CaRE-Career in Research

Satish Amara

Jun 22, 2020

Satish Amara graduated from IIT Kanpur in 1996 with M.Tech. in Computer Science Engineering. He is now working for a Federal Government Contractor. He has been in industry for about 25 years and has worked for several big companies including Microsoft Redmond, Juniper, and Cisco.

Short Introduction about your experience at your current job profile - How has been your journey so far?

I did MTech in computer science at IIT Kanpur (1994-1996).It gave me exposure to the latest technology at that time.Also there I made important decisions of my career.Now I am working for Federal Government Contractor. I have been in the industry for about 25 years, working for several big companies.I have 11 west patterns, 2 international patterns and a couple of research publications. My specialization is working on internet networking protocols and security.I worked on developing commercial security products, today, if anybody is using Virtual Private Network (VPN) where companies can connect on the internet securely, there is a good chance that they are using the products on which I worked in the industry. I worked on research projects in part time. These were philosophical projects and some open problems in physics.

How was your experience at IITK? How has the “tough academic structure” and other opportunities on campus helped you in your journey?

Academics wise it was very good as I got an opportunity to know what’s happening latest in the industry. I took advanced courses like internet protocols and distributed computing.Those were the latest topics, some of them were on research and some of them had just come out like the internet in 1994-96. Dheeraj Sanghi sir taught us all the networking topics. Gautam Barua taught us distributed computing. I also got a chance to mentor new students. It was nice experience to help them and grade their assignments

What are the differences between academic research and industrial research?

IIT Kanpur is an institute where the primary main focus is kept on research rather than taking mini-courses in Masters while designing the curriculum. We spend only 50% of our time on courses and the rest of the time we focus on the thesis on the selected research topic. There, we focused on research and new problems. But in industry firms focus on a new product which market needs. As I am a research-oriented person so I chose companies and projects where the company was trying to add new security features or other new things in technologies. I desired to have a new initiative instead of the company telling me that this is the new thing you need to do.

How did you see research as a career then? How has your mindset changed about it over the years?

When I did research in IITK and other institutes, I wanted to do something in technology. Over time I understood the technology part. So if now I would do the research I would try to solve the problems faced by society along with working on the technology. Also, I got interested in Philosophy. Now I also study new things in physics.

Interest in philosophy:

I was a young engineer like you. At JEE times, everyone has caught on a particular subject and my main interest was in physics. So I used to study the works of Albert Einstein. Then I read the book “Thou Physics”. In this, parallels between physics and Indian philosophy is discussed. I got to know that Tagore and Vivekanand and other philosophers helped scientists in this field.

What is the difference between doing research via Ph.D. and taking up a job in the R&D sector?

Some professors suggested to go for Ph.D. But if we look at computer science most of the topics are short time and within every five years technology changes. So I still didn’t felt like this is where I want to spend my time. Internet at that time was a big thing. I felt it was a good opportunity because connecting the world is interesting. And I spent free time on other topics like physics, philosophy.

You gathered a lot of experience by working in different organizations. You were constantly in a shift of changing positions and exploring different roles. What was driving you to change positions?

I did not want to change. I was brought up in the southern part of India where the climate is warm. In the US, the temperature for six months is very cold. I had issues, so I kept on moving. Another is that half of the companies which I worked in are closed. Also in technology merges and shuffling is common. so you cannot have long term plans. But yeah! You always have an opportunity to work with a new company.

What are your future plans?

I have spent more on technology and I am getting more attention on the philosophy side. So I like to work on how the Indian philosophy can be applied to technology. In India, we call it Vedic science. Famous professors like Subhash Kak and Amit Goswami are doing a lot in that area. That is one of the things I would like to do.

There are many career choices available around thus and most of us get lost when choosing between them. What would you suggest should be the approach while selecting between the different positions available? How is this global pandemic going to affect career opportunities in the near future?

By that time you would have figured out what you are good at, you need not choose the career seeing that what others are pursuing or should not choose a job just because it offers more money. If you can enjoy your work by forgetting everything, you should choose that. When I came to IIT, I saw talent like people are not only good at academics but they are all-rounders. I saw the people who graduate from IITK work for huge organizations or setting up new startups. Young people who come to universities figure out for market needs and set up startups. In the case of COVID issues, I think research and technology should always adjust the current problem. Like, I keep following IITK news, they are doing good, coming with new things to tackle COVID issues. People can always come with new ideas and IITK always has fresh brains, new things to work on passion.

Are you in touch with your batchmates? If you want to share any memories?

I have been in touch with two of them and now LinkedIn I have contacted others too. Dheeraj Pandey and Amit have started new companies. Being south Indian, I remember mess food. I also got a chance to learn swimming. We went to Nanital and it was good to see Himalayan peaks. Antaragni fest was fun !!

How will you compare the UG research culture at IITK and that in US and how can UGs better contribute to research.?

There are a lot of labs and professors who work on the latest things.In CSE, there is not much gap because it is all about software and computers. But in other sciences labs and other things can be an issue. The professors have noble knowledge and are experts in this field. They are working on the latest things. The world is connected to the internet. I think IITK has done very well in theoretical aspects of the studies. Many alumni of IITK have done great work in theoretical physics and computer science.

(Edited by Ananya Singla)