"Get Your Hands Dirty with As Much Real World Projects As Possible," Says Topraj Gurung
On 26th December, 2014, the DWIT students had an opportunity to meet Tope Gurung, an employee at Google Research, during the All Hands Meeting. However, due to time constraint, the talk session with him couldn’t run long enough. Therefore, in order to give all the students an opportunity to know him and his thoughts better, and to receive useful suggestions from him, one of the reporters of the DWIT News team, Utkrista K.C., conducted an interesting phone interview with him. Read their conversation below: Can you briefly elaborate your background? I am originally from Pokhara. Going back to the fourth grade, I used to be in Gandaki Boarding School, Pokhara. I did my SLC there. Then, I came to St. Xaviers Campus in Kathmandu in 1997. During my high school, I had physics as major. Later, I went all the way to Atlanta, Georgia where I completed my Undergraduate, Masters and Ph.D. Were you interested in Computer Science well from the beginning? I was interested in computers since my ninth grade, but I started being interested in Computer Science may be from ISC first year. How did you get your scholarship to Georgia Institute of Technology? I did not get a scholarship for my undergraduate, but only for my Masters and Ph.D. Yes, it is indeed difficult to get a scholarship to Georgia Tech for undergraduate, not impossible though, since it is a public school. They call it a state school because it is for a particular state in USA. However, getting a scholarship for your masters and Ph.D. is not that difficult out there. Was it your plan to finish your studies first and then get on to a job, or did the university appeal you to continue with the studies? It was not planned like that initially. My initial plan, when I went to US, was to finish my Undergraduate and to start working. However, the reason why I preferred giving continuation to my academic journey was because of the scholarship I received. Also, I only had to spend one and half years (which I consider to be just a short period of time) for completing my Masters. So, I thought of spending that little bit of time and specializing in something. How many companies have you experienced working in, considering both the internship and the job? Umm… I have worked in two companies so far. However, I have also worked in a government lab in the US. I don’t know if I would consider it as a company but it was a research lab. All my internships were when I was a Ph.D. student. Therefore, two companies so far, one in a government lab and the other in a bio-medical company. How did you get the job in Google? Did it start from an internship? I just applied directly. That’s how most of the people do it. What you do is, you just submit your resume, and if you also have your friends within Google to refer you, that would be plus point for you. After that, you’ll have to pass the interview. Then that’s enough. There are so many domains under computing. Which domain did you work in Google and Why (by choice or by situation)? I worked in Google Research. I did that work by my own choice. When I was doing my Masters, my friends were Ph.D. students. I used to look at everything that they used to do, and found those ‘everything’ to be very interesting. That’s why I had chose research over other domains. Do you have any thoughts of starting up your own company in the future? Not immediate, but may be in the long term, like in about 6 to 7 years from now. The reason behind that is, until I have lot of research experiences, I’ll not be starting my own company. Right now, I am experiencing the software industry and I believe that it is always good to get good experiences before proceeding to set of new things and trying to do fast. What is your thought on "Nepal is developing in the technical field at present”? I think it is rapidly expanding. It’s nearly, well I don’t know if I can call it exponential, but it is very rapidly expanding and the reason I say so is because there are a lot of companies that are engaged in the technology sector right now. Also, there are a lot of activities going on for example, hackathons and lots of networking groups for tech people. There are a lot of clubs in and around Kathmandu. So, all these things indicate that development is very rapid. I could feel that people who are in it are also becoming good rapidly. How can students in Nepal get involved in the opportunities in big companies abroad? It can be via multiple ways. For example, one of the ways that most of the students abroad, in US, get involved in companies is by doing an internship. So, the internships are normally very competitive but it is doable. Students here can also apply in those internship opportunities. If the students can fulfill the internship interview requirements, they’re in. They will basically interview you and if you pass the interview, they will invite you for a paid internship. Are there any chances for a student from Nepal to get online internships in companies like Google? There is probability but it’s competitive. The only question that lies is “Are you well trained?” If you are well trained and if you have your fundamentals rights then I don’t see any reasons for not getting an opportunity. But again, it’s very competitive and you need to be well prepared. For getting an internship, what should be our main focus? There are certain styles of interviews that most of the big tech companies follow. They focus on problem solving, algorithms, coding and fundamentals. So, these are the keys, I guess the ideas, which you should focus on. The best method is getting a recommendation from the employee working there. It is because companies trust recommendations from their own employees. And the other thing is to get HR to notice your resume. It is tough, but again doable. For that, do a lot of open source projects. As a reference, view: Tips on how to get an internship in Silicon Valley Have you faced any humongous challenges/obstacles in the course of your internship/job? How did you manage to overcome those? The challenge is basically adaptation to a certain work culture. For example, when somebody goes from high school to college, you have to adapt to that kind of system. If we go from our native land to get a Master’s degree in another country, then again you should adjust to their system. It’s just basically an adjustment like anything else. You just need to adjust to the working style and then all other things will fall in place. Does being mentally prepared help us to face the challenges? Besides being mentally prepared, you can talk to your co-workers, the other people that are there. Usually, in any new system, you can find a lot of people for support. There are people who can help you. Do you have any future plans of doing something for Nepal and its students of technical field? I have most of my plans to revolve around education and technology. So I think what DWIT is doing is very good. It does not emphasize on grades, it focuses more on real world experiences. It focuses on students being more accountable for their own curriculum and everything. So I think those models are very effective. My plan is similar to do something in education space and something in technology space in Nepal. What are your suggestions for the Deerwalkers and all the other students of Nepal? The things that DWIT is doing by raising its focus out of the box and not focusing merely on grades, is good. Actually companies and rest of others don’t really care about grades. But that does not mean that you should be failing the course every time or always be targeting in getting ninety plus in everything. You should just spend enough time to learn the material, and not to get as highest grades as possible. You ought to focus a lot on projects, if it’s a real world project, that’s even better. One of the most effective ways of learning is by doing a lot of Computer Science projects. So these are the things that I recommend. It is even better if you go with long term projects cooperating with your friends. Lastly, what is your plan for this upcoming New Year and do you have any resolutions for this year? Well, I have no specific plans. I will be flying back to US on the day of New Year. There is a trend of most of the people making resolutions for the upcoming year. Like them, I don’t have any. But, more than that, I have my general philosophy of improving myself and growing as an individual and as a professional.