Having always had a huge inclination towards numbers and statistics, it is no wonder that most of my current interests in computer science are topics that rely heavily on a strong mathematical foundation. Currently, my major interests are in Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing because of the mathematical modelling aspect involved. I pursued a minor degree in mathematics at IIT Bombay, and have gained significant work experience in these fields during my time at CMU and Bloomberg.
One of my other interests is quantum computing, the area in which I did my undergraduate thesis too. The major reason being that quantum mechanics can very well be dealt with as something to do with information, probabilities and observables. My interest in this field vaguely began when I was introduced to quantum mechanics at the Orientation-cum-Selection Camp for the International Physics Olympiad at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education in May 2010. Following that, I have had a couple of courses on this topic and taken up a project under the National Initiative on Undergraduate Science (NIUS) scheme too.
Charity begins at home means something else, but in my case, it can very well be taken literally. Having celebrated my birthday just once in life, I have always seen my parents donate to charitable organisations such as an eye camp in Amritsar. I am also hugely inspired by this video of my idol, and try my best to give back to community. I am fortunate to be working with a company that supports a great number of causes, and allocates a large chunk of its profits towards charity. Some of the organisations that I work with are as follows:
- Citymeals on Wheels: We deliver meals on Sunday mornings to the home-bound elderly people in Upper West Side, Manhattan. I first did this event on August 2, 2015 when I was an intern at Bloomberg, and found it to very instantly rewarding. The joy and excitement you see on the faces of some of these people, when they get food, makes up for the long walks with heavy bags that you have to put in. This has also helped me see how diverse this city can be, in terms of riches and misery. As a full-time employee, I have done this event five times, including once as Team Captain - April 3, May 1, June 5, August 7, and September 4.
- Good+ Foundation: We assemble care packages and clothes for infants and expecting mothers. Been part of the Bloomberg team to this event seven times - February 24, March 2, March 21, July 18, August 11, August 29, and September 1.
- New York Public Library: Engaging in English conversations with non-native speakers for an hour and a half, is an experience in itself. I get to meet people from all over the world, and get to teach them a few nuances of the English language. Teaching has always been fun to me. Add the chance to make 5 new friends every week, and you know I have a blast. Until mid-June, I have been a volunteer at this event 29 times, starting March 1, 2016.
- Mentoring on IWD: On International Women's Day 2016, Bloomberg hosted around 200 young women, who aspire to go into industry or college in the near future. We, as employees, were given this wonderful opportunity to share our experiences with them, and to help answer any lingering questions and doubts they had about how to realize their dreams.
- FIRST Robotics: On March 13, 2016, I volunteered at the registration desk and the Bloomberg booth at the NYC regional competition. It was great fun, and very inspiring too, to witness high-school students build such sophisticated robots, and to compete with great sportsmanship. Because of my love for mentoring, I have decided to be a full-time mentor to a high school team for the 2017 competition.
- Materials for the Arts: We help set-up warehouses full of stuff such as frames, drapes, books, jewelry, boxes, etc. to be donated to schools and artists all over the city. March 23, April 13, May 11 and July 27 are the dates you could have run into me at the warehouse in Queens.
- New York Common Pantry: We help sort out, and pack food supplies for low-income households. Also part of our job is to register orders from people present at the pantry, and to ensure that they get served. On March 26 and August 6, I was part of the packing team, while on June 4 and July 2, I got to interact first-hand with such families, and register what their requirements were.
- Habitat for Humanity: We help build safe and affordable housing in Newark. I performed framing and woodwork on April 16. While on May 21, I was tasked with sheet-rock cutting and installation. On June 18, we worked on sound-proofing. On July 16, I got to paint a room for the first time.
- The Bowery Mission: On June 13, and then 6 times in August, teams from Bloomberg served dinner to around 200 people undergoing rehabilitation. This was a great experience, involving interaction with people who are so grateful to be living a healthy and happy ife now.
- American Red Cross: In April 2016, I got certified to perform CPR. So, if ever, you need one, you know whose side to be on while you collapse.
- Lincoln Center: Helped organise the Public Domain performance, acting as support staff to any volunteer singers in need of assistance on a hot and humid day in August.
- Central Park Conservancy: On July 3 and August 20, we helped clean up the Rockaway Beach, and also organised the public opening of the art installation there. On August 21, I was part of a team that built a greenhouse at Governor's Island.
