Monday, February 24, 2014

On getting a job.

I suddenly remembered the "placement season" at my undergrad for no reason. To the uninitiated, the placement season in Southern Indian engineering colleges are when software companies recruit engineering students en masse. This generally happens just before the start of the final year of engineering. This is the coming-of-age ritual that every engineering student undergoes.

After a nasty childish spat with a neighboring college (which I am sure readers of this blog will remember) I received more than one ugly note saying that how I would be dealt with during the pooled placement season that happens on their campus. I bring this up because, it is funny to think that they wanted to punish me with a job that I would miss out on for my (admittedly) bad behavior. One could sell anything to anyone if they attach a "placement" tag to it. Oh so much for campus placements, the petty issues, the mad race and the hacks. I am surprised that they don't sell powdered dragon claws as a performance boosters (or do they?) during the season. I remember ludicrous stories of how "cotton salwars" were the only accepted dress code and how guys would get rejected if the interviewers sniff out the fact that they had used a particularly misogynistic brand of deodorant. There were special classes to crack these mock tests for which people paid good deal of money.

In this fiasco, the placement coordinators (PCs) are the ones who truly deserve a lot of credit. The amount of bullshit they take during placement season, for the greater good of their peers (who are not particularly nice to them) is mind boggling. They have the nerve wrecking job of having to deal with some of the most narcissistic and egregious blokes who saunter into campus in the guise of interviewers and dangle placements, money and hope over these poor PCs. The PCs with their limitless patience are completely answerable to their peers and to their professors and are often the casualties of nasty college politics and get majorly footballed around during the season. The PCs would wait on the interviewers hand and foot and treat them like royalty. I remember hearing horror stories how some of these interviewers would send the PCs off at midnight on a mission to procure a particular brand of chicken or liquor and how the PCs would wordlessly comply.

I understand that people spend a lot of money on engineering colleges (excluding the state schools, of course) just because they can get a job. But the whole deal becomes futile if the sole focus is on getting a job than becoming employable which are two different things altogether. One cannot simply become good at something by dreaming about tantalizing notion of landing a lucrative job or by cheap hacks or doing things just to have a good resume. It shows up as glaring inadequacies in the first ten minutes of of an interview.

I recently overheard a CMU undergrad giving his phone interview to some company as I was lounging in the sunny corridors of Gates building. As he talked on, I was starting to feel awestruck at the things this guy knew. I was beginning to feel bad about the futility of my undergrad when this guy mentioned that he was in his first year (looks like he was pitching for an internship) and my jaw dropped. In my first year, I had given up on Electronics as a chosen career path after my first bungled tryst with Norton's and Thevenin's theorm and was moping around about how I had made a big, irreversible mistake. In contrast, here was a first year student who had built things that were clearly beyond my comprehension and apparently he had been building such things since eighth grade. Seriously, if we dream of competing in a global arena and think beyond the standard software placements, cramming up Agarwal's Quantitative aptitude or buttressing our engineering ability by reading "selections" of frequently asked questions, is NOT going to help. The "Group Discussion" rounds are such a farce. It makes me smile just think about how people believed that they can become proficient in topics worth having a group discussion about, by reading the newspaper for two days before the dreaded GD. Also, how on earth a person's analytical ability or his propensity to communicate and work in a team can come out in such a carefully constructed tableau?

I don't know if the status quo will change. I hope it does.

On a side note, in retrospect, it amuses me that I somehow always managed to wangle my way out of doing things that I didn't want to do - like never having to cram up the nuances of C such as linked lists & pointers or even think about attending pooled placements for dream companies (that I was cutely threatened with). My parents just let me take twenty days off and be at home during the placement season because I couldn't stand being on the campus what with the peer pressure driving me insane. Not everyone gets to watch reruns of House MD while grappling with an identity crisis, oblivious to the world outside. Somehow, my parents were more confident about my employability than I was and were just waiting around for me to sort out my issues (which anyway took me the next four years).

