On taking risks

May 2, 2015

It’s been almost 3 years since I last posted – a lot has happened as expected.

I remember in 2011 when I was at Microsoft, I asked myself what my biggest regret in life was at the age of 24 and the answer was “not really having taken a risk”. In the past few years though, I think I’ve done enough to get rid of this regret.

While I was at Microsoft, (like most restless developers) I tried to work on several startup ideas on the side and finally around end of 2010, pulled together a team of 5 people (across 3 countries/5 cities) to finally build what could be called a product. As you might guess, we launched and didn’t get users to regularly use the product so eventually in mid 2011 we decided to put things on hold. I somehow felt that the reason we lost momentum was mainly since everyone was part time and so, as soon as things at work got intense for one person, everything halted for a week for him and the people who had a dependency on him. Repeat a few times and the whole thing ground to a halt.

The obvious solution was to try this again but doing it full time. However, the problem with being on a H1B visa is that you can work for anyone except yourself. So I did some research on the USCIS/other sites on a few options and eventually it seemed like if I spent 10 months full time finishing up my Stanford MS (that I was almost halfway done with part time), then the F1 student visa would let me be self employed on the OPT for 12+17=29 months. I called up the Stanford I-Center and they confirmed that this was true provided the work was related to my major.

When you first come into a new country not knowing anyone, you have a very low risk tolerance but after a couple of years, you become more risk taking. In my case the big uncertainty was getting the F1 student visa, since Microsoft had started applying for my green card (which the lawyers said would take 12-14 years more to get) and the F1 student visa is non-immigrant intent. This means that there was a risk of my visa getting rejected since the green card application could be seen as immigrant intent. Anyway, I took the leap, quit Microsoft on Aug 31 morning and left the country on the same day at night (strictly speaking you have to leave the country the day you quit although people typically assume that you can be out of status for 30 days). I had my visa interview a week later – my passport lamination was coming out but despite that they just gave me a verbal warning and approved the visa. I got the passport back a few days before my return flight and flew back to Seattle (where I had left my trusty Camry filled with all my stuff). I was originally planning to land, sleep and drive to Stanford the next day but it started raining and I was still feeling jet lagged so decided to wait another day. The next day, Saturday at 9am I left from Seattle and started the 860 mile drive – it was non stop except for a lunch stop at a Safeway. By the time I crossed Sacramento though (after 12 hours of driving), I was starting to get distracted and in addition, didn’t have a place to stay at Stanford (I applied for graduate housing but was still on a waitlist – normally new students get priority but since I had already been enrolled part time somehow I was not eligible). So I called a college friend who was doing his PhD at Berkeley and took a detour that way and crashed at his place.

The next day (Sunday) morning I started driving again to Stanford and finally found a temporary place to stay with two seniors from undergrad who were just starting their MBA at Stanford. Monday’s mission was to try and get an assistantship and by evening, I found a Graph theory course (with a fancy title – Social and Information Network analysis) to TA, which would cover my entire tuition and also provide a stipend. A week later, another senior from college who was now doing his PhD at Stanford pinged me asking if I wanted to share a 3 bedroom place in Menlo Park. With that, I was finally set in terms of the base level of Maslow’s pyramid (shelter, food, money etc) and now could start focusing on why I was here in the first place.

Over the next 9 months, I started working on a fresh set of ideas and spent enough time talking to a lot of people this time, instead of just building what I thought made sense. I applied for my OPT with a start date of August ’12 so that it gave me enough visa runway till December ’14 (12 months OPT + 17 months OPT STEM extension). The STEM extension required an e-verified employer and so, I finally set up my first US based company in May of 2013. After 9 months of going unpaid, I finally started getting income/revenue in Dec 2013. 2014 went much better – I think I had to talk to 60 potential investors before finding 6 who agreed to invest (this ratio has actually not improved much over time since as soon as the ratio goes up, I start aiming higher and increasing the difficulty level).

