Motherhood: A privileged choice

In the last week of August the world woke up to a pleasant news. Indian power couple, actor and producer Anushka Sharma and celebrated cricketer Virat Kohli made an official announcement about their pregnancy. Pictures of a beaming Anushka with her baby bump and Virat spooning her, were all over the news.

The announcement

As a reaction to this news, a clever tweet by a young Indian girl stole the thunder away from the power couple, if only momentarily. The tweet read “Can Virat handle the captaincy once he is a father? Will he be able to focus on the job? Career ending move this”. The satirical 240 words became viral quickly after and were appreciated by women all over, who are constantly troubled with these irrelevant questions whenever they decide to embrace motherhood.

Even before the buzz around this tweet could settle down, we witnessed new posts by Kohli where he could be seen practicing in the nets, declaring his happiness of being back on the field for the IPL Tournament in UAE. Meanwhile Anushka has also started posting her pictures in awe of the natural process of bringing life in this world.

It was then that it struck me that no matter how much we fight about the unequal division of responsibilities or the societal expectations with respect to motherhood and parenting, ultimately the biological role division cannot be ignored.

The nine months ensuing the birth of a baby are the most important days in a woman’s life. A woman has to slow down and take good care of herself. This is not to offend the ones who carry on with usual vigor. She has to give her body a congenial environment to nurture the being inside. These are some of the motherly roles that cannot be done away with, one of them being breast feeding. But the social responsibilities of child rearing are definitely man made and conveniently thrust upon women in a very unequal manner.

My mother embracing motherhood with pride

This reminds me of an interview of our home grown Hyderabad tennis champion Sania Mirza with a senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai. While the occasion was the release of a biography of the tennis star, Mr. Sardesai ended up asking Sania when she was planning to settle sown – aka – have babies and retire from the sport. Trained in the art of answering problematic sexist questioning, an agitated Sania lashed out at the journalist asking him, why he didn’t consider her settled, despite all her achievements. Sania did mention later that being a woman she was used to such questions and no amount of Wimbledon wins is ever sufficient for the society, unless the woman decides to have a baby.

Sardesai realizing his mistake did apologize soon after on national television, but his problematic question is a mere reflection of the embedded belief systems of our society. It is a notion ingrained in us that a woman is incomplete without motherhood and that motherhood cannot be enjoyed unless it is a full time job.

The interview

The problem lies in the outlook. When we look at the concept of bearing kid/s for a woman as a sacrifice, we often override her freedom of making the choice of motherhood; of wanting to be a part of the process of continuation of life. I feel that motherhood can be spoken of more as a choice and a privilege.

Modern parents now consider parenting a carefully considered decision taken only by mature couples. Some of us fear parenting as the end of personal space and freedom. The obsession around one’s babies often gives the impression of loss of personal life. After bearing a kid and having closely observed parents around me, I have realized the conflict is based more on the outlook towards parenting, parent roles and work division. It is only when you give up the need to obsess over this new member that that parenthood begins to feel like less of a mental load and more of an intimate and joyous experience.

Sania proved the journalist and the society wrong on both counts. She did have a baby boy later in 2019 and has ever since been the epitome of working moms balancing both her career as a professional tennis player and as a happy mother. Unknowingly so, she inspires mothers like me and many more regularly.

A rare glimpse of sane motherly moments

I intend to look at motherhood with less guilt and with more pride – one that comes with free choice and privilege. I am a mother to a toddler and my life around my kid each day gives me immense happiness. Am I making choices everyday – Yes? Am I sacrificing my personal life at the altar of her upbringing – No!

Be an impressive presenter

The month of October is almost ending and one can feel the nip in the air. My fast paced mornings are gradually slowing, I owe it to the balmy winter sun. The days are lazy and sun sets earlier paving way for longer nights. One such evening I shuffled my movie playlist and watched Rocket Singh-Salesman of the year.

There is a particular scene in the movie where the protagonist is asked to sell a ball point pen and he convinces the consumer to buy the lid of the pen, ultimately making the consumer realize the indispensable need to buy a pen. No, this is not a movie review!

I am going to discuss the power of effective salesmanship.

Salesmanship that I discuss with you in this write up is about selling ideas. As an engineering student both at the undergraduate and post graduate level, I have observed that presentations are a pivotal part of the degree.

The B.tech curriculum begins by introducing professional communication in the first year. Several parts of the coursework like seminar labs focus on improving the speaking skills of the students. In the final year, students appear for more than one project presentations. In the Masters, a student has to submit a minor project in the first year and in the final year an elaborate sessions of presentations are lined up right from the selection of the dissertation topic to the final result demonstration culminating into a power-point presentation on the submission day. This process of project justification before a panel of teachers becomes arduous and meticulous if one plans to apply for a PhD (A doctorate). I will however limit my experience sharing until M.Tech.

It is therefore obvious that possessing decent presentation skills by any student is indispensable. However, this skill is never taught religiously and it is assumed that a student who has knowledge will be able to defend the topic he / she presents.

One can blame it on the lack of individual attention given by the teachers or a weak foundation laid from school, owing to which many students develop a cold feet when it comes to standing and speaking confidently in front of a bunch of teachers.

I will agree that public speaking is an art and not everyone likes to be in the limelight. However, if you are lucky and evade opportunities to present in college, based on any of your own reasons, the workplace you will still demand you to display this skill set.

Let me throw some light on the usefulness of this trait at my workplace. As a lecturer and Asst. Professor in an academic institute, it is imperative to be a good presenter, after all it is you who signed up to stand in front of at-least 40 students every day. The teachers are often appointed to host any college level event and participating in training sessions or FDPs is mostly compulsory.

