In conversation with My Guru– he has always been an inspiration to me and in a hope that I should share what I have, I interviewed him. Civil engineering has been his passion and even with so much experience in hand, his desire to learn more hasn’t been decreased at all. He loves to share everything he knows and following is an interview which answers most of the questions that originate in the budding minds of the young civil engineers.
Tell us about yourself…….
………My name is Ajay Das. I come from a Bhagalpur, Bihar. My education up to Graduation (B.Sc Engineering) is from my hometown. Yes, B.Sc Civil Engg. (4 year Degree course). Thereafter I went to IIT Kanpur for PG through GATE Exam. Fortunately or Unfortunately (I still do not know) I had to leave midway to join NTPC, a leading PSU in the Power sector.
How has this field treated you so far?
……Civil engineering has treated me perfectly well. Since childhood, I spent time with Mason & labour when father was busy making a small house/home. Cement sand mortar steel was my immediate neighbour. Never had I known, that it will eventually become my bread & butter.
What is your favourite subject in civil engineering?
Taking one name is injustice with another subject. I enjoyed learning about surveying, soil mechanics, steel structure, RCC structure, hydrology, building material, architecture. However, if one name has to be spoken, then it is structural engineering.
What are the challenges you have faced in the beginning of your career and at the beginning of your student life?
……….College life & struggle is diametrically opposite to professional struggle. College just teaches you how to walk (c.f a one-year-old kid), while the world is too huge to be covered by walking. Once in a profession, you realize that a 4-year degree course is just like a stick for a visually impaired person. You have to move very cautiously & if you are lucky, you may get a helping hand. Role of seniors at this stage is extremely crucial. Else you have to unlearn & learn yourself that may be time-consuming. After another four years, you come to know what you have been doing….
Who is the person who influenced you most in this profession?
………..Shall I speak the truth? In Mahabharat, there is a legendary King Karna. He had to work very hard to achieve the smallest things. His philosophy has been my guiding force. Lord Krishna tried in vain to convince him to join truth (so-called). Next comes my teachers at college days who were All India Rank holders but continued with their job. This was the time when their counterparts migrated to Europe & USA in search of greener pastures during the 70’s (see Purab & Paschim movie). They continued just for the sake that science & technology candle keeps on burning in India that was only 20-25 years old post-independence. In Guru Dakshina, that they never asked, but we gave our commitment, to serve this country in best possible manner. They were our own Abdul Kalam.
What are the hot research fields in this profession right now?
In structural engineering, the most sought project is high rise building. Do you know that consultants/owner are going for the world’s highest building for name sake only? Such high rise building is not actually required. But the quantum of Name / Fame/ publicity you get is hard to resist. Something like conquering Everest. Structure & Architecture is like a parallel railway track that moves together but never meets. Civil engineer hardly gets credit for such structures while Architects are basking in glory. And if anything goes wrong, the structural engineer is the first to be scanned with a raised eyebrow.
How much time do you get for a social life on an average?
…………Professional life takes more of your time than social life….until you retire. Besides weekends, you are fortunate if get a few hours for your friends every day, apart from daily chores. Remember this is not IT-sector where you are exposed to glittering late-night parties at Bangalore, Noida, Gurgaon or Mumbai. And if you are posted on remote site, you may be fortunate to see foxes & jackals at night.
How do you motivate yourself to keep working?
………..My motivation is Bhagwad Gita. In fact, Bhagwad Gita motivates you to keep working without any expectation. “karmany evadhikaras te ma phalesu kadachana
ma karma-phala-hetur bhur ma te sango ’stv akarmani”
“कर्मणये वाधिकारस्ते मां फलेषु कदाचन । मां कर्मफलहेतुर्भू: मांते संङगोस्त्वकर्मणि” ।।
“Sri Krishna said to Arjuna: You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.” (Bhagwat Gita: Chapter Two verse 47)
Caution: Do not follow above Gyan if you “WANT” something.
Where did you intern?
………….My internship was at Vikramshila Ganga Bridge, Bhagalpur, Bihar. Our college team of 15 students was fortunate to see India’s deepest Caisson Foundation in River Ganga (not the Ganges). Vikramshila Setu is the 3rd longest bridge over water in India. I was a regular visitor here since class six. So my internship duration was something like 10 years.
