A Epistle open letter to Precog,PK & RK

Dear Precog,PK & RK,

Because we together had written lines and lines on Latex, so now its high time to revise, relive and revive something ‘unread’ between those lines. Hold a cup of coffee and have a flashback 😉

So Let me start with day zero when I got the first glance of your presence, it was one fine afternoon while exploring things around Higher studies and research opportunities I came across NPTEL Course – Privacy and Security in Online Social Media, which was obviously fascinating for me because I am a person who likes to live one life on planet Called Social Media. After getting in to course my POV about social media started changing, It was watching another side of coin named Social Media. I learned tools, techniques and much more insight about social media which more real, much relevant with many directions to think about. So our first ‘Virtual’ interaction ignited wish to get a chance to work with you and under you.

Well, in parallel to this course, I got admission in MTech – Information security & Management at Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University for Women and I think it was destined to come close one more step to you, I met with Rishabh Sir (pursuing Ph.D. with PK as advisor), Prof in IGDTUW IT Dept – who has admirable style of teaching and linking real-life problems on board for example linking graph data structure to social media network, and always promote us to come up with new PROBLEMS. Here my connection with you gets stronger as Rishabh sir came from same research roots of Precog family. One year passed and during this one year, we attended many events and workshops organised by Precog.

Research Symposium 2017

Meanwhile, we were attending different event organised by Precog @IIITD, the first year of masters was about to complete. I was aware that it was the right time to choose the realm of the dissertation. That time Rishabh sir guided us to attend Privacy and security in Social Media Summer school @IIITH. I attended it and what I learned was eye-opener and interest builder or in better words, Now I was clear what will be my dissertation domain. (my summer school experience). Yes, It was a deterministic move of my academic journey and I was happy that I took it up. Before going to Summer school we met up with PK in IIITD for short catch up and pitching our ideas around social media. PK gave us some small tasks to build up our skill set to move ahead in the same realm. After coming back from summer, I talked with Rishabh sir about my ‘WISH’ to work with Precog and PK, so Rishabh sir agreed upon to co-advised me with PK. Then the next day this happened –

 

The most awaited mail from PK

Seriously, it was #WOW Moment for me. Oh yes, I was the first student from IGDTUW to be guided by PK + RK Together.😊

So my thesis saga starts now, I met with PK along with Rishabh sir, we discussed The #Cool_idea to work upon, which was “Automated methods to collect Linked Identity across Online Social Media” in which we have to figure out methods by which we can collect one user identity over cross social media platforms. It was the first episode of interaction with PK as an advisor. He was very much enthusiastic to listen to me as well as to tell me what can be done to make it better.

Thenceforward, I used to go to meet PK on every Friday for rest of 8-9 months. Whenever I came up with something new like one of the methods called ‘google dorking’ to solve our problem statement, PK showed his eagerness to learn about it, to go in depth which made me excited to do even better. I learned how to work together because research is not limited to oneself only, it’s for everyone. Here my Special thanks to Indira and Sonu, discussion with them made things easy and more clear. I loved brainstorming session with other precogers as well. Everyone’s problem is everyone’s problem and they used to show off a cool spirit to solve it together with tools of wisdom and creativity. Now Friday excitement reason had changed, I started to wait for Friday but not because of the weekend but because of that Meeting, that discussion. Although It was not bounded only to Friday, I was free to go there to share, to ask for help, to ask for guidance across Precog Group members plus PK.

One of the best parts of Thesis saga memories is Metro ride towards IIITD with Rishabh Sir, with whom metro travel of 60 minutes had become the best time to discuss things inclusive of social media happenings. It was fun. Here, I would like to underline guidance style of Rishabh sir. What makes is special is His dedication for us, His every weekly update, His time-management style. He never ever forced any methodology on me to follow, we used to discuss with equal weighting of ideas. His only motive was bringing best out of us. I can say it with great proud that I was guided by Best faculty of IGDTUW 😊

Hey, what happened? Am I writing too long that your hot coffee will turn out cold coffee .. hahaha – Need not to worry, Because its time to mention unforgettable energetic WU Sessions in Precog, In which we used to tell every precog buddy about what we had once in last week or so. I do remember PK called to share my Smart India Hackathon experience with all. So we can say our bond was not limited only up to dissertation, it was beyond that. In nutshell, One can feel it was bond up to eternal and collaborative learning.