By mid year, I got enough revenue to be able to apply for a H1B. The other requirement for a H1B was that I had to have an employer-employee relationship with the company. I asked around and couldn’t really find anyone who had gone through a similar situation and so, I spent a fair bit of time again reading through the USCIS site and LLC legal structures to come up with a solution. The final solution involved restructuring the LLC to separate out control and economics into separate classes of LLC interest, bringing on 2 more people into the LLC and dividing the control units 3 ways while keeping most of the economic interests (Give an engineer a problem with a million constraints and he/she will find a solution provided a solution exists). While this seemed fairly simple to me, the immigration lawyer said that the USCIS folks might find this too complex to understand. Nevertheless we went and filed the H1 petition and got an RFE (Request for Evidence) that we responded to and got yet another RFE which we responded to again and finally it got approved on Nov 15th, roughly a month before my OPT expired. Phew.

I went back to India in December to get my H1 stamped (after finally getting a new passport to replace the old one where the lamination was coming off – this was as expected a last minute thing and I got my passport 2 days before the flight) – I was concerned that there may be issues at the embassy since I got 2 RFEs but the interview took 15 seconds and I was back in the US by the end of Jan ’15.

Now I have another ~5 years of visa runway and due to various other reasons, am probably eligible to apply for an EB-1 green card (this category gets approved in 3-4 months instead of 5-6 years at least for the other categories). The one complication around applying for a green card is that if I get married to someone who is outside the US, she would have to stay outside the US for the ~2 years that it would take for her green card to get approved. As a result, I guess I am going to have to postpone the green card plans for now.

Looking back, if I knew what I know now (that I would have to go for 9 months without pay during which all my advisers would recommend that I should give up and more), I would never have made the first leap but now that I have, the net result is that I can finally cross “not taking a risk” from my list of regrets. In addition, I’ve now developed a very high tolerance to hearing “no” – often the no doesn’t really come verbally from any one person, it’s just an implicit “no” embedded in the rules you have to play by (be it immigration, business, investing or even inter-personal work relationships) when the deck of cards seem to be almost always stacked against you.

The biggest risk is actually starting to become pessimistic – as long as you can bounce back, there is always hope and as long as you feel there is hope you feel like giving it one more shot. So yes, a lot of “no”s can be converted to “not now”s and some “not now”s to “maybe”s and eventually “yes”.

That was a long post and I’ll probably go back to my blogging hiatus soon after hopefully publishing a post on a few principles/frameworks that helped me through the journey so far.

The JEE experience

July 4, 2012

The recent discussions around the IIT JEE got me thinking a little about the past 10 years of my life, specifically around the JEE experience.

I did pretty much all my schooling in the Middle East, where the most common options after school are to either return to India for undergrad (an easy option, since many good colleges like the NITs have an NRI quota for non resident Indians) or to come to the US (relatively easy for an above average student, although only a handful got admits to the top colleges each year i.e. Stanford/Berkeley/CMU/UIUC/Yale ).

For various reasons, I was interested in neither of these, but was interested in the IITs – the first time I had heard of them, was in an article that I had read when I was in class 6 (I believe it was http://www.businessweek.com/1998/49/b3607011.htm), which talked about this guy(I believe it was Rakesh Gangwal of US Airways/IITK)  who could crunch numbers in his head – the fact that he was a CEO didn’t mean much to me then (I don’t think I even knew what a CEO was), but the number crunching part seemed very cool.

This was a year or two before I had taken a liking to math and (much to the dismay of multiple math teachers later in my school life) started doing math problems mentally and minimized the number of steps in my math homework. For the record, class 6 math was simple algebra (2*x +4 = 8 therefore x=2 : so it wasn’t anything fancy). Nevertheless, I remember thinking as I read the article “hmm wait, I can do this too, so this IIT place must be where people who can do this go” (but no, I could *not* mentally juggle parts of a business model/do marginal cost/sensitivity analysis, at least not then).

Additionally, since that was also close to the time I had started getting more and more into coding (my fascination at that point was being able to compose a song using a QBASIC program that played notes via the computer’s beeper), I decided I had to try and study Computer Science at an IIT, preferably IITK (it wasn’t the best of reasons to decide on CS, but in my defense, I was 11 years old).

