Curriculum projects in India, from my experience

by gjayakrishnan

Chanced upon the following article in The Hindu last week and a follow up post elsewhere (which I can’t link it here) gave me the kick.

After reading this, I was in just like a sophomore’s mood, happy to see what I’ve gone through a year back. But here, rather a year it’s eleven years and the legacy still continues but in a different way – SAD.

Reason: The pressure of a certificate.

Mine is a different experience because I am not an engineering graduate. During my B.Sc., our university mandated a 15 days industrial training certificate. I still don’t get the idea behind it for a student in computer science. As usual our college reminded us when the time came and it was time for us to catch up the fever. Being in Coimbatore, a city still with very few IT companies, I don’t know whom to approach. So parents are the last rescue. My father arranged for the training in the company he worked for and I was happy.

On my first day to a work place, I was clueless and bit scared. Suddenly my timings changed from 10-4 to 8-5. I was supposed to work in a technical department and not EDP, which I was guessing. The manager came, gave a brief intro and showed my place and PC. It was another satisfying transition for me, Windows 3.1 to 95. Then he opened Excel, gave me a book full of chemical properties (I believe so) and asked me to enter the data just exactly in a way to the data seen in the rows above. I started entering.. then entered.. entered.. entered for 15 days with no change, no leave and not even a glimpse of the air conditioned EDP room that I was curious to see and peep into whenever I took a break. Finally I got the certificate, prepared the formalities and eventually my graduation.

Next, it was in my M.Sc. But this time we are supposed to submit a project after working in a concern for one full semester (the final one). Again through family influence, I got one in a software concern with no stipend and landed in Chennai. I went to the company, met the President and he introduced me to a manager. This time the department was Quality. No wonder what the work was, he asked me to TEST. I said I am supposed to code. He retorted saying, first you test well. BTW, the product generates reports on inventory based on past data for better planning (just mentioning to relate it later).

Again as no choice left, I did. During the process, I mean after office, the only thing that was running inside me was, how to cook and present during viva voce – in simple words, cheating! But when I came back to college, there was a big sigh of relief. There were many like me.. a bunch of students got theirs done from a computer institute, mostly cut-n-paste. Unlike me going for work, they enjoyed their youth during pre-postgraduation period. Only one of my close friend did something different and suiting to his taste – designed a website – and I was glad. As usual the reports were pukka, I was thorough with the product flow in-and-out. And for a well rehearsed lengthy presentation I gave, it ended with an anti-climax – no questions!

Fast forwarding to sometime ago.. I was indulged in developing firefox add-ons during my free time. I realized this is what students are supposed to do. Tiny apps, tools, plugins or in-house projects based on open source tools. This not only hone their programming skills but also will give a nice exposure to micro level product management. When you do an FF extension, you not only go through the basic development lifecycle and build a functional tool, but also things like:

  • Good knowledge on GUI elements/components, reusability, MVC, etc.
  • What’s i18n and how to provide multiple languages support (i.e., property specification and its association in source files)
  • How to organize, build and link themes/images (exposure to CSS)
  • Design an icon for your tool (if you wish)
  • What Preferences/Settings can be given. Also where & how to get the inputs and persist them.
  • Learning curve on testing, issue tracking, bug fixing, avoiding regressions, etc.
  • How to package, specify target applications, versioning and doing regular updates
  • Writing brief description about the product, mini installation notes, asking for reviews, support, etc.
  • And from its sandbox phase to get it approved as public, you need to market well so that it has a sizeable number in downloads!

And post 2010, when computers are taking its different avatars, I believe it should be apps for mobile/tablets. This will be a great boost to doing things with taste and with high levels of user experience.

With all these learnings, when my cousin was graduating couple of years back, I encouraged her to do something valuable and not for certificate sake. She gave a stare and continued “but…”. I couldn’t and didn’t argue.

Coming to my project experience.. In the first case, if it had been a software that could read the text from a scanned image and populate the data in a jiffy. And in second, if had been a predictive algorithm that guides during procurement phase itself, the pressure would have been different and in fact, I could have avoided a labor cost.

But on hindsight, there are no regrets and it’s an experience of learning a lot, if not hardcore techie stuffs. I could distinguish college vs work, could equate software testing from Pressman’s book to the reality, got my first job in the company where I did my testing project and of late, how complex is to design and build an Excel like software (on which I entered data as my first real work). Also it makes sense to an average guy like me!

Finally, I hope in the coming years our so-called institutions puts pressure to go through the journey rather to reach the destination.