Wednesday 18 May 2022

What is the best way to look for off campus placements for IIT students?

Disclaimer: you might get banned from your college placement procedure if you apply for off-campus. So, do this at your own risk.

I got some of the best job offers when I graduated from IIT Bombay in 2017.

  • Rubrik US: $150,000 per annum
  • Hedvig US: $120,000 per annum + stocks
  • Tower Research Capital: Rs. 38 lakhs per annum (may go up to Rs. 42 lakhs per annum, depending on performance during the first year)
  • Rubrik India: Rs. 30 lakhs per annum + stocks
  • APT Portfolio: Rs. 28.8 lakhs per annum
  • Directi: Rs. 27 lakhs per annum (the package breakdown is quite complex here though).

These figures are for 2017. Since then, salaries at each company above have considerably gone up. All the above offers are off-campus offers because I didn’t sit for placements.

Let me first talk about how I got an off-campus internship in the US and then I will talk about all the above off-campus placements.

Back in 2015 during my 5th semester (July 2015 - November 2015), our internship season had begun. Many companies came to campus to hire students for an internship during the summer of 2016. At that time, I had a CGPA of some 9.4, which by IIT Bombay standards was quite good. So, my resume looked attractive to quite a few companies.

I had applied to two of the companies via the campus internship process:

  1. Samsung (Korea): Who doesn’t want to go outside India?
  2. Tower Research Capital: They paid the highest stipend in India. Back then they paid Rs. 75,000 per month. I have heard that in the subsequent years, they increased to Rs. 2 lakhs per month.

I wanted to go outside India and so, my first preference was Samsung. Tower Research was mostly a backup. I appeared for Samsung’s coding test. If I remember correctly, some 40 people appeared for the test. I had scored full and was ranked 2nd overall. I had a great CGPA. Samsung also focuses a lot on JEE rank and so, I was in a sweet spot. I had prepared quite well and so, I was fairly confident to do well in the interviews too.

One day before the Samsung interviews, I was shortlisted for Tower Research interviews as well. It was a difficult situation for me because as per campus rules if a student gets an internship offer from one company, they will have to step out of the internship process and join that company. Tower Research interviews were scheduled for the evening and it was known that they declare results on the same day. I was a little worried because if Tower selects me, I won’t be able to go for Samsung. But at the same time, I didn’t want to take the risk of skipping Tower interviews and risking for the only other option of Samsung.

I spoke with a senior of mine to get an idea of what to do. He suggested that I should do well in the Tower interviews and then politely convey to the hiring manager my intent of joining another company. This way, if in the worst case, I do not get selected for Samsung, I would have made a good impression on the Tower team and so, I might be able to go back to them to see if they can reconsider me basis the interview performance.

I did exactly that. Tower interviews went fantastic - I was able to answer nearly all the questions pretty quickly. They made me solve a few complex data structures and algorithms problems and threw a bunch of system design questions. During the final interviews, I told the interviewer about my intent to join another company. He told me that I should speak with HR about that. Students do not have access to the contact details of HR. So, I was perplexed as to how can I speak with them. After some 30 minutes or so, I got a call from their HR telling me that I have done quite well in the interviews and they’d like to make an offer. I got shit scared and I could see my foreign intern dream vanishing.

Puzzled, I told him that I am not interested and would want to explore other options. He told me to take 15 minutes and think about it and call him back with my conclusion. I was talking to my senior and my parents to figure out what to do. 5 minutes later I started getting calls from my friends congratulating me for getting selected at Tower Research. Tower Research had selected some 3 students of which I was one of them. I didn’t know whether to feel happy about getting the best-known domestic internship across all IITs or to cry for missing out on a foreign internship. I had no option but to settle for what I had got. As per the institute procedure, I could no more continue with my process for Samsung.

If I am not wrong, this all happened during July/August 2015, during my 5th semester. While at the moment I had settled for Tower, my mind was in continuous search for other options, most importantly an internship outside India. Sometime in September, a friend of mine told me that he had been selected for an internship at Rubrik via his brother’s referral. His brother was working at a US-based company in the San Francisco Bay Area and he had friends at Rubrik so they referred him. I searched about Rubrik right then and got pretty excited. Rubrik was based in Palo Alto - the heart of Silicon Valley. Without a second thought, I mailed them my resume.

I had mailed at 3.42 AM in the night. Within a few hours I got a response:

It took 3 rounds of intense interviews around data structures, algorithms, and systems design to finally get selected.

Soon I received the offer letter:

Over and above the offer letter, they paid $1000 per month for accommodation and also reimbursed the Air-fare from India to the US and back. The total compensation went to $8000 per month. By all standards in 2016, it was quite good.

Soon after that, I stepped out of the campus internship process and wrote to Tower Research that I won’t be joining. As per the institute processes, this was unprofessional behavior and so, in the placement process, my resume would have a line at the top saying - “Unprofessional Behavior During the Internship Season”.

I was quite confident that I’d be able to do well at Rubrik and get a return offer and so, I wasn’t worried about the placements. Fast forward 1 year, I received this email confirming my return offer at Rubrik:

Soon I got my full-time offer letter at Rubrik’s US office.

So that's how I got my first off-campus placement.

My 7th semester (July 2016 - November 2016) was quite a random period of my life. I had spent 3 months during the summer of 2016 in Palo Alto and so, the startup bug had gotten into my head. I wanted to start something of my own rather than going for a job. However, coming from a middle-class family, these job offers were extremely lucrative. While a lot of people can provide guidance for job A vs job B, few had started up during the college itself and so, I had no one to guide me on a job vs a startup. It was quite a difficult situation for me. The job vs startup decision became further difficult given that I didn’t have any idea of what to do:

  1. I didn’t have a co-founder.
  2. I didn’t have a startup idea (or rather a problem statement) to work on.
  3. I had no prior startup experience.
  4. I didn’t know how to recruit, how to sell, etc.