My husband as a speaker- Family that speaks well stays well

I spoke to few of my industry friends to know more about this and how a student with polished presentation skills always has an edge. I was told, in the corporate, initially the team-leads and managers conduct training but as time progresses newbies are expected to share and present ideas pertaining to their assigned projects. Sooner or later even the ones with inhibitions learn and work on themselves to survive in the job.https://curlzspeak.com/2020/10/30/be-an-impressive-presenter/

I would like to mention some of the basic points to give a good first impression before the presentation even begins:

  1. Dress up well and according to the event.
  2. Smile because it emanates cordial vibes.
  3. Keep notes handy to avoid fumbling midway.
  4. Prepare slides with pointers rather than long paras.
  5. Practice thoroughly preferably in front of a mirror.
My sister as a stand up comic-Not all presentations have to be serious

Let us discuss how to deliver a great presentation:

  1. Confidence: This is one of the most sought after trait for public speaking. I have attended so many sessions where a confident speaker is taken more seriously by the audience.
  2. Tune in your jitters: It is completely okay to be nervous when one is addressing to a large audience. The best way to get over it, is to channelize it into enthusiasm and assume that the audience does not know much about the topic. Trust me, it has worked for me many a times.
  3. Engage the audience: it is a good practice to prepare presentation slides with images and graphs. The pictorial representation is easier to build on as a speaker and it grabs more attention of the audience.
  4. Alter voice modulation: I know we are talking about academic presentation skills but it is important to change the tone and pitch in between. The monotony of a power-point presentation can be done away by pausing and putting out questions midway. For example, during one of my research paper submissions which talked about fingerprint and biometrics, I asked my audience if they had ever paid attention to the patterns on their fingers. Instantly most of them started looking at their fingers and compared it with the diagrams I had described in a slide.
  5. Give relevant updated information: The academic topics during presentations appear too technical and most of the time the panelist lose interest. It also happens when the speaker tries to cover too much material especially in a technical jargon. A good approach is to research current news around your topic and include it in your delivery to get more validation.
Yours truly in her elements

The internet is at our feet today, use it to your advantage. Participate through events like toast-masters, watch chat shows, read good books. Keep hustling.

It does not matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert, when your job demands you will eventually learn what is needed because that is exactly how everyone grows professionally.

And lastly, get over your inhibitions and take risks, as Rocket Singh says, “Risk toh Spiderman ko bhi lena padta hai, main toh phir bhi salesman hoon” (Even Spiderman has to take risks whereas I am just a salesman)

Decode the coder in your baby. Really!

This week I got myself some “me” time and used it to catch up with Netflix. I watched the movie, Serious Men after being reminded that I had read the book, based on a novel of the same name by Manu Joseph.

The premise of the movie was how a man who was raised in a poor slum, craves for a respectable and high class life. In his pursuit to change the lifestyles for his future generations, he spins a web of lies risking his son.

Somewhere deep inside, the movie did hit a chord. Ever since I became a parent, I have not been able to resist the temptation of comparing my kid to those of others. I may not be the only one who aspires to see her child excel in life. In lieu of this aspiration, we as a parents end up giving them everything that can fasten their growth.

So when I came across the unavoidable advertisements on the internet and TV screens about emerging opportunities for kids aged from 6-14 to learn coding, the parent in me was delighted. I will sheepishly admit my selfish motive here. During my engineering, coding would often give me restless nights and days. I was friends with some of the brightest coders of the class and it took me a while to get a hang of this hard skill. Therefore my joy at such commercials with parents flaunting about buyers fighting for their kid’s coded projects was beyond usual ecstasy.

I sat down to explore the working mechanism of these classes, assuming my baby was still too small to get admission. It stated a rough structure of 50-150 classes with one on one interaction between the student and teacher. Buzzwords like chatbots, machine learning and space activities were eye catching to say the least. The package would amount to 1lakh with instant support from teachers and relation teams to deal with any uncertainty.

This is the biggest loophole of modern parenting. In the name of interactive and fun learning, they are selling us their business. While I am at the age of 30 making efforts to limit my screen time, here I am looking for ways to turn my child into a screen Zombie. Really!!

My brother is not a big fan of Indian parenting, for he believes it is overly protective and suffocating. His idea of parenting is based on his leisure reads and not so successful parenting he has witnessed around colleagues and their families. He reiterates letting go of the clutches. The idea behind letting the kid into not so common territories, is that a child in his developing years has the power to grasp most and can quickly learn any skill.  He casually cites Taimur who is already learning Spanish at 4. I however will refrain because I am yet to throw my 2 year old in a pool and see for myself, if a baby is actually a natural swimmer as touted by everyone on the internet. This can be tricky!

I will however admit that this lockdown has been hard on parents. On one hand, there is the luxury of being around with your baby 24*7 and therefore make up on all the lost time, but at the same time it is about managing home and work with a baby/children by your side. The biggest challenge for most of us has been to keep our babies busy. The younger ones especially demand lot more attention. I think this attention at a tender age is what molds their minds. The growing years for a child have the most impact on their developing brains.

As a parent, we know what is best for our kids and comparing them with other kids will only restrict their personal growth journey. It is thus the responsibility of us parents to see the hidden picture behind such business models and make our own decisions.

The idea of childhood should be more about exploring and developing interests. It should be about giving our kids a blank canvas where they can paint anything and everything under the sun.

Coding is hard and it takes time and effort to get it right. A simple drag and drop from a panel for a small child is in no way generating curiosity. It is perhaps mentally pressurizing for the kid. In the long run, it is turning us parents over-ambitious by giving us never ending hopes.

The current scenario of education is no doubt unprecedented. Home schooling has become the new normal. The demand for academic guidance has risen and it is thus easier for various online edu-techs to come up with innovative business ideas. I have no personal grudges against them. I will agree if somebody tells me that a Byju’s class may be helpful to a class 9th student, or the teaching opportunities presented through Unacademy might be a boon to those who are home bound, or the technical courses at Udemy may be aiding in refreshing concepts for friends looking to enhance their resume or the Vedantu app could possibly be the go to query solver for many young students.

