Interview with Sahil Thakkar

It takes patience, perseverance and the spark to innovate and inspire, which has made Mr. Sahil Thakkar go a long way in his field. He is a testimony to NSITians, that the walls of our college shouldn’t bind our dreams and aspirations.

Sahil Thakkar after graduating from NSIT in 2010 went to University of California, Berkeley for his Masters in Mechanical Engineering. Currently, he is working in Schlumberger.

Q1. What are the areas in Mechanical/ Mechatronics/ Control Engineering/Robotics that one can pursue an MS in? Which colleges in US offer such courses? 

Ans. At Masters level, it is always better to have a degree in a broader area like mechanical engineering or electrical engineering. If one wants to work in the industry after Masters then it increases your chances of getting a job for a simple reason that a mechanical engineer can work in an automotive industry, oil and gas industry ,or product design industry, but a mechatronic or say robotics engineer might not have that many options. And the more specialized you become the more competitive the market out there becomes. If someone wants to pursue Phd after Masters, or is more interested in a particular field, then he/she can take some specific courses related to the area of interest. I did all my courses in controls but I got a degree in mechanical engineering. Likewise, there are areas like manufacturing, energy, design, robotics, etc in which you can pursue courses. That is how the system works in most of the universities here in US. Students are given freedom to choose the courses they want to study.

However, there are few specialized courses like automotive, robotics etc out there. You can find automotive in University of Michigan or Clemson University, and robotics in Carnegie Melon University but I haven’t seen many students going for these degrees at Masters level.

Q2. What are the upcoming prospects and opportunities available in industry and academia after completing your post-graduation/ doctorate in above mentioned fields?

Ans. As I mentioned above, if you get a broader degree then you can fit yourself in a variety of industries. However, depending on which part of US is the university located, there might be a demand for particular type of skill in that area. For example, the west coast which has universities like UC Berkeley, Stanford, Caltech, UCLA, software skills are very important. Even for mechanical engineers here, it is always a plus point to have good software skills. On the contrary if you go to central US, which has universities like Michigan, Ohio State, University of Illinois, there are opportunities for core jobs. In the east coast, which includes MIT, Columbia university, Carnegie melon, there is a mix of industries. But energy is one sector which is really emerging and might offer a lot of opportunities in coming times.

As far as research is concerned, there are a few technologies which can be really taking the lead in future. I have listed a few below.

  • One is 3D printing. This is really the future of manufacturing industry. So it is a good time for new enthusiasts to invest their time in research in this area.
  •  Another one is autonomous driving. Google is coming up with a fully autonomous car, but it will come at an exorbitant cost. Therefore, research in the area of reducing cost with cutting edge technology can be very fruitful in future.
  • Robotics has been doing well for a while and it is going to be the same as there are still unexplored avenues where robotics can be really helpful. One of these is medical industry. Surgical robots can prove to be lifesaving in future. An offshoot of this is exoskeletons. These are robotic arms and legs which can help challenged people walk.
  •  Research in mobile computing and communication can be very productive too. With companies like Google coming with Google glasses, there is no limit to what you can achieve. Moreover, advancements in computing will lead to further research in areas like autonomous navigation, the scope of which is limited by computing capabilities.

To be in academia, acquiring a Phd is a must. And even after that, it is really difficult to secure a permanent tenured position in a good university. Very few people might be able to go to that level and it requires a lot of other skills apart from a very high technical acumen. Most of the people keep on doing research in labs and get some funding to sponsor their research. An association with a good professor really helps to get some position in academia.

Q3. What prompted you to go for the graduate course, after working for a couple of years at Maruti?

Ans. Different people have different reasons to go for graduate school. For me, it was because of a couple of reasons. First of all, I was always inclined towards engineering rather than management. So MBA was never a serious consideration for me and I had decided that if ever I will go for graduate studies, it would definitely be in a technical field. Secondly, my experience at Maruti made me believe, that to rise above my peers I will have to go for higher education. During placements in NSIT, Maruti was the only company I sat for as I wanted to work in automotive sector. But the work culture there could not make me think of a long term career with Maruti. Also considering a lot of other factors, like financial and personal, I believed that after 2 years, it was a right time to take a risk for a bigger leap in my career and hence I went for graduate school.

This was a personal choice of mine and I am not saying that work culture is bad in all the industries. But if someone does not feel like he/she is satisfied, then one should consider other options and make a decision in early part of your career, as the more time you spend in a industry the more stereotype you become and a bad decision at this time of your career can cost you a lot in future. So, be sure of your priorities in life.

Q4. You did a plethora of projects/internships whilst at college. What motivated you to work so hard and how have they helped you in the long run (streamlining your interests/ securing admission at Berkley/ at job et al.)?

Ans. Frankly, I had never planned to do a set number of projects or internships. Those just happened as the opportunities came across. My professors played an important role in encouraging me to do more projects. In particular, Pradeep Khanna Sir encouraged me a lot. So it is always a great help to build your relations with a professor. They can guide you in a much better way and help you to choose right projects and internships.

Now, having completed my studies here in US, I have realized that those projects were actually a really important aspect of my undergraduate studies. In US, the education system is more practical based. There are courses in which there are no written exams and students have to do a project in a semester to pass the course. So students here get hands on experience during the normal course of studies. However, in India and especially in our college, it is completely opposite. It is all theory based learning and students have to take initiative on their own to get hands on experience. There are a lot of things which you understand when you actually work on things and projects allow you to do that. So, in a longer run all the projects and internships make you a better engineer. When you face a technical problem, then that experience helps you to think of a lot of potential practical problems which solution might have. I would strongly recommend to students to do those extra projects or internships at undergraduate level.

Q5. Where do you see yourself 5 years down the line?

Ans. This used to be a tough question five years ago and I always replied that I want to do Masters and secure a good position in industry. Priorities keep on changing with time but five years down the line, I want to establish myself as a strong and important part of the company I am working with.  I really like the work I am doing now and there is a lot of scope to learn new things and grow in the company. To be more specific, I see myself as a team leader of a profitable and technically sound engineering group at my present company.



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