Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Getting placed in Ashok Leyland was the dream job in my engineering college. They came every year and took one or maybe two students, from the Mechanical Engineering department. Only the top scorers got the job and sometimes they left without taking anyone. After the first couple of semesters, the top scorers were known to all and then the rat race began among them. Each one of them dreamed and worked towards getting that job. I was never in the race. I was never in any race, since childhood. I used to get the maximum scores that last minute studying can get you, just above average. I wouldn't say I was happy with that. I guess it didn't bother me much. Having a father who could afford college donations helped.

But I had a plan. I had scored above average, had an arrear (in probability) but cleared it in the subsequent attempt. I was sure of getting into one of the many IT companies which were in a hiring spree around that time, and they didn't completely understand the concept of majoring in UG. I was quite good in aptitude and knew a bit of programming. My plan was to get into one of the 3.5 lakh CTC companies and ride along until eventually returning to the family business.

So the first day of campus placements arrive with a major IT firm in the country doing the honours. I sail through the first 2 rounds and get selected for the interview. There is a clear system and process for selection of candidates, but when you are one of the students, it feels a lot like random. The interviews happens in a big conference room with a number of tables spaced out inside. There are 10+ interviews happening at the same time in the same hall. Anyway, I find my table and take a seat after the formal question of "May i take a seat". The interviewers proceed to test my knowledge in my Major by asking me to name the subjects that I had in my 3rd and 4th Semester. Yes. They actually have my mark list in front of them and ask me to name the subjects that I had studied a year ago. I fumble a bit and the interviewers rightly reject me based on their scientific process of assessment. A classmate of mine who told the interviewers that she is looking at higher education and will leave at the first chance she gets, got the job. A good number of guys got placed that day. There was a good probability of me getting placed but things didn't work out. I went home with the news and got a few insults from my Dad. It comes with the donations so i couldn't refuse. I didn't tell him that Ashok Leyland was recruiting the next day though.

So the next day, recruiters from Ashok Leyland reach our campus. This is the biggest day of the year for the Mechanical engineering department. For a brief period, everybody else in the college is reminded why the administration puts up with a department full of psychos. For a day, we are the flagship department of our college. Preparations are in full swing. There is tension in every body's faces and books in every hand. Some books that have been passed down generations of interview attending toppers. With the disappointment of the previous day still lingering, I joke about it to my close friends, who also didn't get through the previous day. I think that was a time and age when you could actually reduce sadness or increase happiness by sharing it. As we get older, the formula doesn't work that well.

I move around the groups and see what they are discussing and find one of them going through one such interview book with the key definitions and stuff. The first definition in the book is that of 1 ton of refrigeration. Now, my Dad's business is in the field of refrigeration and I have been studying engineering for 3 years, so I though this is the least return on his investment that I can give him. So i go through the definition.

The selection process begins. There is a needless introduction to the company and declaration of a 6.5 lakh CTC, followed by a couple of written tests. Technical first and then aptitude. Myself along with 7-8 more students get through and are asked to come to their office for the interview the same evening. I had literally put in zero efforts for these tests. The probability of me getting to this stage was zero. So I was in no way prepared for an interview. I was wearing one of the most comfortable = most lousy formals I had. Although i knew that there was not a chance that I could pass the interview, I didn't want to enter an office like that dressed in the clothes like this. Soon enough I found that some of the students had actually brought "Interview shirts".

Interview shirt - A clean, almost new pressed shirt, folded neatly and packed carefully, to be worn just moments before the interview.

I borrowed one from a class mate who did not get through to the interview. So I have my lunch, wear his new shirt and get on a mini van with the other students shortlisted for the interview. Here again, the others are doing some last minute preps. They have their thick text books and handy notes on formulas. I was on my way to get rejected again so I never bothered with a book. I was sure of it, I was actually thinking of the recruiters coming to our campus the next day and hoping I get placed then. We reached their guest house where we got some tea and biscuits. Its evening already and I'm wondering when it will all be over. They call in the candidates one by one. The tension in their faces are still in my memory, face covered with sweat before entering and disappointed eyes on the way out. I had no worries at all. I was just a filler. I knew that the moment they saw my scores and realised that I had a history of an arrear, they would definitely strike me out and I expected that to happen in the first 10 seconds of me entering the interview room. So I walk in with a smile and answer their questions to the best of my knowledge. Most of them were pertaining to the projects I had done and some casual questions about my background. 2-3 technical questions that I barely managed to answer before the final question "Define a ton of Refrigeration". I walked out a few minutes later still with a smile on my face and still zero expectations of getting through.

You know how sometimes you are sure that something is impossible but you still fantasise about how it would be if it happened. I didn't even fantasise about getting that job, not for a second. And then they came out to let us know who the selected candidates were and I was shocked to hear my name at the end. I got someone's dream job.

Forget probability, there was no permutation or combination where I could have got that job. Ever since, I have had a hard time with the concept of probability. Actually I have had a hard time with it ever since i failed in the subject in college. I could trust someone if they said it was possible or impossible but if they introduce a number or percentage probability, it unsettles me. Probabilities seem meaningless most of the time for people going through the event. The probability of a road accident is meaningless for someone who just experienced one. It is more useful for insurance companies. The probability of you clearing an entrance exam is useless to you but useful to entrance coaching centres. The probability of a bad marriage is not useful for the couple but useful to divorce lawyers in the country.

Have you seen the probability details shown in between the 2015 cricket world cup matches? Indian wins 85% of the times spinners take 4 wickets or more. What does that even mean? Is it helpful in any which way? What I am trying to say is, the word probability and the way it is expressed may seem scientific and reliable, but it is purely based on past experiences and not calculated based on merit or performance or nature of the task/event. Unlike the mileage figures of automobiles, events never happen in standard test conditions. When we do not trust mileage figures, why do we even consider probabilities?


  1. Hi! We consider probabilities for uncertain events. We do not trust mileage figures because the companies do not disclose the probability of an average Indian driver getting that average back at his village. If they did, different bikes would have different probabilities for the same mileage claim.
    See, suppose there were 25 guys who sat for that one job opening, there was at the start itself a 4% probability of you getting that job!

  2. You know, my selection was equally unpredictable.
    I too gave the interview wearing a borrowed shirt. also borrowed shoes, borrowed belt, borrowed document holder.
    When Rakesh Gupta, i think it was, was leaving, he put a hand around my shoulder and said "padhai karna".

  3. You are assuming that all 25 have equal chances and that they will select at least and only 1 candidate. But the point is that it is still of no use to any of the 25 people appearing for the interview. Which is the case most of the time like the world cup statistics.

    I can never forget the day. I have narrated the story a million times to different people but the excitement within never fades.