In the series Jewels of KGP, we have one of the most beloved personalities of IIT KGP – Tyss Santosh (Alumnus 2020, Department of Computer Science and Engineering). He was the Undergraduate Representative in 2019-20 and the captain of the 8th Inter IIT Tech Meet contingent that won silver. He was also acknowledged as the best all-rounder of the 2020 batch. Currently, he works as a Data Scientist at Microsoft. Awaaz, IIT Kharagpur had the pleasure to interact with Tyss and got to visit his journey at IIT KGP. Here, we present an insight into his life and work which is surely inspiring for all the young brains of the institute.
What was the role of IIT KGP in shaping you as a person, and what contribution has it made to your career?
It was not my self-made decision to get into Computer Science; it’s just how the system pushed me in, although I had a perception that KGP is one of the finest institutions you get into. When I entered, I thought of making use of every opportunity that KGP offers me. Ironically, CS students have this stereotype that they need not take any extra-curricular activities and just go through their academics which I followed in my first year. But after that, I didn’t feel a complete sense of being in KGP. So, I started taking small steps to avoid this monotony of CSE by joining the Students’ Welfare Group and International Relations Cell. I still wanted to explore the other opportunities which were available for me. At the end of my second year, I did an internship at the National Digital Library of India, where I was introduced to the field of research. My area of research entirely relied on Natural Language Processing. By the third year, I was convinced that I was excited about NLP, so I continued my journey there.
In the second year itself, I was introduced to the Inter IIT Tech Meet, and I completely loved the entire format and work. I had also been the contingent captain for the tech meet in my fifth year, along with being the UG Rep in the same year. I was lucky to get the position of UG Rep though there had been a lot of criticism when I took the position because CS students were not expected or supposed to take such positions of responsibilities but stick to their academic ventures. I knew that if I did something wrong, many people would criticize me because of my academic affiliation. But somehow, I pulled it through, and it was all a pleasant experience.
In my first year, I just used to sit in my room, go for classes, attend a couple of societies’ productions, etc. But after my five years of journey at KGP, I can’t even believe what person I was five years back. It has been an exponential transformation in myself, which I could at least witness myself. I am currently passionate about Natural Language Processing, and I don’t know what lies ahead of me to take up; I guess that’s in destiny to offer and for me to accept.
How has your internship and job experience with Microsoft been so far?
In my internship with Microsoft, I was involved in the Software Engineering role, where I worked in Azure DevOps. It was like chasing a battle where you have less to explore but something to ship so that you have a decent chance of landing a PPO. I was afraid that I couldn’t get accustomed to corporate life. But Microsoft has an open, inclusive culture where I never felt like a stranger. I enjoyed my work there, which made me accept their PPO. In my fifth year, while working on my master’s thesis, I gradually realized that I liked research more. So, I later pivoted to a Data Scientist role in Microsoft. I can completely resonate with the situation of freshers who joined KGP virtually. I was eager to work in the office that I had seen before, just like the freshers who want to be on the campus that they have seen in the pictures, videos, and now on Netflix. I am missing out on the interaction with my colleagues in online mode, but the journey has been good so far.
How was the experience of leading the silver-winning contingent of IIT Kharagpur in the Inter IIT Tech Meet 2019-2020 held at IIT Roorkee?
This question takes me to a completely nostalgic picture two years back. As a captain, I was convinced that I will be able to do justice to my role. But since I was also the UG rep, I had a packed-up schedule from there, which made it very tough to balance both sides. Unlike Sports or Cultural meets, Tech meet is an unscripted series of events with a diverse and new set of events adding every year. Here, the contingent selection is difficult because you do not know who could be a gem in which event. I thought to set some rules for selecting a contingent so that the captain following me will have a set of rules to abide by. I had to be very cautious with the procedure as I didn’t want anyone to feel that they needed to have connections to get selected. After that, it was the best phase as I spent time in every event, interacted with the team working on it, and chilled them out. I wanted every participant to have a memorable and satisfying experience because they worked hard towards their problem statement in a team. And I certainly enjoyed that entire period of captainship.
You won Dr. Jnan Chandra Ghosh Memorial Gold Medal for being the best outgoing all-rounder and Kirttan B. Behera Best All-Rounder Award for three consecutive years. Most importantly, what kept you motivated to stay enthusiastic towards all those extra-curricular activities while maintaining an excellent academic record? How did you manage your time between academics and involvement in various extra-academic activities?
