The extracurricular limbo — An Overview
As I begin the last year of my UG journey, reflecting on everything I explored and didn’t, I felt the need to pen down my experiences and give a perspective to my peers/juniors on how to utilize your free time optimally to upskill and grow your career (and also earn a few bucks :).
This blog is a compilation of my experiences on how I spent my time, what I have seen my peers do and what I would suggest for anyone coming to me saying — “Sir mujhe pata nhi chal rha kya karna hai” (Translation — I don’t understand what to do). However, it doesn’t include sports or other non-technical avenues.
With that out of the way, let’s dive in!
Exploration during the beginning phase is essential and the only thing that will help you find what you like and know what you are good at. So start consuming information and look at everything you can try out. Saw a hackathon advertisement? Give it a try. There’s a competition in the college? Attend that. You get the idea.
This way, you will start getting exposure to everything going on in the space. Many folks back out, saying, “But I don’t know anything”. Not knowing something is precisely why you should give it a try. Start looking at resources on what is what, reading documentation, watching videos and you’ll start understanding the technical jargon in no time.
The triangle of life
I had come across this “triangle of life in college”, and it goes something like this. You have three options to choose from — sleep, social life and side gigs. The condition is you can only choose 2 out of the three options. The other option wouldn’t be a priority and is sidelined. So, for example, if you choose to have a great social life with a good amount of sleep, you will not have enough time to do anything other than academics properly. I found this rule to be reasonably accurate during my college days.
As I see it, there are a few paths you can take regarding what you can do apart from college academics, aka side gigs. I’ll take each of these in a subsection in detail. Also, note that there will be an overlap between the things you can do. For instance, focusing on development doesn’t mean you cannot do research.
Option 1: Not do anything extra
The first path is not to do anything apart from the quizzes and assignments that are given daily. You chose social life and sleep from the triangle.
This isn’t a problem until it is finally the internship and placement season. Suppose you find yourself in this situation at the end of the 3rd year. Then, you can either choose placements for which you can start learning DSA and do interview preparation, or you can decide to go for higher education (Masters, MBA, UPSC etc.) and start preparing for those exams.
Option 2: Design and Development
Development, in this case, is learning skills like Web development, App development, Design and Cybersecurity related skills. I will not go into specifics of each of these. However, the main essence remains the same; building skills in these technical areas. You can achieve this by participating in competitions online and offline, going through courses and videos, or any other learning medium you find. For instance, Google Summer of Code is an excellent paid opportunity to learn and showcase your development skills by working on actual products. You can also participate in various hackathons and CTF competitions to learn and earn. Whenever you feel lost, your go-to people should be seniors experienced in the field.
These development skills also come in handy when your projects stand out from your peers in the resume giving you an edge in resume screening and interviews. These skills are even helpful when you start working at companies.
Option 3: Competitive coding
Competitive coding is another area many choose to spend their time on during college days. Competitive coding has a very active presence in most colleges and online. There are sometimes classes which seniors take to help newcomers into the arena. Competitions are hosted regularly on websites like CodeChef, Codeforces, etc., and prominent events like Hashcode and Kickstart as fantastic opportunities. Being an excellent competitive programmer directly helps you crack IT interviews since they are DSA based as well.
Option 4: Research
This question everyone asks is — Why research? This is one topic I consider myself experienced enough to go into the nitty-gritty details. Research might seem boring to an outsider; however, it is anything but that. I had the chance to work at a couple of Universities (Harvard Uni, Utrecht Uni), and the learning experience these opportunities gave me was terrific. You get to define the cutting edge of technology and develop ideas no one has thought of before. These experiences have directly opened doors for more corporate and research opportunities. These internships and collaborations also help when pursuing a higher education degree.
Generally, research during an undergraduate degree refers to a research internship at a university (In exceptional cases, it can also be a collaboration). This requires in-depth knowledge of the topic you want to pursue research. For instance, research in Machine Learning demands a thorough understanding of the current state of machine learning and a knack for coming up with creative solutions. There are a couple of ways to bag a research intern. First, if you have a high GPA (9+), you can apply for MITACS or DAAD scholarship, which provides funding and connects you to a researcher. If you don’t, you will have to directly contact a researcher for a potential internship or collaboration at the university of your choice. In addition, research interns allow you to experience and travel to a new country and gain invaluable research experience.
Option 5: Freelance or Entrepreneurship opportunities
If you already have a skill that you would like to utilise to earn some money, freelance is a perfect option. UI/UX design, Website building etc., are some options you can use to develop assets for a price. This generally requires a showcase of your skills so that clients have the confidence to select you for the job.
Start-up culture is at its peak, and for a good reason. Funding opportunities are plenty, even at the college level, and great ideas can take you to the moon. If you have a genuinely viable solution to a problem, I suggest you start building it and showcasing it in hackathons, competitions and approach seeding companies.
I hope that this blog provided some idea about what you could pursue during your college days. My DMs are always open for any questions and queries (subject to availability :)