Despite my incessant bitching about life, I think I should really be thankful for these small pleasures.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Out of chaos, comes order (and also a perfect cup of tea)

(This might be a repeated theme in this blog, but somehow I feel that today's deeds hit the high levels in the craziness meter)

It is not everyday I wholeheartedly set out to study. Today was the day to atone for watching an entire season of House of Cards in a record thirteen hours. As I watched House of Cards with my jaws slackened and devoid of any animation, I was already making elaborate plans on how to finish half semester worth of Math in eight hours of undivided attention. I was even prepared to use the art of meditation that people tried to force me into before my 12th board exams to zoom through two hundred pages of disquieting Matrix algebra. 

If nothing, I am all about super-human goal setting. 

Just ten pages through my book, I decided that I should be washing the dishes. As I was doing the dishes, I realized there were so many in the sink because I did not have space anywhere else in the kitchen and had been dumping things into the sink; and into the fridge. (It reminds me of this answer I read in Quora for the greatest software misuses on how people use recycle bin to store files) 

Suddenly the prospect of cleaning the fridge became quite appealing given the task I was currently up to, was rather slimy. I didn't quite calculate the odds of the next task being equally, if not more slimy. Whistling a merry tune, I abandoned the dishes and set off to clean the fridge, which is where I discovered the stuff I had been looking for months. I found empty plastic containers, which to my surprise were stacked neatly in the corner of the third row. I also found an entire loaf of bread in the vegetable tray. This was the elusive loaf that I had been looking for, every morning, in desperate need for breakfast, before scrambling to school in hunger. 

I kept a stiff upper lip and decided that I needed an organization strategy to deal with the situation. And so, I decided to clear out the pantry to make space for the things that had absolutely no need to be refrigerated but somehow had found their way into the fridge - like the empty glasses, the bag of potatoes, salt shaker and a couple of kitchen knifes stuck to apples in a rather threatening way. The fridge, meanwhile, lost all hope and went back to its melancholic whirring.

While cleaning the stuff off the pantry (or a "larder" like how Enid Blyton would call it), I disinterred a bag of cardamom and cloves that I had gotten from home. I was sniffing the bags for a good couple of minutes, taking in the heady aroma of these spices. This must have tripped some internal circuit in the old noodle as I suddenly started having an intense craving for a cup of Masala Chai. Now, there is this quaint little shop called "Arasan Sweets" in Madurai. Up until now, I have never had a cup of Masala chai that tasted better than the one they serve at Arasan Sweets. I have made it a point to visit Arasan Sweets every time I go back home and slurp the tea standing amidst the gang of Indian government bureaucrats who haunt this place for their notoriously long pre-lunch, post breakfast tea break. 

This gave me a new mission. I went online and fifteen odd clicks and ten websites later, I had a general idea of how go about making the Masala Chai. A dash of cloves and cardamom, a sprinkle of cinnamon, a smack of ginger and a generous dab of attention deficiency turned out to be the secret ingredients required to make the best cuppa Masala Chai. 

I hope to iterate through this crazy loop over and over until my homework, dishwashing, clearing-out-the fridge, cleaning the pantry, drinking more tea and incoherent-post-tea-rhapsodizing - all get done.

What is life without some optimized parallel processing, eh?

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

One more quora question

How do people feel when their names are mispronounced?

Ok, we from Tamil Nadu don't really have a surname. We just take our father's first names as surnames because the western world demands one. So, the first name is pretty important and I think my parents spent a whole lot of time in coming up with mine . It is quite unique even today and the only advantage is that I get the choicest of email ids. However, coming up with this name was a bad strategy in so many ways.

I don't know why, "Uttara" just freaks the heck out of Tamils. They simply can't handle the two ts. They say ta, instead of tha and perhaps while reeling from the initial shock, add a couple of 'a's for good measure and approximate it to nothing like how it is supposed to sound.

Somehow, everyone outside Tamil Nadu pronounces it perfectly. It is just my kith and kin who stumble so much and have mangled it beyond recognition that I don't care anymore. Pretty much everyone, whom I used to correct in my younger days, which was pretty much everyone, stuck to the unthreatening version with their comforting "h" in the sight i.e, Uthra. I swear I have a certificate that says "Avtara" (from A.Uttara). I remember one of my teachers in middle school scrunching up her face in effort and say "Udderaa".

Nowadays, I am happy if I hear a "ta" & a "ra". Even a ballpark estimate would do. But definitely not "Andhera".

By the way, my "surname" that is not, is "Madurai Ananthakrishnan". Your turn, western world.