Archive for the ‘My views on IT education in India’ Category

Re-configuring computer education

October 23, 2013

 

IT has been the largest generator of jobs in the organised sector in India over the past five years with about 3,50,000 jobs getting added every year.

  • The maturity of the Indian IT services sector,
  • The emergence of IT product companies from India,
  • The dramatic rise of smartphones / tablets and the huge Apps ecosystem that is driving these “post PC devices”,
  • Cloud computing entering mainstream, and,
  • The dramatic rise of “big data” and “Analytics”

are changing the talent needs of this growing industry.

Naturally, colleges, particularly the premier Institutes are looking at ways and means of responding to such changing needs.

A word of caution is in order. Any curriculum has foundational elements that address the long term needs of a professional who goes through 4-6 years of college education (Bachelors or Masters Degree) that is expected to provide the basis for the professionals 40+ year career. The curriculum must be relevant so that the college graduates can find themselves a meaningful employment in industry that employs them (barring a small number who take up academic / government / military jibs). Foundation and relevance are like the cake and the icing on the cake; both are important, but the proportion should not be forgotten. Countries like India have a history where low quality, fly-by-night operators mushroom everywhere, promising relevance (often at the cost of quality); and, Universities steeped in bureaucracy, turn a blind eye to relevance of the curriculum. Luckily, premier Institutes always had the right balance, though sometimes the industry fails to take notice of such response.

Every aspect of computing is getting affected in the past five years. For example,

  • Microprocessors are increasingly multi-core with application specific core (graphics, computing, networking) optimised to do the specific function; developers tomorrow must be able to leverage this “architectural” development.
  • From days of “memory crunch” we are into “memory abundant” days of computing; with FLASH memory entering mainstream, the primary and secondary memory separation is blurring. In turn, specialised applications like “data look up” can benefit from “main memory” computing, as opposed to retrieving data from any number of high-speed disk spindles.
  • Databases are no longer limited to “structured” data (where OLTP systems excelled), but moving to “No SQL data” that too of enormous size, often called “Big data” problem.
  • With Internet penetration increasing even in counties like India, wireless technologies like 3G, LTE and SDN becoming a reality, one finds abundance of bandwidth too (at least in countries like Korea).
  • With “Big Data” available instantaneously thru high-speed Net, “real time” Analytics is becoming a reality, at least in a handful of industry segments (Telecom, Retail and Banking).

Naturally, education of tomorrow’s IT professional has to factor in such changing developments.

How do Institutes of Higher Education address such changing demands?

Definitely, not by encouraging fly-by-night “training” outfits, but,

  • Carefully re-visiting the foundation courses (architecture, programming, compilers, operating system, databases and networking),
  • Integrating “cloud”, big data, Analytics, Apps development, Post PC devices, and,
  • Starting new elective courses that go into the details of Analytics, Cloud and Big Data.

In a sense, the foundation is tweaked so that the students see a continuum of ideas that have evolved; for example, cloud computing as a natural extension of distributed computing, location-independent hardware / software resources, compute elasticity, “eventual consistency” that is sufficient for many “Big data” problems as opposed to “every time consistency” needed by OLTP (banking, online trading, insurance). In the process, curriculum gets richer, relevant and interesting; with so much of online resources and free environments to experiment along with the advice of “open source” volunteers, learning can be far more fun and rewarding. Companies like HP and Infosys have domain experts who have developed courses in some of the emergent areas; Institutions do benefit from them. The maturity of cloud infrastructure permits the creation of “laboratories on the cloud” to test out many of the emerging ideas.

In short, the strategies uses to address the changing talent needs include,

  • Tweaking the curriculum
  • Benefiting from industry expertise
  • Utilizing “open source” materials
  • Leverage “cloud” to provide “on demand” laboratory resources

Professor Sowmyanarayanan Sadagopan is the Director of IIIT-Bangalore. These are his personal views. He can be reached at ss@iiitb.ac.in

(Appeared in “The Hindu Business Line of October 23, 2013)

ACM Comes to India

January 20, 2010

The Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) is considered to be the “first society” in Computing. Born in 1947 in USA, ACM represents the largest today of computer professionals next only to its sister society IEEE Computer Society. By formally launching its India office in Bangalore on January 20, 2010, ACM reaches yet another milestone in its 60+ years of growth

1.    ACM is changing

ACM used to be largely US-centric until a few years ago. By opening up on office in China in 2008 and an India office in 2010, ACM is demonstrating its global ambitions.

