Thursday, May 31, 2012

This is the Real Kolaveri…

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I read The Hindu newspaper daily and for the last fortnight every day I woke up to see a full page advertisement of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha and achievements of the government. This is on top of “advertisement spree” Jayalalitha indulged in on the day she completed one year in office by having her photo printed in almost all newspapers in India.
Jayalalitha is not the first one to do it and I am sure she won’t be the last one also. I fail to understand why any government wastes so much public money for such useless advertisements. Will they help them in increasing their popularity? Will it help them garner more votes? Is this the way to let people know the achievements of the government by spending so much money from the state exchequer?
There are so many people who really need help. Instead of spending so much money on such silly advertisement why can’t the government spend this money on poor like our servant maid?
Our servant maid’s husband is diagnosed with some ailment that requires an operation that require close to two lakh rupees. She has gone to the near by government hospital where she was told that they don’t have any resources to do such operation. She cannot afford to take him to any private hospitals as medical bills will be huge. Why can’t government help people like my servant maid by improving the conditions of government hospitals by using the money wasted on these advertisements that won’t do any real good to any one.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Why do we have so many Unemployable Engineering Graduates?

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I happen to read “An Open Letter India’s Graduating Class” written by Mohit Chandra in “The New York Times”. Mohit talks about five attributes – language skills, thirst for knowledge, professionalism, thinking creatively and non-hierarchically – that are lacking in most of the Indian graduate students. Being in this profession of teaching engineering students for over two years now, I can understand what Mohit is talking about. In fact a study by Aspiring Minds, an employee assessment service provider has came out with shocking numbers – only 18% of graduating engineering students are employable. This study also showed that Tamil Nadu engineering graduates are the least employable while graduates from Delhi, Bihar and Jharkhand showed highest employability quotient. But why do we have such a low number as far as employability is concerned? Here are my observations. 
I have been travelling a lot in the last one year interacting with students of 11th and 12th grade and also their parents in various states of India like Andra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. In every program I attended, I use to give a presentation for 45 minutes to students to motivate them and then floor is open for questions that typically last for around 45 minutes. Some of the questions that I get during those interactive session is answer to the question – why is our graduates lack basic attributes? 
One of the questions I get regularly during my interaction with students and parents:
Parent: Sir, Can you please tell me the easiest branch of engineering so that I can “GET” my kid in that branch?Me: Why do you want to look for easy branch of engineering?The answer will one of the followingParent: My kid is not that good in studies. But we want to make our kid an engineer. So if we “GET” him a seat in easy branch, he can put less effort and become an engineer.Or the answer could be:Parent: If my kid can GET an engineering degree with less effort, which parent won’t want that to happen? 
Now don’t think that I am exaggerating. Every time I interact with 11th and 12th grade students and their parents, I get this question. Initially this question was a shocker to me but now I am used to it. 
Now the next frequently asked question:
Student: Which branch of engineering should I take?Me: What do you want to do after engineering?Student: Any Job; Nothing specific; it should pay me very well.
Now I am also used to this question that I know how to answer them. 
Now the point I like to make – if such students join for engineering will they work hard to develop the attributes that make them employable? Majority of our students join for engineering to get a “professional" degree and land up in some random job that may even have no relevance to what they just studied. There aim is to “just” complete the degree and “just” get a job. When one join engineering with this mindset, employability skills are set to take a back seat.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hike in Petrol Price – A Welcome Move

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The other day a German Professor visited our University. I was taking him around different places in and around the University and he noticed the acute power shortage experienced in Tamil Nadu. He made a passing comment “When you (government) give something (power) so subsidized, this is what is going to happen in the long run. Government will not have resources to build new power plants and power shortages will be order of the day”
Yes we enjoy lot of subsidies and most of the time believes that it is our birthright to enjoy these subsidies. It is high time we change our view on subsidies especially those people who earn a six digit monthly salary.
If there is a shop, where a product is procured for Rs X and the same product is sold for Rs (X-5), can that shop survive for long? Not at all. That is what is happening in the oil sector also. Petrol prices are linked to the global market and government cannot always buy the product at market rate and sell it at a much lower price. Yes, for the economically weaker section the government has an obligation to provide some subsidy but for people who can afford why should they be given subsidy?
Same should apply to all subsidies. Right now government is providing close to 50 % subsidy on cooking gas cylinders. There are lots of people who can afford to buy the gas cylinders at normal market rate. Why do they be given subsidies and in turn burden the government? There was a proposal few months back to limit the subsidy to 4 gas cylinders which was a great move. I am not sure what has happened to that bill but I feel such rules should be made into law.
If one wants to see India as a super power, it is essential that all the subsidies be phased out. It is good to start with the petroleum sector and in this regard the hike in petrol prices is a step in the right direction.
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Monday, May 14, 2012