Deciding to give JEE is one thing – preparing is another – for the next 2 years I essentially tried to learn JEE math with little success – trignometry was all greek and I was always suspicious about that integration symbol. Part of the reason I found it tough was that I tried to learn by reading through a book, without using a paper to write things/practice what I had learnt. It was like trying to push a train, but slowly things started making sense.

From grade 9 to 12, I started looking at Physics and Chemistry too – essentially walking around the room with an Irodov (a book by a Russian author with hard Physics problems) trying to do the problems mentally – it didn’t work – needed paper in the end, although HC Verma (another Physics book) was easy to do mentally for the most part.

During this time, I was also wondering whether I should instead focus on applying to colleges in the US. One fine day, when I was talking about this, a classmate suggested that I should focus on applying to the US colleges since it was relatively easy to get into a top 20 college but it was practically impossible for someone who studied outside India to get into the IITs (leave alone getting to do Computer Science, which was the hardest to get among all the departments). This definitely made sense but the thing is, I was 15 years old then and when you tell a teenager that he can’t do something, he has *got* to do only that 🙂

I eventually gave JEE in 2004 (along with about 200,000 others) and barely scraped through to the top 100 ranks – IITK/CSE/BTech closed at a rank of 110 that year, and so, I got in – a happy ending, but in hindsight, the journey was as important as the destination for two reasons :

a) when you get past odds of 1:2000 once, the next time the odds are against you, instead of getting fazed and giving up, you try to analyze the situation (using decision trees, state transition matrices, directed acyclic dependency graphs and all those other cool analytical tools that you had to study about and now finally get to use) and identify things you could do to improve the odds, working as hard as needed.

b) a fair number of people (most?) who get through JEE develop the ability to crunch numbers in their head. This helps you develop a natural feel for many mathematical models and quickly evaluate multiple possibilities each of which would have taken at least 30 seconds to evaluate with a calculator.

Of the above, b) in particular, is useful in a business context – for example, just this morning, when I was talking to a partner at a VC firm, I wanted to make a point about a 4 level decision tree model that he showed me – instead of making a vague sounding comment about how a small change in a parameter might in some situations cause the decision to change, I was able to point to a specific node in the tree and say that if this increased from 1% to 1.2%, then the expected return would cross 10x which would change your decision – being able to back statements you make with analysis (performed in a split second) helps you feel more confident that you are making a valid point and generally, helps establish credibility.

Leaving Microsoft – Moving to the Valley to do a startup

September 13, 2011

This post comes after a 2.5 year gap. As in college, there have been both ups and downs – if I had to draw a graph, it would be trending up for the first year, down for the 2nd year and trending a lot higher in the 3rd year and currently is at a global maxima.

I’ve made some sub-optimal choices (or at times didn’t have a clear direction), just like in college (when I ended up watching 240 episodes of a sitcom (Friends) in on semester causing my grades to tank), but you learn and hopefully make fewer similar mistakes in future.

In the last few years I’ve learnt a lot about technology, business and people in general. Most importantly, I’ve learnt to create useful IP (intellectual property) in the process of solving problems and from Sept 1 onwards, I will own the IP I create.

The plan now is to join Stanford to finish my Masters by June ’11 and then work on my own startup subsequently. This is definitely a risky move (despite having done a lot to hedge various types of business/technical/people/financial/visa risks). But then, this is my 4th major move in the the last 7 years (Muscat, Oman -> Kanpur, India -> Vancouver, Canada -> Redmond WA -> Stanford CA) – each time, I had my apprehensions and each time things eventually went quite well. This time, I don’t really feel apprehensive – not because I think I know what’s going to happen, but because I feel confident in my ability to adapt to a new environment.

6 months in Vancouver and with Microsoft

January 18, 2009

I moved to Vancouver and started working with Microsoft 6 months back. So far things have been pretty good in general both at work and otherwise.

I’ve been living in downtown since September. Vancouver is a nice city (was voted the world’s best city to live in, in a survey). So far I’ve lived in Muscat, various places in Kerala, Coimbatore, Kanpur, Bangalore, Sammamish and Redmond apart from Vancouver. Of these, if I leave aside the feel-good factor of living in India, Vancouver would definitely be the best to live in.

