Computer science is not really about computers -- and it's not about computers in the same sense thatphysics is not really about particle accelerators, and biology is not about microscopes and Petridishes...and geometry isn't really about using surveying instruments. Now the reason that we think computer science is about computers is pretty much the same reason that the Egyptians thought geometry was about surveying instruments: when some field is just getting started and you don't really understand it very well, it's very easy to confuse the essence of what you're doing with the tools that you use.- Hal Abelson
Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes, biology is about microscopes or chemistry is about beakers and test tubes. Science is not about tools, it is about how we use them and what we find out when we do.-Michael R. Fellows
After my JEE, I chose CSE at IIT Bombay mainly because I had done some C programming classes in high school which got me interested in the field. But I quickly learned that CS is so vast and varied than simply 'programming', that even after a BTech at IITB and a Masters in CS at Stanford, I am learning exciting new things every day.
You must have already heard the clichés that this is the 'information age' or the 'digital age', 'software is eating the world', 'data is the new oil', etc. It is in fact quite true that the world has changed rapidly in the last 20 years as every industry has moved to the Internet and data/information is the new currency. CSE as a field basically encompasses anything that has to do with efficiently computing, distributing, organizing, consuming and analyzing information. It is not tied to a specific programming language, platform, OS, or technology. What an undergrad degree in Computer Science & Engineering entails, and what the IITB CSE department excels at, is providing a holistic view of this field, from both the Science (eg Data Structures, Algorithms, Discrete Maths, Theory of Computation) and Engineering (eg Databases, Operating Systems, Networks, etc) aspects. If you like maths and solving puzzles, you will most likely enjoy being in this field.In retrospect, I can confidently say that the IITB CSE faculty and curriculum is the best in India, because the high quality of teaching, depth of content as well as having the smartest classmates, provided me with a strong foundation in understanding core CS concepts, applying them in practice, and most importantly to quickly grasp new CS concepts. This enabled me to excel in industry internships as well as in grad school. Some courses in IITB CSE department are at par with the best universities in the world.
I don't need to tell you that CS is the most lucrative field right now in terms of future job prospects. This is so because it is a young field and with the advent of the 'information age' every industry is in search of good programmers. With an undergrad degree in CS under your belt, you will have many options, some of which are: work at a core tech company, go into quantitative finance, or do tech consulting. You can pursue further studies through a Masters or PhD if you want to go deep into a particular sub-field under CS. For example, I specialized in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in my MS. These will open up specialized industry positions like Data Scientist, or allow you to join academia as a professor and continue with research. Finally, the option of going for entrepreneurship is always open, since a CS undergrad is ideal for a CTO in any startup, who has to architect and manage the entire tech infrastructure of a company.
Overall, my way of thinking and approach to solving problems are greatly shaped by my years at IITB CSE. Any good engineer must learn to tackle new problems and design novel solutions. The fun part about CS is that the world of bits is abstract and complex, and much more varied than the world of atoms. It is not bound by the laws of physics like other more traditional types of engineering. But a great CS engineer is one who can simultaneously reason with abstract concepts and real world systems, and design simple yet optimal solutions to complex problems (in other words, someone who is a natural 'hacker'). If that is you, what are you waiting for? Take the plunge...
This is Vishnu Vinjam, brought up in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh with my JEE coaching in Hyderabad and finally a proud graduate of Computer Science Department of IIT Bombay. Currently I am working as an Engineer with Samsung Electronics in Suwon, South Korea. My passions include travelling, writing, books and movies. In my personal time, I juggle responsibilities as Vice President of IIT Alumni Association in Korea and as mentor to IITB social group Abhyuday.
Why Computer Science?
I had a pretty good JEE rank and had almost all branches and IIT’s open to me. Just as many of you are right now and will be for many more years coming, I was not clear as to what I wanted to be in future. I wasn’t clear either on which profession I would like to be in or the kind of engineer I want to shape myself into. But one thing I was very clear was I wanted to be with the best people and in a department that offers flexibility. With this background I approached seniors; spoke to couple of relatives, read couple of blogs and forums. To be honest all of that didn’t help; seniors were just in their sophomore year so couldn’t give me the kind of perspective I wanted, none of my relatives were IITians and the forums back in 2010 weren’t that informative. But these days’ forums like these are very useful to get a perspective on what each department has to offer and what opportunities lie ahead after graduating. Use them to the fullest. My eventual choice boiled down to Computer Science and Electrical Engineering; Bombay or Delhi and finally I walked in to CSE, IIT Bombay.
