For our penultimate TGG, we have TT whiz Venkatesh Pakkiriswamy! Venkatesh graduated in 2020 with a B.Tech in Chemical Engineering and is now working with the Martech Analytics team of AB InBev. Here, he talks about his eventful insti life during which he was a mentor at Avanti, a Shaastra Spotlight head, was awarded the Best Outgoing Sportsperson award and of course, played a whole lot of table tennis.
It’s hard to believe that I am now a graduate. 3 ¾ years just whizzed by, and then Covid played spoilsport and cut short our insti lives. It feels like just yesterday, all of us were rushed out of insti, thinking we would be back in 15 days. 15 days became a month, a month became 2 months and then slowly it dawned upon me, that I had to finish my final semester online. And in a flash, I gave my final exams and presented my Bachelor thesis online, and the semester was done.
A few days later, my degree came to me in post. And just like that my insti life was over.
Didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to all the friends and memories I made at this place. There has to be some closure, right? Normally, people will have a hostel night, or a Wilkkommen or a wing trip. Even our convocation was organised online. It was frustrating that things had to end like this. As I sit down to write this article, a part of me still believes that I am a student in insti. But then reality hits, and here I am, ready to shell out anecdotes from my insti life as a supposedly wise, old graduate.
I entered insti without any expectations. I remember running from one orientation to another trying to make sense of all the activities going on. Apart from academics, insti had a lot of amenities and resources for the pursuit of non-academic activities. I had been playing table tennis from a young age and naturally the first place that I went to was the Table Tennis court. I was delighted to see that there was very good infrastructure and culture for Table Tennis in insti.
There is something about this sport, it gave me something to focus on apart from academics and it rejuvenated whenever I felt low or down. And slowly, the TT court became the place where I would spend the most time in insti.
It took me a while to adjust to insti’s culture. It involved pulling all-nighters simply to talk and play games like wolf in big groups, binging on TV shows and anime, sleeping late and waking up early to attend classes half asleep. It was a big step up for me after school, when such activities were deemed criminal-like. But like others, I slowly got used to insti.
In my first year, I got into Avanti, where I had the chance to mentor two underprivileged Class XI students for competitive examinations in a school near Pondicherry. The concepts that you learn in JEE become extra tough when you try to break them down and explain it in simple terms to others. The overall experience was wonderful, and it felt good to be giving back to society.
My first Inter IIT came soon enough. I was happy to be selected into the team and the Inter IIT that year was to happen in Kanpur. We had a camp for 2-3 weeks where we practised morning and evening. Additional benefits included a special mess where I was surprised to see our messes are actually capable of cooking food items other than sambhar rice. After a very long train journey, we finally reached Kanpur and the temperature was 12-degree celsius. Being used to the warm humid Chennai weather all my life, I started to shiver. I had to wear 3-4 layers of clothing to survive this cold, while my teammates roamed around in shorts.
‘Anti-cheering’ was something that I never expected. Huge crowds will swamp the courts, and shout curses at you in the top of their voices. Luckily for me, most of these curses were in Hindi and being a Tamilian who doesn’t understand this language, it did not affect me much.
We slowly started to progress into the tournament winning one match after the other and made it to the finals. I was very nervous and lost the first game, managing to salvage only one point. People around me started to whisper, How did this team even come to the finals? Then my teammates cheered me up, and asked me to play my game without worrying about anything else. I went back to win the rest of the 3 games and my match. It was an amazing feeling to win after coming back from a low point. Soon, we were tied at 2 matches each, with me winning both my matches. We needed to win 3 matches if we had to defeat the other team. Unfortunately, we lost by a very close margin in a well-fought out deciding match. But, even though we lost the finals, it felt good to win silver after entering the tournament as underdogs. We won the respect of the other teams and we as a team found new friends in each other and developed a good camaraderie.
Altogether, my first Inter IIT was the best experience I had in my insti life.
I had a memorable time and learnt a lot in the process. People started to recognise me for my achievements. I was awarded the best player at Inter IIT for winning all my matches in the tournament and also the Best incoming sportsperson at the institute.
