2010 Sep 30

Quitting a secure, well paying job and heading back to school is something that is not easy. There is a whole bunch of variables that needs to converge at the right time plus a kick to throw you out of your comfort zone. It happened to me 2.5 yrs ago.  I quit my job and headed over to EPFL for a Masters. From September 2008 to Feb 2010, it was an awesome experience to be back at school after 3 years. Meeting people from different cultures, exploring various research topics of interest, sharing ideas with the best brains combined with a lot of traveling and partying got me addicted to the university lifestyle. After presenting my thesis this February, one thing I knew for sure was what I didn’t want to do next.

A bit of self-contemplation resulted in a list of interesting points. Ever since my school days I had been part of a few innovative tech products and concepts but none my own. This disturbed me immensely rising doubts about my capability to innovate; to come out with something new a.k.a to invent. Plus, I enjoy teaching and mentoring. All these directed me towards an academic career path and off I went in search of academic research positions while interning/consulting for startups, so that I could survive financially in one of the world’s most expensive countries.

Finding a suitable research area/lab was not easy. Good things don’t come easy. Plus, I wanted to work in an area that keeps me amidst gadgets and  a workplace where my brains are not chained (read as having freedom). Difficult as it sounds right? During one of my casual “web crawling sessions”, I came across this MIT Technology Review article on “Keeping Pacemakers safe from Hackers” and immediately browsed through the research work of the lab, pinged the Professor, attended a day long interview, met up fellow researchers and gladly accepted the offer to do my PhD at the System Security Lab in ETH Zurich. The bonus is I get to fiddle around with biometrics as well. All that I needed in one package. I could not have asked for anything better.

Now the CHALLENGE IS ON. Whether I am successful or not is a different question (could take a couple of years or even more for the judgement) with a lot of variables, but am sure the take away from this experience is going to be valuable. From what it looks like I will be playing around with a  lot of wireless devices (sensor nodes, RFIDs etc), USRPs, mobile gadgets, crypto protocols, mathematics (yay!!) and more. So this blog sees an addition of the category “System Security” starting now.

A quote from Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech -

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

I have always been able to connect my dots looking backwards and with the hope that the dots will get connected in the future, I commence by search for the road less traveled and then proceed to explore it thereafter.

  1. And for the record, here is wishing you good luck! I totally understand how you must have felt quitting a job to return to academics :)

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