex problem could be more than satisfaction of having a beautiful / HOT girl sitting next to you :) Experience it. haha. Homeworks are meant for that. So do that. Do not try stealing others ideas and copy. Get read of the typical Indian mindset.

8. Learn the material before hand. By learn I mean before professor teaches it in class, go over it in books, wikipedia, Internet. Get into the context of the subject so that the lecture would become interesting and you could identify yourself with what the professor is teaching. After the class is over, spend some time thinking about what professor talked. You will have better chances of remembering it, if you recall it immediately after the class. Your chances of understanding things improve manifold if you spend some time beforehand in going over lecture material, which is usually posted on class website by professor. Or take a look at previous years class websites.

9. Different professors have different ways and styles of conducting lectures. Do not try to force yourself in a single style. It will not work. Observe what is needed and how it could be achieved for the current class. Observe your methods each day so that you can correct them and improve upon them. At the end of your MS you will have lot of learning styles which would make you a real fast learner.

10. Take some undergraduate level courses. Audit them, do not enroll in them. By auditing I mean, just go and listen to lectures, take notes. Do not do homeworks, or appear for exams. Undergraduate classes are taught really nicely and it would give you a comparison basis for Indian education that you learned. Understand the difference between graduate and undergraduate ways of teaching by different professors.

11. Make American friends. Understand their culture. Pick their good habits. Discuss American and Indian culture with them. Make them understand Indian culture.

12. Attend different seminars that might be conducted in the school. Keep abreast with latest happenings in your field and in engineering in general.

13. Well that is most of it. Do not enter graduate school with the sole aim of entering US job market. American education system offers lot more than that. Make most out of your stay here. Enjoy it. Get stressed, depressed. The feeling that you made through it successfully at the end on your own is immensely gratifying. Experience it.

All the best...


Saturday, May 2, 2009

American Education - Financial Aid problems

Here is a nice series of articles that I came across today while browsing TIME magazine. It gives a great insight into the way American institutes of Education be it secondary schools to elite higher education schools, manage their funds.

A nice informative read if you were always interested in how American students fund their own tutions and manages huge fees. And a current look and statistics on the financial aid problems faced by American schools.

If you analyze it carefully, you will understand what Indian education system lacks and what are the problems associated with it.



Friday, April 10, 2009

What is research?

What is research? I was a dumb guy who made many mistakes when I landed here because I was not knowing exactly what is research. I believe many of you know it already. For those who do not know here is some glimpse into the world of research. For all those who are planning to attend graduate school freshly this year, my best wishes to all of you and have a successful academics.

For all the systems guys out there. Research is not equivalent to Linux Kernel. Linux kernel is a small entity that goes in making your understanding about research good. Linux kernel / Windows kernel is an implementation about which if you know already, it would ease your process of being a researcher. If you do not know it, you can still survive as a researcher by just knowing the concepts. But on a broader scale what Industry demands from you if you are planning to have a career in systems area is how well conversant you are with Linux Kernel. So getting your hands dirty in it is strongly recommended.

Research is a vast area which has to do with solving problems which are unsolved till now. It falls in two categories.

1. Theoretical research -
2. Practical research -

Theoretical research consists of different theoretical topics such as statistics, mathematical proofs, machine learning algorithms, algorithmic proofs, programming languages proofs basically any thing that is in the field of theory and which could be solved by taking a pencil and paper and which if need arises could be proven by developing a simple working prototype. Why theoretical research is needed? Because many times building a system is not the only answer and something more generic is needed to be able to say that yes, if this could be theoretically proved on paper, if implemented it should work. Theory is needed to build the confidence behind the large work that one plans to do and to show that things will work.

Practical research -
Systems research( Operating systems, storage systems, real time systems, distributed systems, large parallel scientific systems etc), Database research, Gaming research, artificial intelligence, networking research, compilers research etc. So now you understand that in systems Linux kernel, on which most of the industry works is just a small part of the big picture. Linux kernel is an implementation and most of the work in it is already done. The research associated in there is how to improve the existing algorithms and similar. Point of stress is Linux kernel proficiency is not research. But if you are proficient you will have a definite edge amongst your peers and would be a superfast learner.

A good researcher takes a topic, identifies the problem, does the survey of how it is addressed so far in research community and sees if it is worth going ahead and if it is interesting. A research need not address all the problems related to the topic from all perspectives, like for example if you are building a new desktop search engine say, you might want to solely concentrate on the algorithms involved in search engines and the core engine. You need not worry about the other aspects for time being like the security offered by search engine in case of multiuser interface on a desktop etc. The crux is the research on a particular topic has to contribute in one dimension atleast, it need not contribute in every aspect. A good researcher makes use of theoretical and practical aspects of research and does not limit himself/herself to a particular aspect.

Common topics in research are categorized as.
1. Survey based research -
Compare existing methods, approaches, implementations to analyze pros and cons, differentiate, suggest improvements.