Incidentally Wendy Hall, the current ACM President is the first ACM President from outside USA; she is also the third woman to be the President of the ACM.

The flagship magazine of ACM, namely, CACM (Communications of the ACM) went through a “re-engineering of sorts” over the year 2006-2007 and got a thorough overhaul in its style, content and focus. CACM is to computer scientists what “Science” is to many scientists today.

ACM is managing to transition well in every one of its attempts.

2.    ACM is influential

Work its 32 transactions, 11 journals and 7 magazines and hundres of annual conferences, ACM represents the major some of scientific literature in Computer Science.

  • ACM’s Turing Award (since 1966) recognizes lasting technical contributions to computer science and is considered as “Computer Science Nobel Prize”
  • Infosys did the country proud by endowing a new prize in 2007; the newly endowed ACM Infosys Foundation Award (since 2008) recognizes young scientists for their fundamental contributions to computing disciplines

These two awards are the highest academic awards for recognizing outstanding research in Computer Science.

Over the past ACM has been successful in influencing public policy as well through meaningful civic society discourse on all aspects of technology that has social impact.

3.    ACM India is inspiring

By

  • getting four Turing Award winners together in one place,
  • through carefully planned exercise of getting the best of the students and professors form across the country to show-case their research, and,
  • physically assembling 500+ researches on Jan 20, 2010

ACM India launch will be very inspiring too.

Nobel Laureate Venky Ramakrishnan talks at IISc

January 7, 2010

On Jan 5, 2010 Dr Venky Ramakrishnan gave a talk on “The journey from Baroda to Cambridge” – a sort of autobiographical (though nothing personal but mostly professional) talk – to a packed audience at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, the “Science City”

It is interesting to see he transiting from Medicine to Physics and to Biology; shifting from R & D Lab to University; fro USA to UK by very careful “choice”

His Q & A was remarkably candid and an eye opener for many speakers

Careers in IT

July 11, 2009

In the “Career Counseling” session organized by Times of India, four speakers were requested to address careers in

  1. Economics,
  2. IT,
  3. Biotech, and,
  4. Sciences.

The inaugural address was made by Dr Prabhu Dev, Vice Chancellor, Bangalore University.

Dr Deshpande of ESC spoke on careers in economics & social sciences;

Dr Satish of ISRO spoke on careers in engineering & science;

Dr Acharya of IBAB spoke on careers in Bio-tech;

I was asked to speak on careers in IT

I had the following to say

IT yesterday

The youngsters particularly in Bangalore had a gala time; good pay; great place to work (air conditioned offices, plenty of party mood), faster promotion; and even fun “hopping jobs” effortlessly adding to your salary (without even having to work more)

IT Today

IT is still one of the largest creators of jobs in the organized sector; with 2 million jobs in IT/ITES in India growing at 150 – 200,000 jobs a year till 2008, the growth might slow down; yet, there will be nearly 100,000 job addition even in 2009 with more expected in the year 2010 and beyond. However companies will be choosy; salary increases will be decent; employers getting to be more demanding in performance

IT tomorrow

The growth may not return to the heady days, but growth will pick up by the end of the year; also for those in India with knowledge of English and other European languages, growth in other geographies beyond India also provide opportunities. In future, loyalty will be rewarded (to specific area, those who “dive deep” and those who stay with the same organization). Both individual contributors (technical track) and group contributors (managerial track) will be rewarded.

