Material Degradation and Tribological problems are the biggest challenges, especially in industries that require extremely reliable mechanical components.

Shimjith Madayi, our next pathbreaker, Materials & Corrosion Research Engineer at Shell India Markets Pvt Ltd., works on solving corrosion related problems encountered in the materials used for oil transportation, storage & extraction.

Shimjith talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about always being fascinated by research and development roles with a steep learning curve that would challenge him through diverse problems.

For students, the aptitude to look at the problem through different perspectives/angles, is a very important skill to have. Your focus in the initial years should be on learning and experience !

Shimjith, Your background?

I am an Indian, born in Kerala & settled in Karnataka, in a place called Davangere. We migrated to this place from my grandparent’s era. I did my schooling, PUC from Davangere. Then I did my Mechanical engineering from STJIT Ranebennur, Karnataka. 

Right from childhood I have always been a physically active person, interested in sports. I used to play sports as a passion, including some regional sports. The main ones were soccer, cricket & kabbadi. 

I grew up in a joint family where I saw my grandfather doing a lot of mechanical repairs as he had an automotive workshop. He also worked in Davangere Cotton Mills ( once it was called cotton Manchester of Karnataka). I used to see him do a lot of repairs at home and in his workshop, and used to do the same thing with my toys. I have always been passionate about knowing how things work, and understanding their working principles. This interest of mine led me to do Mechanical Engineering. I was not so good at studies, as I never put effort into scoring high. My initial plan was to do a diploma in automotive as my father could not afford the fees, so I joined Engineering. During those days Diploma in Automotive was a high demand course, so the competition was high.

My mom is a housewife. I used to live in a locality where we had a diverse population of different backgrounds. All the neighbors used to like me and all of them influenced my character in one or another way.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I finished my Graduation in Mechanical Engineering

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

My grandfather & my father’s younger brother were my key influencers.

I had two good mentors in the initial phase of my life who shaped my career while I was at Indian Institute of Science (IISc) after my graduation. One was a PhD student at IISC, Dr Pradeep Lancy Menezes, and another person was Prof Satish V kailas. These two people instilled in me technical knowledge along with life skills. In my corporate career at GE (JFWTC, Bangalore), I was blessed to have some very good mentors in different phases. If I have to name them there will be around 6 of them. ( Prajina Bhattacharya, Sathisha CH, Swarna Adepalli, Sachin Nalawade, Sanjay Sondhi, Yogesh Potdar).

After I didn’t get selected in cricket, I didn’t have any other option to look forward to. I used to live and breathe cricket.  I had to take up another path to support my family as my father was out of job and I have a growing sister whom I had to support for her studies. That’s when I looked at IISc as a first step to becoming excellent in what I do with some of the best brains in the world.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

During my bachelors, I did an internship in BILT Karwar for 2 months. My college senior’s father helped me to get an internship there. It was a lovely experience as a graduate for me. I was in the maintenance department, in a chemical factory. Due to the toxic nature of chemicals, there used to be a daily maintenance activity. As a graduate, it was good for me to know how the industry operates, plus the mindset of the people who keep the factory running efficiently and economically. Also while I was interning there, I happened to be fortunate to work with some very nice engineers who were kind enough to take time out from their busy schedule to take me along and educate me about the activity and technology they worked on. They treated me as one among them which made my learning enjoyable and that set an example for me how to treat all the interns. I treated all the interns who interned under me and educated them in the same way. They set a good example for me.

During evenings, I used to walk outside the company premises to watch one of the naval bases, “SEA BIRD” built from scratch. It was a protected area, but an army man was kind enough to tell me what kind of machinery and technology was being used to build it. I was fortunate enough that during my internship everyone set a very good example which imbibed the same attitude in me. After that, I interned at IISc for my final year project along with 3 of my batch mates. I was put under a PhD student who was my first mentor who shaped me as an individual and also as a researcher. He played a major role in what I am today.

I always had a curious mindset, I used to question many things and wanted to learn new things not just in studies but also in sports or anything that i did. I tried to look at things from a different perspective and curious mindset. When I look back, I have done many jobs to meet my requirements, right from being part time auto driver, pizza delivery boy, tuition teacher, CNC lathe operator etc. I was never hesitant to do any job as long as it helped me stick to my passion which is research. 

My first job was as a project assistant at IISc. I was working in the Mechanical Department under Prof. Satish V Kailas. I joined as Project Assistant first, and later based on the projects and publications, I was promoted to the JRF, SRF & RA position. IISc being a reputed institution with some of the top notch brains doing research, I didn’t know how to match up with them. That’s when my mentor told me that we are all unique in our own way, and we learn new things everyday. I realised that if I focus on learning a new thing daily then I will be a better version of what I was yesterday. This struck me to my heart and from then on I had always gone with the same approach. Even though I slip sometimes, I always reset my mindset and get back to the same mindset. It’s okay to deviate, get distracted, since we are all humans and we will go through these cycles. It’s about realizing that and getting back is what is most important.

To sustain in IISc, I took up all the other supporting jobs to meet my family’s financial requirements. I had to face a lot of criticism from many of my own people, but I never budged and continued to pursue it. I tried for Master’s and PhD in many universities abroad. Though I was successful in getting a few admissions, I couldn’t get a scholarship as I never scored high in my academics ( there is hope for people with bad grades .. ha ha). With  time running out,I decided to look for a job  in a corporate research center, and that’s how I landed my first job (Consultant) in GE which was on a 11 month contract. 

