TechSoc IIT Madras was one of the most stressful and fulfilling decisions I made in my last year in institute. We upscaled the tech culture at the institute through organizing 20+ competitions, 15+ guest lectures - resulting in 22
products at a 7000+ student scale - and securing over $12000 in fundraising through 4 industry partners. It has greatly evolved my personality into an accountable individual driving impact. I’d personally recommend this to any person who shares these 2 traits -
- passion of driving a solid tech culture at IITM
- willingness to test their limits to stand for something bigger than themselves
I’ll talk mainly about 6 things about my tenure as TechSoc Head from 2022 to 2023, where we captured the engagement of over 2500+ students, having conducted 15+ guest lectures and 20+ technical events.
- The Initiatives
- The Experience
- The Growth
- The De-merits
- A crazy story
- Cool stuff I got to do
My approach was and always has been - invest in the team, then invest in the customer and then invest in the future. The fun part about this 3 step process is the more you invest in the earlier phases, you're actually also investing well enough in the latter parts.
The most important part was always that each member on the team felt proud and challenged and happy about the work we did. I just needed to get 3 important things right for this:
Meet structuring - Weekly Grooming call for big team, bi-weekly vertical meets, retro calls (Sharavanakumar)
OKRs - helping break down the overall vision into just 3 things each of the 18 of us had to get right each week - while working with each other
Team Happiness and Culture
Small birthday treats, team celebrations, shoutouts for great work, goodies and a lot more.
Technical Society is a relatively growing student body and so the job is obviously hard. The place my team had to start from was how to even get 5 people to show up for an offline event when we were reeling back from the pandemic. Key points of my experience are:
- It’s a fricking rollercoaster - There are events that go super well and then there are others where 0 people show up. My highs were really high and lows were equally painful. I’ve wanted to quit and dump so many times but then there were equally balanced nights of euphoria and adrenaline
- It’s about the team- Investing in the team’s growth during the summer following my recruitment was one of the best decisions I made. Because this strong loyal team stood while we encountered multiple hits over failed early events in the first semester. And now I see the same shy-to-even-turn-on-their-video-camera students stay up 14 straight hours, jugaading food and leading the conduction of tech events on campus.
- Diplomacy is everything - I’ve had to be nice in multiple f-you conversations and taken a lot of sit from multiple participants and stakeholders at a lot of points. Being rational more than emotional, knowing the right words to pitch to the right decision maker for an approval, collaborating with other student bodies for mutual vision alignment - that kind of thing
- The tech community has heart - Tech-community is introverted, reserved and fit the “nerd” description (barring a few outliers). But these are the same people who will pour their heart out for finessing a project - right from scribbling on whiteboards to presenting products, stand by and help each other for free, bond over late night tea conversations and pizzas, fight when they’re sleep deprived and drive real impact to push the society forward. This inspirational set of people is worth fighting for
Gigantic network - This is the most golden essence of being in an IIT. I reached out far and wide:
- interacted and connected with the most passionate tech enthusiasts across all domains at IIT Madras
- connected to other IIT’s top talent through the Inter IIT Tech board
- became part of a top class IITM entrepreneur community
- multiple companies (GitHub, Unacademy) that sponsored our events
Being a better planner - Every TechSoc event had to be granularly figured out - right from the why, to the domain, to the logistics (approvals, finances, food), marketing plans, grading patterns, feedback loop and process documentation. And prior to that - figuring out which initiatives to run for which target audience and how that tied into the TechSoc vision to provide something to students that they were missing out on.
TechSoc taught me about this more than anything. You have to be a better planner than you ever were when you’re handling over 5 Lakhs of budget and getting around 30-40 things right in stressful weeks.
Becoming a stronger person - A leader is looked up to be a responsible and strong person. But no one is born that way. You learn by getting hit with a brick in the face. I learnt to be resilient, have more patience, lose the fear of crowd handling, stand my ground in hard negotations, take in a lot of negative feedback and deal with some failures. There were a lot of times when I felt like running away from the problem but the beauty of this PoR is that it won’t let you. Even when you’re tired, or tied by administration or resource constrained and super close to giving up. It has definitely increased my self-confidence to stand up to any problem in the world with a - “We’re TechSoc, we’ll figure it out” attitude.
Especially during Inter IIT Tech Meet 11. I’ve forced myself to manage 13 project teams - ensure they were well-nurtured and moving at a high-quality-steady-pace. There were about 50 things that had to fall into place each week. And during the travel to Kanpur, the logistics and the team spirit upkeeping. I think 40 hours of constant travel jugaad stress for 19 people, puking at 5am, helping 3 other IITM teams till 12 while having a really sore throat and then clinching silver at Tech Meet’s entrepreneur challenge is going to be the personal best of strength I got to be at. I don’t know any other PoR where you come this close to breaking and still finish at the peak.