While I was battling with my thoughts between a job and a startup, a recruiter reached out to me on LinkedIn. At that time, a lot of these high-frequency trading firms were hiring aggressively CS grads from across the IITs. I definitely had a lucrative resume with a US internship and a 9-pointer CGPA along with the IIT Bombay CSE tag and a JEE rank of 33. I spoke with her on call and she seemed to have a lot of connects in a lot of high-frequency trading firms. These trading firms hired Software Engineers for the role of Core Infrastructure Developer. The idea was to build the trading platform for strategists to trade on. I had some idea of the role from my Tower Research interviews. And from the recruiter, I got to know that these companies were paying quite well - better than the Software firms.

Confused as I already was, I got an idea - “If I have to join Rubrik US by the end of my college, I will have to go through the Visa process which will require Rubrik to spend a considerable amount of money on me. If I later turn them down after they spend more money on me, it would be quite unethical. So, if I can get a job offer from one of the domestic companies via the recruiter, I will be able to politely inform Rubrik that I won’t be joining. As a gesture, I can help them hire my friends from IIT Bombay, Delhi, and Kanpur”.

I thought about the idea and I realized that I would go for it. The recruiter lined me up with Tower Research Capital and APT Portfolio and Alphagrep Securities. All 3 of these firms also did on-campus recruitment. However, at that time, there was so much demand for IIT CS grads in these firms, that all of them agreed to consider my profile off-campus. I cleared Tower Research and APT Portfolio interviews. Since I already had these 2 offers, I told the recruiter that we can skip Alphagrep Securities.

Before I could accept any of the above offers, I got reached out by recruiters from Directi and Hedvig US. For Hedvig, I told them that I am not really interested, but they insisted on me appearing for the interviews. Needless to say, I got through both Directi and Hedvig. Now, I had a bunch of offers and it was a messy situation for me. I had hit my own leg with my own axe by increasing my choices. Previously, the confusion was between job vs startup. Now the confusion was between Job A vs Job B vs Job C vs startup.

To make matters worse, I got an email from Rubrik saying that they plan to open their India office in March 2017 and would like to extend me an offer there as the first Software Engineer. I was already inclined towards Rubrik due to my fantastic internship experience and now, they had offered me a job at their India office.

I thought about it and realized that this rather solves all my problems - I can accept Rubrik India’s offer, and start working on my startup in the 8th semester. If something works out in the startup, I will continue that, else I will join Rubrik. So, I turned down all other job offers and accepted Rubrik India’s offer. In the back of my mind, I knew that in the remotest case, if my startup works out and I have to skip joining Rubrik, it would be extremely unethical on my part to have wasted their time. So, started to think of ways to compensate for that before that situation comes.

Accordingly, I helped them hire some 9 odd people from IIT Bombay, Delhi, and Kanpur. They were extremely happy with my referrals because they helped them build their early team in India. The trust was so much that they even went to the extent of discussing salaries with me because they were new to India.

After all the confusion and chaos and my efforts in the interviews, I ended up starting Cogno AI, my own startup. Now that I am on the other side of the table as an employer, I realize that I shouldn’t have applied for so many companies and wasted the time of so many people. I should have fixated on a decision and then gone for that rather than fishing around for offer letters. Nevertheless, I tried my best to ensure to give back to the people involved as much as possible, so that I can try and compensate for the time that I wasted for them. For instance, apart from helping Rubrik hire so many people, I also helped the recruiter who connected me with the trading firms get a lot of resumes from IITs so she also ended up hiring some great people.

Finally, when I turned down Rubrik’s offer to start Cogno, here is the email I received from Mr. Ashish Gupta, the Head of Rubrik India:

Ashish’s email turned out to be extremely useful for me. My parents were totally against me starting up because they felt that I was being over-confident leaving such high-paying job offers. But as you can see from the above email, Ashish wrote “Our doors are and will always be open to you”. I showed this to my parents and they became quite happy that I have a backup option now in case the startup doesn’t work.

I would like to reiterate that it was extremely naive on my part to consume so much time of so many people in the recruitment process. I was also worried and felt extremely guilty that I have possibly wasted a job that someone else could have got. However, I think I compensated for both of these points by referring a lot of people at these companies who ended up joining. And today, my startup Cogno employs about 150 people and so, I am glad that by not going for the jobs, I have created more value for the country in the form of employment, taxes, etc.

To sum it up, the best way to apply for off-campus is:

  1. Find out the best companies, and reach out to them via their careers portal/email.
  2. Connect with the relevant recruiters who you can easily find on LinkedIn.
  3. Be extremely well prepared for the interviews.

Some of my other posts:

3 comments:

  1. Hey Aman, I know you're very busy, but I'd be extremely grateful if you'd reply. I've finished my 3rd year from IIT Kanpur (Electrical Engineering) and I'm currently interning at Microsoft. I've been wanting to go into HFT firms like Tower, Graviton, Quadeye etc. Would you suggest taking a PPO from Microsoft and applying for these firms off campus or would you suggest rejecting the PPO and sitting in placements?

    Side note, really love your answers and blogs, you're a legend :)

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    Replies
    1. Hi Satvik, many congratulations!! I think you should go for the PPO and apply off-campus. Don’t risk the PPO. Placements are quite stressful. I don’t think it’s worth.

      Lately, Microsoft has also given a generous hike to their employees and so, I think it would be a bad idea to reject the PPO.

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    2. Thanks a lot for your reply Aman! I'll keep this advice in mind. All the best!

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