During my  contractual period, the team liked my performance. I was interviewed for a position and was selected. That’s how I began my corporate career at GE where my career was shaped by several experts and great leaders ( I watched them and learnt how they conducted themselves, like Ekalavya). My primary career has always been in research and I transitioned to careers by looking at associated knowledge. I have always believed that nothing is impossible to do if we put our heart into it and go with a learner’s mindset. We should always be submissive like a shishya to a guru who is teaching us. Never judge a guru as good or bad. Good gurus can teach us to reach our goal sooner, bad gurus will teach us about failure and recovering from it. Both have a role to play as both are important. 

In GE, I joined as a consultant where I was working on hot corrosion problems encountered in the gas turbines, which was leading to removal of coatings and material degradation. I was also working on different tribological (material degradation) problems faced by gas turbines, jet engines, such as particle erosion, water droplet erosion. I also worked on mechanical behaviour aspects of these special materials which are used in critical parts of turbines, for example to evaluate the fatigue and creep behavior and what was the governing factor for such material property/behavior. 

How did you get your first break?

My first job was in IISc as a project assistant. I quit my other job in a week’s time as I was not getting along with my toxic manager. I thank god for that, otherwise I would not have got an opportunity to work under the same team at IISc. They didn’t have any project to fund me, but they were kind enough to consider me as they had seen my workmanship. I was sincere, willing to learn and work hard. These characteristics made them consider me. After 3 months, I started getting my first salary. Although my salary was less, my learning curve was steep. Though I had challenges and setbacks in everything I faced, I was mentored well on how to face them. There were times when I felt like giving up, but my mentor always gave me a sense of feeling that he would support me even if I fail. That kept me going and continue fighting until I got it right. 

I did my final year project in IISC, which we got through one of my professors who had worked in the same lab. We performed well during the project . So this helped me in approaching them and asking for a position to work under them as I really loved the project and people who I worked with. 

While i was working at IISc, we had an industrial collaboration with GE and a few GE employees did their PhD program under my Professor’s guidance. I was helping them with the experimental effort, data analysis along with reporting. They appreciated my hard work and learner’s mindset. They remembered me as soon as they had a position open in their team. That gave me a opportunity to attend the interview, which I did well, and gave me an edge over other people. Although my experience was not totally relevant to what they were looking for, they appreciated my knowledge, as I knew what I was doing and i put in a lot of effort to learn and be thorough with all the projects I did. This appreciated my attitude and learner’s mindset because they knew its easy to train such people for any kind of task. Such people become independent quickly. Thats how i got the job at GE.

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

Challenge 1: First challenge I faced was from my family. I was forced to change my job to earn more. As an Indian, settling means a good salary even if you have to compromise on job satisfaction. I was criticized big time for it, but knew that I have to swim against this tide first and I believed that there is a calmer and beautiful sea after this bigger tide, which is why I am happy with what I have.

Challenge 2: There was a phase when my learning curve kind of stopped without my realization, there was a sense of complacency which creeped in me and I stopped learning. It took some time for me to realize this. My mentor’s candid feedback helped me to assess myself and get back to what’s important for me to grow as an individual.

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

I work in Shell India markets Pvt Ltd, Bangalore as Materials & Corrosion Research Engineer. Here, I work on solving corrosion related problems encountered in the materials used for oil transportation, storage & extraction.

The skills required for the current job are doing some experiments related to corrosion evaluation, for which I was trained by the in-house experts. The team invested in me & gave me freedom to learn these skills on the job by continuously training me alongside them.

What is a typical day like? 

My day will be mostly planning & execution of my experiments, analyzing the results, coming up with a solution or a strategy to manage the challenge  and submitting all those in the report form to the stakeholders.

What is it you love about this job? 

What I like most about this job is the beauty of nature’s behavior. Corrosion is a natural phenomenon which occurs to any metal, it’s sometimes fascinating to know how the slightest of the condition changes influence the behavior of these materials.

How does your work benefit society? 

We all know how important fuel is in our daily life. It plays a role in many aspects of our life. We ensure that we get this fuel delivered to you safely without any catastrophic accidents happening while it was extracted from earth.

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

Everything I do is memorable in one way or the other. Everything adds to my life skills and experiences and helps me grow as an individual. However the work I do as a volunteer for Bandipur afforestation, lake restoration & helping schools to improve the quality of education will always go with me to the grave. These activities don’t give any monetary returns, but what I get out of it is much more which is difficult to explain. It keeps me grounded, and gives me a feeling of gratitude for everything I have been fortunate to have in my life. This keeps me going everyday. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Everyone who is graduating keeps telling me about their dream job. Why can’t we think of having something like a dream experience, dream learning curve etc. Students have to focus on their learning curve in the first few years and work somewhere where they think their learning curve will be steeper with diverse experience. Diverse exposure gives us the aptitude to look at the problem through different perspectives/angles, which is a very important skill to have. Money is important, but it should not be the driver for choosing a company. Some of the smaller startups give a much steeper learning curve than some of the bigger corporate giants. One of the most important advice I got in my life is “Never stop learning” & “ Do your work with due diligence”