Experiences,  IIITD,  Students

Made in Precog

Hi there,

Welcome to my blog! This one is going to be detailed, so let me give you an overview of what I plan to talk about. I will introduce myself, tell you the story of my life, how Precog fits into the picture, and it’s role in making me who I am today. As an incentive for you to read, I will try to summarize what I learnt along the way, and give you some tips 🙂

Who is Daksh Shah anyway?

I am a really enthusiastic kid who is super passionate about computers and finance. I recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree from IIITD (in 2021). I am currently working at Bloomberg London!

Alright, tell me the story

I am not sure where to begin from, so let’s start from the very beginning!

I was born into a wonderful and super loving family. My dad has a business in computers, my mom was the first programmer in our family, she spent most of the last two decades looking after me and my brother. My brother, Ayush, also graduated from IIITD, back in 2017 (https://blog.iiitd.ac.in/13027iiit-d-ayush-shah-class-2017/). He went on to do Masters from the University of Oxford and is currently working at PolyAI.

Ever since I was a kid, my family has provided me with the perfect environment to learn and grow. As a kid I was exposed to a plethora of fields and let free to choose what I desire the most. I have done all sorts of activities: playing football, dancing classes, singing classes, guitar classes, badminton, cricket, computers, normal school stuff, dramatics, gardening, photography, and so much more! This is during my early childhood and when I was in school, not the college time 😛 

I started to get really interested in computers. It started off with Olympiads in school, to some inter school contests and quizzes. It followed by me teaching myself how to make a website from a book I found in the library. My parents felt that it was about time that I learnt my first programming language. This was back in class 7th or so, when I was about 12 years old. We found a tutor, Amit Hirawat. He taught me my first (and second) programming languages; C and C++. He kindled my interest and gave me a fabulous foundation to build up on.

I went on to teach myself Python, and participated in Google Code-In for three consecutive years. In the last two years, I was an international finalist! In hindsight, it sounds like a great accomplishment, but boy! I was devastated that I could not be the winner of the competition, which meant that I did not get the trip to Google Mountain View which I dreamt of with all my heart and soul. As a little kid, I felt that all my efforts just got me a hoodie, and I had lost.

This wasn’t the end of the story. Someone encouraged me to “persevere”. I looked it up in the dictionary, and accepted the situation at hand. However, my computer interest and exploration had to be put on hold at this point, cause I really really had to work on my college admission preparation.  

I had started going to FIITJEE since Class 7th (the first two years for NTSE, and the next four years for IIT preparation). By this time in my story, I had reached class 11th and was significantly lagging behind in my studies, because of my devotion to Google Code In. I put a break on that, and struggled through college preparation. My parents used to go crazy worrying about me and my future. As they knew that the only way I could get a good college (and the field of my interest – computers) was through these college admissions, for which I used to hate studying! 😛

When starting off my journey in Class 9th, I had imagined and made the goal to get AIR 1 in IIT’s exam. However by the time I reached Class 11th, the chances of this happening were super slim. 

The exams came, I did the best I could. Got 27,669 rank in JEE Mains (No I don’t remember it. I had to look it up for this blog). JEE Advanced was not good enough to get anything. My parents were devastated. They knew I had the potential to do really well, but I ended up with a very bad rank and it did not seem possible to get admission in any of the top colleges in India. After rounds and rounds of not getting anything, the hope was almost gone. With a mixture of blessings, luck and the grace of god; in the last round of IIITD, I GOT IN!


It was the stream with the lowest cut off. I was literally the LAST student to get admitted to IIITD. It was a miracle. IIITD was my favorite college (after IITs at that point of time, but in hindsight, it was the BEST college for me. Wouldn’t want to exchange it with IIT/MIT/anything)

Finally you are in college! 

Hehehe, yes, a lot of back story. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it. 

So I was in college now. I had already heard about PK and Precog, as my brother worked with them during his degree (Read about his experience here: https://precog.iiit.ac.in/blog/author/ayushs/). During one of my first few days at college, my brother took me to PK’s office. I had cold feet, from all what I had heard about PK! He introduced us, and I expressed my excitement about the work that Precog does and my desire to be a part of the lab. PK greeted me well, and said that I can talk to him some day, a few semesters later when I have enough experience and we can see what happens.

At this point, I was the last student to come to this wonderful college, but not much to show for. I had the ECE branch (which was upgraded to ITSS/CSSS, during the internal sliding). I attended all the classes and somehow managed to top my batch, with a 9.8 CGPA. 

This, along with my past experience and enthusiasm about computers, made me confident enough to approach PK. Hehehe. It was an interesting conversation. He did feel that I was too young at that moment, but I persisted that I do have it in me to do what it takes. He asked me to fill in the openings page and they will be willing to consider my application (generally first year students are not eligible to apply for the openings). 

What was the Precog Recruitment Process like?

I managed to get selected in the first round (CV + SOP). This is when I got my task: 

The task felt daunting at first, I had claimed that I had enough skills and perseverance to do stuff, but now what?! Was I enough? Could I do it? or would I fail at it like I did at Google Code-In. These were some of the questions I asked myself.

The next 5 days were CRAZY. I had to teach myself all the skills I lacked, fix all the absolutely weird bugs that came up and be able to complete it by the deadline. I asked for an extension of a few hours, and submitted at 3:47 AM

Are you getting hooked in my story? 😛 If you would like to delve deeper, here is the code I submitted: https://goo.gl/khFKhT and the demo video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5lY9IRCf6s 

I heard back, and had an interview. Got another task! 😛 I was scared, I felt that I couldn’t do good enough and that is why I had to go through another task. 

