Career Series 1.0: ISRO (Devakumar T)

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Chief Editors: Anubhav Mangal, Suman Rao
Mailto: insight@iitb.ac.in

With Placement season and Apping Season round the corner, InsIghT brings to you a new series, ‘Career Series’ which will capture the experiences of alumni who had been in your shoes. In the first of the series, Rahul Maganti speaks to Devakumar. Following are excerpts from the interview.

Devakumar

A short introduction

Devakumar Thammisetty, IITB: 2008-2012
B. Tech, Aerospace Engineering
Junior Scientist, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

InsIghT: Why did you opt for placements instead of higher studies?
Devakumar: After four years of a well defined textbook life, I wanted to see how these things actually worked out by applying the textbook knowledge in Engineering. I always wanted to enter the practical life (Engineering) and get involved in making real products. Given this, I was in favor of joining the core industry. However, options were limited as most of the core/tech companies which were coming for placements had little of Aerospace related profiles and those which did have such profiles did not open for B.Techs. This particularly, was very frustrating during the placements’ season. It made me feel that Aerospace B. Techs aren’t fit for doing anything in the Aerospace industry. For example Airbus, Cassidian, Eaton, etc opened only for DDs and M.Techs.

I was a bit depressed for not getting placed. Most of my wingies were placed by Day 6. They were enjoying day in and day out and I had to sit in my room burning midnight oil to prepare for the tests and interviews.

InsIghT: Could you describe the selection process of ISRO and how it went for you on the day of your placement?
Deva: Selection process was very simple. It’s a walk-in-interview. There were around 5 to 6 experts in the panel, along with the chairman. The chairman was the then director of the Space Applications Center, Ahmedabad and probably the next chairman for ISRO as well. Most of the panel members were experts in their respective fields, with work experience of more than 20-25 years in ISRO. Interview was purely technical, and not even a single HR question was asked. When they asked me about my field of interest, I answered that, being a B.Tech student I had enjoyed all the fields equally and intuitively Aerodynamics stood above the rest, if I had to choose one. I was asked to explain my resume, each and every point, especially the technical nitty-gritties. Almost all the questions were on fundamentals.

InsIghT: Could you tell us about the preparation that you did for ISRO?
Deva: I brushed through all the coursework right from the introductory course to the Aircraft design course which is taught at the end of a B.Tech degree. I laid importance on the basics and the fundamentals. Eventually, what matters is only the confidence with which you can answer these questions.

InsIghT: You were placed on Day 10. Were you under any kind of pressure for not getting placed in the initial few days? If yes, how did you cope with such a pressure?
Deva: I was a bit depressed for not getting placed. Most of my wingies were placed by Day 6. They were enjoying day in and day out and I had to sit in my room burning midnight oil to prepare for the tests and interviews. Whenever I was under pressure, I simply joined them.

I have the freedom to make my job more challenging if it is not. I can research the fabrication details and guide people or work on the technical details of the test facility that is being constructed at LPSC, Mahendragiri. Such is the freedom of work you have at ISRO.

InsIghT: Can you describe your work profile for us and tell us whether it was what you expected when you sat for placements?
Deva: After the selection, I was posted to LPSC (Liquid Propulsion Systems Center), which is the lead center for design and development of all liquid propulsion engines and stages for ISRO. Having come through special recruitment, management at LPSC paid special attention and directed me to the Cryogenic Engines Group which is responsible for design development of Cryogenic Engines. There are hardly 25 engineers working on the development of three cryogenic engines for three different programmes, and I am part of the systems team which coordinates different teams to make the engine and then carry it forward to the launch vehicle.

My work includes parts of assignments from the activities such as preparation of test requests for the engine tests, analysis of engine operation and performance prediction for sea level tests on paper, analysis and compilation of test results. Compilation of technical solutions for the problems encountered after testing and during preparation of engine for the launch, monitoring system condition during various operations carried out at different stages in its way to the launch pad, participation in expert review meetings. To summarize, I participate in almost all the technical activities related to the engine right from its conception, to the moment it is flown in the Launch Vehicle. In an overall sense, this is closer to what I expected before joining. But it would be wrong to say it is exactly what I expected, as I had very little idea about the kind of work here. I expected I would work on the Aerodynamic aspects of the launch vehicle, and now I realize that this is the ideal place for making some real contribution.

InsIghT: Is the job challenging? Intellectually and emotionally?
Deva: Many assignments involve routine analysis and report preparation. Some of the assignments are intellectually challenging as most of the information is not publicly available as these are critical technologies. I have the freedom to create challenging problems and work on them. I have the freedom to make my job more challenging if it is not. For e.g. We have the design of Semi Cryogenic engine on paper, yet it would take around 5-10 years at the current pace, to be able to test the first engine. That is way too slow. This is one such challenge and I am allowed to contribute to this project at any level. I can research the fabrication details and guide people or work on the technical details of the test facility that is being constructed at LPSC, Mahendragiri. Such is the freedom of work you have at ISRO.

