Formally, my journey with Precog and PK began on January 4th, 2018 (Precog’s Birthday).
However, it started in August 2017 when PK gave a talk about the work at PreCog and said they were looking for new members. I instantly connected with the group and their work. I desperately wanted to be a part of the cool projects they were working on. I got back to my room, formatted my Resume, wrote a Statement of Purpose, and sent my application. Like in any good story, I didn’t get through the first time. It was a major disappointment for me, but I knew I had to make my profile better. Over the semester, I picked up some new skills and spent time working on independent projects. Luckily, by the end of the semester, there was an opening again, and this time, I got in.
Although it’s impossible to condense everything I learned and picked up over the last 2.5 years into a blog, I would like to highlight some of my key experiences and how I evolved as a PreCoger.
#WhatsUp – All Group Meetings
Every good research lab, just like PreCog, would have all group meetings where members would discuss what they worked on and any challenges they faced. I went from hoping that my turn would get skipped to making sure everyone gets to speak and actively driving discussions. WhatsUps were something that I always looked forward to eagerly. Over that one hour, I would get to be a part of 12-15 projects and understand the varying approaches smart researchers have. The sessions were stimulating, and I would always leave with innovative ideas for my project.
Other precoggers talked about the immense compute power that the lab has. I got to witness it first hand when a server I was using crashed during data collection. In less than 24 hours, I was given access to an independent machine with 64 GB RAM and 32 cores. At Precog, students get all the resources they need for being productive and making an impact.
One of the most striking qualities of PK is that he always puts students first. He encourages students to be selfish about their goals. PK treats everyone as responsible adults capable of making decisions that are best for themselves and the group. What you would observe here is that no one takes unfair advantage of this responsibility. You could see students adjusting timelines to accommodate external roles, but they would work twice as hard to ensure they live up to their commitments to PK and Precog.
#People and Culture
Precog is not a lab; it’s a people. People in tech talk a lot about Reed Hastings and the culture that he set for Netflix. Precog, as a research lab, has a unique culture of its own. PK takes active efforts in ensuring that the culture is maintained throughout.
He fosters a very positive vibe amongst the lab. Every achievement (big or small) of members is celebrated even if it’s not directly related to their work at Precog.
Every member takes an implicit responsibility of contributing to the group in many ways beyond their project. You could always reach out to anyone for help and were guaranteed an immediate response almost always.
Just by sitting in the lab, I would meet many high achieving alumni who came to visit PK and the group. Each of them had their journey and went on to do different things, but everyone would say that PreCog and PK had a massive impact on them.
I got rejected the first time, got in the second time, conducted the entire process of recruiting interns once, and picked up so many skills and learnings on the way.
PreCog and PK gave me a ton of opportunities beyond my research work. Each of them would always involve some form of new learning or personal growth. I noticed here that PK would never ask you to spend time on anything if he didn’t feel you wouldn’t benefit from it.
One significant opportunity for me was when I got to conduct our rigorous process of hiring interns. I got a close-up view of what happens on the other side and how difficult it is for anyone going through 100+ profiles to shortlist candidates. I believe this helped me understand how to format resumes and write statements that have a higher chance of being noticed.
PK has this fantastic ability to instill confidence and inspire people. Every time I walked into the lab for a meeting or a discussion, I would always leave with higher motivation to work.
PK would also send personal messages (all of which I have saved) when he felt you were doing well, or you needed some improvement somewhere. I still remember something he told me about always wanting to write code first. “You can keep writing code, but it should eventually be of use.” Although it’s a pretty obvious thing, the engineer in me didn’t realize what it meant. I would always want to start implementing before getting a holistic view of the problem at hand. Even the suggestions from senior members would be to avoid reinventing and put efforts only where we can make a valuable contribution. This was a significant takeaway for me that helped me be more efficient and productive.
Finally, to top it all off, I made some amazing friends and mentors for life. Thank you, PreCog and PK, for playing a massive role in my growth.
PS: Title Reference – PK would say in our induction session for new members: “I want to and will move ahead in life, it is you who have to decide whether you want to go with me or not.” This statement really struck a chord and inspired me to utilize the opportunities at hand to their best.