My only concern is obsessive parenting and falling prey to herd mentality without considering the aptitude of your child.

While I am at it, my husband comes to me with a news clip reporting DU cutoff is 100% this year, he casually slides in his parental concern, “Where do you think our kid will stand a chance?” My reply to him is simply this, “Our child will do well in life irrespective of her place in this usual mad race for success, as long as she knows what she wants and puts her 100% into it.”

Financial Independence for Mommies

It is often quoted that children’s mind are like ‘wet cement’, whatever falls on them makes an impression. One such impression was made on me by my school teacher. One day in school, while our chemistry teacher was reprimanding for not studying well for a test, she told us about the importance of being an independent woman. She said to achieve this independence, we had to be sincere in academics. This is true especially for women who hail from humble backgrounds – a good education for most is one of the only ways of securing their idea of success. She pressed on the point that she drove her own car and no one could question her about the money she spent on fuel! She was financially independent and therefore free from the clutches of external accountability that comes with an “allowance”.

Over the years, the value of money has only increased. This is not to say that money is the only driving force, but it is definitely one of the most important weapons to secure freedom.  

This week’s piece therefore is my take on the value of being financially independent. An economically sound women can lead a happy life when she can live on her own without the support of any external aids which are mainly friends and families. Independence can mean different things to different women, but the basic would mostly be the right to live life on their terms and conditions. Unfortunately, the comparative analysis of gender role distributions with respect to money have always been more in the favor of men.

Let us see how.

I will take care of the money, you don’t have to worry!

This is the most heard line by a 90’s kid where the parental duties were pre-defined. The father of the family was always (more often than not) the bread winner and his roles were directed towards ensuring financial security for his loved ones. The mother on the other hand acted as a balancing wheel of the vehicle and was in-charge of the household. This deep rooted perception prevented most housewives from contributing to the financial needs of the family. The lack of exposure in money matters led to women being more reliant on men for their money based needs. It also put men under the undue pressure of necessarily having to be the provider – irrespective of their choices or interest. But that is a discussion for another blog.

Back to women!

This brings me to the anecdote of an ex colleague, who I remember as a fiercely independent minded and inspiring woman. Her parents gave her the best education and after completing her professional education, she started working at an IT company and was doing well for herself. Some years later, she got married and because the husband had a transferable job, she decided to call it quits. Ten years in the marriage, when she had settled in her comfort zone with an earning husband and a doting five year old daughter, life had other plans. Her husband expired untimely and she was caught off-guard. I remember her telling me that even though her husband had planned well for the future and had all insurances in place, she had no clue how to avail them. It took her a while to gather herself and sail through some of the toughest years of her life. Eventually she got on her feet and today with her daughter who has completed her graduation, she is leading a good life. She also advised me how important it was to be financially informed.

 It is unfortunate that women take the money seriously, only after they are confronted with tragedies!

Maybe this is how the world was twenty years back? Have things changed? A little maybe, but not much. Till date women, even the ones that are in jobs and taking home hefty packages are dependent on their husbands for financial planning.

The women who stand out as more financially independent are either the ones that were raised in business families (where they learnt the tricks of trade early on by being around their Dads), or my young unmarried friends who are leading self-sufficient lives without a care for the society that continues to deem them incomplete without marriage. Another set is that of single moms, who for the lack of any other option, have got their finances figured out perfectly to lead a normal life without a life partner by their side.

To those of us who do not fall in any of the above categories, there is a reason why we should pull our socks. It is the same reason that makes men who as young boys learn to drive through causal lessons from their friends and fathers. These men then take on the compulsive role of ferrying everyone around and are assumed more responsible. Too bad we don’t get any credits when we do the same with cooking. But I digress. The reason is that this “skill-set” is important and we do not have an option to not know this. Women also need to work with the same psychology. In liberal times like today’s women are in no way less than men, professionally and emotionally – perhaps more sound. It is therefore imperative for us to learn to make ourselves more active in finance management and move on from mere grocery shopping and monthly budget management.

To my fellow mommies who have happily embraced motherhood, it becomes even more important to plan our finances after the addition of a new member. Involve yourself with your partners to know where and how the cash flows. Learn how to invest your savings for your baby as well for healthcare. Leaving your kid(s) home for work might be a personal choice, but do not stop exploring ways to make money. Most mothers discover their entrepreneurial streak when they stay away from work for an unexpected period. Be daring and ambitious in your endeavors. Mothers who contribute to the family finances are seen as strong willed individuals by both the kids and the husband, as they work for improving the quality of life.

I zeroed down on some basics to begin with:

1.  Make sure you have a say in the home budget. Beyond kitchen

2. Partake in family decisions about big purchases and loans

3. Plan your personal annual budget

4. Learn to file your own IT return

5. Insurance policies – Get all papers in one place. Know what you own.

6. Make financial goals.

All information on the above is just one click away- Google it! Don’t squirm. Just click.

The inspiration to earn can vary from one woman to another but one of the motivations is mostly – to be financially secure. This security becomes even better when it comes with the knowledge and ability to manage of your finances.

Toppling work-life balance in Corona times!

Social and emotional intelligence are crucial soft skills. Are the ones in the top management displaying these traits enough?

I am generally good with dates and rarely miss out wishing friends and family. But the current times are not as conducive for my memory. As usual technology comes to the rescue. A social media account, this morning, notified me about the birthday of a dear friend.

My thought bubble concocted a happy imagery of his day beginning with his kids jumping over the fluffy mattresses, dressed in their baby panda night suits Afternoon must have been spent cooking and baking together, while the evening I assumed was a fancy sit out arrangement with high tea. Finally in the night, once the kids were off to bed, both the husband wife with their wine glasses cozied up to each other and watched a rom com to mark the end to a perfect birthday date.