Under PK and Rishabh sir, I got the opportunity to grow myself. Best example could be In 2017, I was an audience in the Research Symposium and in Research Symposium 2018, I presented my poster.

Poster presentation @Research symposium 2018 @IIITD

Oh well, about this poster- it was sub-part or discovery within my dissertation problem statement in which we figured out one privacy leakage in Twitter-Instagram cross sharing mechanism. I can’t forget how much excitement we all were to work on this and publish its POC.

After completion of work and getting results, Precogers helped me in the write up as well by giving their valuable inputs which made final D-Day to come i.e. 12th July 2018 – My Defense day (Although I wanted PK to be present in-person on that day but he couldn’t as, but digitally he was with me).

Right Now, I am working as Software developer in Oracle (Bengaluru), but wherever I will be What I learned with you will be with me always deep in the heart 💗

At last, Credits for this Gold Medal from IGDTUW to Precog, PK & RK where credits will always be due because Instead of leading me by holding my hands, you asked me to walk ahead while you caringly observed from behind. –

Received Gold Medal @ IGTDUW convocation 2018

Nothing can come close to the inspirational presence of a guide like you in a student’s journey. You have no idea how important a role you play in shaping for a student, a brilliant destiny. Creativity, imagination, and originality – the things you have cultivated in me are not quantifiable or measurable right now. But I am sure that their contribution in my life will be way more than just measurable.

Happy us 😉

So while you were stirring sugar in your coffee cup with this letter, I re-added syrupiest memories from the bowl of student life in the current moment, by sketching this letter to you. As said ‘A lot can happen a cup of Coffee”, and likewise this letter said A Lot. I would love to live all these moments in the blink of an eye again and again! Kudos 🙏 _/\_ 🙏

Life on the 4th Floor

For people who’ve known me all through my stint at IIIT-Delhi, the title of this blog should come as no surprise. I was infamous for spending a good portion (read: majority) of my time sitting in/around the 4th floor of the (old) Academic building to the extent that I have been called ‘4th floor boy’ at multiple points. The 4th floor of the Old Academic Building was home to the Precog lab (at the time) and was the primary reason for me spending most of my waking hours in this part of campus. While this may seem excessive (also slightly exaggerated), I can confidently say that my time at Precog has been full of the most defining experiences I have had in my life.

My journey at Precog started pretty early. Towards the end of my first semester, we got an email from PK talking about his group and that he’s looking for second/third year undergrads to join Precog. Being extremely under qualified, I decided to shoot him an email asking if I could somehow help out. To my surprise he seemed interested and and asked me to send my resume. Brimming with naïveté, I responded to him saying “I don’t have a resume but here’s 4 paragraphs of what I’ve done instead”. I am genuinely still surprised (and grateful) that PK didn’t delete this email thread right there, but instead decided to connect me with Nilaksh (Precog alum, now doing a PhD at Georgia Tech) for an eligibility “task”. In hindsight, I’m very glad that the naive 18 year old in me had the drive to reach out to PK that early on because sending that one email impacted the course of my life in a monumental way. I know it feels a little dramatic, but trust me when I tell you that getting involved with Precog was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made.

In the beginning, it was extremely intimidating since I was suddenly surrounded by very smart and experienced people. We had weekly meetings where we would each talk about what we worked on in the week and would give each other constructive feedback. The first couple of times, I walked out these discussions with a much lower self-esteem than when I walked into it; it was overwhelming to be interacting with people who have such a deep understanding of the domain they’re working in and it was easy to feel clueless. A few weeks in, once I had the chance to settle in, things felt a lot different. Things started to seem a little more familiar and I felt as if I was actually starting to contribute to the discussions. The “intimidating” PhD students actually turned out to be the nicest and most helpful people I have had the opportunity of working with, complete opposite to my first impressions. I would (very liberally) bother them with questions about my project and they would actually invest a lot of time trying to help me through. I cannot stress on how important our interactions were, and how big a role they played in my time there (more on this later).

