Precog 101

In the summer of 2016, I was a third year Computer Science engineering student at the College of Engineering, Guindy in Chennai desperately looking for a summer internship. A chance encounter with a senior from college, who was then a Research Associate (RA) here, is how I first heard of Precog. What followed was a year long journey in which I’ve gained mentors, friends and an admit at the Ohio State University for the MS in CSE program (Let me assure you that my time at Precog is what got me in). Here I try to summarize my observations on what makes Precog awesome.

What makes Precog Precog?

Extreme organization.

After working with PK and Precog for slightly more than a year now, I’ve seen how they’re meticulous about communication and scheduling. All communication happens through email, everything is written, there’s a separate email thread where you can reach out to the whole group when you need help or just want to share something interesting. PK occasionally sends motivating emails such as,

Are you spending 100 hrs a week? Just wanted to check with you….

All meetings are scheduled through shared calendar events, and meetings start exactly at the specified time. As PK says,

If it’s not on my calendar, it’s not in my life.

Collective intelligence.

The biggest advantage in being a part of Precog is that you’re not just one person trying to solve a problem. When you’re working on a problem at Precog, everybody is contributing in solving the problem in one way or the other, big or small. Therefore, you’re not restricted by just what you know. However, this does not mean that you will be spoon fed. You’ll probably get a new perspective on the problem or how to approach it which will eventually help you learn something new at every juncture.

Apart from just sending out an email on the thread, there are weekly “What’s up” sessions and monthly “Deep Dive” sessions where everybody presents their work and gets inputs from the rest of the group.

Amazing Mentors

One awesome thing about Precog is that you are never alone. There is always somebody who’s responsible for guiding you in the right direction when you’re stuck not knowing what to do.

In the one year that I was at Precog, I worked on two interesting projects with Anupama Aggarwal. Although I was told that she can be scary when she wants to be, she is one of the most hard-working and considerate person I’ve come across.

Constantly looking for important problems.

The people of Precog are constantly aware of what’s happening around them. Where others complain, they try to come up with solutions to make things better. The email thread is always abuzz with ideas on how to solve some very difficult problems.

The brainchild of one such discussion was the acclaimed Killfie project. What started out as PK sending out a news article about selfie deaths in India and asking

Can we do something about this?

progressed to become a full blown paper. To me, this is what is super awesome about Precog, the fact that they’re willing to spend their time and energy in doing super cool things that can make a difference.

Precog’s ability to attract awesome talent.

After years of looking at resumes and emails they’ve nailed the art of identifying super talented people to work with them. This quality control and insane standards ensure that when you work at Precog, you’re working with some of the smartest, brightest, most creative people you’ll ever cross paths with.

Feedback

Precog works on a system of feedback. Nobody is ever afraid to tell you when you’re slacking or not working hard enough. Although it maybe hard to swallow, it helps you bounce back quickly and produce cool output. It also works the other way around. Nobody at Precog is unwilling to listen, including PK. They welcome any and all constructive criticism that can help them improve themselves or make your experience at Precog better.

Nobody at Precog is ever afraid of failing. I’ve been told multiple times that it’s better to fail fast and correct quickly than to never fail at all and not know what you’re doing.

They love what they do.

Part of the reason why PK and his students are able to produce awesome output is because apart from being extremely talented, they’re super passionate about what they do. Don’t be surprised if you walk into one of our Deep Dive sessions to find a bunch of people in a heated discussion about the merits and demerits of somebody’s work.

They celebrate. A lot.

We celebrate a lot. We take part in each others joys and sadness. We’ve celebrated birthdays, work anniversaries, first days, last days, paper acceptances and paper rejections in some small way or the other, be it the full blown cake or the humble chai party at CDX.

Chilling.

Last but not the least, everybody at Precog knows how to really chill. Before I left from Chennai (in 2016), my mom said,

You’re going to be spending the summer with PhDs. They’re not a lot of fun and they study too much. You’re going to hate it there.

Her words could not be farther from the truth. In the one year that I’ve spent in Precog, I’ve really learnt how to strike a balance between working and having fun.