My apartment is a little over a kilometer from both Stanley Park and the beach so I usually end up going for a 3 hr walk every weekend by the coast/beach and the park. The smaller parks next to the beach especially are really nice to just sit and enjoy the view either listening to music or watching kids play around you (and maybe realizing you are one too and joining them). There are restaurants of all types within a 1km radius – Indian Chinese Japanese Mexican Thai, the usual KFC Subway McD Tim Horton fastfood places and of course Starbucks – there happen to be to Starbucks places on opposite sides of a particular road, both generally busy.

Work is good both in terms of the actual work and the workplace/people. The Vancouver centre opened in 2007 and currently has 300+ employees from 50+ countries. The diversity is something that shows up at various events and also in discussions.

My work has so far been going good with my first project being demoed to BillG in December. While my team (Live Search) has a significant presence in Vancouver, a large part of the team is in Redmond including most of the management. There are both positives and negatives of working in a location different from that of the management team – as of now though, I have been able to bypass a lot of the negatives largely because of supportive managers and team members. One plus of being in Vancouver is the monthly road trip to Redmond which is a free to gain driving experience as long as one does’t speed 🙂

End of month 1

August 3, 2008

It’s almost been a month since I came to Vancouver and so far things have gone good, slightly better than expected.

Last week, we shifted apartments to a place in downtown. The new apartment is good in terms of furnishing and being in downtown, there are plenty of things to do nearby. In the process of shifting I managed to set off a car burgular alarm on our car, by first managing to get locked in (thanks Shubham :P) and then opening and closing the driver seat door a few times till the alarm went off 😛 Witnesses saw a guy in a blue jacket (moi) running away from the scene but eventually it was all sorted out 😛

On Friday three of us made use of our B1 visa to attend this river rafting team morale event on the Skagit River. I got to meet a lot of the other devs on my team. I also ended up splashing (with the paddles/shooting using a 2 meter long water pistol) water at many of them, so will have to be careful when I go to Redmond next to meet them 😉 I also got to drive on the way back for about an hr (after a reasonable amount of persuasion :P)

On the work front, I will probably start with a second project sometime soon. So far, work has been better than I expected and despite being fresh out of college, my views are taken seriously if they have merit. Hopefully it will stay that way.

I also have started running on the treadmill as of yesterday – generally end up running/walking 1 km in 15 min at a 15 degree incline (so that’s about cos 15 = 0.95 km forward and sin 15 = 250m vertical and hence tiring). I think its much better to have one burger less than have one treadmill session more.

On the cooking front, things are better : I set of one smoke alarm again when making a curry and by the time I waved the smoke away from the detector and came back, the curry was burnt 😦 Anyway I’ve finally found a way to prevent the smoke alarms : the trick is to switch on the chimney before starting 😛

I stumbled across this today : http://www.iitk.ac.in/hall2/iitktour

It’s a small page I made 3 years back at the request of an alumnus who wanted to see pics of the campus – I had totally forgotten about it and it was good to see the pics now that I myself am an alumnus.

Settling in

July 25, 2008

I tried driving last weekend on a rented car. In total I drove about 60km on the first day which is decent given that I got my DL in India only in June and this was my first try in Canada. I went around for an hour in the morning close to the house, mostly in circles getting the hang of the car. In the evening we ended up driving to Richmond with Shubham and me taking turns at the wheel. Driving is nice and convenient when the traffic moves fast but when you are stuck in traffic, it’s boring – on a bus you can at least watch a movie on your media player without worrying about what’s happening outside.

I tried cooking a few curries (A coworker disagrees with me on this “yeah right, men mix powder and chicken and then they call it cooking”. But I still call it cooking since I have to DO stuff and the ROI is pretty good :P). I also made french fries a few times and ended up setting off the smoke alarm the first time. What followed was 2 min of waving the smoke away from the detector until it went off. Phew!

Work finally has started – my manager assigned a project on Friday. I am excited to be working on this project with one of the laziest guys in the world, a title that I have at times gone by in the past (yes, it is possible to work 80 hrs/week and still hold the title. Also, Shubham Mittal, if you are reading this, please please remember to buy French Fries from Safeway on the way back from work).

