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The Inscrutable IITians

By on Jan 28, 2009 in On A Whim | 15 comments

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There’s a guy, let’s call him X. X graduated from IIT Delhi’s Computer Science department and then went on to do an MBA. (I don’t know which institute.) X phoned me to ask me to implement some code on a website he wants to launch. For privacy purposes I won’t state what that is, but it would suffice to tell you that it’s something incredibly, mind-bogglingly lame (this coming from an ‘MBA guy’). Keeping the stupid business idea aside for a while, I’ll come to computer bit. He basically needed to fetch data from websites (not ones with RSS feeds, slurping data from ‘normal’ site layout) he did not own and display them on his own website. Which brings up a question on how long he’d have survived without his ass handed to him in a sling by the legal department of the sites he wanted to slurp data from (pretty big ones, mind you). Now for this kind of work you’d need some server-side script which would fetch the details from an external site and display them to a user. Our genius wanted to get this done using JavaScript. That, dear friend, is a client-side language. You maybe able to use Ajax (not JavaScript) but won’t have a copy of it! So I suggested using a server-side script (using PHP) to fetch, parse, and store details in a database. Guess what? He didn’t want to get stuff stored in a database because “someone from those companies might want to inspect it and we don’t want to get caught”. Fine. But then he goes on to say “maybe you could write a script to create an XLS file and then get some data entry operator enter the data to be displayed on the site”. Dude. If want to get a data entry guy type out stuff then why bother with a script anyway! Just make a guy sit down and type the data in directly! And if they don’t want to enter stuff into a database, then where’s their data entry guy supposed to “enter data for displaying on the site” anyway? Thin air? If that’s what he thought methinks he understood ‘cloud computing’ too literally.

By this time I was fearing for that guy’s sanity. Took a few deep breaths and started off on how it the data could be parsed, possibly by using regular expression rules. And he had no idea what regexes were! Either way this is quite disturbing – IIT not teaching enough about *nix, or a CS guy clueless about basics. By now I was fearing for my sanity if I kept speaking to this guy any longer and politely refused to work on his project.

The whole incident brings up juicy questions on how competent these guys are. Don’t misunderstand me. I personally know IITians who’re good and dedicated to their line of work, but quite an astonishing number of them are not. BarCamp Delhi 5 was held at IIT Delhi and yet there was hardly a single IIT student who bothered to participate. A few did turn up for the Hackathon on day two but were naive enough to think it was some school class where they’d be “taught to hack into Gmail accounts”. (Apart from IIT profs making top ranking officials from software companies stand outside class while they finished a lecture and even shouting at them to keep quiet.) My particular recent experience with X, a software engineer from I-m*f*king-I-m*f*king-T, shows how wrong things are. To get into CS department this guy probably was among the top rankers – well within the top few hundred in IIT JEE! This is the level knowledge shown by this guy. The situation is bad in other colleges, including NITs which are considered to be among the top-ranked institutes in the country.

A big reason for this is the mindset of students getting admitted at these places – who care only about the packages they’ll get once they graduate. Doesn’t matter whether they’re interested in the subject or not. Another of course is a college environment with inadequately trained faculty and less than stellar infrastructure. Asking to rectify these few reasons would be asking for too much, but there is one thing which can be done. JEE used to have an English language section in its paper till a few years back. Reinstate it. (I’m sure people will get what I’m implying here.) Before you shout ‘racist’, note the English is the language which science and technology speaks. India will remain the laughing stock of the scientific research world until our top colleges have graduating students who are genuinely passionate about the field they take up – and not just some guy who slogged through a 25-year JEE question archive.

PS – Check out some interesting discussions which took place earlier on my blog.



15 Comments

  1. Ravi Punj

    January 31, 2009

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    I agree with English part. Atleast the computer science aspirants should be able to reason in English. Much like the Critical Reading section in SAT, not to test the actual language, but just to check their reasoning skills.

    1 more pre-requisite I believe will make a difference would be 80% in CS Boards. Most top-ranking IITians don’t even know anything about programming when they step into college which is pretty pathetic to say the least.

    • Ankur

      February 2, 2009

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      True. An IQ-type component in the paper, not related to academic subjects but pure logical reasoning would be a useful addition in the paper to sort out students who aren’t just mugging up question paper archives.

  2. mayank

    July 3, 2009

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    mr. ankur.
    let me to inform(rather enlight) you that nobody can crack jee without a good iq (average score=125).the jee paper is set in order to test the knowledge(in terms of phy,math,chem) as well as analytical skills of the child. it is not like other engineering entrances, where you just need to mug up formulaes given in ncert and apply them without any thinking. iit -jee is all about application of sound concepts in pcm.so you dont need to change the pattern of jee. all you need to do is to change is the professor,s mentality who dont let the students to have an insight into thamselves.the students selected are better than rest of the world.

    • Ankur

      July 3, 2009

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      JEE doesn’t have much to do with IQ, I’d say. IIIT Delhi’s entrance test could be called an example of a test which focusses more on logical reasoning / analytical ability. What JEE tests is simply how conditioned you are to PCM exercises. With the switch to the completely MCQ-based paper it’s become easier for training institutes to ‘condition’ students by throwing 20-30 year JEE question archives at and letting them solve it.

  3. apoorv

    May 30, 2010

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    is there any way you could help me with my iiit delhi test in the following section. please suggest any books or resources. it would be of great help.

    Logical/Analytical

    Summary: Analytical Ability involves reasoning that helps in analyzing and synthesizing information, applying broad analysis to arrive at conclusions, understanding complex relationships, using systems perspectives while handling a problem or a situation.

    thank you in advance

  4. Apoorv

    May 31, 2010

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    Hey ankur,
    i realy tried but cud not find sumthin specific accordin to the summary. Cud u pls suggest anything specific u know? It wud be of gr8 help. I figurd u might knw sumthin.

    • Ankur

      May 31, 2010

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      Don’t try searching according to definition of logical reasoning given in that. Download the IIIT admission brochure from last year 2009 here, it contains information and a sample paper which will help you see the type of questions that come. As I said, just search for ‘free logical reasoning tests’, ‘free analytical reasoning tests’ and you should be able to get the type of questions that you have in the sample paper. Similarly, BITSAT logical reasoning section is similar – and there’s quite a lot of BITSAT resources on this site (just use the search bar on the right hand sidebar). Hope that helps!

  5. Praful

    June 9, 2010

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    I personally feel that there should be some limitations for the students taking cse.. i mean just like ravi punj said .. 80% in cs boards or something like an extra few optional questions of computer science in jee .. because among the top ranked students taking cse 90% of them dont have interest in cs but rather in the packeges offered ..
    There should be a way to ensure that only quality cs experts come from iits but not people who secured good in pcm and have no interest in cs.

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