During my internship at MPI, summer 2017.

At the risk of sounding immodest, I would like to think that I did some pretty cool things during my undergrad. I interned at Georgia Tech (Atlanta, US) in the summer of my sophomore year and then at Max Planck Institute for Software Systems (Saarbruecken, Germany) the next summer, which were incredible opportunities from both, an academic, as well as life experience standpoint. I was also lucky enough to author some very interesting publications, including a first-authored publication at CHI which is a top-tier conference. The point behind my bragging is that all of this (and a whole lot of other things I haven’t mentioned) were possible single-handedly because I was working at Precog. I got a lot of support from both PK and the other lab members which made it possible for me to visit these places and have a high work output there. In my opinion, I think Precog is one of the very few research groups in the country where the quality of work/connections make it possible to get these kind of opportunities; I am very confident that I wouldn’t have as much to (humble) brag about if I wasn’t a part of this group.

I went on to work with Precog for over 3.5 years which is much longer than the usual amount of time people work with research groups at IIIT-Delhi. One of the biggest selling points (and why I continued working at Precog) is the real world impact Precog has as a group. Unlike a lot of research groups where the job is “done” once a paper is published, I have personally seen many different tools/technologies which have come from said research, and vice versa (papers coming from tools). Being an impact driven person, this was very motivating for me and was a big reason for me working with Precog for as long as I did. Even when I joined as a first semester undergrad, I was put on a team working on a mission-critical project of national importance. If you are someone who’s interested in using computer science to impact human lives on a large scale, I urge you to take a moment and check Precog out.

When students and advisor decide to wear the same GaTech Tshirts!

It was only much later, when I was fortunate enough to visit some of the best CS schools across the globe, that I got a chance to draw a parallel between how things are at Precog vs the rest of the world. I had expected to be completely blown away by the resources/infrastructure/functioning of these top research groups, but honestly a lot of it felt very familiar. It was only then that it slowly started to realize how representative Precog is of a leading research group even though we’re based in a small school in India. In all my time there, there has never been a moment where a project was “slowed down” because of a lack of computational resources; it was actually quite the opposite, where a project sometimes (mostly) had an entire server with multiple GPUs to themselves. Put together the fact that almost every project has collaborations with industry/other top research labs across the country (or globally), and you don’t feel like you’re in a small institute in India anymore.

While the resources, infrastructure, connections etc. are great, the people at Precog are the real “wealth”; Precog is less of a “research group” and more of a family. I know how cheesy that sounds, but honestly there is no other way to put it. I have personally seen a lot of members come and go from the group, and the one thing every single person will tell you is how “together” everyone is. Everyone knows what every other person is working on, and there is a very high likelihood that most people would have contributed to your project in one way or the other. This culture of helping each other is unique; I have never seen any other group that is so closely linked to each other and that spends so much time working with other people to augment their work. I personally owe a lot to so many members of the group who I bothered continuously (and still continue to bother, I literally just messaged some of them a couple of minutes ago) and who never said no, even though they probably had a lot of other things going on. (Big shoutout to (Dr) Prateek, (Dr) Niharika, Anupama, Srishti, Megha, Rohan, Archit, Nilaksh, Yatharth and every one else I had the opportunity to work with, safe to say I wouldn’t be half as successful at what I do if it wasn’t for all of you guys).

Partying!

I realize that I’ve only talked about the work side of the culture at Precog, but there is also an equally important side to the culture where we like believe in a life beyond work. From “official” socials and organised trips, to (very) impromptu plans and celebrations, we have done it all. Some things that stand out for me include memorable Precog birthday celebrations, as well as celebrating individual birthdays or paper acceptances in an elaborate way. Over the years, I’ve spent a significant amount of time at Precog just hanging out and chilling with people; I distinctly remember there was a time where we would go out partying together at least twice a week.