Being part of something bigger - I had a chance to stand for a strong tech culture at IITM - even though it sometimes meant being unhealthily altruistic. Looking back, I’ll have not regretted that I spent my last year complaining about not having a strong tech scene at IITM. I’ll carry with me the legacy of having led highly passionate believers who wanted to push the limits of what technology can be.
- Constantly stressed - In the early days, especially with the offline shift and even during the Inter IIT, I felt responsible for too many things. It’s an unprecedented level of stress - that no one should rationally take. Passion might be good reason to do it, but not otherwise. You’re worried for an event, a team member’s growth, someone resigning, some plan getting delayed and simultaneously 0 participation in another event on the next day. Since the team is small, unlike other bodies, you’re involved personally in most things and while the growth is good - the cost it comes at, is also high
- Personal sacrifices - Barely any time on most weekends. I remember just bouncing across meetings post 8pm on a lot of weekdays and then standing by the team. I’ve missed a lot of social life, sometimes even personal goals (heck, I didn’t work on my startup during Inter IIT Tech Meet) and relaxing, as I struggled to move the needles of 3 different verticals whilst the cores were still warming up. The role does take a lot out of you and it’s not a good thing always.
- A lot of ground-work - My leadership style has always been more hands-on. Might be a good or bad thing, I don’t know the balance. There are days when people won’t work upto your standards and you’ll have to step in and help even though you really are just mad and might want to panic and yell at them to get it done. Compassion taught me to share the load - right from being a TShirt distributor to a sweeper to poster designer to food delivery agent.
A crazy story
I'll tell a story of how I learnt persistence. In 2023, I was leading a 90 member contingent from IIT Madras to participate in Inter IIT Tech Meet (a national level competition for solving technical challenges). I was managing 15 projects over 2 months and was also in charge of the logistics, travel and accommodation in Kanpur. I booked the train tickets for my contingent through our institute and they assured us of tickets to Kanpur. However, in on the day of travel, amidst 100+ things I juggled all the way upto the train station, I realized that our tickets from Chennai to Kanpur were waitlisted. The train was full and keeping in mind the safety of my team, I told them to get off and said we'd find another way. And so, this story begins with a huge group of people, staring down at me at 12am on a railway station, with hopes that I'd get them to our competition - 2000 miles away - in the next 36 hours.
I arranged for a bus back to the IIT Madras campus and stayed up till 3, trying to figure out how I'd get my team to Kanpur safely, with the limited budget I had. For context, our institute had a no-flight refund policy for competitions. At 4am, I poured in all my personal savings of about 1.2 lakhs INR and booked the tickets to Kanpur. Here's the celebration video of that too (https://photos.app.goo.gl/u5nU56dfxCfW8YDo8). Next, I spent 2 hours breaking it to all those whose tickets couldn't be booked due to limited funds and took the beating before sleeping.
After a 1 hr nap, I woke up, informing our Dean with a long email - the entire situation and with their support, got the tickets for the remaining team as well. After 2 hours we flew to Delhi. In-flight, I worked with the people solving the "entrepreneurship challenge" and got their submission right. Next, at Delhi, I haggled and arranged bus transport to Kanpur for all with a 40% discount. The next morning, then, I arranged for breakfast for the entire team and transportation safely to the IIT Kanpur campus, reaching 10 hours before time. After 24 hours, with a parched throat, I pitched and won the gold medal for my college at the entrepreneurship challenge. Oh and the savings I put in? I got them reimbursed a month later by tweaking around my cloud provider SaaS costs and showing AWS credits as expenditure This is my favourite story that I like to share as I can neither put it in my resume nor will it be a conventional interview question - but it is so fundamental to my way of working - Persistence. I'd rather sweat in a garage than recline in a cabin. Cause where other's see unconvention, I see genius. Ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who really do
Coolest things I got to do
- Met my girlfriend
- Organized the 1st paper plane flying contest at IIT Madras
- Revived a culture of building finished products in 10 weeks through BuildSchool
- Earnt a chance to lead the Tech Contingent of IIT Madras and shout a war cry on the stage
- Grow TechSoc from a “will students show up” body to a “oh cool, they wanna sponsor our event” warrior team
- Connect with all the top CFI talent at IITM
- Interview and interact with cool founders (Ather, Zepto) during BuildSchool talks
- Buy over 200 pizzas during my tenure (40 of them, during a train journey from Kanpur to Chennai)
- Part of Institute Innovation Council and Inter IIT Tech Board - decision making that can actually drive change
- Connected with the top startups of insti and alums - Desklamp, Ather, Hyperverge, Corevoice
- Met my co-conspirators to build a software venture with - Prabhat, Jayanth K, Subham - made some money to.
- Free tshirts and appreciation goodies for the work done
- Sorted access to a cool DoSt util, CRC, CLT
- Built a completely automated no-code website
- Revive what I felt tech should feel like, working alongside a team I have grown to love