UMBC Memoirs: Research, Fun and Baltimore

INDIA2USA: Now it’s been a few weeks since I have come back from UMBC, Maryland, USA after spending the Spring, 2012 semester; and the hangover of the wonderful experience is still there ;-).  The dream started in Dec, 2011, when I first got to know about my plausible visit to UMBC. It was a mixed feeling of shock, excitement, uncertainty and apprehension and 4.5 months seemed a long time… The wait got longer because of some initial glitches like getting the wrong DS2019 documents and the drought of visa appointment dates at the US Embassy, but finally on 20th Jan, I got my golden pass to USA, I had exactly 8 days to pack for my first international trip and these days flew by in packing, packing and more packing 😉 Before I realized how much time has passed, I was there standing at the IGI airport at 11 PM, waving a teary good bye to my family and friends. Believe me the thought that I am going abroad for 4+ months had not even sunk in… It’s only when I sat on the huge Boeing 777 for the first time, and the engines roared with fuel, the realization hit me like a lightning. It was a 24+ hours long and tiring journey to reach my new abode for next few months, BALTIMORE. Having had a stop-over at New York, a few hours before, Baltimore seemed a very different but pleasing city..  It was more like a country-side with a loads of green patches, rare high rises and open roads [and from there onwards Baltimore was rechristened to “US ka Gaon”]

Work@UMBC: Research experience at UMBC was highly enriching and satisfying. This was my first experience of working in an international setting, and it was truly a unique and multi-cultural experience. I interacted with professors and students from all over the world and it was amazing to see how they worked together as a team. At UMBC, I got an opportunity to work at Ebiquity Lab under the guidance of  Dr. Anupam Joshi. Soon, I realized it is one of the best and most sought after lab among the computer science students at UMBC, with a proven track record of placements with Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Google. The Research work at Ebiquity lab was always focused and well planned. There were weekly team meetings coupled with scrum meetings to discuss the progress and obstacles and regular updates on research work.

I was highly motivated for my work at UMBC as it was work in my core research domain. Along with the research work I did with Dr. Joshi, I also got the opportunity to attend a course [another meticulously planned detail by my advisor] on “Semantic Web” conducted by Dr. Tim Finin. This was like icing on the cake, as Semantic Web is a new and upcoming field, with numerous applications. In my first few weeks at the research lab, I also got an opportunity to present my work done at IIIT to the Ebiquity group. I got many more wonderful opportunities at UMBC, one such being, when our work was presented by Dr. Joshi at NIST, where I also attended a full day workshop at NIST’s nano-technology labs.

@UMBC I learned about various new domains of computer science research which I had not known earlier, and attended seminars on these topics by the experts. Another interesting milestone for me came during my stay at UMBC, when our research paper got accepted at PSOSM workshop at WWW 2012. I visited Lyon, France for a week to present my work at the conference [another blog coming up shortly about my Paris and Lyon adventures 😉 ]

Fun&Friends: Well no experience is complete without your friends 🙂 and to be honest I met some amazing people at Baltimore and will cherish their friendship throughout my life. These were the people, who made my trip memorable and helped me throughout the stay. It was amazing to see the bonding between the entire Indian community at UMBC. Midnight birthday celebrations, bus trips, movies, bowling, shopping, road-trips,.. it was a trip full of adventure and new experiences. I visited some amazing cities like New York, Washington DC, Boston and Annapolis. I also attended a lot of Indian as well multicultural programs at UMBC, which was an enriching experience too. Now some good things about my “gaon”; the weather in Baltimore was amazing and full of surprises, I experienced snowfall for the first time in my life during my first week at Baltimore, and then stayed through the beautiful spring season to watch all the cherry blossoms bloom to glory and finally bid adieu to the city amidst hurricane warnings.

At the end, I would like to thank my mentors (Dr. Joshi and Dr. PK) for giving me this opportunity to experience a new world and my friends to make it so much memorable for me.