One of those “socials”!

I’ve talked a lot about the group as a whole, but what you need to understand is that none of this would have been possible without PK. Without a doubt, he is the one person who makes this group function the way it does and I don’t think there’s anyone who could do it better. PK has been one of the biggest supporters I’ve had all through my time at IIIT-Delhi (and now even after), even much before he officially became my advisor. He has been one person that has gone above and beyond to help me push myself (or dig myself out of a hole), and trust me when I say that this happened a lot. Even though he has *a lot* of things going on, he somehow always makes time for his students and makes sure that things are going well at their end. I could go into a lot more depth on how big of a (positive) influence PK has had on my life, but I will stop at saying that I am truly amazed by how a person can alone make such a big impact on so many people. To the say that I am glad I had the opportunity to work with him and interact with him is a major understatement.

First of all, I need to apologize for this entire blog so far. I read through this a couple of times but I’m still very unhappy with how it has come out. Part of it has to do with my literary ineptness, but it’s mostly because it is (personally) impossible to write a blog post describing how awesome this group and everyone in it are. The downside of spending so much time working with a group of people is that you have too many experiences and memories for you to be able to pen down in a couple hundred words. I could probably go on for hundreds of pages and still not do justice to my experience here. Precog is a place where I had so many essential learning experiences (in all meanings of the term) and a lot of fun. There have been ups and downs (which is true for everywhere) but I cannot think of a single moment over the years where I regretted being a part of the group. It’s been a couple of months now since I left Precog (and IIIT-Delhi) to join the MS CS program at Carnegie Mellon University, but I can confidently say that my time here has played a major role in enabling me to be successful in life on the outside.

Given a choice now, would I do it all over again? In a heartbeat.

This is Why I Love My #ProfGiri #3

Once again it is that time of the academic year when all graduating students and Research Associates are moving / moved on to the next phase in their life; starting work or grad school in India or flying off to some grad school outside India. It is super gratifying to see students achieve their goals, and more satisfying to play a role in the process.

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 more / 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. Divyansh Agarwal: #classof2016 B.Tech. NSIT Delhi. MS in Computational Data Science at Carnegie Mellon University
  2. Taneea S Agrawaal: #classof2018 Goldman Sachs, Bangalore, India
  3. Sarthak Ahuja: #classof2016 MS in Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University
  4. Shrey Bagroy: #classof2018 MS in CS at Carnegie Mellon University
  5. Kushagra Bhargava: #classof2016 B.Tech. BVPCoE, Delhi. MS in CS University of Southern California
  6. Gurpriya Bhatia: #classof2018 M.Tech. Tata Research Development and Design Centre (TRDDC), Pune
  7. Anam Bhatia: #classof2018 MS in HCI University of Maryland
  8. Mansi Goel: #classof2018 MS in CS University of Maryland
  9. Arpit Gogia: #classof2018 B.Tech. DTU, Delhi. IXIGO
  10. Nalin Gupta: #classof2018 MS in Data Science at Northeastern University
  11. Divam Gupta: #classof2018 Microsoft Research, India
  12. Dhruv Kuchhal: #classof2018 B.Tech. MAIT, Delhi. #PrecogIntern from summer 2017. Full time Research Associate with us.
  13. Lohit Parmar: #classof2018 Still deciding
  14. Simran Saxena: #classof2018 M.Tech. Still deciding
  15. Indira Sen: #classof2018 M.Tech. Ph.D. at GESIS, Germany 
  16. Sahar Siddiqui: #classof2018 MS in CS New York University
  17. Siddharth Singh: #classof2018 Microsoft, Hyderabad
  18. Anshuman Suri: #classof2018 Microsoft, Hyderabad

Below is a 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 for 2017  and 2016 about graduating students and their next steps.

Hoping to see more and more success stories every year!

