Farewell Speech to a batch of our students

Bidding Farewell to another batch

As you approach your last day in this campus and prepare to venture into the world out there, I would like you to take a few minutes to look around - ahead, beside and behind. Each of these views that you see, demands some things from you.

Let us start with looking ahead. What do you see when you look ahead, say 5-10 years from today? Frankly the answer is "we dont know". As a famous saying goes, "it is difficult to predict, especially the future". And the field of information technology is well known for predictions from the mightly experts which have gone ridiculously off target. Recall the "640K ought to be enough [RAM] for anybody" from none other than Bill Gates, and "there is hardly any demand for more than 5 computers in the world" from IBM. We are today standing in a world where GBs of RAM is inadequate, and where there are perhaps more computers than people.

The reason prediction is now difficult is best illustrated by looking back, say 10 years. Mobilephones were hardly seen and was more of an luxury item than a common-man's device as is the case today. Personal computers itself was beyond average person's reach. While e-mail was relatively popular, there was nothing much to be done with the Web or the internet. Today, the web is the answer to everything from writing your report, solving your assignment, booking tickets, finding a partner, buying stuff, and so on. If you want to see the contrast even sharper, go back another 10 years. It is the time when people like me came out of graduation. Internet was a purely academic curiosity. We did not know what e-mail was! There was no Windows. Computing was primarily in the 'mainframe' generation - a powerful (of course, in terms of what was considered power in those days!) server with a bunch of dumb-terminals. There was no C++, no Java, no VB/D2K/etc, no graphical terminals, etc. Remember that much of the who's who in computing today come from the students of that time or even earlier. Imagine preparing them for a career in this field. Compare those days with the computing and communications of today - all this in a span of 20 years! Almost everyone agrees that the technology will continue to grow at the same pace for the foreseeable future.

Thus, we must be prepared that much of what you have learned today during this course, will possibly be useless in the next few years. What has not changed much are the core ideas. Thus, your grip on the fundamental principles must be strong. Loosen your grip on technologies, languages, frameworks, etc. They all have shorter lives in comparison. They come like a tsunami, upsetting a lot of what is already there, staying for a while, and then disappear, giving way for the next set of waves. You should have acquired the skill of those who play with waves - watch them observe the waves coming in, take position and jump into the wave at the right time and place, and they get on top of the wave. This is the skill you need to master. The ability to understand and absorb the new trends and developments, knowing that nothing much changes at the core, and coming on top quickly and efficiently. If you are ready to do that, your education has been effective; otherwise…

It is common, often, to see fresh graduates/diploma holders from reputed institutes have the pride of 'now I know it all'. As much as the pace, the vastness of the field has also been growing over the years. A 4-year degree programme can barely touch a fraction of this vast field, what to say about a one-year diploma programme. This humility is important, since there are dozens of subjects out there which you have not been exposed to at all. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, one hopes that you have learned the foundations and the ability to learn on your own. That gives you the confidence and comfort, of being able to get into any of these topics on your own effort. But, not the confidence that you know them all. Computing is also fast growing with a lot many things happening, and in a year or two, a lot of these will become common place. These changes will change the canvas of IT as well as our daily lives. Home, entertainment, health and education are all fertile grounds for sweeping changes on its way. While, we are still toying around with e-learning, the world is already talking about m-learning using cells, ipods, etc. Patient records which are universally shareable will transform health sector substantially. A multitude of computer-embedded equipments all nternetworked and able to communicate with each other will change the homelife significantly. Human-like robots with significant capabilities are already becoming welcome additions to homes. In the technology side, grid computing, pervasive computing, ubiquitous computing, autonomic computing, etc are some of the current buzzwords.

How do you cope with these changes? Constant effort is the only viable prescription. As Lewis Carrol remarks, it is an era where "you have to run fast just to stay where you are". Regular reading is not an optional item - magazines, journals, books, etc. Short term courses can be used when needed. Conferences are a useful forum for getting a feel for things happening in any given field, and networking with people of standing in such areas.

After looking ahead, I would like you to take a look beside you. Beyond the classroom that you are in, you should see the vast Indian sub-continent, consisting of over 90% of the population who does not speak/write English, and over 40% illiterate and hence with no command of any language to read/write. In the early days, using computers required highly specialised expertise. We have come a long way, with high level programming languages, user interfaces, etc. But so far, information technology has demanded significant competence with English language with the ability to read/write in it. On one hand, we talk of the benefits that IT is bringing to people on all walks of life from e-governance to entertainment. On the other hand, the observations above show that except a select few, bulk of our population (that includes your parents, grandparents, and other relatives, in most cases), will be left out of the influence of this sweeping changes. As you head towards hefty pay packets from MNCs, are you going to leave these people behind?

Till recently, Indian language display or entry on a computer was a difficult task, with hardly any fonts, different encoding standards, rendering problems, etc. Today, these areas have reached a level of comfort. The DIT initiative in launching Indian language CDs containing fonts and basic tools has made widely available the minimal resources for Indian language enabling a computer. There are also a number of voluntary groups working on converting the user interface of commonly used programs like a web-browser, into Indian language. But these are today like drops in an ocean, given that we have nearly 150 languages in regular use in India and a number of software programs need to be converted. Most softwares in this category contain thousands of English sentences/fragments to be translated. Sometimes such translations require modification of the source code to ensure that the user-interface works correctly. Apart from getting the existing software in Indian languages, we need to look at alternate paradigms of interaction (beyond text/mouse and beyond the notion of a desktop) which can address the illiterate and other differently abled people. The technologies are available today, but a lot of serious work is required to pick workable solutions and get them implemented. It is a task that the coming generation need to address. You owe it to the society.

At the last, I would like you to look back at the last one year that you have spent here. While there may have been many things that could have been better, you see an institution that nurtured you to build a strong foundation for your IT career. Our courses are not offered as money-making devices. You would have noticed that most of the faculty are passionate about the subjects they teach, and are constantly on the
lookout to do things better and to do better things (in the class!). I hope you will remember this place. We have a strong alumni group active through yahoogroups, etc. Do register and contribute to alumni activities. Do join us in the alumni day celebrations here. More importantly, you are our antennas in the world out there. Tell us about things happening there, things we should do in our course, trends we should absorb, and so on. For a programme like this to be effective, a close industry link is essential. We depend on you to provide that link.

Personally, and on behalf of all our faculty and the Centre, I wish you all the best in your days ahead.

M Sasikumar,

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