I joined as a coordinator in Shaastra Spotlight in my second year, where we organised a lecture series filled with prominent personalities.
I learnt how to approach famous people and through my TT contacts, I had the opportunity to contact India’s most famous TT player – Sharath Kamal and invite him for a fireside chat!
It was an amazing experience to sit across your hero and have a candid chat with him in a hall filled with TT enthusiasts. I also interacted with Nobel Laureates, famous scientists and artists like the host of yesteryear kid’s TV show MAD. Despite all their fame, most of them were very humble people. Interacting with high profile people from such diverse backgrounds gave me perspective.
I continued with Avanti in my second year as a mentor manager. My role was to help in managing the mentor team of around 30 mentors, aid in organising test series and solving doubts for all the students in both class XI and class XII and manage our Facebook page. I also had to manage my academics apart from practising TT regularly because we were determined to win that year. The Inter IIT happened in Madras that year, and there were more expectations. Yet, again, we reached till the finals and lost. Bombay got a new M.Tech freshie that year who we could not defeat. And so, we went back to the drawing boards to plan for the next year.
Insti is a place filled with ladders.
The first one that we immediately see is the academic ladder, where people fight it out for the S grades to achieve high CGPAs. Then, we are introduced to the other ladders, the ladder in sports, the POR ladders in Shaastra, Saarang, I&AR, CFI, General Student Body etc. We were told that people who climb two or three of these ladders and reach the ‘peaks’ would obtain good interns and placements. Now, I had apparently happened to climb the apparent sports ladder in my first year already. It looked as though I had to plan my climb across the other ladders, if I were to secure a good future.
I was going to become the TT captain in the next year and so, I could apply to either become an Avanti Head or a Spotlight Head. Doing all three would have been madness. But then, both the teams were interesting, so my FOMO made me apply to both. The application process was strenuous. I had to take fundaes from several people and pull all nighters to submit both applications. Finally, I got rejected for Avanti Head, but selected as the Spotlight Head.
So, at the end of second year, I was one and a half ‘peaks’ tall. Internship season was approaching and that should be enough to scale the Day-1 Intern Peak, right? (Oh yes, now we know that getting a Day-1 intern is also a ‘peak’.)
It wasn’t. I could not land a day 1 intern despite having multiple shortlists. You might be thinking, How did he let that one go? Best Player, 2 Inter IIT Silvers, TT Captain, Spotlight Head, Avanti Manager, decent CG. I mean all this should account for something and land me a Day 1 intern. Well, it doesn’t. It only gets you past the resume door. After that, you are completely judged based on interviews that happen for 10-20 minutes. Personally, I feel, it will be hard to get a proper opinion of someone in such a short time.
But, that’s how the system is, and if you fail to impress the interviewers in the time that you are given, you will not get an offer.
And then, we lost in Inter IIT again in my third year, and this time in the semi-finals itself. A change in strategy, helped us to start strong. Our team almost won the first match, and then we lost it from a winning position. But, we kept going and I won both of my matches and the overall score was 2-2. But, then we could not win the deciding match. Three years without winning gold. We could go again the next year, trying to win. But, most of the team was graduating that year and it was going to be very challenging to win with a new and inexperienced team.
Afterwards, we successfully organised Spotlight Lectures, with a stellar lineup – a Nobel Laureate, A Chess Grandmaster and a former Chief Justice of India. It was a new and different experience to lead the entire event as a head as the complete onus was on you to ensure its success. But, at the same time, it was also very hectic that
I found myself wondering if it was worth all the effort. My academics took a big hit and I found it hard to manage my time, juggling between interns, acads, spotlight and TT.
