Iam often asked on Quora about “Jobs of the Future” and what to study. Remote Sensing technologies are playing a key role in every aspect of our day to day lives .

Arnab Dutta, our next pathbreaker, talks about his work on Autonomous Driving Technology at Mercedes Benz R&D and his journey into this career!

Shyam Krishnamurthy  from The Interview Portal talks to Arnab about his career and work.

Arnab, can you tell us about your background?

I grew up in a small city called Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh. My father is an office assistant and my mother teaches primary school students. I studied in a normal CBSE school and took up mathematics and computer science because I liked to study those subjects (and not because of societal norms or pressure). The top of my list of entertainment activities are

  • Playing and watching football (Hala Madrid!).
  • Reading novels and articles (Harry Potter is my favourite).
  • Watching sci-fi movies/TV-series (DC comics).
  • Learning new things. My most recent learning is Ancient Runes (Elder Futhark).
  • Travelling. Most recent travel was a road trip to Pondicherry.
  • I also play other sports such as badminton, volleyball, table tennis, and of course, video games.

What did you study?

My initial interest was to build a career in computer programming as I loved to code day and night doing menial things like printing a text on the screen, doing mathematical operations, or school projects such as building a mobile number management system complete with graphics. I was sure that I wanted to pursue computer science for my bachelor’s degree.

However, I took up electrical engineering for my bachelor’s degree.

The global recession of ’07-’10 had hit the world. Lay-offs and unemployment in the tech industry were common during that period. I was anxious to choose CS as a career because I didn’t have any safety net to fall on, if I were to fail. So, based on this, I decided to choose any of the core subjects like electronics, mechanical, or electrical engineering. I got electrical engineering in a great college in the state and I took it without thinking about anything else. Till 7th semester, everything was going according to “plan” (which I didn’t have).

Then, I failed one subject in which I was so sure to have scored good marks. I was shocked because I had never failed in anything in life before. It was a wake up call for me that I was not doing what I really wanted to do. I was just doing something, anything, so that I could get a job.

This event made me realise that I didn’t want to have a career in electrical engineering, but, it was equally difficult to choose CS. So, I started asking questions about different career opportunities.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

One day, a relative informed me that there’s a new and hot field that is growing rapidly. It’s name is Remote Sensing and Geoinformatics. So, I researched about it and it made perfect sense for me because it was an interdisciplinary field which included not only computer science, but also electronics, civil, and other core subjects. It contained satellite studies, GPS navigation technologies, maps and networking, and many such interesting topics which immediately grabbed my attention.

Without wasting any time, I got myself into the master’s degree program in ISRO’s Indian Institute of Remote Sensing.

Once I knew about the new field, I started researching about it and about all the colleges or institutes that teach the subject. I applied for TERI- The Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi, CEPT- Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology in Ahmedabad, and IIRS- Indian Institute of Remote Sensing in Dehradun. I read all about their question papers, syllabus, and interviews and prepared accordingly. I got selected for both CEPT and IIRS and I chose IIRS because it was a government institute.

I had my M. Tech. degree in Remote Sensing and GIS with specialization in Geoinformatics from IIRS in 2 years. iirs.gov.in is the website for the institute if anyone wants to  look it up.

There are many more institutes, ex. IIT Kanpur, NIT Surathkal, etc. that now teach these subjects as a part of other branches like civil engineering and electrical engineering. The list could be found here: Institutes for Remote Sensing & GIS.

How did you get your first break? Tell us about your career path

There was a friend/college-mate who referred me to my first company. I was called for an interview there and they themselves did not know much about my field because it was, and still is, very new and emerging. So, they just asked me to explain that how will I be useful to them. I explained all the basics of Remote Sensing, Maps, GIS, Geo-Visualisation, etc. and told them how it would help them achieve new heights in this emerging technology. I got hired almost instantly and got the call within hours for confirmation.

