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Is brand IIT your destination?
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June 28, 2006

Arre, why blame a 17 year old for being fixated on IIT. Or computer science. Does any 17 year old know what he or she really wants?"

That is the overwhelming feedback to my previous column IIT at any cost or...

'Find yourself, be yourself, love yourself' is all very well. But how? 

Well, let me start by saying 'interest' is not that hard to define.  

At the school level, we know some subjects turn us on -- during those classes, time goes by swiftly. Then there are others, subjects which slow down the functioning of your brain. Subjects which make the hands of the clock move slower than files in a sarkaari office. 

And, in a million other little ways, you do get a sense of what gives you a buzz. 

Of course, there's also that thing called aptitude. It's not like there's one cut and dried answer. An individual may have more than one interest and more than one aptitude. The trouble is, we need to open our eyes to those 'other' options -- and that's where some professional input can really help. 

I know it did for me. 

Decision dilemma 

As a 15-year-old, junior college student at St Xavier's College, Mumbai, I took an aptitude test. It was remarkably correct.

In essence, the test concluded I had a gift for language and would do very well in anything related to it, without having to put in much effort. I had an aptitude for maths and science as well; however, I would have to really work hard because I had no great natural flair for it.

In my heart, I knew this already. But still the test was really useful, coz I was studying science then. And expected to go the IIT-medicine way, being the school topper and all.

Still, it took a long time for my parents -- especially my dad -- to accept the result. And, only recently did he really and truly agree that I made the right decision. Although, to be fair, I took a pretty circuitous route (science to economics to an MBA to journalism) to reach where I knew I wanted to be in the first place.

But things are different today. Clearly, many more professions have 'scope'. Yet, we make decisions based on old and faulty information.

We are taught to ignore our feelings and gravitate towards certain 'most wanted' careers.

In which case, counselling or aptitude tests will not necessarily help. Many students -- and parents -- simply refuse to accept the results!  

Perception is reality 

So, let's accept that a large number of students will continue to exhibit a preference for engineering. And, within that, they will aspire for certain subjects over others.

The point about 'IIT vs other excellent institutes', 'Branch vs college brand' is that you don't really know computer science is 'the' branch for you. But you think you will like it more than 'core' engineering branches. And what you think is the basis for your mental acceptance or rejection of anything in life. An academic subject, a girl, a brand of car...

The liking for computer science is based on certain assumptions/ experiences. For example:

~ Core branches = shopfloor work while computers = gleaming IT parks/ stock options.

~ You have a layman exposure to what a computer is, as opposed to mining, mechanical or chemical engineering.

~ You can see yourself working on something related to computers in the future, but not the other fields.

Few know metallurgy offers good opportunities in the field of nanotechnology and semi-conductors (vital for today's IC chip manufacturing industries). Or that there is a whole universe of thermal engineering, IC engines and fluid mechanics in mechanical engineering.

In an ideal world, everyone who made it through to an engineering college, would have a common course for the first year and then choose a specialisation -- after being exposed to the different subjects.

In an ideal world, liking for a subject would be the basis for choosing it -- and not the pay packets or jobs that are likely to accrue.

But this is not an ideal world. You have just one lottery ticket -- a JEE rank -- and that determines which branch you get. There is a slim chance that you can change your branch after joining -- but don't count on it!

Choosing to love  

So what happens if you do join an IIT -- jo bhi branch miley

I think this is perfectly okay, but every engineer who does this must at least make a sincere effort to immerse himself in his chosen subject. Instead of feeling 'I deserved better' and plotting an escape.

As Vivek Malewar, a student at IIT-Kharagpur, notes: "It's a pity that people consider engineering = software job... Best jobs of ANY branch are high paying. Best apps. of ANY branch are hugely attractive... "

Agreed. But 'best jobs' in ANY branch go to people who are able to get over the initial disappointment of not getting the branch they desired (rightly or wrongly, based on whatever little information or spurious notions they had).

The best jobs in ANY branch go to the folks who make a sincere effort to excel in their understanding of the subject. And who develop a genuine liking and passion for it. And not to those who decide in second year itself, "Yaar, MBA hi karna hai (have to do an MBA). These are just exams one needs to pass to get there."

An easy escape? 

In that sense, I feel the MBA/ software job boom is very detrimental. The moment a person enters engineering -- and more so IIT -- he knows the option of 'switching streams' exists.  

