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Not cleared IIT? Not the end of the world

My parents always used to tell me that I was different from others, in thoughts and deeds. Maybe because I see the world from a different point of view, almost everything is different for me than others. I struggled, worked hard to get into IITs since Class IX, but to get into a place like IIT from Rourkela, Odisha, was tough, given the resources. Still, I did not lose hope and was determined to break the IIT ceiling through self-study.

In Class X, I couldn’t clear NTSE, but I got Regional Mathematics Olympiad twice, on a trot. Still, I could not get into IITs or even NITs. My parents were disappointed, so was I. But that certainly was not the end of the world.

I started my B.Tech in Computer Science at IIIT, Bhubaneswar. I always had a knack for programming. I liked problem-solving and was introduced to brilliant.org due to my mathematical and programming interests from the 9th standard. I was solving a few problems from there. From the first year of Engg, I started programming from ProjectEuler and brilliant.org and few other sites like Hackerrank, Codeforces, Codechef, etc. I used to regularly participate in the contests and my highest rating in codeforces is 13k.

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Then in the second semester, I started off with a little bit of web-development and blockchain and lost interest in web-development. I was then introduced to Machine Learning and due to my mathematical background, it was easy for me to understand the basics. Then I learned VB, .NET frameworks. I was picking up machine-learning back then and had my interest in open-source software and wanted to contribute to one of the organizations but was unable to. Then, in the third semester, I started exploring all the paid/unpaid open-source programmes and I wanted to participate in Outreachy. I couldn’t participate due to eligibility criteria but was open to contribute to Jupyterhub and I started contributing and then merged my first pull-request.

I was happy and started contributing to Gensim, another Open-source organization where I thought I would participate as Google Summer of Code’19 student. But Gensim didn’t participate that year. Then I contributed to yellowbrick and published my first codebase blog which received accolades from NumFOCUS and yellowbrick team. Alongside, I was contributing to SymPy and I determined that I would participate in GSoC’19 as a SymPy contributor but I wasn’t selected due to less number of mentors volunteered. Due to time commitments, I wasn’t selected at Outreachy even. I was contributing to Haiku on Gerrit. Although, I couldn’t get into any programs I got a huge experience in open-source software development. I had applied for Women Techmakers Program but wasn’t selected. Although, my resume caught Google’s hiring manager’s eyeballs and I was selected for an interview with Google.

I cleared the first interview only. I spent two months in sophomore year’s summer contributing to DVC and DVC.org and gained accolades. During this time, I was selected for nano degree-course from Udacity-Facebook on Secure and Private AI. I completed the course and got accolades from Andrew Trask himself. I also did 1-month internship at Rourkela Steel Plant as a stocks-control intern. I was involved with Programming Society of our college since the second year and became its head in the third year. I along with my friends organized Python session where a pet project was shown and the students were amazed to see what few lines of Python code can do. We organized Hacktoberfest-themed open-source event in October and we received $150 from DVC.org who helped us in our events. We got accolades from the team and support from the team. Our students were able to create a few pull-requests which were finally merged into the main repository. I am selected as the Lead at Campustry and Chair at ACM, Student Chapter, Bhubaneswar. Currently I am an Analyst, Data Science at Varidus and a Google Code-In mentor at JuliaLanguage. I volunteered and mentored at PyJaipur during the summer. I am also an active member of Women Techmakers.

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Here is a chat with Nabanita Dash

It is clear from your article that getting into IIT was your focus during the early years of your education. But the twist is that you have made it big even without IIT education. What is the message there?

I would like to say that "love whatever you do and try to bring your own vision in it so that it might help others". IIT or no IIT, it really doesn't matter. What matters is how skilled you are in your respective domain.

Our children, rather parents, are obsessed with IITs even from the primary school level. What do you feel about it?

If you believe in institutional learning, then I would say India is not at all good at it. So, I have always believed in self-learning. This concludes whichever institution you go, professors will only put effort if you, yourself are interested. Institutions where professors are updated with the new technology and we are being taught the age-old curriculum shouldn't determine the future. Most subjects taught in colleges are obsolete and need not be studied. Most of them we have already studied in our schools. But no one cares to change the subjects. So it really doesn't matter whichever college you choose, what matters is the effort you put in building or creating yourself.

Looking back, if you were to get another chance, would you try IIT again?

No, I won't try for IIT anymore. I am not that much into basic science as that I am into technology and computer science. Skills matter not from where you have acquired them.

Coming back to what you are doing, how important is events like Google Summer Code and other similar events?

I am trying for Google Summer Of Code this year. The hype about GSoC is so much like that of IIT. But, if you do like the project only then you can try it. Most students only participate in GSoC and don't understand the importance of open-source software. These programmes are introduced to undergraduates/students to create an interest in open-source software. The main objective is to let students know that they can contribute to open source software and organizations without much difficulty and there are mentors helping you in that.

What is your career dream? What next?

I want to be an AI researcher. I love open-source software and I love exploring and working in these organizations. The mentors welcome you and make you comfortable while contributing for the first time. Outreachy is a similar event but only for women and trans-people.

Finally, coming from a small town, what’s your advice to young aspirational students from such towns?

The only problem in small towns is a lack of support and openness. Times have changed. Since there is the Internet everywhere, you can master anything you want. Become your own inspiration. Read a lot. Learn a lot. Help others too. Lack of openness can be dissolved by being aware of the news or check for inspirational videos. Find your niche and work on it to develop yourself.

What, as per you, are those habits of yours (minimum 1, maximum 5), which have helped you reach where you are now?

  • I am punctual and disciplined.
  • I always make a plan before carrying out the tasks.
  • I wake up and make a daily plan or target that I need to achieve.
  • I list out yearly achievable goals in advance.
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