For many, the first break, the first job and the first interview is probably the toughest. But for a few, there is no “first break” because they were already working in college, doing what they love and solving real problems.
Chintan Desai, our next pathbreaker, is currently pursuing a master’s in Robotics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute to gain advanced skills in the field of Robotics.
Chintan talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about getting his first job right out of college due to a competition that he participated in where he/his team demonstrated a Quadcopter UAV model for weather analysis that they had built in college.
For students, when you work on something you enjoy, you seek out problems to solve, whether it is in college or at work. So, a job is just a formality ! Read on..
Chintan, tell us about Your background?
I grew up in Navsari which is a quaint little town in Gujarat. Until I lived in Navsari, I was not particularly passionate about anything. I was just a happy little kid who believed in having fun. After that my family moved to Mumbai where I completed high-school. That time really changed and shaped my life because I learned to interact with new people and it brought some kind of a direction in my life. The school that I studied at had some amazing students and teachers who always pushed me to get out of my comfort zone. I never really enjoyed studying but I read up a lot on my own, I always had it in me to read a lot of different books and articles on various topics that helped me learn new things and gain new perspectives. I had a general interest in robotics from a very early age, I remember telling my parents that I wanted to build robots when I grew up and I also loved watching movies that had dangerous killer robots, like The Terminator and Transformers. Those movies really brought about a glint in my eyes. I belong to a middle class family but I always thought of myself as someone who belonged to a rich family because my parents were always supportive of whatever I wanted to pursue in life and they really pushed me to have the kind of education that would take me places, which is why I am currently pursuing a master’s in robotics. It’s all down to the kind of support I had from my family and friends.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
For my bachelor’s I pursued a degree in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering from University of Pune. It was probably the best time of my life (until now) and the most productive as well, because I not only studied different subjects during the program but I was also very involved in Robotics competitions and student organisations. That really helped me interact with a lot of people and gain the kind of skills that are required in the industry as an electronics engineer. Post my undergrad I worked for a startup for three years building UAVs for different purposes like surveillance and agricultural crop health monitoring. While working, I found that there were gaps in my knowledge which prompted me to pursue higher education. I am currently pursuing a master’s in Robotics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute to gain new skills in my field.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
I would say the key influencers in my life were the people I met and the books I read because talking to different people really broadened my perspective about the kinds of fields that are available for me to choose from. I always had an interest in robots which guided me to pursue a bachelor’s in something that would lead to a career in Robotics, that is how I chose electronics engineering as my field of undergrad. While pursuing my undergrad I participated in a lot of Robotics competitions. The friends that I made while participating in these competitions were just the right kind of motivation for me to keep going in my life towards the goals I had set for myself. There was no one clear turning point in my life which enabled me to choose Robotics as a field I loved because such things never strike you in broad daylight. It’s just a process that you need to believe in. Even if you are not good at something right at the beginning, eventually you tend to learn and pick up new things which help you make decisions in life. It’s important to understand that life is a process and not a collection of epiphanies.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted?
I never really sat down to plan my career and I would not have had it that way because I am not a compulsive planner. I let the general interests in my life decide the kind of a career I wanted, so I let my interest in Robots define the kind of undergrad that I chose. To continue on my journey, I participated in a lot of competitions and I would network with a lot of people who shared the same interests as me, which really helped me define the kind of goals I would want to have in my life. It gave me a clear idea about the kind of avenues that are possible in the field of robotics, be it jobs, projects or research.
How did you get your first break?
I got my first job right out of college due to a competition that I participated in which was for a project exhibition where we demonstrated a UAV model that we had built in college.
My project was entitled ‘Quadcopter for microbial, particulate matter and weather parameter collection for pollution monitoring and weather forecasting.’ The Quadcopter had a mechanism attached with a Petri dish that would open for a few seconds once the Quadcopter reached a certain altitude. Microbial and particulate matter would stick to the Petri dish which was then studied by microbiologists to detect and extract microbial and particulate content. This would be used to study rain cloud formation and for pollution monitoring. The Quadcopter also had temperature, pressure and humidity sensors attached which would log the weather parameters once it took flight. We never got down to making a working model due to constraints on resources but the problem statement was unique and was sponsored by Centre for Citizen Science, Pune and mentored by National Institute of Virology, Pune which helped us get very close to the actual implementation. No attempt is a failed attempt if you manage to learn something out of it.
My employer found me at the project exhibition and he loved the presentation skills that I had and the kind of project that my team was working on. I never really gave an interview to get the job. It was down to the kind of interests that I had and the work I had done during college that made my employer think about me as a suitable candidate for the kind of work he had at his company.
What were the challenges? How did you address them?
Challenge 1: India is competitive and the people are hardworking. No matter how hard you work, there would always be someone willing to put in more hours than you. The key here is to keep your head down and continue working towards your goal without thinking about the competition. Be your own competition and you would get better each passing day.
Challenge 2: Colleges are not well funded and the teachers and mentors you get aren’t always the way you want them to be. It’s important to connect with people out of your circles so that you’re not bound to just one group of people.
Challenge 3: Sometimes the jobs that you love aren’t going to be the best paid ones. Don’t let money define your early steps in your career. Start with what you have and continue building up and you would be surprised where you can get.
Tell us about your work
I worked at a startup called Ayaan Autonomous Systems, which is based in Pune. My day to day task was to design and simulate fixed-wing UAVs for the purpose of aerial surveys which would be used for crop health monitoring, to determine used irrigated area for farmlands. The kind of skills that are required for this job are diverse because my team had engineers from computer science, mechanical and electronics engineering, literally everything that you can think of. A typical day would mostly be quite uncertain because it was a startup and I wore multiple hats. Not only did I spend time designing and simulating UAVs, my day also went discussing problem statements, discussing material choices, discussing costs with different vendors. The thing that I loved about my job was that it gave me the opportunity to connect with a lot of people. I got the opportunity to visit China. I met a lot of different people who belonged to a very different culture than our own. I got to try different kinds of food there, and it brought to light a different kind of a world. China is the factory of the world. I got to see a whole different kind of hard work because the Chinese are very hard working people.
How does your work benefit the society?
Since I worked at a startup, the work that I was doing, I hoped, would define the way humans live in the future. Some of the drones that we were working on were related to agriculture and pesticides spraying. This would make the day to day life of farmers a bit easier because they would automate the way farmlands are kept. We were also building surveillance type UAVs which would help protect India’s borders so that soldiers don’t have to go on dangerous missions without awareness of the regions they are operating in. They could send a surveillance or a reconnaissance UAV that would give them situational awareness and save thousands of lives each year.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
I worked on a project that dealt with humanitarian aid and disaster relief, where we tried to build a UAV that would help people during natural disasters. It was a UAV that would travel to a place that was struck with a natural disaster and drop food packets and water to these areas so that the people that are stuck would not starve. It is a project close to my heart because India is struck by natural disasters every year and we see different regions of India getting flooded or hit by earthquakes every year which result in loss of thousands of lives. This application of UAVs would definitely limit the loss of lives.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Have a general interest in life about everything. Read a lot. Make friends who share your interests so that you always have people you could talk to about your interests. Talk to people who are a step ahead of you on the learning curve to gain new insights on career and life. Don’t forget to pass on your learnings to people who are a step behind you in the learning curve. Passing on your learnings makes life more profound and enjoyable and helps you become a better person.
I’m pursuing a master’s in Robotics which would open up new avenues in research for me. It’s something I have thought about doing for quite some time now because there is a kind of uncertainty about research that appeals to me. I am also hoping to connect with a lot of brilliant people at the cutting edge of technology through this endeavour.