I want to put my story out there, not to recite my achievements but to send a message to everyone about how they should always remain focused on themselves and their goals without worrying about what others say about them.
I faced a lot of heat throughout my college life because of my category, yet I was not disheartened. I kept working hard, and eventually, I managed to pull through and excel.
My family was not well placed financially. As a result, I couldn't prepare for JEE during 11th &12th grade. However, my maternal grandmother lived in Kota, and in my drop year, she paid for my coaching, and I got into Bansal Classes. Compared to my peers there, I found myself less well-versed with PCM due to my background despite scoring a decent 90+ per cent in the board exams. I kept working hard, but I was never among the top students. Eventually, my JEE score was not that good, yet I secured a seat in the Textile Technology department of IITD in the SC category.
When I finally arrived on campus and met people with high ranks in the thousands or three digits, it all felt a bit overwhelming. I started to develop anxiety about this and wondered whether I’d be able to compete and sustain in such a crowd. In the first year, most people who clear JEE from the SC/ST category face this fear, where they are intimidated by the fact that they would have to compete with the two or three-digit rankers now. Directly or indirectly, many people here also made me feel like I shouldn't be here, almost as if I had a “beggar's entry”.
However, it wasn't as if I faced only negativity from people. There were a lot of people who were always there to give me a hand and pull me up. I got an excellent friend, Sarthak Pujari. He helped me immensely in my first year. He helped me develop the mindset to do well in IIT. IIT requires an attitude with an aim. One should think about a pinnacle, which, when achieved, would mean that the degree was of value. This is the perspective I developed in my first year, and he had a massive role in it. He also helped me with my studies and taught me like a teacher. My mentor also helped me a lot. The patience and efforts eventually paid off, and I got a DepC to the CSE dept, which was fabulous since I was expecting a DepC into Mechanical or Electrical. During my years at IIT, what really worked for me was leveraging everything IIT had to offer and not wasting any of the excellent opportunities.
During my first year in textile, I realised I needed to work on extracurriculars as a backup plan in case I didn't get into software or tech roles. As a result, I was active in the drama club, participating in all the events hosted by the club. I was also quite active in NSS; thus, going into the second year, I had two PORs, i.e. OCS and NSS executive.
Getting CSE at IIT Delhi is an entirely different experience. I started feeling anxious upon realising that I now had to compete with the CSE folks, many of whom had two-digit ranks. The transition from textile to CSE was unnerving. Textile people were quite chill, whereas I initially found a lot of toxic competition in CSE. Realising the workload I had to face now, I dropped my OCS POR since I knew it wouldn't be possible to manage it with my academics.
My second year was off to a rough start. On entering the CSE class, I realised I didn't have any friends there. I remember that there was a lab course, and I wasn't even able to find a lab partner for myself; in the end, the TA had to put me in a group. I felt like I was in hell then, thinking nobody wanted to talk to me. With all these things running through my mind, I performed poorly that semester. My CGPA dipped to an all-time low, I had to drop a course, and I completed very few credits. I was compelled to drop my NSS POR at this point, although the NSS family was supportive. I had nearly fallen into depression, thinking that I won't even be able to complete my degree. My mentor was the General Secretary of NSS and supported me at that time, knowing what I was going through.
However, going into the 4th sem, things started to sort themselves out again. I had made 7-8 friends in CSE by then. My academic performance improved in the 4th semester, the primary reason being that I now had support. I believe support is a massive thing in IIT. You definitely need friends to share and discuss your problems with. So eventually, I managed to get a good CGPA that semester. After being down in the dumps for the whole of the third semester, I felt much relieved, realising that I would be able to save my degree and also compete with the other people. So, in the 4th semester, I decided I wanted a minor in entrepreneurship. My first course of entrepreneurship was taught by professor Harshvardhan, who was the one who actually started the minor in that field. So basically, it was a turning point for me as I not only saved my degree but also went for a minor. I also did a project the following summer under a professor from our department.
In the fifth semester, I took a lot of courses, 26 credits. So from someone at the end of his first year worrying about being able to complete his degree requirement, I had now reached a stage where I was picking up this many courses.
The sixth semester was online, but I sailed through it smoothly despite taking courses worth 28 credits. In fact, I thought some professors were teaching better than they do in offline classes. An added advantage was that we got recordings and lecture notes, so it went much better than the other semesters for me. In fact, missing classes didn't mean a permanent loss; you could always cover up for it. Also, in the 3rd year, I focused more on academics, leaving the extracurriculars as I realised that my performance would suffer and it wouldn't be good for me if I slackened my studying because of other activities.
When my CGPA was frozen for the internship season, it was not up to the mark. Consequently, I couldn’t apply to many companies with a CGPA cutoff. Even the ones I did sit for, I did not perform well since most of my time went into improving my grades, and I couldn’t find enough time to practice coding for interviews. Then there were also some companies for which I solved the whole paper, yet I didn't get shortlisted because my CGPA was low. So this first internship phase wasn't going that well, with CGPA as the main barrier. However, in the second phase, I managed to land an internship at HCL. It was almost the end of the season, but getting an internship was relieving.
By this time, I was comfortable in my shoes, the inferiority feeling was gone now, and most anxieties were no longer there. In fact, most of my courses were completed in the third year (taking 28 credits in the 6th semester). So all my Departmental Electives were complete by the time I came to the fourth year. Also, in the third year, I started coding since I could handle my courses well.
Sadly, my grandfather passed away in the 7th semester when the placement was just around the corner. The fact that I was extremely close to him made it really difficult for me. This was around when my placement tests were on, but I was also shocked by his demise, and eventually, it became a very depressing time. It was tough to cope with all the stress during this period.
Talking about my preparation for the placements season, I didn't really do any frantic last-minute preparation. I had been preparing since the third year, done a good 500-600 coding questions, and gained good proficiency. Though, Day 1 wasn't that good. Despite being shortlisted for JP Morgan and even doing well in the interview, I wasn't selected because it was Day 1, and they wanted someone with a higher CGPA. Day 1 slot 2 was also pretty much the same for me, while most of my friends had offers. That period was quite frustrating for me.
However, Day 2 slot 1 brought a change of fortunes. It rained interviews. In fact, I got 3 offers, one each from MasterCard, Abacus and Uber. I decided to pick up the offer from Uber, and here I am in Uber.
Well, now I was pretty chilled out, but I still had my 8th sem to go, but it was almost empty as I had only 7.5 credits to do. So just for fun, I picked up a textile course, the branch I originally had entered. In fact, I also applied for off-campus internships this sem and got three of them in 3 different companies. I did all of them, one in ML and 2 in software, in different slots (obviously XD). That led to a very high confidence boost. From worrying about being able to complete my degree requirements, to completing a degree with a minor and getting placed in Uber, this journey has been incredible.
This whole journey was full of learnings, from friends, to dealing with CSE's highly toxic competitive culture; it has been one hell of a ride. From this story, I hope that people from the SC/ST category get some motivation to work hard and ignore people who try to bring them down. In fact, people still judge me after all this, but I guess dealing with all of it is the lesson I learnt, and I hope others will be able to inculcate it from my story too.
“Kucch toh log kahenge, logon ka kaam hai kehna”
Written by: Abhinava Anwesha Mohanty
Cover Designed by: Maitra Patel