Should I forget my engineering specialization for programming?
Professors helped me discover my sweet spot of manufacturing - Prof. KC Kalaichelvan, Prof R Kannan, Prof. Nagamani and more. I owe my success to them.
After I did my Masters in Production Engineering, I had an opportunity to join TCS for a software job, but I did not take it up.
My father had spoken to his friends and they all advised me to catch the IT wave. But my heart lay in big machines, making products, and a busy shop floor. I chose grease on my hands instead of a mouse and worked midnight shifts in an out-of-town factory, with Hindustan Motors instead.
Having seen different industry areas, I was aware of my passion and not ready to let go of it.
I guess I am a person who follows his passion, upon realising what it is.
When things are not yet clear, I decide by trying out, within a radius I define for myself and by doing.
One question after induction was, ‘What should I do at HM?
I tried out blue collar roles - operating machinery, driving forklifts, operating a crane. I tried out white collar roles - doing audits, quality checks, setting up manufacturing systems and processes.
I learnt, “Never hesitate to ask”. No matter how senior the other person is. If your intentions are good and authentic, someone will help you out.
I learnt, “Try out things”. Either you get the answer you are looking for. Or, in trying, you stumble upon a 3rd (or fourth) alternative that grabs you by the neck and does not let you go.
Both happened to me.
I found I enjoyed how technology was applied to manufacturing. So I started doing more of this.
Wanting to get more hands-on with technology applications, I landed a scholarship with NTU Singapore to do my Ph.D in robotics. I was simply trying to put myself on the cusp of what I was good at doing and what I enjoyed.
Alas, being a doer, a part of me perhaps felt that 5 years of academia was not for me. Rescue arrived from the GE R&D Centre.
I was visiting Bangalore during vacation and the JFWTC centre was getting inaugurated just then. I reached out to them out of curiosity and got hired instead. This put me squarely into applying technology to manufacturing and engineering roles - the eEngineering group.
In hindsight, if I had joined TCS straight out of college, I would probably have been an IT generalist in a services role by now. But because I stuck to manufacturing - my passion - the road led me to an expert’s positioning and better prospects in the technology space, for a niche industry.
Maybe, there is an insight here for recent graduates from Civil or Mechanical branches. Are you thinking of dropping your specialisation to start afresh in Computer Science because this is where the action is? Maybe you have a commerce background with a few years already invested?
It does not matter whether you opted for your specialisation or grew to love it over the ensuing preparation years. Some people fall in love and then get married. Some get married and then fall in love. Problems only occur when you are not in love.
If you love your specialisation but find that Computer Science is more lucrative, there is no need to start at the very beginning of the technology stack.
You can look for applications of tech in your own expertise area. Computerization, digitization, programming are now part of every industry, discipline and domain today.
My story taught me two things -
When you know what you want, then follow your heart.
When you don’t know, then set your own boundaries and do conscious exploration.
It is better to arrive at a decision post exploration rather than just going along with the flow. This way, you have no regrets about what else could have been possible.
This, too, speaks to not leaving your specialisation branch so easily, without doing a conscious exploration of possibilities first.
Here are some more decisions I made after exploration and trying out the waters tentatively first -
I did my MBA part-time from IIM Bangalore because I needed to widen my perspective, specifically on the Finance side, but not at the expense of dropping everything else. It gave me a totally new perspective to life as an add-on.
I loved writing. So I wrote blogs. This reinforced my intent to write a book. So I wrote a book after that. The book was an expanded form of one popular blog.
Because I loved both technology and writing, I took up an analyst's role with IDC Manufacturing Insights for a few years.
Today, I evangelise automotive and manufacturing technology at Infosys, in the thought leadership team of our Knowledge Institute. I write about new, emerging trends. Me and our team of experts do points-of-view and which way the industry is heading using primary and secondary research.
I do not know what is coming next for me. I do know, I will follow my heart, in the opportunity lane and within my radius of comfort :). When needed, I will explore consciously.