The key growth area will still be software services (Infosys, Wipro, TCS) that would keep creating tens of thousands of jobs;

software products will be a growth area with thousands of jobs (Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Adobe);

software-as-a-service jobs will pick up speed that too from unexpected places like Telcos (BSNL and Airtel);

software for specific industry segments

  1. education (MeritTrack, EduComp),
  2. transporation (RedBus, makemytrip),
  3. healthcare (Yos),
  4. banking (3iInfoTech)

will pick up great speed;

university / college teaching will create tens of thousands of jobs, thanks to acute shortage in Universities; teaching jobs have become attractive from the point of renumeration, thanks to pay revision;

jobs in R & D (IBM Labs, HP Labs, Microsoft Research, Infosys SETLABS) are becoming attractive too (but the jobs will be in hundreds only);

jobs in education and R &D would need advanced degrees (M Tech / PhD).

Cloud computing and application development (like Apple AppStores or BlackBerry AppStore) can create a huge “cottage indutry” that is open to any one (not just to those who are Computer Science graduates)

In summary, there are enough jobs for those well trained in IT industry, but only long term players will be able to  retain the jobs; foundation learning will become more important than tool learning (electronics and NOT mere Verilog programming, supply chain and NOT mere SAP software skills, data modeling and NOT mere Oracle tools mastery)

My very best wishes 

(Event organized by Education Times Division of Times of India as part of their 10th Anniversary (10/10) at RV Dental College Auditorium in JP Nagar I Stage, Bangalore during 2 – 6 PM on July 11, 2009)

Globarena event brings 200 College Principals to discuss recession and its impact on jobs

July 4, 2009

In an event organized by Globarena, NASSCOM and JNTU (JN Tech University – the University that controls the largest number of engineering colleges in the country) there were several views on the current state of the jobs for engineering college students post US meltdown. Dr DN Reddy, Vice Chancellor, JNTU and Mr. BVR Mohan Reddy, Founder & CEO of Infotech Enterprise spoke from their vantage points (Head of Academe and CEO of a corporation).

I chaired a Panel with Mr Sheen Akkara of Delolite and Mr Amitabh Mishra of iGate on employment trends and opportunities. I only touched on

  • the need to value “loyalty” (to area, to organization) both by employees and employers
  • move away from “selling your self to the highest bidder” to “finding the best match between the skills / strengths of individuals to the job / organization profile”
  • Institutes looking at long term partnership with specific firms / cluster of firms rather than counting the number of companies that visit a college
  • Corporations moving away from “middlemen” (HR consultants) and engage the colleges directly
  • Students stressing on long term value growth and focusing on “money to pocket” instead of “cost to company” figures

Dr Sandhya Chintala of NASSCOM chaired a panel discussion on “Being industry ready” with Mr Sanjay Singh of Dr Reddy’s Lab, Mr Ramesh Loganthan of Progress Software and Mr Namala Giri of IBM

It was a good learning experience to see such diverse views (particularly from academia who find it easy to blame NASSCOM, Industry, AICTE and the Government

KEA sees 60- to 70% of CET students going away from IT

June 28, 2009

KEA (Karnataka Examinations Authority) manages the CET (Common Entrance Test); CET pioneered a more transparent and efficient management of admissions to technical institutions in the country.

It was interesting to note the statement from KEA Chairman last week, where he talked of IT accounting for just 30% of the much-sought-after seats in the CET of the year 2009. For nearly 15 years, the position has been the other way; IT accounting for 70% of the seats that were in high demand.

Interesting times indeed

ACM Infosys award 2009 goes to Cornell Professor Jon Kleinberg

June 15, 2009

ACM Infosys Foundation Award 2008 goes to Professor Jon Kleinberg of Cornell University

On April 28, 2009 ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) and Infosys gave a Press Release formally announcing the 2008 ACM – Infosys Foundation Award; Cornell Computer Science Professor Jon Kleinberg, 37, won the award for contemporary contributions in computer science by way of vastly improved algorithms for web searching techniques. The award, instituted in August 2007 to commemorate the completion of 25 years of Infosys Corporation, rewards young researchers, typically less than 40 years of age. In its very first year the award went to Professor Daphne Koller of Stanford University for her contributions to Artificial Intelligence (AI), specifically for her insights that combined Bayesian mathematics with machine learning.

