Welcome to Episode 1 of Beyond The Semesters, a new initiative by Coding Club, IITG where we interview and try to get a peek into the life and work of IIT Guwahati graduates currently working in fields of research, development and others.
Saumitra Sharma, class of 2018, discusses his life beyond the eighth semester. An electrical engineering undergraduate, he received Silver Medal from the institute for being the topper of his department. He currently works as a Senior software development engineer at Amazon. He also gained experience as an Intern as well as a full time employee at Adobe.
We interviewed him regarding his experiences as a software developer at different firms and his work as a research enthusiast. He got candid and discussed his journey as a college student, ups and downs and gave remarkable suggestions for the current students as well.
The following is what beholds beyond the semesters !!
You presently work as an SDE at Amazon. Can you explain to us a bit more about your role in general?
So my work at Amazon is especially around sellers who are willing to sell on Amazon in Europe and North America. My team provides registration and identity verification support for folks and businesses in those regions. Also there happen to be some compliance and legal requirements. So my team tries to automate the process as much as possible.
What is the workload like? Do you get any free time after a day’s work to follow your hobbies?
So let me tell you this, just after graduation, you will have a year or two to relax and enjoy alongside work. Like you can probably work nine to five, rest, and do stuff you wish to follow. But, you know, when you move on further and get more experienced, many responsibilities automatically come on you. For example, when you are a senior developer in the team, you need to mentor folks and also guide junior developers apart from doing your own work. You talk to the business folks like they ask you whether something is possible or not.
Personally, last week I was working for almost 11 to 12 hours a day and, you know, we were like five developers working together till 4:00 AM a few days ago.
So overall, sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes one gets frustrated. But this is a part of the job, and this is how stuff works.
Before switching to Amazon, you also worked at Adobe as an intern and continued as an FTE. How was your experience over there?
When I was in Adobe as an intern, I was involved in research work which revolved around publishing papers, patents, etc. It was fun and fascinating stuff. Then I joined the development team and mainly worked on desktop applications which was good, but it wasn’t really satisfying as all the things were already there, and we just worked on improving things a bit. Basically, things were in maintenance mode. So to try something new, something which was trending like web development, microservices, and artificial intelligence, I shifted to Amazon.
Are there any cultural differences between Adobe and Amazon?
Yes! At Adobe, in my team, there were three members. So, we had standups at 11:30 am in which one has to account for his/her previous work, and I used to reach the office by 11:15. Standups would continue for 30 minutes, then we used to have our lunch and then worked for 2–3 hours. During the coffee break, we used to play table tennis for about an hour. After that, we used to complete our day’s work by 6:30 pm, go home, and relax. So Adobe’s life was mostly chill.
At Amazon, I reach the office at 10 am and return home around 9 pm. So life here is a bit hectic.
I have friends at Oracle, and their condition is similar to that of Adobe. At Google, it is not as hard as Amazon but slightly more challenging than Adobe.
So yes, different companies have different cultures, somewhere it’s hectic , somewhere it’s chill.
Being the Department Rank 1 and also having an excellent research-oriented profile. What was the reason behind going for SDE and not pursuing research/higher studies?
Honestly, I didn’t enjoy it that much, like research work is really good, but I always loved building projects and working on development stuff. I found research a bit monotonous at some points.
Talking about higher studies, when I was in 6th semester, I saw the people around me being concerned about preparing for GRE. So with the flow, I also started preparing for it and bought some books too. But then I realized that there is no benefit in this. I have a brother who works at Hitachi in London. According to him, the work that needs to be done there is almost the same that my colleagues and I are doing in India. So I thought that when I have to do the same work, then why do M.S.? Especially for us, who already have a degree from an IIT and have got offers from some companies, I don’t personally think M.S. is a good choice. And like I said I was always fascinated by development, so I guess this is why I ended up here.
Most of the people switch companies after a few years. What do you think is the main reason behind it?
In my case, I switched from Adobe to Amazon to learn, explore and gain more knowledge. I was in Desktop development, and things were getting kind of obsolete. The work was more about maintenance rather than innovation. So I changed the company, although, team switch is also an option. So you know people switch generally because they get better opportunities at different places.
How well do you think people or seniors receive new ideas, especially at MNCs you worked at? Like startups, are they open to new ideas and initiatives, and how hard/easy is it to implement something on your own in such companies?
