Colleges

Computer scientists with a difference

PIONEERS: Jubilant batch of theoretical computer science students. Photo: Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: HANDOUT_E_MAIL

When the thirty 17-year olds, among a few hundred others, applied for the Five-year Integrated M.Sc. in Theoretical Computer Science in PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore, in 2007 they did so with much uncertainty. Because, it was supposedly the first-of-its-kind in the country and they did not know what it had in store for them.

After passing out in July 2012 as the first batch of the pioneering course, they are all confident post-graduates who consider themselves luckier than their other computer science engineering or PG counterparts. They are well placed, not only in large companies, but in areas close to their heart — research. A few others have joined doctoral courses in foreign universities.

Speaking about the genesis of the course, Head of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Computational Sciences of PSG Tech R. Nadarajan says: “There were many computer science courses. But we felt that the real potential of students was not being brought out by these courses. Hence, this was designed and offered to blend mathematics and computer science in the right proportions. Our USP is being concept-oriented. The delivery is very different and offers the students much freedom to experiment with options. What companies can expect to get from them is better talent.”

Aptitude

Theoretical computer science is mathematical and abstract in spirit, but derives its motivation from practical and everyday computation. It aims at nurturing the research aptitude of the students. They are trained in aspects of theoretical computer science with the aid of primer courses in mathematics, computer science and exposure to various fundamental programming concepts.

The role of theoretical computer scientists is to examine the fundamental problems of the field through modelling, performance analysis and solving by experimentation.

As part of the curriculum, students are required to undertake two projects, each of six months’ duration. There are also two internships, again of six-month duration each, which can be done at a research institution or an industry.

Though it all looks rosy, the path, according to Prof. Nadarajan, has not been easy. “In an engineering crazy milieu, we had our own doubts about convincing students about this course. It was more difficult to convince parents. When we selected this 30, it was for the spark we knew that lay dormant in them. It did not matter whether they had a background in computer science or not. The course has done them good and today we are proud of our output,” he says.

Complementing his observation, the students agree that most of them were average in terms of computer knowledge. Some did not even study computer science in school. But today they are working alongside IIT-ians or pursuing a doctoral programme abroad.

Exposure

S. Balaji, who is developing mathematical models for Bravo Lucy Technologies in Hyderabad, was a biology student with zero knowledge in computers when he joined the course. “Today, I am able to compete on a par with fellow IIT-ians and BITS graduates in my workplace. My course has inspired my company to include PSG Tech for recruitment, after these premier institutions.”

Sridhar Venkatesan, Ph.D. scholar at George Mason University, Virginia, says, “the research internship made us actively engage with professors from top-notch Indian research institutes like IIT, IMSc, ISI, etc. This exposure has transformed me, an average student who joined the course with the aim of landing a job, into taking up doctoral degree in research and considering it as a career path.” The alumni believe that the whole package — course content, the essence of fostering research, internship experience, experienced faculty who guided them at every step, great peer group influence, infrastructure and the ethos that the institution stood for — worked as the success formulae.

A. Varun Prakash who works for Oracle India, puts it in a nutshell: As a pioneering batch we have created a platform — through our successes — for our successors.

What they say

Vignesh Venkat

Software engineer in Google at its corporate headquarters at Mountain View, California (Pay: Rs. 21 lakh annum)

“Theoretical Computer Science at PSG Tech is where solid theory meets astonishing practice in computer science. The infrastructure and (learning) environment provided by the Department are excellent. You can either choose a career path in the research and development sectors of the software industry, or pursue a Ph.D. I would rate this among the top courses in the country.”

Sachin Vasant

Joined Ph.D. in Computer Science at Boston University

“Along with the fundamentals, the programme aims at providing a rigorous/formal mathematical treatment of various aspects of Computer Science. Besides the curriculum, the faculty encourage us to take up latest/interesting topics as assignments. The internship experience along with the good background in theory helped me bag the admission to the doctoral programme. ”

I. Thomson

Employed in the Information Services team of Reckitt Benckiser, Gurgaon.

“After Plus-Two when I wanted to pursue higher education in computer science, it was the advertisement for this course that drew my interest. It said ‘We look at the spark and not the marks’. And, this is what differentiates the course from an engineering degree. It has all the ingredients of an engineering degree and a PG degree, and something more. It is rooted in mathematics and there is flexibility in terms of projects, internships, etc. I did both my research-based internships at IIT-M. ”

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2021 9:03:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/education/college-and-university/computer-scientists-with-a-difference/article3854490.ece

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