Students entering college should think of their long-term goals: goals that go beyond what they do right after the bachelor’s degree. They should acquire skills for a career that will last for at least 50 years. BTech or BE is going in the same way as MBBS. While the MBBS allows one to practice medicine, those without advanced specialisation have seriously diminished opportunities. One may get a seemingly high paid job with a bachelor’s degree in engineering today, but one’s future opportunities will depend on advanced skills and specialisation. This is true of the IT sector, where high-paying jobs may readily be available right after bachelors.
These will soon — if not already — turn out to be the line-jobs in factories with limited scope for personal advancement, in spite of today’s high pay. We are just scratching the surface of the IT or computing area in India. After the initial wave of outsourced jobs in software maintenance and development, more companies are setting up their R&D units in India. They need individuals with solid fundamentals and relevant specialisations. The most important skill will be the ability to find innovative solutions to unstructured problems by oneself.
We as a country help produce a lot of software and technology for the world. However, our own consumption of technology is very low. This has to — and will — change soon. Only start-up companies from among us can make it happen. Starting companies require a strong base and skills to innovate. Most successful companies are set up based on solid technological ideas. College entrants should think of acquiring R&D and innovation skills as well as a technology base that will serve them well as potential entrepreneurs a few years later, if not immediately after college.
IIIT, Hyderabad, was set up as a research university, with great emphasis on research even at the bachelor’s level. This really sets us apart from comparable institutions in the country. We have large teams including students of doctoral, masters’, and bachelors’ programmes and faculty members working on different theoretical and practical problems. We have teams working on the processing of languages for translation, research, and comprehension of the written and spoken forms.
We have teams working on building large interactive course content for enhancing education at the college and even school levels. We have teams that aim to develop inexpensive equipment as well as effective software for biomedical sensing and diagnosis. We also focus on the mobile phone as the platform for many of these solutions so that they can reach more people easily. We have an active incubation programme that is producing technology-based start-ups in healthy numbers. And we have ties with the local and national funding networks to make it all happen.
Focusing on research and advanced development is a lot harder for an institution than focusing only on education. It needs more funding, more equipment, and more infrastructure. Above all, it requires highly driven faculty members and students. However, research is most rewarding for the individuals involved. As a young and vibrant institution, we have been working on creating the right atmosphere and people base to make it all happen. As a result, we are beginning to see our graduates and our technologies making a distinct impact in the country.
Students should focus on and work hard towards a career in innovation and research. We, at IIIT, Hyderabad, provide the most unique opportunities for students to fulfil their research dreams even at the bachelor’s level. I want to end where I began: as college entrants, focus on the long-term prospects of what you do. Focus on short-term aspects like money or today’s brand value of companies may not serve you as well in your careers as a focus on innovation-skills.
PJ Narayanan is director of the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad