Struggles faced by an EE Engineer: from BITS Pilani to Columbia to a Design Engineer at Qualcomm, California

Undergrad Journey:
Being into cars since childhood, I wanted to be an Automobile Engineer, and build those classic aerodynamic designs. Mechanical Engineering was always in my head as one of the options to pick from so many engineering domains. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to start my journey at BITS Pilani Goa Campus, in a program where you get to select the engineering stream after completing the first year.  It was that year when I was intrigued by Electronics Engineering and the kind of work you do in the semiconductor industry. This put me in dilemma for a few weeks as I had to pick either Mechanical or Electronics as my engineering major since I started liking both and the time to make the final decision was closing in. After comparing the job market, and Masters program opportunities – as I always wanted to go for a Masters program, I finally decided to pursue Electronics. The whole journey in undergrad was enriching- be it making lots of friends, organizing festivals, enjoying life in Goa for 4 years, and of course, getting to study with incredibly smart engineers. BITS as an undergrad college provided me with a pleasant and competitive environment to develop myself personally as well as professionally.

Decision making process for Master’s application:
I was also lucky in getting an opportunity to work as an Intern at Broadcom for one whole year. I learned a lot during my internship and put in extra effort to learn new things at work and all the hard work got me a pre-placement offer. Instead of going for Masters (MS) right after undergrad, I chose to stay for a year full-time at Broadcom and started working as a Design Verification Engineer. I wanted to make sure that I like the work and industry that I’ll be pursuing post-MS in electronics, otherwise, the whole time, money, and efforts you put in would go to waste. Since I was sure about going for Masters someday, I was preparing for my GRE exam after office hours. I used to do quantitative section practice on my own using e-books from ETS Official, BYJUs, Princeton Review, Kaplan Prep etc., and had taken up BYJU’s virtual program for verbal reasoning as it had enough content. Once I felt confident enough with my practices and scored well in mock exams, I went ahead and booked a slot for GRE. A score of 318/340 was satisfying and good enough for grad school applications. Soon after, I appeared for TOEFL exam as well, just to make sure I’ve all the scores ready for the applications whenever I decide to go for Masters. After a few months of working at Broadcom full-time, I was satisfied with the learnings and the work that we do in a semi-conductor industry, so I consulted with my manager about my passion for masters and made sure the experience I had gained at Broadcom was good enough to help me in future. Since I was targeting MS in EE, I shortlisted 6 universities where I could see myself pursuing the same. Making the list of grad schools took a lot of research off the internet, talking to folks pursuing MS already and the ones who were working in the semiconductor industry in the US post their masters. All the 6 shortlisted grad schools that I applied to – UCSD, UT Austin, Columbia, Georgia Tech, University of Minnesota, and TAMU – are top-tier universities and have a pretty good curriculum for electrical engineering. Once the schools were decided, I started working on my Statement of Purpose (SOP) and wrote a fresh first draft mentioning everything that came to my mind. I re-drafted the SOP 4-5 times on my own to make sure my passion for a master’s is stated clearly and that too in a nice flow for any reader. Then I sent that SOP to 10-12 people who had gone through the application process already in past to get their feedback. It took some 10 rounds of iteration for me to get to the final draft. Writing and framing an SOP is an important task that takes a lot of effort and having the final draft ready is a big milestone in the process. In the meantime, I was also in talks with my professors at BITS, and my manager and colleagues at work to get Letters of Recommendation (LORs). Once I had everything ready, I applied to all 6 schools and got the admission acceptance letter from 2. After enough contemplation, I decided to go to Columbia University in New York.

Experience at Columbia University and Job Search Tactics:
In Fall 2016, another exciting journey started at Columbia for me. Since my target was to learn more about digital design, I selected all 4 courses related to design and verification in my first semester. Being a student in a grad school, you need to be sorted from a schedule point of view as you have lots of things to do in your day-to-day life – classes, assignments, projects, part-time job (in case you have one), household chores, whenever possible. And by the time you complete half of the first semester, you’ll start looking for summer internships as well. It took me two to three weeks to make peace with my crazy schedule. And then the time came to start looking for internships. I started reaching out to people on LinkedIn- primarily Columbia and BITS alumni and other professionals working in the semiconductor industry in the US. Columbia’s Electrical Engineering department also organized Job/Career Fairs on campus that also gave us great exposure to talk to industry professionals directly. One thing I realized was not to panic and to be patient, as this whole process of finding the perfect internship can be daunting. Talking to people on LinkedIn and trying to get referrals is the best possible way to get any job or internship in the US. It’s a time consuming, manual process because you might not even get responses from a lot of people you hit up on Linkedin. Hence, you must be as patient and resilient as you can. Also, I was told that the resume must be one-pager, so I worked hard on creating a resume (CV) detailing all the appropriate information first and updated the same as per the job requirement description. By Nov- Dec 2016 timeframe, I had applied to all the companies I was targeting, through referrals and job fairs. I was targeting Apple, Qualcomm, AMD, Broadcom, Mentor Graphics, Nvidia, NXP, etc. as they had good internship programs in the digital hardware department. Digital design courses at Columbia prepared me for interview season, and on the side, I was preparing on my own as well through online materials specifically on hardware design questions. Soon, I got two emails from recruiters for telephonic interviews, one from Qualcomm and another from Teledyne LeCroy. In two weeks, I appeared for 3 rounds of interviews with both companies. All the preparation and my previous work experience at Broadcom India helped me crack the interviews. Gladly, I got offers from both companies. It was an easy decision for me to pick Qualcomm as they have one of the best internship programs in semiconductor industries in the US and they are based out of Silicon Valley, California. It was an enriching 14-week experience at Qualcomm, where I got to learn a lot, make a lot of new professional connections, and work hard on my project that eventually got me a pre-placement offer for full time. I was quite happy with the work and culture I experienced during my internship at Qualcomm, so I accepted the job offer and have been working at the same place since then.

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