Recently my BITS Alumni Relations team interviewed me about my work at Google and transition to PhD student. The January 2022 issue of the magazine can be found here and here. Thank you BITS Alumni Relations team for the interview ! Here are the interview questions. For the full article and many other interesting stories, check the original issue linked above.
How was working with Google like?
Working with Google was an indescribable experience where I got to work with some of the smartest people and got the opportunity to learn a lot. The work culture is amazing, and my colleagues and managers were always trying to help everyone grow in their careers. They even helped me with my Ph.D. process.
What are the things you learned while working with Google?
This was my first job so I had no experience of working on large-scale products. Eventually, I improved my programming standards, design skills, and overall software management skills along with numerous non-technical soft skills. For example: leading a project, presenting my work in a better way that helps with promotion, disagreeing in a respectable manner, giving constructive feedback, etc. Overall, it was a great follow-up for my personality development after BITS.
What made you interested in the field you are currently doing a Ph.D. in?
Sometime after I joined Google, I was introduced to the Operations Research team. I started working with them because I was interested in discrete optimization so I started working with them on a 20% project. Seeing my work, the manager hired me full time and I moved to Paris. It was the first time I got to work with the team in the research product area. I got to read the papers about the state of art algorithms and implement them. Later, I also got to experiment by implementing my own ideas. People often say that research is like gambling; you mostly fail, but you get intermittent success so it is very addictive. Once you get into it, there’s no way out. With time my interest grew, and I decided to go for a Ph.D. in Operations Research.
How much of a role do the subjects you learned in your college (mathematics and CS) helped you in your current area of research?
A lot of them directly helped me with the basic foundation, for e.g., operations research, optimization, algorithms, etc. Others helped me in an indirect way. When you take these courses, they not only teach you the technical parts, but also change the way you think and approach new problems.
In a way, it is training for your brain. And thanks to my fellow classmates at BITS, I had to work really hard in those courses to get good grades, so in the process, I developed grit and discipline, which are much needed for research.
Was it difficult to decide between a job and doing a Ph.D.?
In a way it was. There was a huge financial and social risk attached when I decided to quit my job to go for my Ph.D. So obviously a lot of people, directly or indirectly, questioned my decision. But given my interest level, I was very sure about my Ph.D. plan so went for it anyway. Needless to say, a lot of people encouraged me and supported me as well.
What advice would you give to students who would like to pursue a Ph.D. in the future?
If you want to pursue a Ph.D., make sure that you are really into that subject. You should start only if you know that you will finish your Ph.D. Good grades and better connections would always make your admission process easier. Explore different subjects by means of electives or just taking/auditing courses online, that would help you find something you truly like.
Finally, try to work on research projects either at BITS or at other institutes. That way you can get some exposure to research and also make good connections that can potentially help you with your Ph.D. applications. Alas, never stop learning.