Today, I went to get my air shipment cleared at the customs office and also got my B1 visa approved which means I get to go for a team morale event in Redmond (white water rafting). Not bad no? Eligble for a morale event after just one week of effective work 😀

One thing I’ve been thinking of doing is working on this startup idea on weekends but so far haven’t started (let’s just say I’m having “start-up” issues :P). Ever been in a situation where you think of an idea that could have a big impact on so many people you know but are too lazy to get up from the bed and work on it? I’ve done that one too many times at IITK, but somehow managed to get back that spark during the MSR internship and hopefully it will stay now.

Work – Week One

July 12, 2008

Monday morning 9 am was the reporting time. We took the new Microsoft Shuttle from downtown Vancouver to MCDC. Breakfast was served there – mostly fruits, chocolate cookies and cakes.

We then had a few talks from Par Singh and also the HR on the Vancouver centre and on working at MSFT. The next few days were spent setting up bank accounts, social insurance, aliases etc. I had (have) some issues since I had an alias change as a result of which a lot of sites still didnt open even at the end of the week. There is a good selection of soft drinks/juices like at Redmond and also some fruits. The cafe is okay but Redmond has much better variety.

Tax is a lot here – about 33% of the base gets witheld as taxes. However on the other hand, at least in my case, the expenses would be restricted to just food, transport and entertainment till April after which accomodation would also be an overhead. I came to Canada with 200$ which turned out to be slightly less that my food+transport expenses and as a result ended up borrowing $100 from Prasanna  (a.k.a. Mr Sankaranarayan, whose skateboard I shall borrow soon).

On the second day me and Shubham were sitting in the office with essentially nothing to do. Well we were supposed to fill some forms that HR gave but that was a boring job and hence deserved to be postponed till the day of the deadline. We then ended up doing the following derivation

at level n, we have n*(n+1)/2 cans
so total no of cans is sigma ((n*n + n)/2)
= 1/2 * [n*(n+1)(2n+1)/6 + n*(n+1)/2]
= 1/12 * n*(n+1) (2n+1 + 3)
= 1/6 * n * (n+1) * (n+2).
Hence, for n = 8 we have no of cans = 120. QED.
—————————————

Well maybe at least I should have filled in those HR forms that day itself since I eventually forgot about it till the Friday deadline and ended up filling it on the bus to work.  The HR mildly fried me for two mistakes I made – instead of signing and dating at one place I put my sign and date of birth “So, did you know you were going to work for Microsoft from the day you were born?” . Secondly, the form was such that you fill in a detail in the line below the description and I mixed up above and below in one place and ended up with “Spouse : India”. Anyway 😛

I got in touch with my history teacher from school who happens to be at Vancouver. I’ll be going to her house on Monday for dinner – a welcome relief from microwaved food.

The four years of my BTech

June 26, 2008

Semester 1 – Came to IITK knowing just 3 people. Studied for exams 😛 Settled in. Got to work on the Techkriti site. Relief that getting 9.x wasn’t as tough at the IITs as rumoured as long as I put in some effort.

Semester 2 – The computer arrives. Watched all 10 seasons of F.r.i.e.n.d.s. in 2 months. Got elected to the Hall 2 HEC as CC secretary. Spent a lot of time censoring a particular individual on the Hall 2 Discussion Board 😛  Joined the group of elite CSE ex-9 pointers of my batch who had an SPI drop >2 😛 Realised that the “putting in effort” is not that easy for extended durations 😦

Summer 2005 – Returned to Muscat, did an off-site internship at home. Alternate week Pizza Hut partying with school friends 🙂  Was selected for the Lucent Scholarship and went to the US for the week long Lucent Global Science Scholars Summit.

Semester 3 – Made a lot more friends 🙂 , did my first CS course. Started working on SPO Automation. Trained the Hall 2 Webteam. Managed to “put in effort” academically.

Semester 4 – IMS started off as a CS course project. Got elected to the Students Senate. Another SPI drop.

Summer 2006 – Internship at Bell Labs Bangalore. First major paycheque. Tried rock climbing, trekking and parasailing (inclusive of an accidental crash landing 😦 ). Put on weight as a result of having dinner daily at the mall (Forum).

