Great School, Great Alums: It’s worth staying in touch with Alums!

Some  CMU Alums (See pic below, clockwise – Shabnam Aggarwal, Rajit Patel, myself, Dhruv Mathur, Madhav Singhania, and Prekshi Gupta) met yesterday (May 4, 2014) to discuss what activities to do under CMU Alumni Delhi Chapter. During the discussion one question came repeatedly, “Why should somebody care about CMU Alum Chapter in Delhi? What is their incentive in participating in the events / activities? Why should somebody spend time on CMU Alum activities?” During the discussion, I mentioned that, I will attempt to say my story about how connecting with CMU Alums for the past 58 months (close to 5 years!) has helped me (in many fronts).

I moved to Delhi on 31st July 2009; before I moved, I had sent out some emails to people living in Delhi to meet-up / connect and explore ways to get hooked up to the CMU community in India / Delhi. There were multiple reasons for trying to do this — I did not know anybody in Delhi (I have never lived in Delhi before this move) and so connecting to CMU Alum may help create some network in Delhi; connect with people who went to same school. There is a great sense of satisfaction in talking about CMU, I draw a lot of pleasure in speaking about my experience at CMU, I can very confidently say that CMU should be credited for what I am today. I don’t know how much I have been successful in achieving the expectations of connecting to the Alums, but, below I lay down some (non-comprehensive)  things that I have learned / done / experienced through connecting with CMU Alums.

Hemant Bharat Ram (Owner DCM Ltd.): He is one of the first CMU Alums  I met after I moved to Delhi; he is probably one of the finest person I have known until now. He is so humble and grounded, he loves technology, theory, and posing interesting and challenging questions. I have been interacting with him for almost 4.5+ years now; he is the President of the CMU Delhi Alum Chapter. I have helped him (along with Sanya Gurnani, and Tushar Ahuja) organize some CMU events. Hemant was generous to support a Mini Chair at IIITD which I am occupying for now, i.e. I am the Hemant Bharat Ram Faculty Research Fellow for the period 2012 – 2017. He is also very much connected with some of the technologies that my students are building at IIITD (e.g. Wizters) and he is keen to improve the quality of higher education in India.

Sanya Gurnani (now getting her MBA from Harvard): Sanya is extremely good at managing things, in particular, she is great at organizing / planning events. She is aware of a lot of places in Delhi (which, I am pretty bad at) and she would spend time in interacting with the hotels / restaurants in booking and in striking a deal, etc. It was great organizing some events with her; I learned about attracting people to attend the events, planning the event, etc. from her.

Rikin Gandhi (Founder, Digital Green): Rikin is probably one of the smartest person in India now who is keen on using technology for farmers and how one can improve their lives with technology. Rikin has a lot of accolades to himself, it will be hard for me to list them all here, if you are interested please visit http://www.digitalgreen.org/press/From my perspective,  he has recruited some  students who have worked with me at IIITD and have taken classes with me. Starting 2014, Rikin has agreed to help as an Advisory Board Member of the first NGO start-up of IIITD Find A Way. His interest in technology and heart for blending it for the lower pyramid is commendable. Rikin gave a guest lecture in my course, Designing Human Centered Systems this semester, and his Technology Team members, Nikita Dagar (IIITD Alum), and Sreenivas Reddy from Digital Green were external evaluators of Building Better Interfaces of my course.

Shabnam Aggarwal (Founder of Perspectful): Shabnam is very passionate about Education in India, her Linkedin profile says “Goal for 2008-2018: disrupt education in India.” She too gave a lecture in my class Designing Human Centered Systems on her experiences in working on some HCI related projects; students thoroughly enjoyed her class, as she also did a quick activity in the class. She was kind enough to come and evaluate the projects in Building Better Interfaces as well. Given her interest in HCI and her work in the same domain, she has recruited 3 students from my HCI course to work with her during summer 2014. Good luck with the students Shabnam!

Raghav Gupta (now a Junior at CMU): Raghav attended the CMU New Students reception that I helped organize in 2012; he was going to CMU in Fall 2012. In Spring 2013, I got an email from Raghav saying he would like to do an internship with me at IIITD, I immediately grabbed him. He was a smart student (off course!), he did some interesting things; he captured his summer experience in a blog “A Precog Summer” I consider privileged to have students from my alma matter come and spend time with me at IIITD.

Dhruv Mathur (Co-founder of FBPay): Dhruv is my recent acquaintance through the CMU Alum Chapter, I have seen Dhruv in Pittsbrugh during his UG days (when I was in grad school), where he was very active in the cultural festivals in campus. I was never connected to him then, but, now, we are putting our heads together to get the CMU Alum Delhi Chapter see some action. CMU’s last President Dr. Cohon was in Delhi last year before stepping down, and we had a less than 20 selected people from all over India attend a Dinner where Dhruv also was there and the President spoke very high of him. I am hoping to take the CMU chapter forward and do things beyond the Chapter stuff too with him.

I am thankful to each of the above mentioned and many other smart and multi-talented CMU Alums who I have come across, many more whom I will come across from whom I am sure to learn a lot. As a Computer Scientist / Ph.D. in CS, one generally is not trained to do networking actively and benefit from the same, this blog is only to show that if a faculty like me can benefit from connecting with Alums, I am sure each one of you (whom I assume are smarter than me) reading this blog can do much better, so go out, connect with your Alums and spread the gospel of the great alma matter that you had!

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Professor @ IIIT Hyderabad http://precog.iiit.ac.in