It depends on the companies. I would say, like in Adobe, there is a strong culture of innovation. They motivate you and compensate you for innovating. So like I proposed some new ideas over there, I pursued them and kind of got patents out of it.
On the other hand, in Amazon, you get to innovate when you reach senior roles. You have a vision in your mind. And you tend to propose why that vision would increase your company’s business or your organization. But yeah, at junior levels, you don’t innovate a lot. You are more focused on delivering stuff assigned to you.
So yes, the scope of innovation and its level are higher at Adobe when compared to Amazon. And it varies from company to company as well.
In college, sometimes we tend to give sarcastic replies to our seniors. How well is this kind of of stuff taken in the corporate world and how is the bond among office acquaintances?
It depends on how comfortable you are with your colleagues and managers. For example, at Adobe, my colleagues were very chill, so we had an informal interaction, just like in college. But after switching to Amazon, I have experienced that even my colleagues are senior to me in age, so I have to interact formally. But everywhere you get people with similar interests and age groups with whom you can freely talk.
And talking about the bond , especially when you join as a fresher just after graduation , you meet many other new-recruits from different colleges and you spend most of the time with them , you hangout with them , so it’s somewhat similar to what you experience at college.
Are you still in contact with your college friends? Do you go for a hangout with them even now?
I joined Amazon, Bangalore, in 2019. So, I utilized the 3–4 months I had and met with all of my friends. We used to go for hangouts almost every weekend, and those last days were really memorable. In January this year, when the lockdown got a bit eased, some of my friends came to Bangalore and we met there for sometime. So yes, even after college, people stick with their friends and meet occasionally.
As you said junior developers and mid-senior developers guide the freshers. What advice would you give to final-year students about to graduate on how they should approach corporate life?
“ Sincerely lena Seriously mat lena”
Sincerely in a sense, act smart, complete your portion of work on time, try to innovate, and a zeal to do things differently, just like we used to do in various clubs at IITG. This is what makes us IITG graduates. So keep that spirit inside you. This would make you shine above the rest of your team.
And enjoy, have a lot of fun, don’t forget this part. It is imperative as I know people who work day and night, all that happens is they burn out. And also, try a bit to outperform what is expected. Not that this is difficult, it is an easy task and can be done by just keeping yourself disciplined. Things would work out pretty well.
And I think that if we have a monotonous life, we start feeling bad. Then to break that monotonicity, we tend to innovate and do things differently. This comes naturally to many of us.
“Don’t be a minimum guy” — We have this in our college’s DNA.
How is the transition from college life to corporate life?
So, I remember that after my graduation, I had my flight from Guwahati to Delhi. I was thinking that now I am joining as a full time employee, so it’s going to be very professional and all. So I was a bit anxious. It is a bit difficult to adjust, but slowly you become comfortable with your colleagues and seniors. You don’t just sit idly; you tend to do things, innovate and all. It is kind of similar to college; complete your work and connect with a lot of people. Ask your seniors what to do to improve and grow in the company. Also, it is essential to mentor people, and it is important to do things smartly. Sometimes we have an attitude of doing things only in which we are interested, but you also have to do the work that you don’t like and with equal sincerity. You have to be sort-of an all-rounder.
What advice do you have for first yearites?
You must have a precise aim to understand the concepts taught in the field you are interested in. The crucial thing is that you must identify whether you have to go towards research or software development at an early stage. If you think about the research field, try taking projects in your 4th semester and try to get more research-oriented internships. It can become a bit tricky if you are late in deciding that you are interested in research, and that’s what you’re gonna do. Try having a few published papers under your belt and keep yourself motivated. The sooner you discover your interest , the easier it becomes to pursue it. Also try to explore different fields and find what excites you!
His unfiltered advice to everyone:
Whenever you guys reach campus, don’t just sit in your room being with yourself and waste your time (for example in binge-watching alone and all), go out, interact with a lot of people, learn new things, and most importantly, have a lot of fun. One of my regrets is that I was very late in this interaction part. I connected with many people in my 4th year, but it was late. Maybe I could have explored many new areas such as sports and other clubs. This is very important aside from academics. Involve yourself, indulge yourself in activities around you. Enjoy your college life!