Reflections on IIIT-H

September 2nd was my alma mater IIIT-H’s foundation day anniversary. As I connected to youtube early in the morning to watch the live stream from Canada, I started wondering about the institute’s role in my personal and professional growth. This post contains some of my personal reflections on IIIT-H. I spent 2006-08 in IIIT-H, working on my masters at the Information Retrieval and Extraction Lab there (although this new webpage does not list me as an alumnus!!). Looking back, I feel made criminal misuse of my time there, by not having any focus on the present or future. However, things are not so bleak as they seemed then now.

When I left the place, I felt there are only two things I really “earned” by being there:

  • some good relationships, which last till today, with varying degrees of intimacy.
  • very good time spent at the library on both research related readings as well as good Telugu literature.
    Apart from these, I thought this field is not for me, and I am better off just exploring something completely away from engineering and CS as a career option.

What did IIIT-H give me, though, looking back 11-12 years later?

  • At different points in time, I think I used whatever I learnt from every single course I took there as a student in my professional life later. Even now, everything I do professionally has its foundations in IIIT-H. I keep thinking about those classes on a daily basis (although at that time, I just wanted them all to finish soon).
  • Some unexpected collaborators in both current research, as well as in writing a book with O’Reilly media (primarily) for industry professionals.

It is amazing that among the three institutions I got degrees from, the one where I spent the least amount of time seems to have had the strongest influence on my professional career. There were times when we used to crib about the kind of research being done there, comparing with world class universities, but we conveniently forgot that it is a largely self-supporting institution which was only 10 years old at that time. There are many more things I used to crib about, but I won’t get into those now. In a larger scheme of things in my life, they seem irrelevant now. Over the past decade, as I see the name flashing in many renowned publication venues, and as I see the alumni shining in many different parts of the world, especially as faculty members in those “world class universities” we compared against a decade ago, I realize it has gone a long way! I find it pretty cool, although there is still a long road ahead.

Since I now think I owe all my professional life to IIIT-H, what did I give back? Apart from tiny financial contributions, what can an individual alumnus really give back? I thought about this for some time. Finally, I realized I don’t know, and asked the Mr Know it all - Google. Here is the first result I saw, which identifies 5 ways to give back:

  • speaking at a class: I would be happy to do this, and I did once in 2018, when I addressed the students of a NLP summer school happening in IIIT-H.
  • promote the college on social media: I re-share tweets/posts several times in a year.
  • attend homecoming activities: I guess this is something I never did. I do revisit the place whenever I can when I visit Hyderabad, but never attended any alumni events.
  • give money, big or small: I perhaps did once or twice, very small amounts.
  • organize an alumni meet: again, never did this.

Apart from these, I guess I can add what I did: if someone from IIIT-H contacted me on LinkedIn with a reasonable request (e.g., feedback on resume, quick chat on career options etc), I never said no as far as I remember. I do consider that as giving back. However, there is always more to do, considering what I got from there. This is not the end of the world, and many more such anniversaries will come to IIIT-H, giving me more opportunities to reminisce as both of us grow older!

Written on September 2, 2020