Overall, I’ve had a productive and fun year here at Precog and coming here was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I’ve changed a whole lot for the better from when I first came to Precog and the journey so far has been amazing.

 

This is Why I Love My Job #2

Once again it is that time of the academic year when all graduating students and Research Associates are moving on to the next phase in their life; starting work or grad school in India or flying off to some grad school outside India.

I don’t have to write the nth time how much I love my job. But will definitely like to mention that it is very gratifying to see students achieve what they want to achieve and it is even more satisfying to know that, as a faculty, we play a small role in their achievements.

Below is the list of students (arranged in alphabetical order of last name) who have spent significant amount of time working with me this year / last 2 years or who are graduating with me or I have written a Letters of Recommendation (LoRs) for their admissions / job and are now headed to great places.

  1. Mallika Aggarwal: #classof2017 Has taken some of my courses, did a project spanning 2 semesters. Started Masters in Computer Science at GaTech.
  2. Amod Agrawal: #classof2017 Has taken many of my courses, did UG thesis on Privacy with me. Started Masters in Computer Science at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
  3. Varun Bharadwaj: #classof2017 from NIT Trichy, #PrecogAlum from Summer 2016. Starting Masters in Intelligent Information Systems program at the Language Technologies Institute  at Carnegie Mellon University (my alma mater!).
  4. Juhi Bhatnagar: #classof2017 Has taken many of my courses, did UG thesis with me. Started Masters in Computer Science at Rice University. 
  5. Srishti Chandok: #classof2017 #MTech Has taken some of my courses, did Masters thesis on Privacy with me. Started work at Nucleus Software. Thesis | Slides
  6. Sahil Jain: #classof2014 Has taken some of my courses, has come back to be as evaluator for my HCI course. Started Masters of Business Analytics at University of British Columbia, Canada.
  7. Shiv Kandikuppa: #classof2016 Has taken some of my courses. Started Masters in Computer Science at Ohio State University.
  8. Saravana Kumar: #classof2017 from CEG Chennai, #PrecogAlum from Summer 2016. Started Masters in Computer Science at Ohio State University.
  9. Aditi Mithal: #classof2017 Has taken most of my courses, did UG thesis with me which contributed into a peer-reviewed research paper. Started Masters in Computer Science at UCLA.
  10. Priyanshi Mittal: #classof2013 Has taken some of my courses. Started Master of Science in Software Management at Carnegie Mellon University, Silicon Valley Campus.
  11. Bhavna Nagpal: #classof2017 Has taken some of my courses, did UG thesis with me. Started Masters in Design at IIT Guwahati.
  12. Mansi Panwar: #classof2016 Has taken some of my classes. Started Masters in Information Systems and Operations Management at Warrington College of Business at University of Florida.
  13. Ashwin Rajadesingam: #classof2012 from VIT, #PrecogAlum 2011 / 2012. Completed Masters at ASU a few years back, and now starting with Ph.D. in Information with cool Professors Ceren Budak & Paul Resnick at University of Michigan.
  14. Apoorv Saini: #classof2014 Has taken some of my courses, completed UG Thesis on Anonymous Social Networks with me. Started Masters in Computer Science at Syracuse University.
  15. Ayush Shah: #classof2017 Has taken many of my classes, completed UG Thesis with me. Working at IBM IRL.
  16. Yashovardhan Sharma: #classof2017 Has taken some of my courses, did a project spanning 2 semesters. Started at University of Cambridge to study MPhil in Advanced Computer Science and will be advised by one of the pioneers in the are of Information Security Prof. Ross Anderson.
  17. Mayank Vachher: #classof2017 Has taken some of my courses, was my Teaching Assistant for the HCI course, did UG Thesis with me. Started Masters in Big Data Program at Simon Fraser University, Canada.
  18. Manan Wason: #classof2016 Has taken some of my courses, did summer internship with me. Started Masters in Information Security at Johns Hopkins University.

Below is picture with most of these students. I sincerely thank each one of them for contributing towards my ProfGiri!

Here is a pointer to the blog that I wrote last year (2016) about graduating students and their next steps.

Hoping to see more and more success stories every year!