I had no clue what computer science was, I never coded or wrote computer programmes before. I did play pc games and used Photoshop; but they don’t count. All I knew was CS was logical, involves math and you can create Facebook or Google with it. With four years behind me now I can say that CS is fun, logical, involves math (as much as you choose to have i.e. depends on the field you choose) and you can get job in FB, Google or Samsung; or create your own Next Big Thing.
What freshers can expect?
Every freshman has a compulsory course on computer programming which will give one a taste of what it is to write code and program. Mind you that almost every student in an engineering field has to write code at some point or other. It could be to simulate real-world-conditions to save time and money by not having to build huge, unnecessary labs or test environments. It could be to run your engine or communication system or a robot or a car you built, programming is everywhere. What CS students do is to really take that discipline forward in to all the frontiers and systems and to it’s depths. Programming is fun and doesn’t need any prior knowledge or experience. There is no inherent advantage to someone who wrote his first C or Java program in 8th standard. First year gives you a brief introduction to Computer Science, with second year expanding to part theoretical and part general. Third year is when real fun begins with core concepts like Networks, Databases, Operating Systems are covered; laying out the breadth of the department to students. Fourth year is full of electives, where you can handpick courses so that you could choose which fields you want to learn more and grow in. Computer Science department in IIT Bombay has some of the best faculty in the institute, course structure is flexible with plenty of choice and opportunities to do additional courses or research under professors.
Exciting areas in the Field?
Computer Science is a vast field stretching from its mathematical roots i.e. theoretical and research oriented to the day-to-day aspects like websites, mobile apps and applications. Those with inclination towards math can find plenty of opportunities both in academia and software companies. One can also choose to go to software development creating applications and tools that we use day to day with companies or start-ups.
After CSE, IITB?
Computer Science has some of the best opportunities post IIT. There are plenty of opportunities to pursue higher education like Masters or PhD programmes both in India, US and best universities around the world. Jobs in most global companies like FB, Google, Samsung, MS etc are open to graduates. Locations are both in India and outside; I myself am based in South Korea. There are lot of entrepreneurial opportunities too, in the form of co-founders, CTO (Chief Technology Officers), engineers etc. Lot of our alumni have set up companies including some big names like Ola, Housing and many more new ones have been raising large money to kick-start their ventures. You could also do an MBA right after college or few years down the line; take up Consulting positions, jobs in trading, banks and financial institutions too.
What all I was involved in at IITB?
In addition to my course work in CSE department I completed a minor in Humanities and Social Sciences with courses in Sociology, Psychology and Literature. I was part of NSS and co-founded a social club called ‘Samwad’. In my final year I launched with an amazing team first of its kind two day social festival called ‘Abhyuday’ with an aim to build future leaders for solving our nations problems.
What are my plans?
I am happy with the work I do in and for Samsung now and would continue for some time till another brilliant opportunity comes knocking. I have an MBA in sights, but could as well skip that for a startup or create something of my own. Let’s hope one day you can pick up a book with my name on from a roadside bookstore; which is my version of fancy dream.
What CSE Department taught me?
It taught me honesty, openness to work in teams and collaborate with others. It encourages one to share, create open source materials for everyone’s benefit. It forces one to think logically, structure thoughts and be a continuous learner. While these apply to every department and field, Computer Science in my view takes the cake because of its online communities, open source resources and myriad opportunities it offers.
What IITB taught me?
IIT Bombay is my home and it shaped me in countless big and small ways. It is an experience that I will carry along to my grave. Amazing friendships I have had, things I could create and leave behind, loads of mindless fun that I rejoice even today are all because of it. It was a melting pot of people from all walks of life, all parts of the country; a truly diverse, talented and driven set of people. And Bombay is a living breathing city with its own quirks and idiosyncrasies.
While entering IIT or your department might seem to be the end of life, to be honest it ain’t so. Though you might miss out on your department in counselling, you have the option of Branch Change. If you end up in a department you don’t like, you could do minor courses or additional courses in the department you prefer. In addition to this you could make a shift in your masters or PhD programme in case. I have had a senior who moved from Electrical Engineering (DD) to a PhD in Biology straight out of college; crazy it might sound, but doable. You could also do internships in your choice of work and do academic projects under profs in IIT B or other institutions and build up your profile.
If all seem to not work, then go out and create something of your own and be next Narayan Murthy or Zuckerberg whoever you prefer. But one thing that you should not forget in all this is that you have done brilliant work to make it to this stage. You have worked hard, made your family and teachers proud and friends jealous. You are talented and can surmount any challenge that you come across in life. Be confident and all the very best to your future endeavours.