Semester 5 – IMS gets deployed by CSE-IITK to manage internships. Got selected for an internship with MSR Redmond. The first “real” CS semester 🙂 Coordinated the deployment of a placement portal developed by an alumnus. Again managed to “put in effort” academically.

Semester 6 – The first of the three 5 project semesters. Voted Best Senator in the Students Senate. Deployed IMS in the SPO. A lot of new friendships developed and old ones got consolidated 🙂 Looks like I have optimized the art of getting 9.x SPIs (would you call it a science or an art?) with minimal effort and maximum learning.

Summer 2007 – Internship at Microsoft Research Redmond. Got 3 patents in my name by the end of it. Travelled a lot on weekends – Hawaii, California, Texas, Michigan and Oregon. Tried trekking, river rafting and kayaking.

Semester 7 – BTech Project decided : an e-passport application that eventually got deployed by the Government of India. PAS gets deployed at IITK. Another 5 project semester. Got placed with Tower and Lehman.

Semester 8 – BTP got selected for funding from Microsoft. Got placed with Microsoft Live Search. Treats, treats and more treats. Multiple Farewells. Left IITK knowing roughly every 2nd person in my batch of 500 🙂

Summer 2008 – The IITK tradition of travelling around India followed by Convocation. Worked with the SPO on a proposal for revenue generation via ads on PAS. Thought of various possible ideas for a startup and rejected most. Learnt driving at last and got a license.

40,000 lines of code, 100+ exams, 40 courses, 20 projects, 20+ project partners, 4 years all for one BTech but well worth it!

Summer 2008 – May, June.

June 10, 2008

After the endsems, I went for this one week trip to Dharamshala and Dalhousie in early May. It was a nice experience and the weather was nice and cool in comparision to the 40 degree summer at Kanpur. I subsequently returned home via Bangalore (where I got to meet a few friends from school/college).

I got home in mid-May and continued with my driving classes for 2 weeks before appearing for my driving test which I cleared. After that, I went back with parents to IITK for the convcation.

We faced some problems in the onward journey : to start with the Jet flight got delayed by over 4 hours as a result of which we missed the train (Shram Shakti) we had booked. So then I called up Kshitizg who booked tickets for the morning Shatabdi. Shatabdi was the first train that left from Delhi in the morning at 6am and is usually on time but not this time.

There was the Gujjar strike that very day and they had blocked the train tracks. So the train just stood there for over 7 hrs before it started moving. The plus was that Shatabdi has a generator and so the AC was on the whole time (and it was in fact chilly inside despite being hot outside) and also they kept giving us something to eat every now and then. There was also a plug point so I could use my laptop all along. The train finally reached Kanpur at 7:30 pm, about 7 hrs late.

Kanpur was hot and so it was good that we had gotten a confirmed VH AC room. I was feeling tired and so slept off. The next day, after breakfast I went to Hall 1 to see the situation in my room (which I had yet to vacate). Then I went to the SPO at 11 for a meeting with the chairman (which should have been held the previous day but was postponed because of the train). Then I went to meet a few profs and subsequently for the rehearsal. The rehearsal was for over 3 hours and the second half of the programme was boring. But then, the entire deptt was sitting together so it’s tough to get bored thanks to the usual antics that go on 🙂

After the rehearsal again I went back to Hall 1 with parents and we managed to pack everything. Then I remembered that I needed a gate permit for the courier company to be able to take the boxes out of campus and so drafted the letter. The next day morning I took the letter and went to the Hall office and left it there. After that I rushed through breakfast and headed to Audi for the convocation.

The convocation took about 4 hours after which we took some photos. It was nice to see all your batchmates and others going up on stage to collect their degree. After the convocation, there was the usual photo session for some time after which I headed back to the VH. I then went to the Hall Office to  collect the gate pass which hadn’t been done since the warden was out of station (now they tell me!). So I then went to the SIS office and got the letter signed directly. I then went back to Hall 1, called the courier guy who took the gate pass along with the boxes and that was the end of that.

