Rakesh Balasubramanian belongs to CEC 2006-10 EC batch. He worked for Infosys for close to four years, and is now at The University at Buffalo, USA. This interview would be beneficial for those who are aspiring to do their MS/PhD abroad, especially in the US. Those who are from an EC background and would like to do MS/PhD in a CS area might find this beneficial. Let’s see what he’s got to tell us:
1. Why did you decide to pursue an MS degree after four years of industrial experience? Did you think of doing post graduation when you graduated from CEC?
My MS degree was a result of wanting to learn more in the field of computer science. Although it might look like a insincere sentence out of an SOP it is true. Other reasons like the possible switch in the league of people/companies that I might work with, the wish to experience life in a foreign country and other personal agendas all worked towards it. (And yes the prospects of a higher paid job was definitely in the mix.)
2. I can see that you are a BTech graduate in Electronics and Communication Engineering. Why did you choose CS for your MS?
When I took my B-Tech I was just going through the flow and really didn’t know what I was doing. I always enjoyed finding solutions through programming and my work experience told me that I wanted to continue doing this in my life. Hence the Master’s in CS.
3. Could you please tell us about your GRE prep schedules and methodologies? How good was your score?
Thanks to a demanding job, poor time management and laziness my prep schedules were really random and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. That said, I used sites like vocabulary.com to learn word lists which don’t require a continuous effort. Apart from that I glanced through Kaplan’s GRE (borrowed it from a friend) and stopped at sections where I thought it would be troublesome for me (like the essay).
My main mode of preparation was solving existing question papers (many are available online for free) and more importantly analyzing it after. I started my preparation 1.5 months before the exam but useful time spent would have been like on an average 1.5 to 2 hours a day for two weeks.
My score in GRE was quite competitive (325).
4. Please brief us on the application and admission procedure. Please share your whole experience as that would be beneficial to the future applicants.
Bad – That the short version. Now the long one (You will need patience). I had to go through a lot of anxiety because I didn’t plan well. I can’t stress enough the importance of planning early – at least 5-6 months before your GRE exam (If you are doing your undergraduate course while applying you should plan even earlier) . It will make your life a whole lot easier. I started the research for universities and courses offered by them very late and it delayed my whole application procedure. I believe that the last minute applications even affected my chances of admission in a couple of universities. It also took a lot of time from me, time that I could have spent on preparing for the GRE or writing my SOP. (I had to prepare my SOP in parallel during preparation due to lack of time)
I had started my (serious) research on universities in September and decided on a few by November mid. I took my GRE and TOEFL exam in the last week of November 2013 which was quite late. I ran around trying to arrange the documents needed -transcripts, LORs etc for applications the following week ( CUSAT doesn’t make it easy for you) and somehow managed to apply to a couple of universities with December 15 deadline (I got rejects from both). By January end I had finished applying to all the universities I wanted to. Then it was a long wait till the decision letters were out from each universities.
That time can be used to arrange documents necessary for visa applications. And no. I didn’t. So the last month before my flight to the US wasn’t the vacation at home that I imagined it would be.
As far as the application and admission procedures are concerned they are all pretty standard and easy to do as long as you have the time. And you get a lot of help online. So future applicants: plan early. No, seriously.
5. Do you face any academic difficulties as you’re doing a CS degree being a graduate in Electronics? What would you suggest such candidates do before they undergo masters in CS?
Yes. I do. For some subjects I do lack the foundation and needs extra effort from my side to cope up. That said, it really depends on the subjects that you plan to take and the university where you take it. For people in the same boat I would suggest firstly doing the homework before you start the course and secondly choose your university wisely, keeping even this factor in mind. Like check whether the professor teaches the courses you are interested in from the basics or does he assume prior knowledge.
I wouldn’t be qualified right now to comment on what courses you might want to learn before you start, but Data Structures and Algorithms is a must. And from what I’ve heard from my Computer Science friends learning Discrete Mathematics will also help. Another thing you might want to brush up is your Engineering Mathematics, especially people who have been working after college and might have forgotten/lost touch.
6. How has CEC been helpful in current stance?
Except for the Letter of Recommendation from our professors, not much, at least no direct impact.
7. How did life as an Infoscion help you excel as an engineer?
Infosys has helped me in a multitude of ways. Amazing opportunities, excellent infrastructure and even the people who I worked with in Infosys have helped me to be moulded as an engineer. I owe a lot to that company. I might have gotten lucky because everybody who works in Infosys might not be able to boast the same. Nevertheless, for people who are willing to learn and are looking for a good platform to start their career I would recommend Infosys for sure.
8. What are your areas of academic/research interest?
I am right now interested in Computer Vision, Mobile Computing and Networks.
9. How’s life at Buffalo and the institute campus?
Life at Buffalo, till now, has been very pleasant. But I’ve heard the winters are quite horrible here, so preparing for it. Otherwise I feel Buffalo is a great place to be. Lots of places to visit, lot of history associated with the city and very cost effective, especially being in the New York state. The people are also quite friendly here.
The University at Buffalo is very huge and beautiful and I can’t get enough it. The facilities provided are amazing, especially for a state university. For the first time in my life I actually wanted to sit in the library and work rather than go back home. Moreover it is a very research oriented university and a lot of research happens over here. There is a lot more to be told about the university, but I’d rather stop at saying that it is a great university for a person who wants to learn.
10. How much is the expected expense for the entire course? How do you fund it?
I am expecting an expense of around 24 lakhs. Hopefully with a part-time job or assistantship from next semester, maybe I can keep it under 20.
11. Anything else you would like to tell young CECians, who aspire to do an MS in US?
Well, it is a big decision. You should think whether you really want do the course before jumping in. But if you are sure, then it is a really rewarding experience. (At least it has been for me till now). If you plan early then you can land admissions in great colleges with minimum fuss. If you ever need help with anything regarding doing an MS in the US, feel free to contact me anytime. Even if I’m not able to help, I could most probably point you to someone who can. And if you are coming to The University at Buffalo don’t forget to give me a call.
Rakesh can be contacted at: rakesh.balasubramanian [at] gmail. He is on Facebook too: https://www.facebook.com/rakesh.balasubramanian