Lifetime Experience @ Microsoft – “Be What’s Next”

After working for more than 2 years in one of the India’s largest IT service Provider Company I always had a dream of working for a product based IT Company.

The dream began to take a concrete shape on 3-May-2012 late in the evening when I found a mail in my inbox from my Training and Placement Officer asking for resume urgently for an internship opportunity in Microsoft. Initially I was a bit hesitant in sending my resume. I felt that I may not be able to make it through the selection process comprised of resume shortlisting, telephonic interview and then personal interview in the Microsoft campus in Gurgaon scheduled for the very next day.

Somehow a thought came to my mind from a famous Bollywood movie which said “Koshish karne waale log kabhi nahi haarte”. The thought triggered me to press the SEND button of the mail containing my attached resume to my Training and Placement Officer.

Things started falling into place thereafter and finally on 14-May-2012 I joined Microsoft Corporation as an intern in the Security and Privacy Division under Deepak Rout (Director Privacy, Microsoft India). He has distinguished experience of more than 20 years in the area of technology management and leadership roles. He has rich experience of 16 years in Military intelligence and is known for his outstanding contribution to the nation in the areas of Intelligence, Security and Technology. He has also been a part of different corporate organizations as Chief Information Security Officer and has been awarded CIO-100 Awards for 2010, 2011 and also Top 100 CISO Awards for 2011. Apart from this he also has a strong inclination towards teaching and has been associated with various educational institutions of national importance (like IIIT-Delhi) in the country. There has been a strong bonding between IIIT-Delhi faculty and Deepak. PK and Deepak have been interacting for the last couple of years.

Amazing co-incidence was that I was also joined by another trainee from Symbiosis Institute of Information Technology-Pune, this guy happened to work with me for almost 2 years in my previous company before joining M.Tech in Information Security at IIIT-Delhi.

It was very impressive to find that on the day one itself we were issued laptops (with Windows 8 OS) along with login id’s and password in addition to the full training plan chalked out on a week by week basis. Day 1 did not end here itself; it was also followed by a training session on Microsoft Privacy Standards and the Privacy laws in India. All these things transformed this wonderful experience from better to the best.

In the week#1 itself we went for a work and fun filled team outing to Manesar ITC resort (about 25 Km from Gurgaon) where we spent almost full day. The outing was comprised of games, meeting on Microsoft’s FY13 targets followed by dance and party. It was yet another awesome experience.

In the week#2 I got another wonderful opportunity to meet and hear Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer who was on a visit to Microsoft Gurgaon.
Every week in Microsoft is characterized by a unique learning experience giving rich insights into the future technology and research areas. Credit also goes to Microsoft and its lively and enthusiastic employees.

I have been handed over independent charge of a number of excellent projects with full authority from planning to execution. It involves interacting with Microsoft partners, development teams, marketing teams and the list goes on…

There has not been even a single moment in my internship tenure till date when I have not lived that moment to the fullest both in terms of work and fun. I will cherish the memories of the time spent at Microsoft throughout my life and hopefully I am blessed with more of such opportunities going ahead in life 🙂

Thanks to the almighty, entire faculty of IIIT-Delhi with whom I got a chance to learn and interact till now, my reporting manager and team mates at Microsoft, my parents and my friends. My selection and internship would not have been possible without their support and teachings.

Below is a pic of mine at Microsoft!

The Republic of Ireland

Football and booze. If those are not the first things that come to your mind when you think of Ireland (or the entire EU for that matter), you’re probably not in the right zone. I didn’t exactly know what to expect when I was about to board my first international flight to Dublin. 19 hours later, I had the answer. Perhaps, it wasn’t about how much the place could offer, it was about how much I was ready to accept!

