Every cloud has a silver lining, they say. But sometimes even sunshine seems tinged by cloud. Clearing the JEE is a ‘dream come true’ for any engineering aspirant in India. But once the initial euphoria fades, reality bites. Clearing is good, but topping is better. Without a good rank, you will never get the branch of your ‘choice’.
And what are the branches the heart most desires? Computer Science, Electronics, Telecom, Electrical Engineering. The ones with the most ‘scope’.
The mind says, it’s the branch of study that matters – so if you’re getting admission into another excellent college, take it. But the heart desires the chhaapa of IIT.
Here is a query I received from one such student's father:
My son's rank in IIT – JEE is 2288 and therefore he can opt for branches like Civil, Metallurgy etc. Under such situation will it be a better choice to go in for Computer Sc from some other college?
He goes on to mention that the boy is likely to get Comp Sci in IT-BHU, NITs, IIIT Hyderabad and even BITS Pilani.
Individually, these are amazing institutions. Chakkar yehi hai, ki in the layman’s perception they lack the ‘mystique’ of an IIT.
What’s in a name, eh? Everything, and then some it seems!
Student, know thyself
Ah, but getting back to the original question – is it IIT or bust? Well, the decision is deeply individual. But needs to be arrived at after exploring various fundaes.
The first and foremost thing is to ask yourself – are you attracted to engineering as a subject, or were you attracted to the brand name IIT.
If the study of computer science is what gets your nervous system tingling, obviously, you would go to the best possible college where you can get that subject. But if it’s the ‘experience of a lifetime’ you are after, you go for the college regardless of the subject you end up studying.
Now this might sound sadistic but we in India are quite flexible. We may desire a ‘love marriage’ but are always open to an arranged match. We believe one can fall in love with the girl or guy our parents choose for us… So why not a mere subject?
Khandaan accha hai, to sab accha hai.
Trouble arises when you are in love with X and agree to marry Y. Maybe you never get over that love, and live to regret it. Same can happen with studying a subject you embraced for the sake of a khandaani college. When your interest and passion lay elsewhere.
But like I said, it’s deeply individual. Few of us know our interests and passions to begin with. And so, we go with the flow. The IIT current is the strongest and we do not resist being swept away.
Accha yeh sab theek hai, but what about the job scene, you ask. What makes more sense from a placement point of view?
Well, here’s the deal. Practically every engineer – and not just from IIT but the top 200 colleges in India – can become a software engineer in a TCS, Wipro or Infy. Regardless of what branch of engineering they study.
But, there is an elite corps which is recruited by global corporations for R & D jobs. And these are the jobs that even IITians die for. To work for a Google, Adobe or Yahoo on new and emerging technologies. To be part of a team creating new products and not merely fixing, maintaining or coding.
There is keen competition for these jobs – there are only a handful are available and they pay handsomely. Top ranked IITians from ‘most wanted’ branches like Computer Science are preferred. But companies a,lso look favourably upon toppers from other institutes.
Sumit Sharan, an IIT KGP alumnus now working at Intel points out, "If you study Comp Science from BITS Pilani, IT-BHU or an NIT like Trichy or Suratkal and you really excel there (say be among the top 2-3% of the batch) then you have a good chance of catching up with the top ranked IITians in the companies where they work for or even in getting admissions to universities abroad".
"There is simply NO other way you can work for one of these top notch companies by studying Civil/ Metallurgy from IITs. You will end up working in one of the more normal companies where graduates from almost every college can work."
The top notch company could offer anywhere between Rs 6-12 lakhs as starting salary, while the ‘normal’ ones offer a more modest Rs 2-3 lakhs. But the catch is, you have to be a person who really knows and loves the subject. Google, for example, holds 6 rounds of interviews in which they really test the candidates fundas and ability to think out of the box.
But if you’re the square peg who fits their round hole, more power to you!
Taking a risk
And sometimes, it all boils down to taking a leap of faith. A considered risk. IIIT Hyderabad graduate Chandan Kumar took such a risk some years ago when he joined the fledgling institute.
He recalls, "My IIT rank was 2396. At this rank, I was getting only the dual degree courses in metallurgy etc. Roorkee was a good option then, and I would have got BTech in the third ranked stream – Electrical."
But, Roorkee was not an IIT then. When Chandan visited the Roorkee campus, it looked disappointing. IIIT, by contrast, had a new and exciting feel to it. "And the presentations made to us during the counselling were promising," he adds. "Although at that time, IIIT was not a deemed university, and they offered not B Tech but a 4-year diploma - the Graduate Diploma in Information Technology."
Yet the buzz on IIIT was very positive and Chandan recalls the ‘best rank’ from JEE who joined IIIT then was some 1600.
"We did not have sufficient faculty when I joined, but now IIIT can boast of world class faculty. Many of them are BTechs from IIT and Phd from good US universities. It has done and is doing some good research work in Comp Sc field".
Chandan was lucky - he may not even have made it to IIIT today. Because seats here are hot property now. And yet...
There is occasional self doubt. "A few years after I joined IIIT, when I heard about Roorkee getting the IIT status, I did regret for some time... I would have been an IIT-Alumni! The brand is so irresistible…"
Yaar, phir bhi…
So we will continue to see a lot of students who will go for the IIT brand name – no matter what. And they’re not entirely wrong. The brand has become larger than life.
Sumit Sharan, an IIT KGP alumnus advises low rankers to be ‘intelligent’ in their choice of branch at IIT. "I would recommend the person to go for a branch like Maths & Computing (it's an MSc 5 yr course offered at IIT-Kgp ) rather than Civil, Metallurgy, Mining in present times".
"Yes you won't be called an Engineer at the end of 4 years ...but with the current Indian job market that is hardly an impediment these days..."
Secondly, ‘closing rank’ last year should not be the only criteria for selecting a course. Prof Dheeraj Sanghi of IIT Kanpur’s Computer Science department points out that many new and exciting programs on offer are often missed by students. For example, IIT Kanpur has an MSc dual degree in Economics where you study engineering basics as well as eco fundas.
And yes, the example I used may be that of IIT but people face similar decision problems everywhere. In Delhi, many would study Geography in a St Stephens – just to be known as St Stephen’s alumnus. And far too many of us work for certain companies because the brand name makes us feel secure.
And that is the ‘smart’ thing to do, but you still have to make a choice work for you.
Lessons for life
Whether you marry the girl of your dreams or the one your family dreamt of. Whether you join the ‘ultimate’ branch or merely the ‘ultimate’ college.
You have to keep seeking and striving, learning and thriving. You can’t ever say, "Hey, I have arrived…"
And I may be wrong, but I do feel that the folks who consciously opt out of IIT in search of a ‘better branch’ at another institute may be doing better in life than those who decided to place all their eggs in the ‘brand name’ basket.
Because brand names open doors, but you can easily and comfortably get locked in. They names become a crutch, a substitute for individual excellence. An easy excuse to cruise along in low gear when you could be burning up the freeway of personal potential.
All that matters in the long run is how true you were to yourself. As Oscar Wilde once said, "Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry…"
Find yourself. Be yourself. Love yourself. Everything else will fall into place.
And yeah, this is motivational bullshit but you know what, the idea that an entrance exam or two at age 17 can make or break your future is horse manure. Use it - to fertilise your imagination!