Pursuit of Opportunity: Professional Student Summit 2019

A Summit organized by the Govt. of Kerala at CUSAT on February 10th 2019.

A few selected students from our college were invited to attend the state level summit ‘Professional Student Summer 2019’ organized by the Govt. of Kerala on February 10th 2019 at CUSAT. Initially only the top 2 students from each class were invited and I did not fall in the category. But later it was extended to 10 from each and that space gave me the gap to attend it same.

To be frank, I had second thoughts about attending it because I speculated it would be a promotion event without any output for students. But when I went to the website and saw the list of speakers, I put aside my travel plans to Kasargode Hackathon and Trivandrum to attend PSS 2K19.

From renown scientists to professors from prestigious universities, this summit promised to provide the best exposure and networking opportunity for students all across Kerala and they certainly met the expectations, if not exceeded it.

The Welcome Sessions

I met my college friends at the registration counter. Students were donning the Change maker ID Card and wrist bands. During the breakfast session I got to meet friends I had not met in the recent past due to parting ways. I made new friends from CUSAT and they shared their world, how awesome the library was and how political issues in campus grants them holidays quite frequently. It certainly was a new perspective.

We were guided to the main hall where, after being frisked, were guided to a section in the crowd that corresponded with our field. I sat in the computer science section and discovered Jasmal from Indragandhi College of Engineering Kothamangalam. He is a youth with an entrepreneurial spirit within, eager to learn and build products. Unfortunately due to the lack of active sessions at his institute, he finds it difficult to get involved in technology. It was then that I realized how I took the supportive environment I had for granted, not thinking twice before skipping a technical meetup. He went on to say how students do not realize the opportunities available and the cycle of negligence continues over time.

I recommended him to reach out to TinkerHub community as they are passionate about helping institutions develop skills that make students industry ready.

Shortly after our discussion, the welcome session began. Mr. Jaleel gave the presidential address where he explained:

  • The purpose of the summit is to connect students who excel with industrial experts and help them realize how they can lead along with their peers to pursue their dreams.
  • We are change makers and to take action we need to be physically equipped with resources, mentally prepared with training and internally ready to explore opportunities.
  • A mentor pushes a students to work as his/her best and it brings forth the best talents for the world to appreciate.

Following this, Mr. Pinarayi VIjayan the chief minister of Kerala addressed the gathering. He said Students should leverage technology to bring opportunities of growth to the state. “We follow outdated customs/syllabus even today due to low technological penetration and it is time we changed that” he admitted honestly. Since our land makes it difficult to bring quality to laymen, the responsibility to do so lies in the students as they have immense potential to explore. “Do not wait for the government to take action, for you can start and we will help out. Be a change maker”. With the internet at our helm, knowledge is literally at our finger tips and to utilize it we need sound and resourceful youth to bring about the change. He even mentioned how Kerala is fortunate to have excellent network and ties with world class establishment to provide the required exposure to deserving youth.

The CM went on to say “We have a 3 stage model of progress: Update, Enhance and Benchmark”. It means that the Government can provide the support but only when we utilize it and enhance can it be set as the new bench mark of progress. He went on to speak how the government plans to start an internship portal and measures to update the syllabus. Mr. Pinarayi concluded his talk with these three points:

  1. System will help if you try
  2. Fight against corruption and your drive will survive
  3. Strive for your dreams and make us proud

After the inspiring speech, the last section of the welcome session was the Keynote address by Dr. Sandip Trivedi, a Theoretical Physicist. He shared with us the excitement for future in science by glancing over the past achievements of India ranging from crygenic engine for space research to game changing research in basic science.

Next, we were redirected to attend domain specific sessions with corresponding industry experts at alloted venues. Since I am a computer science student, we were directed to a building where we got to interact with Dr. Deepak, a professor from IIT and Dr. Roshi John, from TCS making strides in self driving cars in India.