When I look at the intellectual level of colleagues, level of research, work and how demotivated people are, I feel like ditching the job sometimes.

InsIghT: Could you describe the work culture within ISRO? How friendly/helpful/intellectual are the people and the co-workers?
Deva: Most of the bosses are very poor at managerial skills. Human resources are not utilized properly. People are not motivated to work. You have no incentives for extraordinary work, and very few people get noticed. In most cases, new initiatives are not encouraged and the idea typically dies out soon. In the initial few days and months after joining, people tend to be energetic and committed, but due to the above mentioned factors, most of them get tired of the management within one or two years and become typical government servants. To conclude, work culture is annoying and certainly not the work culture expected of an R&D organization. People are friendly and helpful, but in most cases they are less intellectual probably because they stopped learning at a young age. This kind of behaviour is encountered with people who are 15-20 years into the organization.

However, senior engineers and scientists are committed, intellectual and good leaders. They encourage young engineers to take initiatives and support us in every aspect. In case of any bureaucratic problem, we are free to approach these people and the problem gets solved in no time. Work here is not forced, and in most cases it is not boss driven but bottom-up – the work starts with me. Though people can be discouraging at first, they will be supportive eventually. One is free to shape one’s career, given some commitment and self motivation. Such is the freedom of choice ISRO provides to its people.

InsIghT: How is the work-life balance at your job?
Deva: On weekdays, working hours are from 8:45 am to 5:15 pm. At times, when it is very important we have to stay till 8.00 pm or even work on Saturdays and Sundays. But, I have no regrets to work these extra hours because the work always interests me due to its challenging nature. However, it hasn’t affected my personal life until now.

InsIghT: Can you tell us something about how your typical day looks like?
Deva: After reaching the office by 9.10 am, I work on different kinds of assignments all day. However, this would involve meeting/discussion with the bosses, attending technical review meetings on test preparations, results etc. Every day I will be handling different assignments. As different kinds of hardware get continuously tested for flight acceptance, we need to attend the test, monitor the performance, analyze and submit reports.

I am just getting into the organization, realizing how things work in ISRO and what the potential areas are. I see a very bright future and a lot of things to learn. Though I see a wide range of inefficiencies in the system, it only means that I realize them and can work towards changing the system to the extent I can.

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InsIghT: Did the job reach your expectation levels? How satisfied are you?
Deva: As the management is so poor at utilizing resources optimally, for the first one month I had no work at hand. I had to go to the bosses and beg for some work. Management is too lazy to identify and allocate the work properly. It might just be that they don’t want to burden a junior with stacks of files and loads of work. This attitude amongst them changed with time. I accurately predicted the performance of an engine using a different modeling strategy. I ended up getting challenging assignments. If I have to speak about satisfaction, well, it was just over one year after coming here and I was on the launch pad at 42m level working on the Cryogenic engine conditioning operation of GSLV D5 vehicle. I don’t think any other organization would have allowed a junior to be part of the apex operations. I am well satisfied and motivated to work actively in the development of future Cryogenic engines. So, yes, the job is as expected.

InsIghT: Did you feel like ditching this job at any point of time?
Deva: When I look at the intellectual level of colleagues, level of research, work and how demotivated people are, I feel like ditching the job sometimes. But then, I can’t find a better place with such a well established structure, machinery and multidisciplinary knowledge with ‘n’ number of teams working towards a single goal.

InsIghT: If you are given a chance to go back to your placement time, would you still choose ISRO?
Deva: 100%. Given the same technical companies come for placements! Even now I don’t find a place where I can enjoy a better technical environment in India.

InsIghT: What do you plan to do in the future, say in the next 1-2 years?
Deva: Well, I am just getting into the organization, realizing how things work in ISRO and what the potential areas are. I see a very bright future and a lot of things to learn. Though I see a wide range of inefficiencies in the system, it only means that I realize them and can work towards changing the system to the extent I can. I am equally gaining practical knowledge from the system. I would stay with the organization until I come across a better opportunity in India.

InsIghT: How are the cultural, geographical and topological factors of Thiruvananthapuram affecting you?
Deva: I absolutely love the city, its peaceful environment, the frequent rains, and above all the beautiful location it is situated in.

InsIghT: How did your life change before and after graduating from IIT?
Deva: I have definitely learnt a lot about rocket engines and rocket propulsion. I work more efficiently now, spend less time sleeping, and play sports regularly.

InsIghT: Can you tell us one thing that you love the most about ISRO and your job?
Deva: ISRO : Transparency in the goal, access to all the resources, multidisciplinary nature of work.
Job : Freedom to decide what to work on, how to go about working.

InsIghT: Can you tell us one thing that you hate the most about ISRO and your job?
Deva: ISRO: Attitude of people, lack of committed people.
Job: Pay.

InsIghT: Thanks a lot for the interview! And, InsIghT wishes you all the best for the future.
Deva: Thank You!