It was never a planned game for me. If I decided to take the opportunity coming my way, even if it turns difficult, I never quit it. I was never afraid of failures as there are some lessons learned from failures, which can’t be told by people who win. I used to be prudent in investing my time so that my academics don’t go in a negative direction. These awards are themselves a great motivation for me to achieve more. I took the opportunities KGP offered me, with open hands. There were ups and downs during the journey, but the downs have always had a lesson to learn where I am lagging, and these helped me make a better version of myself. My experience helped me to manage my time and make some tough decisions in my final year. Life is not a planned journey, and you should not stop because of failures.
In your tenure as the UG rep, you have taken many initiatives like inter-departmental competitions, reading groups on a large spectrum of research topics, etc. What was the source of inspiration or motivation to execute them?
It was a conscious decision to contest for the position as people chill in their final semester. Everyone suggested not to contest, knowing the big shoes filled by the previous members. By the fourth year, I had witnessed a reasonable set of problems from my friends and other students. Me and my friends always had a bunch of solutions available but never thought about their implications. So, instead of bluntly criticizing the system, I thought to see the tough things, and was motivated to implement the solutions if they are worth it. After entering, I tried to resolve problems that I had come across in my past four years. Even the idea of reading groups came from my experiences, as I wanted students to explore the ample opportunities that KGP offers in the field of research instead of running for high-paying jobs. A lot of changes have taken place, and I would be happy if those changes persist for a long time and people make good use of them.
While the technological landscape is changing faster than ever, radically new tech is being produced very frequently; what advice do you have for the present undergrads to enter the industry either as an engineer or a researcher?
The exponentially changing landscape is a boon as it will always keep you in a learning phase. There would not be a stage when you can think you’ve learned everything, and this makes you a never-dying curious person. The change is a never-ending process, and I think the curriculum will also slowly adapt to these new trends in technology and industrial practices.
Apart from your academics and technical ventures, what were the other things you loved doing while at KGP and maybe still continue?
There are two best things that complement each other as well. First is that your life is wholly confined to the campus, so all the activities, people, places, and stories you explore are those from the campus. So with this bound, you always have the urge to take up new activities, personal projects, and challenges with your peers constantly throughout your UG years. I have always loved this one holistic thing. Second is the hall culture, a beautiful culmination of a wide array of activities like Illu, which I have always enjoyed. Apart from these, since I was a part of SWG and IR Cell, all the activities, interactions, and bonds from there are also very special to me.
To us, you have had a very illustrious stay at KGP, but for you, what were the moments that you cherish the most, are closest to you, or are most proud of that you would like to share with us?
It is difficult to cherry-pick some moments, but if I had to choose any one, then it would be the time when I was captaining the contingent for Inter IIT Tech Meet 2019 along with fulfilling my responsibility towards the senate in December as the UG Representative. Managing both of them was a challenging journey, but I have gained so much from the period that I look back to such journeys to draw some willpower out whenever I go through certain temporary downfalls in life. The entire period of preparing for the events and logistics of Inter IIT Tech Meet 2019 was so fulfilling to every hard-working soul in the team that even though we bagged the silver medal, it wouldn’t have mattered if we had scored less. Because of the bonds we made and the work we did, I had the entire contingent as my new family, which is more precious than anything.
Another moment would be my decision to take the responsibility of UG Rep because the conventional route on campus for a CS student is to stick with the academics, perform decently, and get a job. Hence, it was an unexplored scenario for me, but I was strongly willing to observe and work from inside the system. This is one of the reasons why my tenure as UG Rep would always be memorable for me.
What message or advice in generality would you like to give to the students of IIT Kharagpur?
All the undergrads work very hard to enter into one of the finest institutions in the country, but when college life starts to become a bit confusing, uncertain, and slightly uncontrollable, they start to constantly crib about things in KGP, comparing with other IITs, and start becoming a pessimist critic. This is not at all productive or helpful to our growth in most cases. In my experience, KGP provides you with the ample amount of opportunities and resources to pursue or explore any of your interests, and unlike other IITs, due to the confinement of life in the campus that I mentioned earlier, you have a very reliable community that supports you, entertains you and consoles you in your toughest times. So utilize your KGP life fully while strengthening these bonds that you will cherish forever. Also, never keep yourself bound to accepting only a very specific set of opportunities. Keep on challenging yourself while moving to broader and newer avenues making sure that you don’t regret not choosing something after you have graduated. Obviously, you might not be successful in each and every goal you chose, and not every turn in the road will be in your comfort zone. But in the outside world, failures might cost a lot, whereas KGP gives you enough opportunities to fail and learn.