2. Analysis based research -
Collect large data sets from different existing frameworks and benchmarks and see the common trends. For example say, a study of how files are stored on a hard drive of corporate users could indicate some trends on the basis of which new research could be improved.

3. Build a collective implementation -
Different systems built consider different problem complexities and address different issues. A collective implementation could be the one where all the features researched by different researchers could be integrated in a single system and posed as a collective research. JAVA language is a nice example of such research where in it incorporates different features of different programming languages in a single language.

4. A totally new implementation -
A totally new implementation which is improvement on a previous approach or with a totally new approach. Like say a totally new I/O scheduler or a totally new RAID level in storage systems.

The research is presented and approved by submitting it in the form of a publication or paper to different conferences. Here eminent researchers from academia, industry review the papers and approve it. The research community is very small as compared to the developer community. So mostly in different conferences one tends to meet same people again and again. Some of the well known systems conferences are FAST, OSDI, PDSI etc. Research is also published in journals and as technical reports.


Universities in US are based on these two categories.
1. Research based university
2. Not so much research based university.

A typical practical research paper is arranged in the format as
1. Abstract
2. Introduction
3. Design
4. Implementation details
5. Experiments
6. Analysis
7. Related work
8. Conclusion.

A good way of reading research papers is to go over the entire paper to understand the core concept and keywords, in the first reading. In the second reading when you have developed sufficient context in head to understand the direction the paper is taking, read it thoroughly. Some papers are written very nicely in very elaborate understandable manner, some are written badly. So do not feel bad if you do not understand a paper even after you have tried putting 100% efforts.

A good way of being successful in US education system is to understand how the people around you (US people) are behaving and studying and follow in their footsteps to some extent. Reading the material that is going to be covered in the class beforehand, by just going over it once from textbooks, presentations, web articles, wikipedia, so that you have that context in your mind. So when the professor starts speaking you will feel involved in the lecture. If your class is project oriented, take projects which would make you learn more things so that you would have got maximum exposure. The best advice is to talk to as many people as you could in class, make friends, study in groups, have lots of brainstorming and discussions, and sharing of knowledge. Discussions are the best ways to get things done. Get out of the notion that "C" is the best language. A good researcher thinks that the language suitable for doing the job in hand is the best language then it could be python for scripting or prototyping, Java for network prototyping, or javascript for web-services. Crux is do not be under assumption that a certain approach is best and should be followed, keep your eyes and mind open to all new receptive learning. Do not typecast yourself in one notion that this is good and this is bad. Everything has its own merit and respect and learn it as much as you can.

That is most of it. Wish you all the best and have a great academic, enjoyable academic session.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Recession and Your Higher Studies?

Its been a while since prospective MS students are posing the question of "Should we pursue MS in the current economic mayhem that US is witnessing? " My answer is Yes, if you are willing to take some risks.

Look at the current situation as a big risk which if succeeds will make a profound impact on your thinking patterns, your career and your overall personality. The biggest problem in doing MS is the extent of money involved. This is THE biggest risk that most of us face. So my answer to this is like this. Take this as a calculated risk. Now here goes my analysis. If you are just a fresher, and recent graduate from your school. Then I am pretty sure that you have a sound financial state in your family since immediate preparation of MS to most extent immediately after graduating from school could be thought only by such kids to a large extent. Your family could buffer in the impact of any financial burden that might arrive to a large extent, if things do not go as per your plan. So to a large extent this category should not worry. If you would think will I get a job after MS? You are thinking much ahead of the time. Too many things change in say 2 years. So do not worry on that terms. Yes, you should if you are taking a loan. But the next paragraph answers some of those questions.

The other category who work in industry for some time, who might not have great financial backing other than the amount saved from the work in industry or the parents retirement money or loan :). Or those who realize that they want more from their career, or they want some new experience. They definitely have a reason to worry since the current economic situation is affecting not only industry but also the funding received from Universities. But now again, it depends on your risk taking ability. If you have enough money to fund yourself for some time, if nothing works out, you should take the risk, come to US, witness the new culture of socialism and technology. Witness the great institutes that produce great researchers. I am sure if you have capacity to take some risk, you would find some way to manage your finances somehow. This is a great country which would support you if you want to move ahead and are willing to do some sacrifices and take some risks and WORK HARD. Lets say you have enough money to fund yourself just for the first Quarter/Semester. Then do come to US, if nothing works out in the worst case GO BACK. There should not be a feeling of shame that you had to move back or things did not work out or what next. Many plans in the life go unsuccessful (that is what I learned hard core here :P), if you want to get defeated, take chance and get defeated. But take the risks as you will not get such great chances again and again. If your whole aim is to land in US for the sake of a good paying job...hmm I would say this might not be the right time to be in the US since the present conditions will not revive for atelast 1 year. But if your aim is to learn new things, get new experiences, be in the surroundings of the great professors and researchers and students with the constant urge to improve your conditions and learn. This is the place to be. Now it again depends on what kind of University you want to get into. There are equally and I would say more crappy universities in US which would give you a MS degree without much efforts as compared to the great ones who would make you toil hard for that degree. It might happen that you would want to switch for a PHD later :) who knows....