Dr. Deepak presented first, explaining the major strides in Computer Science in the past. To explain the difference we made so far, he took several examples:

  1. Keralarescue website that Biswas made during Kerala floods which served as the critical node of contact between requirement and support.
  2. Free Software Foundation by Richard M Stallman, who taught the world that there was nothing wrong in sharing.
  3. Wikipedia, a crowd sourced knowledge bank that overthrew the likes of the rest (eg: Britannia)
  4. Khan Academy by Salman Khan, who brough quality education for free for everyone around the world.
  5. Page Rank by Larry Page which used a sophisticated yet straight forward algorithm to find the most relevant website to the query — the ones you would want to read.
  6. Internet which today plays hosts to the needs of 3 billion users.
  7. Redefining culture due to the onset of internet and democracy, with the reach the two provide.
  8. Several domains where we take it for granted, such as health care, marketing, research etc.

The top 10 algorithms of 20th century ranged from 1946 to 1987 and had many unfamiliar ones yet some classic ones such as quick sort.

He went on to explain how we can start:

  1. Adopt successful models (uber for less dense cities with a sustaining system).
  2. Local language content generation (voice assistance not solely dependent on English).
  3. Find solution to unique challenges (linguistics)
  4. Find new breakthroughs (new business models due to technological advancement).

Speaking in particular about todays education systems, he mentioned that learning is better when shared. Some of the students studying at IIT Palakkad chose to do so due to the good quality of air in the environment — clearly showing the advantage we have compared to most of the other metropolitan cities. Dr. Deepak has taken the effort to find projects to outsource to students at universities by talking to the collector but unfortunately they do not entirely grasp yet the automation convenience that is possible through a collaboration.

As Computer Scientists, we may have to solve problems before they even rise!

He went on to mention that now was the best time to begin as:

  1. We have unprecedented reach for our works.
  2. Enough computational power to do complex computations
  3. With just a laptop and a phone, we are a noticeable factory
  4. The field is young and craves for new ideas

He concluded by tackling the question on most of our minds — How to gear up:

  1. Get the basics right. There is no point in knowing a sophisticated algorithm at an abstraction if we do not comprehend the grass root fundamentals behind it.
  2. Learn it your way. It could be reading books, or watching tutorial etc. “Binge Learning is the best way to explore a new language” he suggested.
  3. Do it your way. It may be through meet ups, or solo learning. What ever suits you, stick to it and grow.
  4. Contribute to open source projects. It is the best way to apply your knowledge. The community is so supportive that in the issues section they have a first timers only tag which simple tasks to build confidence.
  5. Keep your mind open and you will always find ways to contribute.

Next, Dr. Roshi spoke about AI. He had a fun and interactive presentation via which he shared concepts and ideas. “Humans evolved; to work alongside robots” he began his presentation. With the penetration of internet in to our daily lives, it opened to doors to several opportunities to explore. From the old noisy modem set up of 33.5kbps, today we have a lot of data which enabled AI penetration to occur seamlessly. Facebook AI understands us and the world we live from the data we generate. With a user driven model, the system is equipped to alter itself smoothly to provide better results when required.

He explained the application of AI in agriculture, IT and self driving vehicles. In fact, he spent considerable amount of time working on a self driving Nano car that works in India’s unpredictable traffic, thus proving to be suitable for almost any traffic system. He showed us the video and we were truly amazed to see it work.

Embrace technology, apply it but don’t become the prey

He said even we can get started via frameworks (Tensorflow, Learnerflow, AWS, Azure etc) to train our models and play around to feed our curiosity to learn.

After the lunch, we had a Q&A section that was even more insightful.

Selected Photos

In the evening during the closing ceremony students shared their learnings on the stage, promised to returned to college and spread the word and together we felt empowered to make an impact.

Before leaving, I got to make a new friend, Maitry from CUSAT. She likes statistics and is keen to pursue Machine Learning to see it’s application in economics and beyond. I hope she achieves her goals and grows well in the time to come.

Manoj Vasudevan, a world champion public speaker gave us some advice:

  1. Make a commitment to excellence and life long learning (learn beyond academics and be up to date with the industry progress).
  2. Make a commitment to master soft skills (ability to connect, ability to communicate, ability to network, ability to lead, ability to influence).
  3. Make a commitment to contribute as you grow (not for rewards, but because you can).

Whenever you are wasting time, someone somewhere is getting smarter than you. Instead if you invest in yourself, you become more valuable and people will start looking at you as a role model.

Thank you for reading my write up about the event. If interested, you can watch the welcome session from this video I came across on YouTube

Welcome Session
Closing Session

Let us all strive to make an impact via the lives we live.

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