In total, I’ve worked for two companies before the present one (Mercedes Benz). I worked on various GIS and other technologies like OpenLayers, PostGIS, Geoserver, and Python creating APIs to handle geospatial data. Also, I used gl-js, JSON, JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and PostGIS to integrate geospatial data into vector maps.  I have worked with CesiumJS, CityEngine, etc. for 3D geospatial data visualization.

For example, if you want to download some road data for a specific area in a city you could do that.

Tell us about the challenges that you faced

Firstly, since my field was very new and emerging in the country, it was very difficult for us to get jobs or PhDs. I applied for PhDs in at least three different countries but was unsuccessful in all of them. So, I decided to leave the pursuit of higher degrees and apply for jobs instead.

Second instance was in my first job, it was challenging as my work was to introduce as well as develop latest technologies in the emerging field of which nobody had enough knowledge about. It took time to understand how to integrate the latest GIS tech with Maps. Eventually, with multiple failures along the way, I successfully delivered the first product which was a new path for the company.

Another instance that I can freshly remember is when I moved to Bangalore. It was a job change and the GIS technology was a new field in this company as well. It was challenging to get the latest technologies for GIS introduced here as well. I was not even settled here completely before I got a call from my present company.

What are you doing currently?

I work with Mercedes-Benz R&D India on Autonomous Driving technology. We solve problems that are related to vehicle/road safety and ease of transportation. For this purpose, we provide various features such as Adaptive Braking, Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keep Assist, Attention Assist, etc. In the future, we may even see autonomous driving which would save many lives by reducing or completely avoiding human errors.

The skills required for my job are analytical, programming, and knowledge of Remote Sensing technologies such as LiDAR – Light Detection and Ranging, RADAR – Radio-wave Detection and Ranging, and Stereo-Camera. These skills could be obtained by taking a course in Remote Sensing and Geoinformatics fields.

Robot Operating System (ROS) is also a good to know technology which could help.

Python/C++ programming is a must.

My M. Tech. degree in Remote Sensing helped me acquire those skills as we are taught the basics of these kinds of devices and also my work experience had analytical work using LiDAR device and python programming.

Tell us about a day in your work

I start my day early waking up at 5:30AM and start preparing for the day. In the office, we work using Agile methodology called Scrum. It has ceremonies which we follow like daily stand-ups, retrospectives, etc. This brings out the team performance by reducing the amount of time taken to do a complex job. I reach home in the evening and after refreshing, I start preparing dinner while watching TV or listening to music. And as the famous proverb states, I go to bed early as well.

What do you love about your work?

I love the company’s culture and the way this company works as It values my work more than my time. There is no micromanagement here where everyone keeps track of my time which is fairly common in many companies. This culture of valuing the person as a human and not a slave is the best thing I could have hoped for. More companies should adopt this culture as it not only increases productivity and quality of work, but also gives a person a sense of trust and loyalty.

How does your work benefit the society?

Our work makes the roads safer as it reduces road related accidents drastically, thus, saving many lives. Also, it brings ease of travel to the masses. By creating autonomous cars, there would be a systematic traffic on the road as opposed to today’s chaotic driving behaviour. It could bring order in the road travel so that there would be lesser and lesser lives lost due to unsafe driving conditions.

Tell us about some memorable events outside of work

Few examples of work outside of my career comes to my mind that are very close to me. We were camping in the mountains of Nainital on New Year’s eve and while trekking, we could see the filth that people left while trekking. We picked up all the garbage from two trekking paths of mountains leading up and down the peaks, thus, cleaning up the trek and improving the environment.

We also planted many trees and donated blood for the Indian Military Academy Camp while my Master’s degree in Dehradun. These events inspired me to work more towards the environment and society.

Your advice to students?

My advice to students opting this field would be not to lose hope and have patience because it is an emerging field, also, to keep learning and researching because in today’s fast changing world, change is the only constant.

Future Plans?

As I stay in the present, I don’t like to have much of a future plan, because I know how quickly life can change (those who know my life, can easily back me up on this), so, I try to go with the flow. However, I have always wished to be a chef or cook food from cuisines of different origin.