Unfortunately, for my friend, the birth day this year was unexpectedly busy. I am not saying it has to be the mattress advertisement that I was imagining but it was even far from a normal day. His day started with attending a conference call with an unplanned international client. The remaining day was all about drafting emails, coordinating zoom calls and updating senior management about the progress. So much so that his meals were at the same desk where he had set up his work station.

My friend is a part of the computer based internet-enabled tech world and has been religiously working from home since April. Clearly embracing this working style as the new normal. The positive part of the lockdowns, being locked with families was interpreted as spending quality time with dear ones. But did that really happen for anyone?

This pandemic period has faded the working class concept of 9 to 5.Let me add that this conventional timing has extended to 09:00 am to 09:00 pm and beyond. The work from home arrangement was meant to be a reprieve from these strict timings but lo and behold it has given rise to the never ending work hours. Which clearly means, no one gets to hear these soothing words anymore, “Let us all call it a day and see you tomorrow!

According to an article published in Harvard Business Review, emotional intelligence is one of the most sought after soft skills that a leader should display. The inter-personal and intra-personal skills of the top management play vital to the success of an organization. Yet in these tough times, sustainability of the business is prioritized over emotional well-being of the individual work force. The employees give in to the demands for they fear being laid off and derive sadistic pleasure when they witness many of their peers struggling professionally.

The question then we all should ask is, “Why is it so difficult for the employers to show empathy for their employees?” I sat down to research about these behavioral traits and stumbled across a broader term, social intelligence. As per a write up on Socialigence, “Social intelligence is described as the ability of a person to tune into other people’s emotions and read the subtle behavioral cues to choose the most effective response in a given situation”. This attribute was best displayed by the HR managers during the pre-Covid era (another world all-together) where several casual attempts for rejuvenation were laid out to ease the mental pressure on the employees. In the current scenario, companies are exploiting the idea of “more is less”, all at the cost of invading the personal time and space of its employees!

I will statistically back up my writing by putting out the findings made by LinkedIn’s Work Force Confidence Index which said, every two in five professionals in India worry about their long working works while working remotely. Over 36% of the 994 workers who responded to them, agreed to an imbalance in their personal and professional lives. The fear of under achieving in a WFH setup dreaded the 27%. The number of women workers has dropped to one-fourth, prioritizing childcare at home. The report also notifies rising cases of depression due to social isolation and feeling of loneliness in workers who lived all by themselves. Sigh!

A positive spin on the scenario is the action of Jacinda Arden, the Prime Minister of New Zealand who enforced total lockdown as early as the 4th day from the day corona cases were first reported in the country, curtailing the rise. I am sure she received criticism for taking the extreme step. This was especially done at a time when the other part of the world belittled the growing menace. We need more leaders like her who value human life over amassing fiscal revenues and profits.

How India struggles with work during the pandemic

As a counter argument, some said Ms. Jacinda was successful because the population of New Zealand is considerably low compared to a developing nation like ours, India. This was also one of the reasons implementing a lockdown took us longer. Once it did happen, the financial stability of the common men went for a toss. It was only then that the empathy and sensitivity of those who fired tons of employees in a jiffy to retain their businesses, was revealed as dis-ingenuous. The current times have highlighted this lack of emotional intelligence in the human race. How did we as a society fall apart so easily?

The pandemic continues to be a threat for an uncertain period. The future of the working class dangles mid-air. While money will always be a primary concern, one should not overlook the rising stress levels in employees. There is a need to alter policies in favor of the employees. Strategize and invest in the mental well-being of your people.

And for all of us grinding under the pressure, remember – “this too shall pass”.

What’s a healthy baby?

Chubby babies are great. But dare you grow up to be that!

The media obsessed Taimur and Inaaya

She has just turned seven months old. That’s lesser time outside than she spent inside. Husband and I step out for the mandatory vaccination ritual. As I enter the cubicle, the fellow assistant carries her away for the body weight and height check. The doctor is gearing up to perform his medical precision, with a syringe that has the vaccine oozing out its mouth, signaling the accuracy of the procedure. The needle pinches my little one and she cries out loud, making her displeasure known. The mother in me cringes at her pained plight but secretly thanks God that it is her and not me, for needle pricks are one of the most terrifying forms of treatment ever.

The doctor assigns the date for the next vaccination drill and turns to me to check if I have any query. I am reminded of a short chat with a neighbor the previous afternoon. Assuming that my baby must have been bored looking at the same face since morning, I stood with her on my shoulder in our balcony which is structurally aligned to the next flat, so much so that we often end up borrowing cheeni ki katori (sugar bowl) over the chajja (parapet wall). Our quiet me (us) time staring silently into the peace is interrupted by a salaam from a neighbor. The septuagenarian lady pours her love for the baby and asks me, “kitna mahine k hai baccha” (how old is the baby?). My response to her gets me an instant worried feedback “dubla hai” (she is thin).

Too early to worry

My kid is about 1.5 years old now and I have lost count of the number of times I have been subjected to such unsolicited comments. It usually starts with a casual compliment about her eyes; then gradually escalates to the body weight. Be it a close friend who questions me about my diet and advises me to double my calorie intake or the extended family that make jokes on how both husband and I, have put on weight and neglected the baby. There is always this conversation. There are also some upfront comments from friends asking, as if, as a matter of right, “why is the baby so weak?” Ugh!

Child rearing is a very personal journey. I am yet to come across any parent who sleeps without worrying for their little one. Each child is different and parenting is a challenging task with new hurdles in each phase. For a first time mother, the delirium of breastfeed over a formula feed or vice versa is a vicious circle. Yet, in our society passing innocuous comments is deep rooted. People who make such fleeting comments believe in passing on their hearsay parenting wisdom without being asked for.

