What has the student experience at GTech been like?
Having recently graduated from the ECE program at Georgia Tech, we had the opportunity to ask our ex-student Hemul Shah some pertinent questions about different aspects of graduate study in the States.
How different were studies in India and at abroad?
Very different. At Georgia Tech not only was the program highly rigorous and competitive, but was completely based on application of your knowledge. The teachers were inspiring and you literally don’t have a choice but to concentrate on studies and excel in order to maintain a GPA of above 3.5; something that is essential to procure internships, co-ops and jobs.
How did you adjust to the course load and the competitive environment?
You need to attend all classes and keep on studying. Even someone who doesn’t have practical knowledge of coding (like me) can learn and the subjects actually get interesting once taught well. In time, unlike engineering back home in India, I was actually fond of attending lectures and paid full attention to understanding concepts.
How many people in a class?
There about 50-60 people in each class. Most of the people are extremely friendly and do their best to help you out.
How easy or difficult is to get a TA/RA?
Georgia Tech is one college which has quite a few positions for Teaching and Research Assistantships. In my opinion, one should start looking for assistantships as soon as one arrives at Georgia Tech. There is no formal process for applying for an assistantship. It’s more about networking with your professors. Fins out which professors are teaching you and the undergraduate courses they teach. According to your interest or specialization, approach these teachers, and introduce yourself as a student of the course they will be teaching at graduate level. Meet them and remind them about the assistantship often. A lot of the students end up going every alternate day asking for open positions. You need to constantly remind them. Most students do end up with internships this way because it shows that the students are enthusiastic. Also, sometimes professors even end up giving internships because the student has met them every other day.
How does a TA/RA benefit students?
A TA/RA constitutes 3 credits of the total 30 (for the ECE program) that you have to complete for your MS. It helps you reduce a course for that particular sem. Also you receive a complete tuition fee waiver for that sem. You also receive a stipend for $1500-2000 per month, enabling you to also handle your living expenses.
Would you recommend brushing up on any programming languages?
For both, CS and ECE programs, I would recommend brushing up on JAVA. Also there are particular subject specific languages you can learn. Knowing JAVA would also help securing an RA/TA or an off campus job.
How did your graduate study pan out, semester by semester?I started in Spring, which was Jan 2013. I completed my first two semesters. I didn’t take up a summer internship that year because you need to complete 9 months in the States before working. After that, I began my internship at CISCO and then took up a co-op at Oracle and then went on to finish my third semester, which led to my graduation.
Walk us through how you secured your internship and what kind of an experience it was.
The career fair at Gatech is very extensive with all top companies coming there to recruit. There is a career fair in every semester. For students starting studies in FALL, there will be one in September. I recommend you to attend and seriously apply with whatever experience or expertise you have. You never know, you may just land an internship. I applied to quite a few companies, before being shortlisted and given a call by CISCO. The shortlisting and interview process differs from company to company. But mostly it includes submitting your resume at the fair or undergoing a short test and then waiting for an interview call. I had a single interview that included questions on technical concepts and required me to understand and write code in C, C++ and TCL. My internship at CISCO lasted for 12 weeks. I was a part of the development test team and I solved low-level bugs. I was also responsible for modifying the QA team’s script according to requirements, thus automating the testing process. The internship gave me an insight into the corporate culture and helped me understand how large-scale projects work.
Tell us what a Co-op is, its benefits and why you should take it up? How was your whole experience?
A co-op is basically an extended internship, wherein the college allows you to delay your semester and take up working in a company instead. I did my co-op right after my internship and had to apply for it along with my internship. That’s a good time to apply because you need to inform the college that you will not be continuing for that particular semester, but will instead be working. Once you have the co-op in hand, the college will grant you permission to continue your studies later. Since I was in the EXTC (Electronics and Telecommunications) department for my undergraduate education, and I was pursuing ECE at GTech, I decided I needed more hands-on coding experience. This was one of the first reasons to pursue a co-op. On the other hand, it also allows you to earn decently, allowing you to fund part of your education and your living expenses. My co-op at Oracle paid me about $35 an hour, which amounted to $4000 per month in hand. My internship at CISCO on the other hand paid me about $29 per hour. At Oracle, I was able to work on my coding skills, as well as overcome challenges I faced at work. Though my mentors were helpful and guided me, they did not spoonfeed me, which was a good thing. I was left to figure out an entire project and what it did on my own since no one in the team was aware of the language it was written in. Having some experience in the language (TCL) led me to taking up the project. Though college level projects definitely help you enhance your skills and understand application of theory, corporate projects are another ball game. The co-op challenged me greatly, but at the end of it, I was able to garner enough experience to be confident of my skills. The application process for a co-op is similar to applying for an internship.
Where did you finally secure a job? Can you describe the process?
I was offered a full-time position at CISCO (San Jose, California with an annual compensation of $106,084) at the end of my internship. This is the most ideal and best scenario for securing a job. Therefore, it’s important to apply to companies you want to work in eventually, for your internship. It’s one of the most important decisions you take there.
If you do fail to secure an internship at your dream company, you can apply to companies in your last semester. Applying online also works. Networking and updating your LinkedIn profile is key. Also, as I mentioned earlier, Georgia Tech has a brilliant career fair, so make full use of the opportunities presented to you there. Interviews for jobs include submitting your resumes at career fairs, solving their initial tests or applying online. If they like you, they call you and conduct a phone interview or inform you of the process ahead. The process ahead would include them flying you out to their company, and conducting five to eight rounds of interviews. These interviews are technical interviews and may include people from different departments and teams interviewing to understand your strengths and see which team you would be a best fit for.
Any other advice for our students?
Graduate study changes you in many ways, personal and professional. You learn to be independent, develop technical and social skills and also learn a lot. We would take time out to visit restaurants and take weekend trips. All in all, be sure to enjoy the experience.