Fast forward to the weekend, I completed all the portions mentioned in the task. (Code: https://goo.gl/tNBNBk, Database: https://goo.gl/dWGMtL, Demo: https://youtu.be/63Lj2RHZThs). Btw, looking at it now, I can’t believe how I could do it back then! Neither would I have known that when I began working on it. So in case you are wondering the same, just give it your best shot. Hopefully it will all work out and you will be sitting like me one day and writing about it in your blog 😉 

After a lot of anxious waiting and interviews, I got in!!! I was ecstatic

So how was precog like, for you?

It was a FABULOUS experience, which helped me to grow exponentially and I owe it to Precog and PK, that I am standing where I am today. 

College had just begun, my first semester was super hectic and I couldn’t get the chance to make many friends till this time. Precog gave me the feeling of family and bonding, which made me feel at home in IIITD. 

Hehehe, it definitely felt close and family-like, but at the same time it was quite intimidating. I was the youngest member, surrounded by super smart people working on amazing projects. I was literally the kid who would just go around and be fascinated with very talented people. 

It was not just a lab, it was much beyond that. I could feel that when our lab had a Potluck (everyone brings some food to the table, share, and eat!) at PK’s place. It felt really good to have informal discussions and eat food which others had cooked for us. PK made rasam for the occasion

Potluck at PK’s place. First (and the last) time I visited the Faculty Block

Based on PK’s suggestion; I started off with exploring a few of the past projects, to see if there was something I could build up on. I could not find much that aligned my interests and strengths. Soon an opportunity came up, to collaborate with Rijurekha Sen (a professor at IITD). I jumped on the opportunity, and started working on a project with her, doing analysis on travel times for cabs. We started off broad and tried to explore all the data that we could get access to, what all could we infer from it and what would it mean.

Eventually as the time progressed we narrowed down on the problem and performed an in-depth analysis on travel time estimation for Uber rides in Delhi-NCR. This was a super fun project, it involved a lot of different technical challenges. To find out how the Uber App was sending data, we performed MITM (Main In The Middle) attack. To get a sense of actual user experience, we recruited some Uber riders for the study and used their data (anonymously) to derive some insights.

There was a time, when people could actually go out without masks 😛 One evening randomly a few of us at the lab decided to go out and have some food. This was my first Precog Social with the team! 

My first Precog Social! An informal guy’s night out

I had a course deadline that very night, and got captured on camera trying to finish and submit my deadline 😛 It followed with me putting away my laptop and work, and to enjoy the company of everyone with me 🙂

Got caught working while on Precog Social 😛

In one of the What’s Ups, I saw Arpit Merchant present his idea for a project. He was in IIITH at the time, and was pitching remotely. The project seemed very fascinating. A few days later, he joined us on campus and I talked to him after one of the meetings. He was willing to take me on, in the project; given PK agreed to it. We talked to PK, and he was totally cool with it. The way we work in Precog, is that you are mostly free to work with anyone, on any project. A lot of ideas are floating around and we often make quick teams to do some analysis followed by a longer time commitment to see through the project. PK’s experience often helps us get the right kind of people together in the team, so that the project has a greater chance of being successful.

It was amazing to work under Arpit’s guidance. He had completed his bachelors and masters degree from IIITH and was now working with us before pursuing his studies further. During his time here, I got to learn a lot from him; how to read research papers, how to formulate a problem, how to visualize data, and get valuable insights from it. He was one of the best mentors I have had, and always had the patience to sit down with me and help me grow. 

With him working diligently and full time on the project, we were able to make a lot of progress.

Another Precog Social <3 !!! (Left to Right; Shwetanshu, Shubham Gupta, Arpit Merchant, Me, Nidhi, Shubham Singh, Neha) 

Around this time, both of my projects were mature. We did get some rejections, but we were confident about our work and had improved on the reviews we had received. We submitted our work at TheWebConf 2019.

It was 2019 by now. We celebrate Precog’s birthday on 4th January. This time, Precog was turning 8 years old. We had a few alums who came to the lab to join us for the celebrations. PK was in his sabbatical at IIITH during this time. We had connected with him and the team at Hyderabad over a call. It was absolutely a feast to see the room brimming with talented people. There were a lot of final year bachelor students, who had various offers from the top universities around the world. It was an absolute delight to be around them and interact! 

Precog Birthday 2019 

Partying at Barbeque Nation

Both our papers got accepted at TheWebConf 2019, and I got the opportunity to travel to San Francisco and present my work!

With PK’s help, I got in touch with some of the IIITD alums that worked and stayed in the Bay Area. They were super welcoming and agreed to let me crash at their places. It was quite amazing to talk to them and look at things from their perspective. All of them had done masters from top universities and were doing jobs now. They gave me some really interesting pointers to think about, on the lines of what to do with my life and career.

Megha Arora’s rooftop party during my visit to TheWebConf, San Francisco. Lovely to meet so many of the Precog and IIITD Alums! 

Signing off 

Concluding remarks

A shout out to all these amazing people: PK, Arpit Merchant, Shubham Singh, Apoorv Narang, Raghav Sethi, Rohan Katyal, Megha Arora, Kushagra Bhargava, Prateek Dewan, Shwetanshu, Nidhi, Neha, Gurpreet, Simran Saxena, Vedant Nanda, Shaan Chopra, Abhinav Khattar, Saksham Suri, Rishabh Kaushal, Rijurekha Sen, Saurabh Gupta, Divyansh, Sonu and all other Precog Members I had the pleasure of interacting with!

Some of these people might not remember who I am, cause I might not have been significant in their story. But I must say that each one of these played a significant role in my journey and inspired me to be where I am today! 🙂

If you have read all the way through till here, I am impressed! Thank you for spending your valuable time reading my story. It would be my pleasure to talk to you in case you have anything in mind which you would like to discuss. Feel free to reach out, it would be my pleasure to connect ^.^

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