Two Books I Recommend

Two books - one by my student and another by a teacher whom I admire most got released recently.
Painted” collection of 43 poems by Swati Singh Sambyal, that got released last week. Swati is alumni of VIT University and a student of mine. According to Swati “Painted” is:
Painted is my attempt to depict life in all its colors – the way we live, experience, love or hate. The 43 poems have a story embedded within – of experiences, people, friends, observations, loss, misery, love and all the other emotions that remain in the confines of our hearts. Painted talk of the myriad shades of life and their lessons. You never know, after all which shade is waiting to paint your life at its next hairpin bend.
Do buy this book and encourage a budding writer in Swati and I am looking forward to more such books from a good student of mine.
The next book is a scientific book by Dr Thankamani, Professor of Biotechnology in University of Kerala. I admire her not only for her teaching skills but for the extraordinary courage she has shown to fight the might of communist goons. Her book “Phytochemistry – Study of Bioactivities ofLeaves, Stem Bark and Roots of Alstoniascholaris” published by Lambert Academic Publishing. I don’t understand much about phytochemistry but hope she will publish more books like this in the future.


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Saturday, May 05, 2012

Decoding Starting Salary Myth

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Other day a final year student came to my cabin and this is the conversation we had
Me: Good Morning
Student: Good Morning, Sir; Sir, I came to tell you a happy news. I got 2 jobs; one in IT company XXX with a pay package of 3.4 lakhs per annum and another in a mechanical engineering company with a starting salary of 1.44 lakhs per annum.
Me: Great, Congratulations
Student: Thank You Sir
Me: So which job you are taking?
Student: Of course the software job
Me: But you were doing mechanical engineering all these years and isn’t this job suit your profile better than the software job?
Student: Sir, it is not that I don’t like the job profile of mechanical job profile. Sir, these days who will work for a paltry pay of 1.44 lakhs per year in any company? Company XXX is paying me more than double and I am going to take that.
Me: So do you like the job of the software engineer more than mechanical engineer?
Student: Nothing like that; Both jobs are OK but 1.44 lakhs per annum is too low a salary, sir. 
If you interact a lot with final year engineering students you will come across so many situations like this. I always believe that starting salary should never be the ONLY criteria to take up your first job. I am seeing lot of students who study different branches of engineering going to software jobs just because the salary is higher to start with.
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I happened to read an article that came in New York Times in 2010 titled “AHigh-Tech Titan Plagued by Potholes” that narrates the lack of “qualified” civil engineers to execute various infrastructure projects in India. The article written by Vikas Bajaj says
The problem is a dearth of engineers — or at least the civil engineers with the skill and expertise to make sure those ambitious projects are done on time and up to specifications.
In the same article Dr Ravi Sinha, Professor in Civil Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay says
Ravi Sinha, a civil engineering professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, says professionals in his field with five years of experience make about as much as their counterparts at information technology companies. But those starting can make as little as half the pay of their technology peers.
I was convinced by this statement by Dr Sinha as most of my class mates who joined in Civil Engineering companies after engineering who started their career with very low salary are now in a position to demand salary with their 15 year experience in this field.
I want to test this theory that “civil engineering professionals in his field with five years of experience make about as much as their counterparts at information technology companies. But those starting can make as little as half the pay of their technology peers."
So I called up two of my undergraduate classmates (Let us call them K and P) – both did their bachelors in civil engineering with me and we all graduated in 1997. K got placed in one of the best software companies in India through campus placement while P joined a construction company as Field Engineer. I asked them to send me the salary they got from 1998 to 2011. They were courteous to send me the salary and this is what they send me (see graph below). This graph shows the annual salary of my friends for the last 13 years.
My friend P joined construction company for a salary of Rs 4500 per month that never got increased for the first four years. By that time salary of the friend  K working in software company was close to Rs 60,000 per month. Now see the sharp rise after 10 years for P (P changed company after 11 year while K remained in the same company till now). Now in 2012 P is drawing more salary than K.
Let this analysis be an eye-opener for all those students who consider starting salary is most important thing to select your first job.
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