Body shaming is real. It starts at infancy. A child who in his/her childhood is considered socially acceptable with his/her pudgy hands and drooping cheeks aka cute, becomes heavy in the eyes of the same society, when he/she is 10. The parents are asked to increase his/her physical activities. Suggestions of enrollment into athletic classes and keeping a check on the food intake start to pour from all corners. If this child happens to be a girl then her posterior frame becomes a public property for local aunties to comment on. Is it not sad that as a society we have set standards for the body – which also conveniently keep changing for every stage of life!

Playing is fun as long as it is not forced

It is not a surprise that young kids especially girls grow up and develop image issues. It starts as early as primary school days and goes on forever. This is the sad reality of our society where most people in the name of concern and friendly banter often cross the line.

Thankfully, my doctor is sane. He puts out the medical science in simpler words. Every child has a body type that is mostly determined by the genes that he/she carries. Some kids eat more but never put on enough weight while some others grow up just fine despite limited and fussy intake. The red flags during the early years of a child are iron, hemoglobin or calcium deficiency. Compulsory calcium supplements for bone development and a check on overall nutrition is therefore important. As long as the birth weight of a baby doubles in the first six months, and triples in the first year, there is nothing more that should worry a parent. Major milestones of development; crawling, sitting, walking and running need medical intervention only if delayed beyond the average timeline; the reasons and cure then, known best to the doctor.

Only if Google had the answer !

Doctors will repeat this over and over again. You may choose to hear this if it’s your own baby. Perhaps ignore when calling out the little one of your neighbor’s. Because – Why not! (Society evil grin)

Accept

A simple piece of advice that I’d like to give to my daughter is to grow up mentally strong and fiercely independent. She should strive for a healthy and active lifestyle. The body shaming comments – which, let’s be real she will face in one form or another – should not cause any dent to her personality. She should treat any individual more for their personal beliefs and ideas and not for their mere physical appearances. Not to mention – all body types are normal and fine. Body shaming is wrong at all levels, let us not make it sound okay, even it is for a baby.

Internships- Be a trained professional

It was a regular day in one of our college days, we were busy chatting about the new movie that had released that weekend. Our plans to bunk the second half of the classes for the same movie were interrupted when the professor entered the class and announced a surprise test. Thus began the question and answer session.

We were all seated in tandem and I am sure most of us started calculating the time it would take for our turn. I remember this one particular scene so vividly. The teacher questioned this guy, “Give an explanatory example defining the concept of deadlock”. While the tense atmosphere clearly stated that we all were racking our brains trying to recall printer, process R1, process R2 for the accurate bookish definition, a student had a better answer. He said deadlock is when you apply for a job and they want work experience and for the experience, you should have a job. The grim silence in the room erupted with roars of laughter and the lecture ended.

This I believe is one of the major flaws of some of our professional courses; lack of exposure to work environment!

When my sister went to pursue law, her summer breaks were about interning at reputed law offices and learning the legalities in the law chambers. The grind of applying for 4 to 6 weeks of internships made her improvise her resume year after year, until she finally got placed in a well-known organization.

On the other hand, as an engineering student from the CS/IT branch, our breaks in summers and winters were more about learning coding and their application into developing software under the headline ‘project’. These coding classes were not any different than what we could have learnt back in college but the lack of professors in helping us trouble shoot the codes made us fall for learning options outside the classrooms. The projects that most of us learnt and prepared were devoid of capturing innovative ideas. Some conventional projects that had been presented then by the students and that I continue to evaluate 10 years later as a teacher, are online shopping and online examination system. Sigh!

This is not to say that things were always so lack lustrous in our study circle. I have studied under some genuinely student oriented teachers who made efforts in introducing us to the updated technologies. One such teacher in my M.Tech assigned us projects to develop an android app which could run effectively on any android mobile device. Thanks to the teacher I and my batch mates got our creative juices running. Later our resumes fared better in grabbing job profiles for having the practical knowledge of ADT (Android Development Toolkit). Therefore, as an engineer from the Computer Science field, I think the syllabus needs to evolve with the change in technology.

Some of my batch mates who had ambitious future plans opted to apply for developer positions in smaller IT companies, where they believed chances of learning are manifold. Their strong hold on coding skills can be attributed to the variety of projects they had worked on during the course through internships.

The other day I was watching a YouTube video about the fear of coding in students. The speaker presented a survey detailing the inability of the students to crack coding jobs in the industry. To those students, I instantly felt the urge to educate about various other possibilities of the CS/IT engineering branch. The job market is full of different profiles apart from developer posts that they can apply for, but blame it on the lack of knowledge, most students take a back seat and doubt their technical potential.

The lab sessions and lab file submissions

This by the way is what internships can teach us. A four year course is merely laying down the foundation, it should aim at generating curiosity in the young minds and should not make engineering degree the be-all and end-all.

I got in touch with some of my students who are now well settled in jobs. Since I had never undergone any internship program, except for the on job training at TCS, I approached them for a different perspective. According to them an internship or a short stint in the real job market has many advantages. Working under industry mentors makes students understand the real demands of the industry. It helps one to find their area of interest. For Ajay, coding always gave him sleepless nights but he discovered his love for graphics and design while interning. Another student Shweta wrote to me about her understanding of SRS (a software document signed in the beginning by both client and the developer) when she prepared a running project amidst deadline pressures. Raghav responded how a short time with a digital marketing team generated his interest in the same and he went on to learn and master SEO and got a job owing to his work experience. Prakhar stated that had he not interned, he would have never explored the crucial role of the testing phase in the software development lifecycle.

Training days at TCS

Many students will report their biggest grievance of college life, the unrealistic attendance criteria, it restricts them to apply for internships which need physical presence. However, there are many students who work on freelancing projects. I had a student in one of my classes who prepared good quality posters for the literary fests based on his knowledge of Photoshop software. He once mentioned to me about his earnings from working on online projects, right at the comfort of his hostel room. The figure he made out of his work was an added incentive which is why many students opt for internships remotely.

I am listing down some of the websites and portals which can help in finding good internships.

  1. Internshala.com
  2. Linkedin.in
  3. Letsintern.com

Several websites that offer technical know-how with clarity are:

  1. Geeksforgeeks
  2. GitHub
  3. W3Schools
  4. Codeacademy
  5. Quaster.substack.com

Apart from these the students can apply at the summer training programs offered by top colleges across the country.

This blog is my attempt as a mentor, to educate students about the idea of exploring their professional potential through internships. As Steve Jobs once said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”


Engineering Enigma

My last blog received mixed feedback. While some agreed that I had objectively highlighted the loopholes of the course, a few friends from my engineering days, were not too pleased. According to them, I had generalized the engineering diaspora. I therefore decided to write further, to continue the conversation and also to make my intentions clear. After all, we’re all on the same side.

I remember when I was in college, a bunch of mechanical engineering students had made a small prototype of a car for the tech fest at IIT Kanpur. These students had meticulously applied the theoretical knowledge to use. That car till date makes it to the pages of the yearly admission brochures. Another feather added to the cap of our engineering college was the debate competition trophy that was bagged a year after by the students from my own batch. Then, there was this student who bagged the first prize in a similar elocution event that was held at Thomso, the cultural and tech fest of IIT Roorkee. The point is simple, in any educational institute the students are presented with umpteen opportunities beyond the regular curriculum to go and prove themselves.

The problem I see is the reluctance of the students who are unable to put in the efforts in the right directions and therefore fail to even identify their areas of interest. Let me tune in your attention to the engineering crowd. If we go back in time, two decades ago, the craze for engineering courses was at its peak. Lakhs of students appeared for the competitive examinations and opted from the different branches to pursue their dream of engineering. The impetus that lured many into this degree was booming corporate job opportunities. If in the year 2002, you were decently good at Math and Physics, Engineering was a default choice for higher education. It is a fact that there are lesser bars and gatekeepers to your entry into engineering. If you remember, until recently medical and legal professions were dominated by richer folks due to factors such as steep course fees and the class divide.

Scene from KOLAHAL

The result was, students from diverse backgrounds  who cleared the entrance exams got admission in reputed engineering colleges, which by the way were mushrooming at an unprecedented rate. Young kids from Bihar, Benaras, Gorakhpur and many more such states, found a home away from home in these courses and the offering colleges. Several colleges especially in Delhi NCR have catered to the engineering dreams of many such students who otherwise would have been stuck back home with limited and under quality courses.

I am a firm believer in the potential of an individual. The years spent during graduation provide the necessary impetus to discover it on your own. As an engineer by education, I feel like it is my time to pay back. And therefore, I find interacting with students and being a lecturer more satisfying than my previous job as a systems engineer.

Not so candid posing and endless conversations

To begin with, let us focus on the positive takeaways of the engineering courses. The best form of learning is on display during the annual fests across the engineering colleges. Students take charge from arranging sponsors to the setting up of pandals and also with respect to allotting stalls to food caterers. Students sit and religiously ideate innovative events that can make the fest enjoyable and interesting. Preparations around the events for technical, cultural and sports events are simple planning hacks that students master here. In our institute, Kolahal (name of the fest) was the time of festivities. It gave us an opportunity to explore the various departments and be a part of the interesting contests. I remember participating in a debate competition and meeting students from different colleges. It is a great way to learn how to network, which by the way becomes a life-saving skill as we grow professionally.

When my friends and I started the regular classes, our ideas of college was modelled on the Kuch Kuch Hota Hai curated image of a cool campus, with a bunch of Rahuls showcasing dangling pendants over their neon sweat-shirts; and a hipster Anjali for friends. Not to forget the life goals on love, life and fashion given by Tina. That impression did not last long. College was less glamorous, compared to that standard, saner and we were expected to also study! I must add our version of college was just as colorful but in our own realistic way.

Forever yours, kind of frames

We had students from different cities and varied financial backgrounds. The level of intellect and approach also varied. My friends and I set out judging students who were low lying, mostly into themselves and termed them the third world. Now I understand that those people were just introverts and we were being harsh on them because they wouldn’t chat about like us. All of these introverts are also doing well in life. Some had cleared government exams and are posted at high ranks, while some are in different countries utilizing their onsite opportunities. Cementing our belief that every student has talent to make a mark for him/herself.

The four year course of engineering gives us a lot of time to work on our skills. Long lab sessions are designed to be conducted in the second half of the day. Teachers are around to guide the student, however students mostly vile away this time. One of these days in college, we decided to bunk a physics test. Later the teacher reprimanded the class for the careless stunt. He made us have a look around his piles of handwritten and printed research papers. He mentioned how in his days, he had so much to ask but had no guidance, while pointing out that it was a shame that despite being served on a platter, we did not value our teachers. Till date I look back to that day and think about how true those words were.

I am reminded of a chemistry lab session in the first year where one of our professors mentioned that do not falter below 60%, an engineer with a lesser score is nobody in the job market. Later, I realized the importance of marks when I applied for an internship at IIT Delhi and it got rejected because I had not scored enough to qualify for the same. Having said that, the average scoring students of my batch managed to get placed in big IT companies and are earning well today.  The lesson I take is, in these four years, experiment and explore. You will never realize what your goals are unless you are rejected. The rejection will give you real life lessons.

