Should one take a mediocre branch in an old IIT or a good branch in a new IIT?”

This was a question asked by someone in quora. I was flabbergasted by the usage of words to say the least ! Mediocre branch, good branch , what does the person mean? Ofcourse we all know the dirty truth. Metallurgy, Naval, Ceramics, Chemical and probably even Mechanical are considered mediocre compared to the holy “Computer Science” . Everyone wants computer science , because its the best !

Well in that case those who look at other branches with disdain shouldnt actually buy imported goods or travel overseas or shouldnt even drive cars. Because without metallurgical engineering, we wouldnt fly safe (material engineers for flight safety), without naval engineering we wouldnt have ships navigating our oceans ferrying imported items. And without mechanical engineering we cant build our great BMWs and Mercedez. Thats probably why India doesnt have a single industrial product that is respected and used worldwide.

So whats this fad with computer science? Everyone wants to specialise in computer science. Who created this demand? The answer lies in our educational system. In India, there is a crowd for pretty much any occasion. The same holds good for our entrance exams. The prestigious JEE entrance exams have lakhs of people writing the exams. Before the new IITs came into picture, these aspirants were competing for about 1200 seats. So the selectors and counsellors chose the easiest way to assign students to various streams. Based on availability of seats in the five IITs they would assign students to streams in the order of priority – Computer Science, ECE, Mechanical, Electrical, Chemical, Metallurgy etc. This created a perception of the Good vs Mediocre stream. So if you got a very high rank you would end up with Computer Science in IIT Madras and if you got a lower rank you would end up with Metallurgy at IIT Mumbai. So every one was coaxed to get a high rank so they dont get mediocre courses.

Now lets look at how engineering admission works in the United States. United states has an entrance exam “SAT” for undergraduate engineering. If you get a top rank in SAT you have a great chance of getting into one of the Ivy League engineering schools such as Cornell, Yale or Berkeley or even MIT. However the US educational system does not assign you to a stream at the time of admission. They understand that students have no clue about what they want to do when they join engineering. Hence students are encouraged to explore, take cross-disciplinary courses in various streams (electrical , mechanical, civil, computers etc) and then they can choose a combination of credits based on their interests. Also, since the engineering schools are based on a flexible credit based system, a student can specialize in multiple disciplines.

A friend of mine was really keen on hydrology (water engineering). So when he went to the US for engineering he majored in civil and computer engineering and took a couple of courses in hydrology as well. He wanted to use the power of computers and data to be able to create models to predict groundwater availability. This is the kind of specialization the industry wants

Unfortunately in most colleges in India, students are still stuck with choosing a single discipline even before they understand what they are getting into. And by the time they know what they want its too late. To add to it, we have an educational system that creates an artificial perception of “good” and “mediocre” courses through a counselling system that further confuses students and parents and distorts the entire picture of what the industry wants vs what the student studies.

Coming to think of it, the hallowed specialization “Computer Science” would never exist without Civil Engineering or Mechanical engineering or any other form of engineering because computer science depends on other specializations for data and this data comes from other streams. Can you implement connected cars without automobile engineers or water modeling without civil engineers?

An industry cannot run without its civil, mechanical or metallurgical engineers. And a country like India, in order to be a manufacturing hub, needs to respect all streams alike to create a natural demand for all engineering streams. Only then can we harness the power of data and computer science will make more sense. Till then Computer Science engineering in India is a myth ! But it will continue to be a sought after course in India because we dont care about the industry, do we? We care more about what to tell our neighbours about our son or daughter !