After failing to get a day one intern, performing poorly in academics, and failing to win gold for the third time, I found myself asking a lot of questions. Why can’t I achieve something despite putting in so much effort? Why was I doing all these activities if they cannot even help me land a Day-1 intern? What am I even trying to achieve? What is the purpose of all this? And that’s the thing about failures. Unless something goes wrong, you don’t ask yourself too many questions and simply go with the flow. At the beginning of my sixth semester, I had to decide if I wanted to apply for a Core member in Shaastra or not. I thought about it a lot, but I knew that this time I had to think through what I want to do. And I wanted some time out to do something else.
Change and New Beginnings
My schedule was empty in my sixth semester as I decided not to apply for any PORs. I am not saying PORs are completely bad. You make new friends, form lifelong connections with people, meet celebrities, get experience in event management and you get to write rosy resume points which can be topics of discussions in your job interviews. But, it does not impart any sellable technical skills. At the end of two and a half years in one of the country’s leading technical institutes, I noticed that I had zero technical skills. When I was supposed to be exploring different fields and identifying my passion, I was busy working on a POR or playing TT. Well, I still had some time left in this institute and so I began trying out new courses in different fields.
While I was not too keen about core chemical engineering, our department was diversifying and offered many electives in data science. After enrolling in a few of the courses, I felt interested and started to explore the field more. I liked the flexibility that Data Science offers. It could be applied to solve problems in a wide range of domains from Finance to ChemE to Social Sciences. I was lucky to land a data science intern with AB InBev, which is the world’s largest beer company. The internship offered me a good learning curve and I also had a lot of fun. The people were very friendly and the culture was unique unlike other Corporate companies, with the data science work being in the interesting domain of Marketing.
After completing my internship, I was offered a PPO which I accepted. In the end, not getting a Day-1 intern did work out well for me.
While I did have a PPO, I thought I had to use my final year to expand my knowledge in this field. I enrolled for many courses and also took up a Bachelor’s Thesis Project which involved using DS techniques in Fault Detection and Diagnosis in Chemical Plants. It was very challenging, as I was the only person working on the project. But, it also meant that I was responsible for how the project progressed forward.
My guide, Dr. Raj was very helpful, and he was always able to come up with a solution to every wall I encountered. Under his guidance, I got the opportunity to present my work at the 2020 Annual AiChe Meeting which happened virtually.
I still actively played TT. Most of the team members were very new and they did not have a lot of experience. We worked with our coach, Anas sir, to improve their games and devised strategies that could help us win. But my final Inter IIT did not go well, and we were knocked out in the quarterfinals itself. It felt sad that my Inter IIT career was ending this way. But like Anas sir said, “Sometimes, we do not get what we deserve. We just have to accept it and move on. It will help us become better individuals”.
We next went to participate in a tournament in BITS Hyderabad as I felt the team members needed more experience in playing matches for the upcoming years. Most of the teams in that tournament were much better than us. But somehow, we pushed through, converted losing matches into winning ones, and bagged a silver medal in the competition. We were elated because we did not expect to win anything.
Looking back at my insti life, I realised that life will be filled with highs and lows. It is important to not let failures ruin you while at the same time, you should not get carried away with your successes. You need to learn from both and constantly keep putting your best foot forward.
But, the one thing that will remain constant is your family and friends. My biggest takeaway from insti is the people. I met a lot of people from different backgrounds. I was lucky to form close friendships with a few of them. My friends have been an incredible support system and helped me shape my life. I will always fondly look back to coffee sessions in mess, train journey conversations, group studying, running faulty simulations, long discussions about random topics like Fantasy Football, playing Catan, movies at Phoenix, late-night sessions where we would simply vibe to popular music, 4 am junk eating at Gopal Mess/Hungers Club. etc
So, 3 ¾ years whizzed by, until Covid played spoilsport. Oh, wait, you already know that part. I think I should end my ramble here. For those of you, who have been patient enough to read this till the end, I do not know what sense you made out of it, or how useful it has been to you. But, I feel that I have kind of achieved some closure thanks to writing this piece. I guess it is time for me to step out of this nest, onto my next journey. Adios Insti. You will surely be missed.
You can find Venkatesh on his Instagram.
Editor’s Note: You can also read the other articles from the TGG series here.