 

The citation for the 2008 award goes as follows

 

“Jon Kleinberg’s work on the use of link analysis led to the design of vastly improved algorithms for Web search. His connection between network structure and information was a fundamental breakthrough that has transformed the way that information is retrieved on the Web. His work on the small world phenomenon provides deep insight into the structure of networks and helps explain the social phenomenon of “six degrees of separation.”

 

Dame Wendy Hall, President of ACM had the following to say on the award    

 

“Professor Kleinberg’s achievements mark him as a founder and leader of social network analysis in computer science. With his innovative models and algorithms, he has broadened the scope of computer science to extend its influence to the burgeoning world of the Web and the social connections it enables.  We are fortunate to have the benefit of his profound insights into the link between computer network structure and information that has transformed the way information is retrieved and shared online.”  

 

 

The actual award ceremony is slated for June 27, 2009 at San Diego in USA. This global award carries prize money of $ 150,000

 

The goals of the award are well articulated. According to Kris Gopalakrishnan, CEO, Infosys

 

“Our goal is to identify breakthroughs that have broad implications well beyond the scope of the innovation itself, and that reflect an underlying scientific or engineering methodology that is remarkable for its rigor or for its sheer audacity”

 

Professor Kleinberg’s algorithms, notably his “Hub and Authorities” algorithm along with Google’s Page-Rank algorithm, allows computers to effortlessly catalog, classify and prioritize vast amounts of data, hitherto impossible even with powerful computers. Using his algorithms and the insights gained through his algorithms Professor Kleinberg is able to quantitatively demonstrate the “small world experience” so effectively articulated by the social psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 60’s through the notion of “six degrees of separation”, that talked of just six relationships that generally separate any two human beings on earth. The “diffusion and cascading behavior of social networks” is Professor Kleinberg’s “computer science based” explanation of the “small world”. Kleinberg’s algorithm also explains as to how quickly some stories rise in popularity on the web and the relative speed with which they disappear (while a handful of them stay at the top).

 

Professor Kleinberg’s research has appeared in a wide range of journals including

 

  • Nature (2000) “Navigation in the small world”
  • Computing Surveys (1999) “Hubs and Authorities”
  • CACM (Communications of ACM) (2008) “The convergence of social and technological networks”
  • WWW 09 (2009) “Mapping the world’s photos”
  • STOC (Symposium on Theory of Computing) (2000) “Authoritative sources in a hyper-linked environment”
  • KDD (Knowledge Discovery & Datamining) (2005) “Graphs over time”
  • HT (Hypertext) (2008) Link structures & social processes

 

Professor Kleinberg is not only an accomplished researcher but an engaging teacher as well. He is very popular among undergraduate students for his uncanny ability to explain complex ideas in a lucid and clear manner. In fact the students have given him a nickname “Rebel King”; interestingly, it is an anagram of his last name!

 

Professor Kleinberg is an accomplished researcher. He is a MacArthur Fellow (2005) and was named as one of the “Best brains under 40” by Discover Magazine. He is a Member of both the academies, namely,

 

  1. National Academy of Engineering, and,
  2. National Academy of Arts & Sciences

 

Professor Kleinberg obtained his undergraduate degree (A.B) in Computer Science from Cornell University. After obtaining his PhD degree from MIT Professor Kleinberg joined Cornell University in 1996; he is teaching at Cornell since then.

 

Along with Professor Eva Tardos of the same department in Cornell University Professor Kleinberg wrote a new text 

 

“Algorithm Design” published by Addison Wesley (2005)

 

This book takes a refreshingly different approach to undergraduate teaching of algorithms with a focus on real world problems. The text includes 200 home work problems that are intellectually challenging, yet inspired from real world problems (inspired by the challenges faced by corporations like Yahoo and Oracle)

 

 

Professor Kleinberg started a new generation course on

 

Networks

 

at Cornell University along with Professor David Easley of the Economics Department. Cambridge University Press is publishing a book based on the key ideas developed in this course. Several other universities around the world are planning to offer a similar course in the forthcoming years.

 

 

What does it mean to you, the students?

