Precog: A Family Affair

Before joining IIIT-Delhi, my father and I sat together to go through the list of faculty members who would teach me. We were awed by them all but some names stood out, one being PK’s. I read about his achievements and was eager to enroll in one of his courses when I joined IIIT-Delhi. After completing my first year, I was presented with several domains within computer science which I did not know existed; I wanted to explore them all. During the same time, Backpack was a hot product which students and professors were gushing about. I was told that a few of PK’s students had created Backpack and my interest in working with PK increased. However, it wasn’t until my third year that I actually met him.

I enrolled for DHCS, a CSE course on Human-Computer Interaction — the first of its kind in India. I liked the work we did in the course and wanted to dig deeper into this domain. This led me to become a Precog intern in the Summer of 2016. I worked with Dr. Niharika Sachdeva¬†(recently received her Ph.D. from the group) to analyse the satisfaction of citizens after police response to their complaints. I also evaluated the Android applications that the police had released for use by the people.

Pic: Precog Interns: Summer of 2016

My association with Precog and PK continued as my last year at IIITD rolled in. I took up a BTP, collaborating with another faculty member on campus — Professor Shriram Venkatraman — to study the social impacts of Killfie. I enjoyed the research immensely and learned more than I could ever hope to. I was given the freedom to work on a project I liked, making it more fun.

The culture at Precog is imbibed with working smart and partying hard. Regular socials (where everyone interacts with each other informally) ensure we know people from different projects, making Precog a research family rather than just a research group. The openness with which we greet each other (we can’t call anyone Sir/Ma’am, not the PhD scholars, not even PK himself) brings with it the comfort of familiarity I haven’t witnessed anywhere else. We have regular group meetings too, where everyone is encouraged to participate in the discourse, leading to a fresh set of eyes noticing something unique in the project.

At Precog, I met a group of people who were not defined by just what they did. Like the stars in a constellation, everyone had a different story to tell.

First Time’s the Charm

I had to select courses to register for in the Winter semester of 2016. One of them, DHCS, caught my eye but I was a bit hesitant to register for it. My friends had to persuade me to take DHCS instead of another course just so that we could form a group to do the course project! When I attended the first lecture of DHCS, I knew I would love the course. I was not proven wrong. The assignments were enjoyable, though challenging. I learned the design process that is followed in order to create usable interfaces. I faced obstacles and jumped high over them. My interest in HCI increased tremendously.

BBI fun with group members

The course had a showcase event to present our final project to a team of judges. This showcase was a unique experience for me since we were expected to not only present the mobile app but to market our mobile app to the judges. The teams went all out in this final presentation and it was heartening to see the effort we all put.

Preparing for BBI

When I registered for DHCS on the cold December night, little did I know that I was registering for much more than a course. Taught by PK, the course was everything an HCI student could dream of. I continued my association with PK over the Summer through an internship.

I worked with Niharika Sachdeva on analyzing Policing and OSM. Niharika Ma’am is an amazing mentor. I learned several new techniques and analysed several papers as research for my project. Her feedback was insightful and aided me in making my project more streamlined. She asked several questions to which I had no answer. This made me read about the concepts behind my work. In the process, I learned several new things.

Another highlight was meeting all the Precogers, as we call ourselves. (Yes, I am a Precoger now!) The amount of intelligence in the room tangibly increases when all the Precogers are together. We have several interactive sessions where everyone gets together and talks about their project or any new ideas they have had. The insights provided by the Precogers give a fresh perspective to the problem we are working on. This system of feedback ensures we stay on the top of our game.

A few of the Precogers

To be a part of PreCog is to be inspired. I have loved my journey here so far and I look forward to several more memorable experiences.