- Bronx River Alliance: One not-so-fine day in August, after a 7.5-mile training run, I went to pick-up garbage from the Bronx River while canoeing through it. I guess it's true that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
- Million Trees NYC: One fine Saturday in May, I planted 31 trees at Pelham Bay Park.
- The Nature Conservancy: The Sunday after that fine Saturday, I planted 25 trees at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Was also involved in trash clean-up at the refuge. Needless to say, I slept at work the entire Monday, after 2 tough days of work.
- Bike NYC: On Citi group's Global Community Day (June 11), we teamed up with them to build and give bikes at the Citi Field in Corona. The sheer joy on the kids' faces when we gave them brand new bikes, made my day.
I started out with sudokus when they first appeared in Indian newspapers, I guess it was around 2005-06. Though I had been fascinated by puzzles forever, these Japanese puzzles did catch my eye. I've been practising regularly ever since and am able to solve the toughest ones in nearly 5 minutes. My best performance in competition mode came in October 2013 at the SJMSOM Avenues Festival where I was able to crack 3 of them in a total time of 320 seconds. Apart from that, I have had the pleasure to meet the finest sudoku solvers in India via some contests like the Times Sudoku Championship and the annual ones held at Techfest. For any of you puzzle enthusiasts out there, the Logical World of Puzzles, a blog by our very own National Champion, is a must-follow. In March 2014, I conducted the Institute's first ever workshop on solving sudoku puzzles and their variants. The slides can be found here and the practice questions here (the first four are classics followed by a mirror, killer, thermometer and a giant killer).
I love to sit down and scratch my hair over good logic puzzles. At IIT Bombay, we have the Institute-wide Logic General Championship every year, which I always wanted to win so badly. In my fourth and final year, courtesy a fantastic team comprising of Nishanth, Ashwin and me, I was able to conquer the same (yay! I have a GC to my name :D ). Lately, I have also taken a liking to Kakuro puzzles, although I am nowhere close in terms of speed and accuracy as compared to sudokus.
Now, I distinctly remember my first ever quiz outside school - the Durga Puja Mela quiz in Sector IX, Bhilai when I was in class V. Although I ended up third, I caught the attention of a Shri Saurabh Sinha, the man who led me into this fabulous world of quizzing. He asked me to join Quest - a quiz club run by some enthusiasts across the city who would meet once a month in a 'battle of the wits'. I remember dragging my father to those quizzes, teaming up with him and then winning quite a few quizzes there once we were veterans. Towards the end of class VI, we came to know of a quiz contest by the name of India's Child Genius being hosted by Shri Siddhartha Basu, a man who I had never heard of but whom everyone at the club held in very high regard. No points for guessing, it was Saurabh Uncle who encouraged me to participate. Turns out he had been to the famous quiz show 'Mastermind' hosted by Shri Basu, one of the pioneers of Indian Quizzing. After a written round and a telephonic interview, I made it to the national top 320 - I was going to be on TV!!!! So, we travelled to the Eagle Studio, Film City, Noida and I ended up winning my East Zone preliminary round too. I ultimately lost out very closely in the national semi-finals, missing out on a chance to meet someone I had always idolized - Shri APJ Abdul Kalam, then President of the nation. Yes, I was definitely heartbroken but dad told me there was nothing I could do that would revert it and hence, there was no point repenting over how I had performed. I have never really looked back since then. I do consider this quiz as that moment in my life when I took off - the time I realized I had it in me to compete with the very best in India, that appearance on national television had given me a huge confidence boost - read more here.
I went on to quiz with the likes of Harsha Bhogle and Giri Bala Subramaniam too, and won laurels till class X. Then, IIT-JEE happened and I shifted focus. When I entered IIT Bombay and started attending quizzes here, I used to feel out of touch and hence a bit distraught. So, picture this: a national-level quizzer in his prime days takes a 4-year hiatus (~Jan 2008 to September 2012). Then arrive two pretty ladies (read freshies at IITB who also happen to be past school-mates) who insist on him pairing up with them for the Sweden-India Nobel Memorial Quiz in October 2012. Although he hesitates, they are willing to believe in his quizzing ability when he himself has lost faith. Anyway, as you would be expecting, it worked miraculously well, we finished third that day, enough to bring back my self-confidence and here I am, back to the quizzing world, hale and hearty.