 

Professor Kleinberg in one of his video interview gives the following advice to students pursuing research

 

Computer Science is a field expanding enormously; in such a field it is not good to specialize too quickly or to take the view that “this is all that I need to know, because I am going to work on the problem only”. No one knows what techniques you will need at a later stage. Try to learn things more broadly

 

With IT taking up considerable space in the media, you often hear the “billion of dollars” made by companies and “millions of dollars” made by individuals. Yet behind these “millions and billions” are powerful ideas articulated by outstanding researchers.

 

  • Google could not have been successful but for the efficient ways to solve large scale linear programs pioneered by the legendary G B Dantzig (University of California, Berkeley)

 

  • Apple iPod and similar digital audio devices would not have been possible without MP3 compression algorithm pioneered by the researchers at Fraunhofer Institute in Germany

 

  • Our own Infosys & Wipro would not have made it big without the availability of the Internet and the highly scalable TCP/IP protocol pioneered by researchers Vint Cerf (currently with Google) and Bob Kahn (inventor of Ethernet)

 

While the billions of dollars are important to create millions of jobs, it is equally important for a country to have contributed to the creation of powerful ideas that lie behind many organizational successes.

 

Infosys has prided itself by instituting an international award of such exalted stature; it is imperative that many of you students take up the challenge of winning ACM-Infosys Foundation Award over the next 20 years. An Indian researcher from an Indian Institute winning this award alone would do proud to the Institutes and the country.

 

Best Wishes

Three Bangalore-based Institutes get NSF MIT pat

June 10, 2009

There goes a Times of India front page news today (June 10, 2009) that talks about an old item – NSF decided to support MIT PhD students to spend up to a full year with NSF funding; 8 Institutes were identified; IIIT-B was one among them. The other two Institutes in Bangalore are IISc and NCBS (part of TIFR)

It is a nice feeling to be bracketed with 100 year old IISc and 50 year old TIFR in our ninth year of operation. Of course it is on our promise and over the next 10 years IIIT-B has to prove its performance. Prof Ken Keniston who was on IIIT-B Board and spent a year at IIIT-B from MIT (he was heading the Technology & Society Program at MIT) is instrumental in this development.

Good first step for IIIT-B; miles to cross in the years to come

I complete 10 years in IIIT-B

June 3, 2009

On June 3, 1999 I joined IIIT-B and reported to Mr N Viswanathan, IAS (of Industries Department – IT Department came into existence only later; interestingly Karnataka IT department was the first, not just in India, but the whole world!) who was the Chairman of the Governing Body.

Ten years have rolled so fast.

A lot has happened; a lot remains to be done.

God has been kind to me & IIIT-B; I am sure He will be equally kind, if not more, in the years to come

Five levels of Industry Academia interaction

April 28, 2009

While everyone talked of the challenges, opportunities and learnings from the operation of “captive units” for major US corporations, I had to pitch in with the supply side, specifically the issue of industry-academia interaction.

Based on my years of industry interaction I had put together the 5-levels of interaction (that matures over the years) on the lines of five levels of SEI CMM Model

The first level is Supplier Buyer relationship where the primary focus is on recruitment

After a couple of years of successful recruitment drive, the corporates invests (though in small amounts) in the form of scholarships and sponsorship for student events (CulFest, TechFest); I call it Donor-donee relationship.

At the next level is Consultant – User relationship where the trust has gone up; corporations utilize faculty by way of consulting projects (short duration projects)

With some more trust building on the part of corporation and delivery capability on the faculty part the relationship matures to Sponsor – Receiver relationship where large projects (with multiple faculty members and multi-year projects) are endowed at the Institutes.

The final stage of relationship is what I call come on board – where faculty members are invited to sit on the boards of corporations and senior executives occupy board level position in the University Senate / Board

Ultimately such a mature relationship should lead to

  • Intellectual gains (Turing award winners, Academy winners, Fellows (IEEE / ACM)
  • Wealth creation for individuals and corporations 
  • Generation of amazing products & services (iPod or iPhone like products)
  • Creation of marquee companies that create jobs (next generation Infosys)
  • Research-led institutes (like Stanford University)

right in Bangalore

(Round table of “captive” unit heads of corporations in retail, high tech, financial services and consulting services in Bangalore held at Target India campus in EGL, Bangalore on April 27, 2009)