Been there done that

No one can deny the vast curriculum. Some subjects need more attention than others. I picked up some last minute study tricks from the non-topper batch mates.  In first year, we were appearing for the EVS (Environmental Studies) exam and a bunch of classmates who had not prepared, came rushing looking for important topics to get through, I obviously obliged. Later, when the answer sheets were shown, the same students had scored more than me. I felt betrayed. Jokes apart, focus on core subjects. Channelize your efforts in the right direction.

The four years in the college will make for the best times, meeting new people, making new friends. Those long sleepless nights before the exams, the high pitched calls for last chai (tea) fill ups in the hostel dorms. Long hours of trouble shooting, coding and un-coding projects, lively banters in the canteens, blowing off candles over those simple pineapple flavored birthday cakes, bunking lectures to enjoy the weather, sneaking into the libraries for some air conditioning. Accidentally walking over the love birds in their romantic corners, partying over bittersweet breakups with drinks (strictly soft drinks) and sad songs and many more are memories worth looking back to.

Some joyous moments from those days

Needless to say that my life in the engineering college has been a beautiful journey. As a mentor, I wish to make my students aware of these hidden pros of the course. I wish to make these years into synchronized melodies, that they love to hear over and over again after they graduate.

Are engineers dorks!

The prime time news are back, focusing on the rising cases of Corona in the country, though some of the over sensational news panelists are still stuck in investigating the unfortunate death of a movie star. Our GDP has plummeted like never before and yet in these peculiar times; cooking, Netflix and video calls with friends and family is keeping us sane. So it all started when I spoke to a friend who is going to touch 30 soon and cannot find herself the right matrimonial match. We chat once in a month and her concern ever since her birthday is, I only get engineers matching with my profile. What surprised me was, that she herself is a software engineer currently working as a team lead in a top MNC. When I questioned her disliking for the same, her response was, “Engineers are dorks!”

I have done my Bachelors and Masters in Engineering and do I consider myself a silly, out of touch or socially unfit individual? Not anymore. However I have been around batch mates who were geeks and back in those days me and my friends also tagged them uncool.

The board that listed the engineering success stories

This takes me to one of the days back in college where we had a pre-placement talk scheduled by Accenture. The speaker sensed the nervousness of the hall which was packed with almost 300 engineering students. He casually mentioned, “I am a Bong and I hope you guys serve roshugullas in your college canteen”. The hall remained still except for few murmurs. He instantly asked the coordinating students standing next to him, “Do you not give them newspapers? I don’t think they know who Bongs are?” I still cringe thinking what impression of engineers he took back.

To understand the boring perception, allow me to give you a bird’s eye view of the engineering curriculum. B.Tech is an extensively laid out 4 year course divided into 8 semesters. The distribution of the coursework follows as, three core subjects relating to one’s specialization, two management subjects and two labs for practicing data structuring. To ease the understanding, most universities prescribe tutorial classes for two of the core subjects. A compulsory addition to these are the grooming classes assigned in the first half of Saturday.  When I sat down to discuss these figures with an engineer friend from JNU, we realized it all comes down to a weekly distribution of 4 hrs for each subject + 2 hrs for lab sessions + 2 misc. I will leave the Maths for you to calculate the yearly efforts a student is bound to put in. Not to forget the pressure to complete assignments and Lab tutorials by the professors. Phew!!

The horrid tales of trailing backlogs from seniors in core subjects like Data Structures, Automata and Networking added to mental agony. Thus leaving limited time for budding engineers to explore anything beyond those thick books and reels of xeroxed notes.

The reality of professional courses

Some of my batch mates were brilliant in the execution of codes and maneuvered into high paying Govt. jobs. My sister who worked in NTPC, which is seen as a highly revered and most desired company for an engineer, she had an awkward encounter with a fellow engineer. She mentioned to me, how engineer guys felt uncomfortable conversing with the female colleagues. The laid out curriculum of the B.Tech produces some exceptional technocrats who display their fair share of technical expertise but it also leaves a void in their personality which becomes obvious when they come across situations that they have not been prepared for. The engineering education set-up year after year doles out socially awkward technocrats.

Probably I should create a separate blog detailing this awkwardness. Maybe the next one where I can share some real stories with you.

The past two decades had seen an overwhelming response for the B.tech courses. Students from variety of regional and educational background jumped onto the wagon. However, lack of proper infrastructure and the inability to give promising job opportunities resulted in slowing this mad race of producing human resources who had half-baked skills and were termed as technical clerks.

The one from the yearly magazine

Most colleges pay undivided attention to hiring well experienced lecturers to give their students sound technical knowledge. Many of them like the college I graduated from, conducted weekly PDP (Personality Development) classes for the needed grooming and training. The students did not appreciate these classes and they were mostly bunked for an easy 9-12 movie in the nearby talkies. There is a dire need to innovate these methods. I suggested conducting mock interview classes for the students at my workplace and the attendance of the students was higher in comparison to the previous grooming classes. More such steps need to be taken for better student engagement.

When I was working in TCS, I could not stop myself from being influenced by the charm of MBA. However, my doubt was mostly based on the prior investment made by paying the whooping fees of already owned professional degree, B. Tech.  Yet, here I was with colleagues dying to get into those B-schools, ready to be a part of the same vicious cycle of working to pay the loan all over again. Why?!

Google answered my inquisitiveness. It said a managerial degree adds to professional growth. It enhances the skills of an engineer from being a mere technical expert to someone with better communication skills. An MBA degree changes the outlook of an engineer graduate by bestowing a renewed survival skill set. I was a bit disappointed on realizing that B.Tech had such limited professional scope.

I did not give up so easily, I made a list of some of the most successful CEOs across the world who were from an engineering background. Sundar Picha, CEO of Google is an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur, Satya Nadela, the CEO of Microsoft is also B.tech from Hyderabad and many more. It is amusing to see that even then the curriculum of engineering is so rigid on imparting only technical knowledge. I feel there is a strong need to build engineers who are also good at inter-personal skills. Who, do not cringe at the idea of casually conversing about non-technical issues. Who, are diverse in their idea of approaching nuanced aspects of their field.