When it comes to teaching, my first experience was as a Teaching Assistant for CS-101 under Prof. Deepak Phatak in Fall 2011. Although it was a good experience, being part of a big group, having some responsibilities and getting paid too ;-) but it was more about me going to the labs and many a times pointing students towards google search for their doubts, something that didn't really need a TA. So, in spring 2012, I decided to shift to blackboard teaching and hence took up Modern Physics, a course that I had topped a year ago. Now, this was a new challenge for me: I had been given a batch of 40-odd colleagues from the Metallurgy Department and although initially a bit intimidated, I did manage to settle into it quickly. A major turning point came around the first week of February when in a tutorial session, I somehow had a complete black-out on a particular question. I had the solution right in front of me but couldn't figure out how I myself had derived it a day ago. Believe me, that is one of the most embarrassing moments I have ever had - one that did make me a better TA later on.
In Fall 2012, I took up tutorial-teaching for a freshmen course for the first time - Physics again, and I rate this as one of the finest experiences of my life so far : a 50-strong batch, with 8 people within the top 50 in JEE-2012. Even the others were no less though and in an otherwise 'dull' semester (yeah, i am not a fan of the systems courses we do in CSE), this one hour slot on Wednesday afternoons was something I used to eagerly look forward to. Having taught physics for a year, I switched to my first love - mathematics in spring 2013, this time taking up Numerical Analysis for a bunch of sophomores. Although I enjoyed this too, the non-response I used to receive at times made me go back to teaching freshmen again last semester (Fall 2013) in a new avatar of Modern Physics, namely 'Quantum Physics and Applications'. Now, I must confess that this wasn't exactly a stellar batch but they did extremely well (did I tell you they beat the CS+Elec average in the midsems, yes, they did!!) - a TA's delight :)
In my last semester, I had multiple offers - Numerical Analysis, Programming Paradigms, Linear Algebra and Automata Theory and chose the last two. I handled a batch of 42 bright freshers that contained 10 of the top 75 rankers from JEE-2013 and the entire sophomore CSE batch, which also had a few people from my most amazing TA experience ever. This was one hell of a challenge, something I enjoyed to the core. Some of the freshmen I taught this semester were the most brilliant and amazing people I have come across at IITB. It all ended in a bliss when a tutee wrote a beautiful e-mail expressing his gratitude and sentiments, bringing me to tears (even all the valfis and departure of batchmates failed to do that!)
8 semesters gone but the story doesn't end here. I got another chance to teach at the ISTE Coordinators Workshop on Computer Networking in May 2014. The students this time were professors from all over the country. This turned out to be a one-of-a-kind experience, interacting with and training people who seemed to have very good theoretical knowledge but lagged behind when it came to applying it to experiments, something that we have been trained to do very well at CSE, IIT Bombay.
On the whole, I guess it boils down to this - Give me an audience that is either willing or forced to listen to me and give me a blackboard to teach or something to advise on and I'll make sure I bore them to death :P
Yes, you got it right! As with all JEE high rankers, even I was invited to various places to conduct live seminars, to interact with future aspirants and to clear their non-conceptual doubts. But I ended up taking a liking to it. Word spread and I do still get quite a few e-mails/messages asking for advice. While I do try to reply to most of them, my 'sometimes busy schedule' has forced me to skip many lately. Among the seminars that I have been to, the ones that stand-out in my memory are the ones I did for FIITJEE in those huge auditoriums in Delhi right after the JEE results, 4 awesome 3-hour long ones and the one when I was invited by the District Administration of Jagdalpur, a town in the naxal-belt of my native state, Chhattisgarh.
With all the mentoring and writing, I did come in touch with people in the media and that landed me a lead role in Tata Sky's advertisement for their Active Vedic Maths service which was aired during the summer of 2013. You can watch the ad here. My association with the team that produced the advertisement then got me an invitation to be a part of a day-long shoot on Jan 22, 2014 for an episode of the second season of Satyamev Jayate.
In June 2014, while staying back in Mumbai for the US VISA, I delivered a lecture on "Motion in a Straight Line". The audience was a few hundred listeners scattered all over India and it was a good first experience at online teaching for me.