This is like agreeing to get married to someone because your parents have picked him/ her and then saying, 'We'll be together for four years. I'll make no attempt to like you. And I can leave you at the end of that time without paying any penalty.' 

Naturally, the average student makes little effort to get drawn into the subject and fall in love with it.

I am not, for a moment, saying individuals should not have the chance to switch streams -- people can and do make mistakes. Or change their minds. Or realise what they really want, as they experience more of the world.

But no one (outside of saas-bahu soaps!) enters a marriage plotting a divorce. And the same thinking should apply to engineering or geography, or whatever it is you choose for the sake of attending the 'right' college.

I think, in the end, it all boils down to temperament.  

Many of us can eat whatever is put onto our plates -- and enjoy it. Others are fussy eaters.

To take the analogy a bit further, like food is a means of satisfying hunger in the literal sense, a course of study is a means of satisfying the 'hunger' for a good job, a secure life.

The question is: How hungry are you? Can you relish whatever food -- or course, in this case -- you find on your plate? 

The answer for many young people is a confident yes.

'Kindly adjust,' after all, is the Indian way.

Brand IIT 

So what's the final conclusion? There are those who look at education as a means of attaining specific skills and knowledge. And others who view it primarily as an 'experience'. Ideally, you attend a college where you get a mix of both. 

But IIT graduates aver that even if you don't get your desired branch or skill-set, attending the institute is worth it for the experience alone. The following response from Sandeep Shrivastava,  (president, TiE Seattle, and managing partner Indus Fund I, L.P)  sums up the IIT-at-any-cost argument: 

I am a Chem Engr from IIT Bombay from the mid-80s.  Forget branch � most of my peers then didn't even know if they even wanted to be an engineer long-term.  As many as 30 per cent of my class never quite cared about IIT subjects -- but brand and sex appeal were huge, even then. 
We dated girls from Sophia during Mood Indigo (who were deliberate flirts with IITians) and there was quite a cachet that a REC Surat would never have.  Plus hostel life is much superior at IITs. In addition to that, it was much easier for me to get into Wharton for my MBA, with the IIT brand and then successful stints later. 
Many of my other ChemE classmates went on to to become partners at a McKinsey or Goldman Sachs or professors at Harvard Business School and Kellogg etc.  None of them, including me, were top rankers at JEE, but we attribute at least half of our success to IIT even today.
One could argue the same in U.S.  Would you give up the chance for you child to study at a Harvard, MIT or Stanford -- even if it were oceanography?  That versus comp science at Ohio State?  Most would opt for the Ivy Leagues for the brand -- which opens access to a vast alum network, job market and so on.

Point taken. But are we saying that BITS Pilani/ IT BHU/ NIT K/ IIIT H are to be likened to Ohio State?  And that  India's 'Ivy League' consists of IIT, IIT and only IIT?? 

Because technically, neither MIT or Stanford is part of the Ivy League. Yet these schools are considered to be in the same class based on certain common characteristics: highly selective admission procedures, large endowments, prestigious academic reputations.   

That's all I'm arguing for. That 'institutes other than IIT'  be considered in the same league as an IIT on the basis of merit.  Instead of us perpetuating -- indefinitely -- the idea that the only equal to an IIT is another IIT.   

Because then, I predict, the powers that be will be tempted to 'rebrand' more and more institutes as IIT.   What a 'solution' that would be!  

~ Rashmi's earlier columns:

Rashmi Bansal is a graduate of IIM Ahmedabad, co-founder and editor of the popular youth magazine JAM (

She can be reached at

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Number of User Comments: 7

Sub: Kudos!

I thought the article was very well written. A nice perspective interwined with a good blend of humor. I find myself in agreement with most ...

Posted by Free Radical

Sub: Dear Rashmi

Quality of the product alone is just insufficient to make a brand value. IIT's and IIM's have both quality as well as quantity. And it ...

Posted by Ami

Sub: all said, IIT is the straight route

Hello Rashmi, All said, so far as India is concerned, IITs and IIMs are the straight routes one takes to sure success bcos of its ...

Posted by Praveen

Sub: Well written !!

An excellent article, I must say. Enjoyed reading every bit of it though I don't agree with every word written therein. There is a difference ...

Posted by Anshul

Sub: Ivy league

Do you know that Ohio state kicks ass when is comes to the overall atmosphere?

Posted by Sarath


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