On the final day of B.Tech

The degree of an engineering graduate should speak not just for his/her technical prowess but also for his ability to comfortably take on any new possibility. The 4 year course should alter the personality of a student for his/her benefit. It should atleast give them enough exposure to know how to fit in the corporate world.

I hope my engineering students break this stereotype and walk about being more socially acceptable.

For speaking out loud

It was the year 2009. Me and a bunch of my friends, rushed to our super senior (fourth year senior), who had successfully cleared the placement process and landed himself a job at Wipro. We all were thrilled for him since he was one of our favorites. Not to mention, back in those days, anyone who was given a pre-placement offer (PPO) was considered quite the hero. I was so happy for him. Deep inside however, somewhere near the pit of my stomach, I remember experiencing a sinking feeling. I think others felt the same. The anxiety of what the professional future may entail was catching up and all kinds of scary scenarios were playing in each of our heads.

Inquisitive and enthusiastic, we trampled him with endless questions. The goal was to elicit as much as possible from his placement experience. He was kind enough to guide us in detail. He did end by telling us that, while being technically sound was definitely a must for software engineers, looking to impress the interviewer, we may not make it far, if we didn’t speak well. The idea simply being that even for engineers, communication skills were a must.

Speak to be heard

His words resonated with me. But how does one now, build those skills?

More on that later!

For now, let me take you back to my younger years. I was born and brought up in Meerut, an upcoming small city in the State of UP – Uttar Pradesh. Meerut is famously known for the Sepoy Mutiny (Kali Paltan) of 1857.

If you grew up in the 90s in India, you will remember the rage that convent education was amongst the new and growing middle class. It was their only chance of getting their children, a headway into the English speaking world that promised prosperity. Therefore, just like all others, my parents also wanted to send me to one of those saintly schools (pun-un-intended). Fortunately or unfortunately, I wasn’t Sophia’s choice and was eventually admitted to a non-convent CBSE public school in Meerut. The school was no less and is actually still doing pretty well for itself in the city. My school, Meerut Public School for Girls (MPS-G) among other things also gave me ample opportunities to develop my public speaking skills. The guidance of my teachers (best teachers ever!) cultivated in me, the confidence to get over stage fright. Simple practices of reading paragraphs aloud in class to preparing small speeches for morning assembles helped me hone my oratory skills.

Public speaking during school days

Eventually when I joined an engineering college. I made efforts to get noticed by seniors, hoping to be a part of the various societies and events that took place in the college. Our seniors were the ones who would plan the college fests. During the second and third years of the course, I pushed myself to participate in various public speaking college events – the extempore were my favorite. I might not have won at all these events (I did win a few , tooting our own horn are we!) but the experiences I carry with me, from the tingling sensation in the feet to those sweaty palms as I gathered my thoughts to address a crowd, are all worth the effort.

During our final year, one of my dearest friends, pushed me to host the musical concert at our fest – Kolahal, with him. I had no interest in music and genuinely feared being booed off-stage by a live audience of unruly college kids. Since he pressed, I reluctantly took it up. While there were initial hiccups – most jokes falling flat, overall your hosts managed well and we were applauded.

Engineering days and the love for public speaking

Without realizing, all these years, out of interest or sheer coincidences, I had been tacitly building my communication and even public speaking skills. Allow me to be a little preachy here, but I do believe that during the formative years of our life, we seldom value time. To be fair, we don’t have to. But we can admit that sometimes the best of these years in school and college fleet away without much growth. With even the smallest of efforts, during these years, one can utilize small opportunities to learn and grow.

I have now become a teacher myself, and one day in my class, as I was casually discussing their interests with students, one of them said to me that he wanted to be able to speak as well as I did. He specifically meant English. My advice to my students has always been, to converse in English as much as possible.

The other day I was reading how the engineering course work matches with that of UPSC, which is touted as one of the toughest examinations to crack. The engineering students never value the amount of efforts they put in grasping these complex technologies which is similar to IAS or IPS aspirants. The ones with the passion for the subjects fair well and get placed in high paying jobs. The students who suffer are mostly the ones who have lesser interest in the subjects and also do not have good communication skills.

On the other side, as an Asst. Professor

For any degree to be fully utilized, it is important that the students work on both their technical as well as soft skills. Our interpersonal skills form an integral part of our personalities. This aspect does get ignored in the quagmire of Java and Python. I have mentored students who had exceptional love for coding but lacked confidence to present themselves. The medium of communication across corporates is English. Sooner or later one has to learn to give presentations and express their ideas in a language best understood and also “appreciated” by majority.

I remember one of our teachers back in college used to tell us, “C++ or C– alone will not steer your life boat, Duniyadari seekho (learn to be street smart).”  He was right! One has to learn and acquire skills that will help in dealing with clients along the way. Soft skills are one of those very essential skills. These skills affect our behavior and our ability to effectively interact with people in a workplace. Most of the employers look for employees who possess these harmonious skills.

Initial training days at TCS

My students often get bogged down by their inability to excel in the Engineering subjects. I have always advised them to look beyond the books. The parameter of technical knowledge that they use to evaluate them on, can be learnt and mastered with guidance. The problem lies in the inability to address the lack of thinking and creative problem solving. The idea of encouraging students in extra-curricular activities is mostly to broaden their focus. Lack of confidence in young students’ results in creating employees with job insecurities and lack of professional clarity.

As for my friends and I, the year 2011, our final year of engineering, had a happy ending. We muddled our way through the maze of codes and duniyadaari and managed to land decent jobs and “packages” in TCS, Wipro, Accenture.

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