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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Use programs like Google internship to develop your knowledge

Read this news in TOI of 25 April 2012

Seventeen students have been selected by Google for the internship with its program called ' Google summer of code ( GSoC). GSoC program was initiated in 2005 to offer post secondary students beyond 18 years to write software code for various open software projects. Selected participants are paired with mentors for a project. The idea is to give students exposure to real world software development scenarios. 

These kind of live projects, with real problems, are very useful in applying the learned concepts in real world. This is what converts information into knowledge. If you have read the process of converting data to information to knowledge you will understand the impact of such live projects. This is what Howard Garnder calls 'Understanding something'. 

Look at what students in the above program are doing.  Smit Patel, a student for 3rd year BTech who has got selected in GSoC program, plans to integrate a 'bibliography engine' to the software which is missing until now in an open source software suite called Callligra Suite ( which is similar to licensed Microsoft office). This internship is for 3 months, typically starting from May and ending in July. More importantly, in GSoC, the student can talk with a expert mentor to ask any questions and clarify doubts. 

Out of the 17 students who have been admitted in Google internship program, one is from first-year , 4 are from second year, 9 from third year and 3 from the final year of B Tech ICT program. In other words, a student can join this Google internship program at any stage of his education. One need not be a master or an expert in something. One can use these live projects to apply the concepts into a real world scenario and deepen one's understanding at any stage of the education. 

These kind of live projects help a student in understanding all the various concepts in a subject, connect them together to solve a problem, and therefore build it into a 'knowledge' that can be re-utilised later. The student is forced to move from 'rote' learning to 'real' learning. A live project like this also enables the student to 'gain' the confidence in accomplishing some useful output. And more importantly, he also gets a straight entry in corporate world if he does the project well. Success or failure of project is not important; it is the student's ability to handle the real-world constraints that are tested in such a project.

There is an additional bonus in doing such a live project. A student's future education path is automatically selected after a project work. If he likes the work after GSoC, such as software, he continues on the same path. Even if he does not like the work, he knows what he does not want to do in the future. As we have seen in this blog, shifting from software work-path to domain work-path is difficult. So if you come to know that you do not like software, you prevent lot of future misery.  Therefore in both the cases, it is helpful.

Google internship program is just one example of doing a live project in software area. But every engineer, chartered accountant and other graduate student gets a chance to do a live project scenario in the final year; which imparts the same benefits: development of knowledge and the accompanying gaining of confidence. If you are working in a town like Pune or Nashik, you can even find a company who is willing to do a project for its own use and pay for it. For example, GSoC pays US $ 5000 to work on a 3-month project ! Be it in software, electronics, civil, hotel management, journalism or any other area, student must find a live project scenario to work on. There is no better way to develop knowledge. This is also the benefit of interdependency, which we discussed in the blog.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Do not glamorise passion in your life


I read an article on Sunday TOI about how it is important to live life by Passion. Example of Sachin Tendulkar has been quoted profusely to show how his passion of cricket has helped him break records in cricket. However, in my short career of coaching of about 5-6 years, I have met many individuals like Manik who could not generate 'passion'.

Manik has been acting since she was 12. She won several Gold medals in Acting at State Level drama competitions. She joined commercial drama Group in Mumbai at the age of 26, very competent in her acting abilities and mature in her outlook. In three years, she left drama, after working with several theater groups, because she could not 'adjust' with the unprofessional practices of commercial drama. She cited many instances such as drinking habits of main actors even before the act, disliked the way supporting cast was treated 'inhumanly', cringed at the abuse that was thrown at women actresses. Her engagement with the real word life of drama showed her that her 'principles of living life' were flouted in the drama world. She tried to adjust with the real-world of drama valiantly, but eventually left the field in which she had invested more than 18 years of her life.

When I met Manik 6 years back, I presumed that it was Manik's fault that she could not 'adjust' with the principles of Drama world. But as I met others during my last few years of coaching, I realised that Manik is not an exception. In Po Bronson's book, where he interviewed unusual people and wrote stories of about 50 individuals, I read a case of a gynaceological doctor** who left medicine after spending 30 years of her life getting through a toughest course.

Mary ( a fictional name) always wanted to do medicine because her father was a doctor. But no sooner did she start working as a doctor, she understood that she had a flaw she could not rectify. She lacked an 'Off button', as she says. She carried her patient's pain and concerns to her home. She was unable to separate her professional work from her personal life. She could not live her life, so to say. As she told Po Bronson, the journalist, she was forced to leave Medical profession.

Do you think Mary and Manik lack something which Sachin has? 

As you would have guessed, they did nothing wrong. Only after engaging with the work in the real-world of their work, did they find that 'passion' could not be generated because of some incompatibility. Manik's incompatability was due to her 'principles', while Mary's incompatability was due to her 'off switch'. No one could have predicted that this would happen. Sachin was simply lucky to have found his passion in the activity he engaged, playing cricket. While, Manik and Mary, despite investing huge effort in gaining the necessary skills, could not find their passion when they engaged in the real work of drama and medicine respectively!

Many writers of self-help books wrongly presume that 'passion can be discovered' just by introspecting. Vinita Nangia in the TOI blog, for instance, suggests that if you ask yourself what you are happy doing, you will find it. Infact many self-help books claim that successful people chose their careers through 'passion'. But this is like putting 'cart before horse'. Unless one engages with the real work, one cannot find one's passion. So how can one select one's career through passion? This suggestion of selecting career through passion, though wonderful, is impractical. Please read this blog on how passion develops.

Many authors claim that unless you work with passion, you will not truly discover yourself. This is true, but it is also a statement that is guaranteed to induce guilt in everyone. Since  there is no method to find a work that will generate passion before-hand, one can simply listen to this statement and feel 'awful'about oneself. 

Another homily is 'Unless you work with passion, you will generate mediocre work.'. This is not fully true. Passion does generate excellent work, but not always. For instance, Sachin's cricket passion has enabled him to break records at personal level, but it did not help him to 'lead' Indian team successfully, because captaining a team requires a different skill. Even his passion of cricket was not enough to help him learn the skill of 'captaining'. 

So let us not 'glamorise' passion. For us, who make our careers instead of writing how careers should be made, let us understand passion with all its limitations. When it happens to us, let us exploit the benefit. But when it does not happen to us, do not blame Luck and try to find passion desperately.