When you have an engineering degree from IIT with coveted brands like Amazon on your resume, you are supposed to do what is expected of you next, which is to back it up with a management degree from another coveted brand! 

There are exceptions however!

Chandrasekhar, our next pathbreaker, who did his BTech (Electrical) from IIT Madras, paused for a moment to look back and reflect on his core engineering roots. He then decided to tread a path very few have, leading him to Volvo through a Masters degree scholarship, where he currently works on development of electric vehicles.

Chandrasekhar talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the sudden realization that he wanted to be loyal to the education he had received in his under-graduation and stay in engineering.

A great lesson for students that no brand in the world is bigger than you and your dreams, dont sacrifice them! Read on…

Chandrasekhar, tell us about your initial years?

I grew up all over India as my dad was in a transferrable job – in the north, east, south you name it. I studied in many schools and finally ended up in Chennai for senior secondary education. I played a lot of badminton and was involved in music as a child and these interests continued through my under graduation at IIT Madras where I studied electrical engineering. I was reasonably good at science and math and therefore thought engineering could be a good career option. However, I have to admit that I also got a bit carried away, making it into the coveted IIT without much of an autonomy in choice. 

My mom is a homemaker and always followed me wherever my family deemed it best for me to be at, even if it meant being away from my dad. Whatever I am today is solely because of the sacrifice and efforts my parents put in.

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I studied electrical engineering at IIT Madras. After graduation I got into a fairly high paying job at Schlumberger but soon realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do and felt stuck and undervalued. I quit my job and took up an assignment at Amazon in the hopes of exploring the management / operations world but that quickly lost its appeal as well. At this point, I could have done what most of my peers from IIT had done, get an MBA degree from an IIM or a Wharton but I wasn’t entirely convinced. I wanted to not get swept away by popular ‘culture’ for the lack of a better word. After some thought and other personal considerations of the kind of life, work culture and career I wished for, I chose to come to Sweden and received a full scholarship from Volvo to study MS, Electric Power, Energy from Chalmers University of Technology. I specialized in electric vehicles and got a full time position at Volvo and have never been more fulfilled in my professional endeavor!

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?

As I said before, I did not want to get swept away and lose my autonomy in my PG studies. I wanted to be loyal to the education I’d received in my under-graduation and stay in engineering, and this was exacerbated by the fact that I hadn’t made the best use of the education and resources at IIT. I definitely feel like I get to do new things at Volvo R&D every day and I am continuously challenged and find meaning in my work, unlike my previous jobs. Another central expectation was that of a good work culture with a great boss and team, and I have to admit I couldn’t ask for anything better that what I have at Volvo in Sweden.

Tell us about your career path

When one applies for a Master’ degree in Sweden, one gets an opportunity to apply to several scholarships at the same time. The Volvo Group scholarship is awarded on the basis of undergraduate university status (world rankings), academic performance and professional experience. 

My first internship had to do with some analysis of the state of charge estimators in a battery against sensor errors. My master thesis was also in the battery field and was about pre-emptively detecting faults to prevent thermal events in the battery. Both of them were really interesting and challenging to learn from, and I had really good supervisors as well! 

My current position is not in the battery area. I work with the system that comes after the battery, the electric drive system. I got great recommendations and references from my internships and this helped me land my job!

How did you get your first break?

I made the decision to come to Sweden after I received a full scholarship from Volvo for Master’s studies with an implicit possibility of a job offer after. 

What were some of the challenges? How did you address them?

  • Challenge 1: Learning to be independent as an only son that was quite pampered.
  • Challenge 2: Learning to network and realize that things aren’t handed out just because one has the IIT tag.
  • Challenge 3: Getting out of the autopilot mode and start thinking about what I expect out of my work and to get to know myself and my priorities better. Sometimes it feels like learning things from scratch but that’s life! 

Where do you work now? 

I work in electromobility at the Volvo Group. Electromobility is basically development and production of electric vehicles. One needs theoretical understanding of various components and the physical laws that govern them, and also be able to adapt them to the specific context and requirements posed by the transport industry. 

The electric drive system replaces the engine in conventional vehicles. When the driver presses on the accelerator pedal, the vehicle must move forward and therefore, it is important to know how to control the motor. This involves some motor physics and software. We should therefore make sure everything works as intended for both quality and safety. We also test the actual motor to check performance and durability.

I acquired skills partially through courses at university, experience, independent study and learning from other experts. A typical day as a testing engineer begins with some daily meetings to understand test requirements from other teams and the work in progress amongst other things followed by performing actual tests, processing data and drafting reports. I love that my job doesn’t require me to just sit still in one place and work but that it expects me to move around in a more dynamic setting. I also like that the Swedish work environment encourages me to do what I want to and is not a mere top-down traditional approach. I work very close to the final product and it feels nice to be a part of something that has gained so much attention and importance in recent years.

How does your work benefit the society? 

Electro-mobility has gained enormous traction, attention and investment off late as it is seen as an alternative to fossil fuels. That is the most important impact on society as far as I can see! Also, electric vehicles are way smoother and much less noisy thereby making them a pleasure to drive.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

Implemented a new testing method that was very appreciated and valued by my colleagues and the business.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Take ownership of your mistakes and learn to not take life ultra-seriously. Think about what you want to do and ask yourself if you can stick to doing what you do at the moment for the long-term happily. It’s okay to try something out and realize you’re not good at it. That’s the best kind of learning!

Future Plans?

I wish to deepen my expertise in my field in the short term future. I haven’t drafted any other long term plans. I also want to learn more piano!