What is the one thing you have learnt about civil engineering that you wished you had known before?
…………Learning is a continuous process that will never conclude. This applies to every person & every subject including Civil Engineering. I wished I knew that civil engineering is all about the understanding law of nature & putting it in the welfare of mankind. The earlier the current civil engineering students realize this, the better.
Is it easy for a fresher to get into this field?
……………Fresher have ample opportunity in this field, provided they take their subject seriously in their 4-year course. Yes, you can pass an examination just in a night study, but knowledge comes the harder way. Passing exam should not be the target. Once you appear in an interview you are completely exposed, irrespective of the CGPA, Grade, percentage or percentile. If you do not understand natural laws, nature won’t forgive you.
What are the entry-level positions?
…………..Entry level positions in civil engineering in India may not be very thrilling. When your friends/ colleagues from a different discipline like IT, CSE from same or other colleges/institute migrate/relocate to a foreign location you may feel awkward. Initial salary is low that increases with work experience & individual capacity. For deserving candidates, the sky is the limit.
What is the most prevalent problem in the profession of civil engineering today?
………………Very relevant question these days. Among all discipline of Engineering, Civil engineering was once the most coveted job worldwide. Since for last two-three decades in India, civil engineering lost its numero uno position to Electrical, Mechanical & CSE. The students who now opt (or are forced to opt) for B.Tech in civil engineering are those who fail to get into leading other branches. In other words, they have disheartened students. This is the major problem. It is understood that if you do not love your job, you will get bored & tired very quickly. So civil engineering shall be continued only by passionate students since it involves a lot of hard work in hard conditions. Air-conditioned workspace is termed luxury for civil engineers.
….Beside this, you have to deal with contractors, who are not the best people in society. A civil engineer has to deal with uncivilized contractors, but then every job has its own hazards. Integrity & character are put to test in this field. In government projects, politics takes its own toll.
Discuss the effect of demonetisation on the industry and when will its effects start to ebb from this field?
……………..Demonetisation broke the backbone of the construction industry. This is an open secret that black money is rampant in this area. Hoarders were sitting over unaccounted money that received a severe jolt. Builders, promoters were worst sufferers & as per their own speculation turbulence may subside in 5-7 years.
Discuss the options other than GATE and ES in this field.
……………..Beside GATE & ES, you have central & state PSU that recruits civil engineers every year. State public commission is also a major employer. However, the largest chunk is absorbed by Private players. Nowadays international consultants are also very active in India. Keep an eye on dot.com sites which are in plenty.
Advise you would like to give to the beginners!
…………………Before advising it is essential to understand the pulse of the crowd. Unsolicited advise are not welcome. So beginners have to take the decision whether to take a flight/plunge in this arena. If yes, you are welcome on board. Be passionate about your work & responsibilities. The fire has come from within. No external impulse can keep you moving all the time. With Great Power comes Great Responsibility, are the words given by Spiderman Voltaire. Power without a purpose becomes dangerous. The greatest attribute of a moral-ethical power is that it is never imposed/forced. A power/authority, responsibly exercised, is always respected and upheld. A civil engineer has power, capacity & responsibility to uplift the society as a whole.
Future of civil industry as you see it!
………………Future of civil engineering will always remain bright. Another discipline glitter may fluctuate with time, but as long as humanity exists, civil engineering/ industry will flourish. Demand for home, transportation, city planning will always be there. Can you imagine a single day without a civil engineering structure? Human civilisation has evolved because of civil engineering & evolution is an eternal process, so civil engineering is eternal. As long as the future exist, civil engineering will grow by leaps & bound.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years professionally? How good is the growth?
……………After 5 years, I will be 5 years older (mathematically)…Already spoken, growth is tremendous & boundless. I am never bothered by my professional growth. My top priority is service to society & this is what I have been doing happily. We got an opportunity to meet Metro-man Sri. E. Sreedharan. He advised us all to follow the teaching of Srimad Bhagwad Geeta, rest all will follow automatically. And he was right.