Now a quick review on US economic scenario. The condition around is hopeless and its getting worst. To a large extent US and its policies are responsible for the current state. There are jobs around but they are highly specific and needs you to be core expert in certain area with experience of say 5,7 years. Most companies have frozen the hiring and massive layoffs have occurred at some places. Companies like Google and others are hiring to some extent but its getting less and less. Research labs are still hiring but the positions are mostly for PHD students. Top notch schools like Stanford, Berkeley will stand on their own because of the sheer merit they posses and will never get affected by slowdown. But even students in these schools are left jobless. So its a bad scenario. Companies in their recruitment drive are asking for US citizens only and are not ready to sponsor H1B visas to a large extent. So people who came here only for the jobs sake are in tight spot. The conditions would get worst in coming days before it would start to improve. I believe the scene would not change till atleast next summer ie. May 2010. There are internships positions available, but they too are highly specific. But by next summer things should start to improve slowly. I understand its a tough decision.

I would say access your risk taking capacity. Believe in some luck factor :) This is a hard time. Believe in yourself. Do not get in the mentality of everything should go smooth and cheesy. There will be failures. There will be problems. The point you should ask yourself is how strongly you have that desire to be something different than what you are at present? Money is the biggest problem and its a very much practical problem about which you should be worried. But still I would say This is a great chance to change yourself and do not lose it. Try hard, nothing comes without failure. So be ready for it in the worst case. The money you will lose in failing will anyway get depreciated in some more years and economy should rebound again in some years. But the time, when you can take some risks and prove yourself will not come back to you again. And the regret that you might feel for your entire life time could be very bad :(

So all the best with your planning ...There are some posts in my blog here exclusively on MS, (mostly written around in June 08/october 08/Dec 07), and how it is worth having as an experience. I will write a post on what is research and how it is done and how it is different than what mostly people think, sometime soon.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Good professors? What are they?

Education could make or break a country's future. I have had chance to see how a professor could make a student learn better and in more understanding and confident way in my university, now while I am doing masters. I have had chance to see how a bad professor could do exactly opposite while I was doing my undergraduate engineering while in India. That brings and raises lot of questions about the role of a professor,teacher, parent in my mind.

When a child is growing he /she has lot of questions that are posed by his/her surroundings around him/her. What role adults play in developing that curiosity? Computer Science as being perceived in India is much different than what it is. Computer Science is not IT. Why do then Indians mostly relate IT to the computer science? Lots of unrelated questions. What does a professor has to do with all this? More on this in a later post someday.

Well, a child gets on the right track if she is guided correctly during the growing up years. The role a parent/teacher plays is very important. The questions which he/she has in mind needs to get answered. When the same kid enters college for higher education like say engineering the questions rise manifold. Now the intensity of the questions increase and its even more important for these questions to get answered since they directly link to his future. The role his professors play in guiding him for the correct direction becomes even more important now. Why do premier institutes churn out premier students? Why do kids of professors, researchers become good mathematicians, good researchers? Why is it that only few of the bright students who do not have a correct support system thrash up the barriers of the system and rise up to make a mark on their own?

Professors play a critical role in this entire scenario. A kid who has an amazing maths teacher during his growing year need not need a good professor in the college. What matters is developing the confidence and the attitude towards the right thing. A teenager who has a great inspirational professor during his college years will for sure make a great progress in his later years.

One can see two types of professors and teachers. One which are extremely effective in getting the best out of students, making them stand on their own by providing them the necessary guidance and the way to think. And at the same time, there could be excellent professors who are extremely renowned researchers but make a miserable professor.

How should a good professor be? First and most important quality is he should be able to motivate and interest students in the material he is teaching. Second quality is he should be able to understand that different students have different backgrounds and different absorbing capacities and adjust his pace accordingly without thinking somebody is dumb and somebody is brilliant. Yes, there are different grasping levels but nobody is dumb. Third is he should be able to provide students sufficient resources to make them think on their own the basics of what and why they are doing, the things that they are doing in his class. Have these three qualities and you will have an excellent professor.

Is every professor that is present in every US university a good professor? No. It is very hard to find excellent professors who understand the way a student should be made to learn things. So US is not an exception. But yes at the same time one will see the percentage of exceptional professors way higher than its in India. A part why US is so ahead technically goes back straight to this level of education that the students are able to receive and the way it makes them think independently without being slave of the system that many times Indians tend to get into.

Recession is here. I hope we would get good teachers and professors as an effect of it in some of the Indian schools. Money is needed but at the same time, the satisfaction of making somebody learn and understand and seeing him/her succeed is beyond description.

I hope someday we would have good professors in abundance back in India. India, you have a long way to go to be a superpower. No country could afford that burden when the basics like education are wrong. And all this hype about all this, seems a bad timed, badly scripted joke.