I am Sayan Chaudhry, and in March 2018, I was distressed. I was a freshman studying Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University and I did not know what I was going to do over the summer.
After having spent one year studying away from home, I wanted the perfect balance of being close to my family, working on something I was interested in, and learning a lot in the process.
In a moment of revelation I had only seen happen in movies, a thought bubble appeared over my head, “Why don’t I email that one IIIT Delhi professor who had conducted CMU’s pre-departure reception. I think he also went to CMU?”
I tried my luck and the stars aligned. Two days later, I had a response from PK. Two weeks later, I met PK in person during his visit to CMU’s campus. And two months later, I started my summer internship at PreCog.
I really believe in the concept of key takeaways. One of my favorite questions to ask other people when they tell me about an experience they had or book they read is “What were your key takeaways from it?” After all, if I can get the most important values of something in a few bullet points, why waste my time trying the entire thing?
So, now, 1 year after I finished my internship at Precog, here are 3 of things I still remember from my 3 months there.
The way everyone in the Precog lab thinks about technology is amazing. While most of the tech industry is obsessed with the “move fast and break things” mantra, everyone in the lab cared about technology in a very fundamental way. Asking questions about how our projects could be designed to be the most useful, rather than the most addicting or most profitable was honestly refreshing. This human-centered approach is the reason why Precog has continued to have really interesting and impactful projects in the domain of social computing.
Thinking about the user first, rather than the bottom line, is something that is an incredible quality to have as a technologist and I am glad I learned that from Precog.
I working in the Silicon Valley this summer and everyone here has a love hate relationship with networking. Everyone knows building connections is important, but hard and annoying at the same time. However, PK’s framing of this same concept has made it seem like a pleasant social interaction, rather than a burden.
Thinking of all the new people I meet as my weak ties makes me approach them as friends, as opposed to another node on my LinkedIn network, making the process more fun. As a result the quality of the relationships I have with my connections has significantly increased.
Team Work, Accountability, and Accepting Your Mistakes
During my time at Precog, PK was on a sabbatical at IIIT Hyderabad. With the big boss thousands of miles away, seemed like the perfect opportunity to slack off. But PK kept an eye on the entire team with his frequent checkins (cleverly branded as “What’s Up?”). Moreover, when I started working in Silicon Valley, I realized this was a part of agile development and common industry practice. So working in a team at Precog as a research assistant taught me how to work in the big tech company as a software engineer.
During the checkins, we had to report what we had been working on, what went well, and what went wrong. This kept everyone in the team accountable and also meant we could help each other if we were stuck and bounce ideas off each other. On days when we couldn’t meet our goals, we had to own up to our mistakes and figure out how to fix them, again a very useful skill to have in life.
Speaking of which, I need to own up to a mistake I made earlier in this piece. For the longest time, I thought extracting the key points of an experience was enough to extract all of the value from it. However, even though these three sections summarize by experience at Precog, it doesn’t tell you the whole story.
Precog was also about working with people from all corners of India, ideating through hard design challenges, coding through the night to release a new version of our app, overcoming hard technical issues posed by underpowered feature phones we wanted to support, making sure our app was user friendly and intuitive, and most importantly Precog was about having fun. And then some. Reading this blog post cannot give all of that intangible value.
If you really want to take something away from the last 4 minutes you spent reading this, I would really recommend working at Precog or with PK if you can. It will be hard, it will be challenging, but it will be a lot of fun and extremely rewarding. It will be a juice worth the squeeze.