If you have had the tenacity to come to this point, you would have realized that I love to just keep blabbering on and on and on. So, no brownie points for guessing that I write too. I used to write poems for someone, but I won't get into that here ;-) My past laurels do make me eligible for authoring newspaper articles on topics that relate to competitive exams and undergraduate education in India. Following is a series of articles that I authored for the Mail Today newspaper a few months before IIT-JEE 2012:
- Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics for Competitive Exams - 6th, 13th and 20th Dec 2012, respectively
- IIT-JEE vs AIEEE (now called the JEE advanced and main papers) - 27th Dec
- Mechanics - 10th Jan 2013
- Chemistry's common ground with physics - 17th Jan
- Way out in maths - 14th Feb
- Capitalise on prep leave - 21st Feb
- Preparing for D-Day, 6th March
The IIT Entrance Exam is an article that appeared on Priceonomics, an American blog that featured quotes from my dialogue with them during my stay in Palo Alto in June 2013. PS - too long, search for Singh to look at my quotes.
I also used to participate in debates prior to class XI. My mother happens to have saved one of my speeches on some Hindi debate on transparency. I'll just put it up here for the interested reader.
In late 2010, I had started blogging but no longer maintain it. Here's the link to a blogpost on IIT-JEE preparations: Self-Study Maketh a Rank, Practice Maketh Perfect. Parts from this post have been cited in various sites/blogs all over the internet, so I suppose it's quite a good one :D
Recently, I have also found my way into an upcoming book as well as its blurb. You can check it out here. These days, I have taken to Quora as I find it to be a good platform for people to ask more direct questions and it is a good source for a lot of knowledge and trivia.
Lawn Tennis is my favourite and I am an ardent fan of Roger Federer. I have been following this sport ever since the last few slams of Pete Sampras (around 2000) and inspired by my love for this sport as well as the fact that my friend, Nishanth happened to be IIT's best at it, I learnt the basics in March 2013 :)
I do enjoy swimming and running, just for fun and to stay in shape. I would finish a good 15-20 minutes behind the winner in the 6km crossy races at IIT Bombay. Of late, I have been training to run the New York City Marathon in November 2016. My current personal best is 10.6 miles in 109 minutes, which I ran on June 12, 2016.
Among other sports, I enjoy watching formula-1, beach volleyball (who doesn't :P) and a bit of soccer and cricket occasionally. People/teams I follow and support are Mahendra Singh Dhoni; Liverpool (now don't start trolling me) - they have Gerrard after all; and Kimi Raikkonen. One thing you will note is that all individuals listed here are ice-cool, certainly a trait that I admire a lot.
Movies, Music n TV
I vividly remember being a huge fan of the movie Border, I used to watch it on every Independence Day and Republic Day when I was at home, ah.. those good old days. I've watched 525 movies (not 1 more, not 1 less - remember, statistics enthu, so I keep track at watched) since I entered college. I find Tom Hanks to be a very versatile actor and hardly miss out on any movies of his. Also among my favourites are Nicole Kidman and Mark Wahlberg.
Music bands/ singers that I usually listen to, along with my favourites among their songs are:
- Adele - Rolling in the Deep, Skyfall, Set Fire to the Rain, Someone Like You
- Backstreet Boys - All I Have to Give, Incomplete, Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely
- Coldplay - Clocks, Viva la Vida, Fix You, Paradise
- Enrique - Bailamos, Rhythm Divine, Somebody's Me, Addicted
- Imagine Dragons - all of their songs; this band is just awesome!!
- Linkin Park - Leave Out All the Rest, Numb, In the End, Iridiscent, New Divide, Burn it Down, Somwehere I Belong
- Natasha Bedingfield - Unwritten, Angel, Pocket full of Sunshine, I Bruise Easily
- One Republic - Marchin On, Good Life, Say (All I Need), Secrets, Everybody Loves Me
On my mind these days - One Last Night, Demons
TV Series that I have watched: Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, House of Cards, Hannibal, Arrow, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Masters of Sex, The Big Bang Theory, Homeland, Prison Break, Sherlock, Suits, Coupling (this is paradise for lovers of non-veg puns), Breaking Bad, How I Met Your Mother, Spartacus, Gotham, The Flash and Dexter. I am eagerly awaiting the next Homeland season and was indeed disappointed, like all other Dexter fans, by the way it ended.
Notably absent: Friends - I gave up after watching 2 seasons :-/