Projects, Methodology, Results, and Blogs. Privacy and Security in Online Social Media @ IIITH

Continuing the tradition of capturing project ideas, methodologies, results, and artefacts from the course in a blog, here are the projects from the Fall 2018 edition of PSOSM @ IIITH. For Fall 2017 edition @ IIITD, please visit here.

I taught TM18004: Privacy and Security in Online Social Media in Fall 2018 semester. This is my 1st full time teaching experience at IIIT Hyderabad. It was super exciting to teach as a faculty in the same institute where I had taken courses (in 2003 / 2004). It now makes most sense to me why faculty who teach at their alum institutes take so much pride, I have so many friends and well-wishers who belong to this category of faculty. We had 24 students taking the course for credits, and one Teaching Assistant. There were in total 10 projects developed as part of the course. It was wonderful to see the projects spanning all popular networks, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Strava, Gab, Flick, Twitter, Reddit, and 4Chan. I personally got to know Gab and Strava more through the projects and students.

The intention for this blog is to capture all the projects related details and share it widely for larger audience. Thanks to all the wonderful work by students in the class. The footfall for the poster presentation was 100+ from IIITH community, and some coming from outside too. We also had some evaluators from outside campus, including from IIT Hyderabad.  Below is the customary picture of all Students, Teaching Assistant, and Evaluators from the poster presentation and for more pictures, please see here. Below is the list of all 10 projects (arranged in the alphabetical order of project name) with the following details: Project name | Students involved | Network (s) | Blog. All blogs were developed by the students, we (instructor, TA) do not take any responsibility for the content produced (both quality and the details).

  1. Authenticity of Linkedin Profile | Aman, Harshit, Aashay | Facebook, Linkedin | Blog | Pic
  2. Comparative study on effect of anonymity and ephemerality in social media | Eashwar Subramanian, Himakar Yanamandra | Reddit, 4Chan & Twitter | Blog
  3. Finding your city using your Strava activities | Devansh Manu, Shravya K, Arhant Jain | Strava | Blog
  4. Predicting Elections from Social Media | Vighnesh, Abhijith | Twitter | Blog
  5. LinkIt – Using social media profiles to create a wholesome profile | Aaron, Aniruddha | FB, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn | Blog
  6. Analyzing NSFW on Reddit | Pranav Bhasin, Daksh, Deepanshu | Reddit | Blog
  7. Nyan Gab | Hate speech analysis | Dheeraj, Ritvik | Gab | Blog
  8. Social Phishing. Soumya, Soujanya | Linkedin, Instagram] | Blog
  9. TNT – Troll or Not Troll | Aakash KT, Manan Sharma, Vaibhav Gupta | Twitter | Blog
  10. Un-Locate It | Pranav Goel, Noveen Sachdeva, Aditya Bharti | Flickr | Blog

Special thanks to Shreya for TAing the course.

Below are some quotes by students from the course

“In my time taking the course, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the most defining aspects of the PSOSM course is it’s ability to remain as close to reality as possible. As academics, it’s easy for a lot of us (especially professors) to get stuck in the nitty gritties of theoretical solutions, only to forget what the real life application (and implication) of such solutions could entail. PSOSM didn’t have that issue at all, and it was clear throughout the course that this stemmed from PK’s ability to foster such an environment. PSOSM is perhaps one of the few courses that not only encourages but demands its students to find a real life problem, and to try to solve it head on.”

“We had a lot of fun throughout the course, with PK at the centre of some timely humour during classes. In summary, I would say it’s definitely one of the best courses I’ve taken and a fantastic experience.”

“About the course PSOSM, it had a great vibe, easily being one of the most engaging and interactive courses I have ever had. The course seemed to bring out a different side in all of us. Most professors complain about the lack of enthusiasm among students of this generation, but PSOSM had us reading up on articles and papers, which we would then discuss and debate over in class. From learning to collect Twitter data to having guest lecturers from CMU, the course seemed to have it all. Overall, I enjoyed the course tremendously and had an amazing time interacting with Professor PK.”

Stay tuned for updates on the super exciting course that I am planning to offer next semester!