"Build Your Own Dreams." - Sanjay Chitnis

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1. Tell us about your journey. What ignited your passion for this profession?

When I was doing my B.Tech in the early eighties, we had a lab for Digital Computer Electronics. We had a simple computer where input as well as programming was done using ordinary toggle switches representing binary machine codes. Internal memory and output were displayed with 8 LEDs representing binary numbers.

The complete CPU design of this computer as a digital circuit was available. Learning this was an aha moment. I programmed a game called Nim on this computer with just 8 bytes of machine code. This made me realize that programming was fun and my forte and I should make my career in the field of computing. 

Later, I got an opportunity to study in IIT Kanpur and IISc Bangalore where we had great inspiring faculty, very knowledgeable students, and world-class facilities. I choose to do my M.Tech project as well as a Ph.D. in the fascinating field of Machine learning. 

When I joined Motorola I got the opportunity to work on the IRIDIUM program for satellite-based communication and later in LG on a platform for smart devices. But my real passion was to continuously learn and share new things and that is why I came to academics.

2. What is your opinion on the Indian education system and what would you like to change in it?

We have a one size fits all education pattern right from school assuming everyone will go for higher education. Otherwise, what is the need to teach trigonometric identities and calculus knowing most will never use it in their life? 

Moreover, due to unhealthy competitive exams, students just learn tricks to write those exams rather than understanding the subjects with passion. In degree courses, the exams focus on memory type of questions. 

If after 5 years we were asked what we know about a subject we would hardly be able to tell anything beyond lines. We do not learn any skills in which we are in the top 20% in the world. Our cities are becoming worse and worse because of pollution and other problems. 

We need to improve our education system to ensure our students can address social problems and opportunities with Innovation to make our world more beautiful. This can be made possible by making students do an apprenticeship with people who are already doing this.

3. ML/AI/Data sciences are the big shots of now and the future. What according to you are the skills required to master them, how will these areas impact the world?

AI and machine learning are fast developing domains. We need to be constantly in touch with what is happening around the world. Big conferences such as NeurIPS get thousands of research papers. To understand these we need a strong foundation in mathematics, programming skills, and the relevant domains such as healthcare, finance, etc. 

Multidisciplinary large teams are required to make any significant contribution. In tomorrow's world, there will not be any need for repetitive cognitive labor by humans. We will be free to invest our time in creative fulfilling explorations. However, we need to ensure that technology is not misused by anyone.

4. Usually, with coding, a lot of students lose interest over time or find it difficult. How do you think students should approach coding?

It is said that coding is the closest thing we have to a superpower. I hope this power will make coding more interesting. Compilers are very intolerant of even simple errors such as extra characters in wrong places or a simple slip of logic. Thus, coding teaches us to think very logically and precisely. 

You can consider it as a mental gym to develop precise analytical abilities. Just like bodybuilding, coding required continuous and steady practice. Such practice rewires our brain to think more logically in all aspects of life. So don’t give up, just practice more methodically.

5. With the increasing number of engineers, what X factor does it take to stand out?

Engineering is about addressing technical problems/opportunities. Those who can spot them around us with entrepreneurship zeal and provide innovative solutions by collaborating with multiple experts will definitely stand out. 

Everyone has some unique ability that has to be nurtured to be in the top 20% in the world in that area.

6. What is your favorite quote or anecdote related to your field?

Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs. -Farrah Gray

- Sanjay Chitnis , Engineer

- Interviewed by Agatha Coutinho

- Edited by Shilpy Sharan
"Build Your Own Dreams." - Sanjay Chitnis "Build Your Own Dreams." - Sanjay Chitnis Reviewed by Shilpy Sharan on June 30, 2020 Rating: 5

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