We left for the station around midnight. The train was late by about 2 hours again and we went off to sleep after boarding at about 3:30 am. It reached Agra at about 8:30 in the morning. We went fromt the station to a hotel and checked in and relaxed for a while. Then we left at about 11 to see the Agra Fort and then had lunch. After lunch, we went to the Taj Mahal. It was beautiful and looked better in real life than in the pictures. We spend about 2 hours there before moving on to a handicrafts place for some shopping. We subsequently went back to the hotel and left for the station and caught the Bhopal Shatabdi to Delhi – took 2 hrs to cover the 200 km.

We reached Delhi at about 11:30 pm and went to the IITK Transit Guesthouse at CR Park that I had booked for the night at the VH. We woke up in the morning and had a bread + omlette made by the cooks there. At Rs 2000 per night per room it is definitely expensive but in hindsight it felt worth it.

We then headed to the airport and caught the flight back to Cochin. From there we went home and caught a night train to Mangalore to meet my sister. We were there for a two days before leaving for Coimbatore to meet my mom’s aunt with whom I had stayed with long back for 2 years (before going to Muscat). We stayed there till Sunday before coming back to Kerala.

Semester 8 – Finale

May 15, 2008

I got back to Kanpur just before New Year.  Kanpur was very cold this time (sub zero).

I went to Delhi during the first weekend of the year for an interview with Microsoft Live Search. I went with Sid, Khantal and Soumyadip. We went by Shatabdi and checked into this hotel near the station. It so happened that Sid’s birthday was on the following day so Somu and Khantal decided that we should stay awake till midnight and then give Sid his GPL. Unfortunately, Sid was on the phone nonstop after midnight so Somu and Khantal decided to give me the GPL instead (I still havent understood the logic they used to select me :P)

Ten days later, I got an offer from them. I took a month to finally accept the offer. It was for Microsoft LIve Search initially at Vancouver and subsequently at Redmond after a year.

These days (ok…make that years) it’s impssible for a BTech from an IIT to work immediately at any company in the US for visa reasons : to work, one needs a H1B work visa for which one has to apply in April first week (since by then the visa cap/limit of 65,000 is reached). Now as far as I know,  all BTechs at IITs graduate only in May or June and so can’t apply for the H1B in time. So to solve this, companies post the student turned employee at a location not in the US and then apply for the L1B visa for which there is no cap. The L1B however requires one year of work at the same company and at an office outside the US. In my case, I will be posted at Vancouver which is 150 miles from Redmond but in a different country. Ok enough of talking on visa issues, back to IITK life.

The last sem is usually the one with the most number of treats and it was pretty much the case with me too. I also started playing tennis early in the morning and continued for 2 months before switching to running but my weight refused to go down because of the treats.

In terms of classes, I had about 2 classes a day which left the rest of the day free to talk to friends online/in person. A trip to the CC canteen was an almost daily event and it wasn’t unusual so see a big crowd of cse final years outside the CCC at 4pm daily.

I had 2 CS courses that sem… by 4th year one tends to learn that with non-theory courses, one of the best ways to approach a CS course is to do a really good job on the project (for starters by spending time and planning) which helps you appreciate what is taught in the lectures. And yeah, it also ensures the A grade in most cases 😛

Towards the end of the semester once again I was in a situation with 5 projects to be submitted in 2 weeks but by now one gets used to it. It’s tough to focus on Project No 20 of your BTech when it’s the last sem but I think I did an okay job on most of the projects in the end.

The farewells and photo sessions were all in the last month – both the departmental one and also the one organized by the Alumni Association. No dues at IITK hasn’t been put online and so one has to run to each of the 21 places to get signatures including places one hasn’t ever seen like the Glass Blowing Lab. Maybe it is one of those things that shouldn’t be automated – one gets to see all the places one has spent time in during the past 4 years – the TA Labs, NCC, Auditorium, Media Lab and so on.

When the endsems came, it didn’t really feel like endsem time in Hall 1 – most of the regular activities (like cricket…or let’s call it phatta) continued with some people having a book in their hand maybe. The gtalk status messages at this time as expected were interesting with all sorts of countdowns.