Dropping out

Less than a semester into my undergrad (Bachelor of Technology in Computer Science and Engineering at IIT Madras) I wanted to drop out, and start work. I didn’t want to be an “engineer”.

I didn’t know why I’d to spend all my Thursday and Friday afternoons filing away at some piece of iron in the “fitting workshop”. I didn’t have the patience to draw three views of a random object in “engineering drawing”.

And I had the reputation of being one of the studdest programmers in my school. Apart from winning competitions here and there and doing well in acads, I had enormous respect from peers for my programming skills. Given that it was a “high-performance school” (which subjected its own 10th standard students to a test before admitting them to 11th) I guess this peer respect does carry some weight.

So, being good at math, and having the reputation of being a stud programmer, I didn’t know what I was doing studying “engineering”. I wanted to be a programmer, and I wanted to drop out and take up a job. My JEE rank counted almost as much as an IIT degree, I thought. I didn’t have the balls, and I continued.

In hindsight, I’m happy I didn’t drop out. By the end of my second year, I knew for sure that I DIDN’T want to be a programmer. While the theoretical aspects of Computer Science excited me (algo analysis and stuff), I had absolutely no patience for “systems”, or “computer engineering”. I was perhaps alone in my class in my love for Microsoft products (easy to use).

I realized then that I liked only the algorithmic aspect of programming, where one solves a (mostly math) problem and codes it up in a simple program. Huge complicated systems-intensive programming, making GUIs etc. didn’t inspire me at all.

Looking back, all that “major” (i.e. Computer Science and Engineering) stuff that I’ve learnt and internalized was learnt in my first two years of engineering. Of course several concepts that are part of CS&E are taught in the last two years, but I ended up not liking any of that.

Looking back, I do find it positive that I did all those “general engineering” courses. I do find it really positive that we had to do 12 compulsory credits in Humanities and Social Sciences, for that allowed me to discover what I was really interested in, and indirectly led me to doing my MBA.

I have only one regret. That I wasn’t able to switch streams sooner than I could. That IIT, being a one-dimensional technology oriented university, didn’t allow me to transfer credits to a course that I would’ve liked better, simply because it offered undergrad courses only in engineering.

There was a humanities department, where I discovered what I was interested in, but unfortunately it was a “minor” department. It’s been partly rectified now, with the setting up of integrated MA courses, in Economics, etc. (if that course existed back when I was studying, there’s a good chance I’d’ve transferred to it from CS&E). But it’s not enough.

Kids at 17 have no clue what they want to do. What we need are flexible full-scale universities, which allow you to switch from any branch to any other branch after two years of reasonably generalized study (the earlier branch can then contribute to “minor” credits). We need to stop putting our colleges in silos such as “engineering”, “arts and science”, etc. Only then would our universities be truly world class, even from an undergraduate point of view.

And looking back, I’m really happy I didn’t drop out.

3 thoughts on “Dropping out”

  1. Agree completely. I have no clue why I chose CSE in Engg, other than the fact that it was what toppers took. And once you are there, there is very little scope for change.

    MBA is slightly better in that the whole of second year is your choice.

    I wish one did not have to make choices so early in one’s life.

  2. http://nanopolitan.blogspot.com/2007/02/real-universities-please.html

    I always thought 4 credit courses for “PMT” and 80 credit requirement was way too much. And 180 credits was also an overkill. 60 credits of PMT and totally 130 credits is good for an undergrad. There is not point forcing information onto us by overwhelming us.

    All they have to do is train us to think is the right direction. In mechanical engineering, it was easy to see that some profs were teaching the way British would like us to learn, i.e., make us do a specific set of tasks in a specific way. They handed out specific algorithms to design bolts (for example) in which we had to look at values in a table and plug them into a arbitrarily-conceived formula (we were not taught stress and strain-based derivation) and get the final answer. Of course, such courses were not the norm.

  3. You may find MA Econ interesting but it also has a lot of dummy courses that you’d find boring. Trust me since I too went through IITM (EE)-> Berkeley (MS EECS, MA Stat)-> Stanford (PhD EE, MA Econ, Game Theory).

    There is always some pre-reqs, or useless courses in any stream. But in hindsight, I feel they were essential in getting a holistic picture of a subject rather than just studying Game Theory from Semester 1 thinking you want to design games, markets, etc.

    Your filing and carpentry also are useful if you choose to make it to 🙂

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