Apparently, I had landed on a Friday, and there was a long weekend to follow. Day 0 (the day I landed) was damn cold by Indian standards, and I was very tired after the long flight. But the mind refused to shut down and was super-keen on looking around, exploring the new place! The breath-taking greens, the tidy streets, the little traffic and the fresh air were amongst the very first things which caught my attention. Thanks to Sandipan, PK’s friend, who showed me around! I met my mentor, Dr. Maura Conway and Dr. Lisa McInerney, shifted to my apartment with lots of help from Sandipan, bought some stuff to eat and then I was pretty much, all on my own. I had to wake up to a morning to make sure I wasn’t dreaming! The next morning was a different experience altogether. I could not comprehend what I was supposed to do! Perhaps, just breathe and take some time to sink in to this new heavenly place! A visit to the sea side on a sunny Saturday marked the perfect beginning of the trip… Although the wind was chilling to death, the exotic view of the sea-side was inexplicably awesome!

Then came the big day. Tuesday, May 8, my first day at work at the Dublin City University! The feeling was a mixture of nervousness, anxiety, pride and excitement, all at the same time. I went to Dr. Maura’s office in the morning, and she got me started, running around with me to get me my ID card, my desk, access to the lab, and other stuff. She is one great person I must say! She took care of everything so well, and it was a smooth beginning. She even took us out for dinner the same evening!

During the first couple of weeks, I did not get to speak to a lot of people. The students in the lab would work all day, and there would be absolute silence around! I was amazed to see people walking out of the lab if they had something to talk about… Coming from a place where the noisiest place is the lab, I was taken by surprise! It wasn’t long before I started finding a few friends. Students here are really nice. A couple of girls came up to me and we introduced ourselves. Soon, I found an Indian, in fact, some one who lived just a stone’s throw away from my house back in New Delhi! That was shocking!

3 weeks into DCU, it was my 23rd birthday. I was expecting this one to be a silent day. No one around knew. Well, that’s what I thought! But thanks to my advisor, PK, who (I learnt lately) told Dr. Maura about it! Maura offered me to go out to a friend’s place for dinner. I instantly agreed, and thought I’d tell them it was my birthday after the dinner. But to my surprise, it was actually my own birthday dinner I had been invited to! That was the sweetest gesture I’ve ever come across in my academic life! It was a majestic experience… Birthday dinner, the Irish way. Candle lights, small cup cakes with candles, Irish food, and wine. I’m sure it would have been anyone’s dream evening! Especially, when it came as a surprise! I even got a DCU pullover for my birthday gift, again, thanks to one of the sweetest person I’ve ever come across, Dr. Maura. 🙂

The birthday party pretty much marked the beginning of the wild time I had here! I came to know more people, started going out with friends, started enjoying the night life here, basically, it turned out to put me into “party” mode! I was lucky to find a wonderful group of friends, which included people from all over the world! I met people from Spain, Poland, Romania, Greece, Costa Rica, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Taiwan, Ireland (of course), and more… To add to the buzz, the Euro Cup football began, with Ireland qualifying for the tournament after 10 years! Streets and pubs started to fill with enthusiastic supporters cheering for Ireland and singing “holy chants” for the “boys in green”. The atmosphere was electric! I watched all the three matches that Ireland played, with friends at different pubs. That wasn’t all. The partying went to another level when we hung out at nights and boozed and danced till the pubs shut down and kicked us out early in the mornings! It was one of these nights that I tried my first Tequila, and got a bad headache next morning…

But while in Ireland, I also got to learn a lot. The European work culture is different from the Indian one in multiple ways! 8:00 am to 6:00 pm is a strictly followed working period and is often productive. At the same time, evenings and weekends are mostly spent work-free, unless there is a real need to work! I also got the chance to be a part of the School of Law and Government here. Dr. Maura comes from the School of Law and Government, so it was my first time working with a non-computer science mentor! The experience was quite amazing (and sometimes, even amusing) since there were significant differences in the way we approached the research problem we were working on. It was also nice to know how non-computer science students pursued their research, and how they were keen and excited to learn about problems in security and privacy in computer science!

Overall, the visit was amazing both personally and professionally, and the memories and learnings would remain with me for a long time! Below is a picture of me at the Dublin Zoo. Yes, that is a real giraffe, and if you can notice the ostrich in the background! 🙂

Come back soon for more experiences and fun-reads from me and PreCog!