By Hasan Farooq
This is a question which has been striking my head for so long and, today, I eventually decided to pen it down.
I have done my bachelors in Electrical Engineering from one of the renowned engineering universities of Pakistan. However, for my Masters by Research degree, I chose Computer Science (Information technology) field as I found my profound interest in Computer Networks specifically the “science” behind the computer networks.
I face this situation whenever I am introduced to others. I am always stuck in embarrassing situations whenever I tell about this to others. Listeners’ mouths are always wide open and I hear them saying “Really… Oh my God… You must be joking… This is Suicide… Why Computer science… You should have continued in Electrical… Blah Blah Blah”.
My answer to them usually circles around the fact that these days research is interdisciplinary and the degree name doesn’t matter; what really matters is the research work which you carry out and most importantly your interest but at the end of the day the dialogue ends with the other one commenting ”Dude whatever you say but the fact is you have destroyed your bachelors degree and you will regret it”.
Well, this is a fact that around 90% of the electrical engineering students are those who choose this field just because of merit. Yes, students choose this engineering as its considered top notch field and, at least in Pakistan, its merit is always higher than other fields.
Alas, during admission time, very few can actually differentiate between civil, mechanical, chemical, electrical and other fields and in end of the day choice is made solely on merit. This approach needs to be changed. Students should choose field depending upon their interest and their capabilities. Although some students do this practice but this number is negligible.
In my case, I chose electrical in bachelors because I had interest in electronics right from my childhood. Opening my electronic toys to grasp their working principle remained my favourite pass time throughout my childhood.
I remember buying small electronics kits like light switches, sound switches and timers and connecting them with lamps and other appliances. In fact, seeing my interest, my father gifted me digital multi meter with soldering iron and radio kit on one of my birthdays.
I naturally selected electrical for my bachelors degree. However, I also enjoyed computer programming and started learning basic computer languages like “QBasic” when I was in 6th class.
During my Bachelors, I was studying computer networks course and that is the subject that changed my vision and my life ahead. I remember the topic on routing protocols which clicked me and I went on reading it for endless hours. I was curious to know who really are those people that make these protocols and how to become one of them. I read about them and I came to know that most of the people have background in computer sciences.
Then after bachelors, luckily I got MSc by Research scholarship for higher studies in leading research university of Malaysia and, in my admission forms, I chose Computer Science (Information technology) field instead of Electrical Engineering.
I got selected for it and, eventually, I reached Malaysia where once again I was greeted by Pakistani fellows with same old question about my degree-change-stupid-move. Listening to them, I was so stressed I couldn’t sleep and thought of changing my department back to electrical. I was told by the department that it’s possible as I satisfy background requirements and I would have to do research on signals analysis related to medical applications.
I thought I was comfortable with MATLAB and DSP algorithms but was that the thing which I really wanted to do. That was the moment when I had to choose between my heart and head and ultimately I listened to my heart, and forgot about electrical and started degree in computer science for my favorite networks field.
There, I found my research supervisor as the best teacher and person I have ever met in my life. In my first meeting with him when I started to cry about my background and degree change story, I was expecting same old expressions but to my surprise, I heard him saying “It’s great! You have background in hardware part and now you can master your skills in software part. I too did my bachelors in computer engineering but ended with computer science in PhD” and for very first time in abroad I felt so relieved.
He gave me complete freedom to try out new ideas and guided and supported me whenever I needed him. In fact, he was reason I totally forgot about “degree-switch-crap” and focused solely on research work.
I found research work on networks really very interesting and I literally enjoyed doing it. I was able to produce international indexed publications and I was awarded fully funded fellowship to attend IETF meeting in USA where I got opportunity of lifetime to meet pioneers and gurus of computer networks field.
I met inventors of many renowned routing protocols who shared their valuable knowledge and gave me handful directions for my research work.
There I met face to face with those people about whom I had read in my computer networks book, who had fascinated me and made me choose this field. Now I waiting for my final MSc defense viva and although I can’t say what lies ahead in my future but I know one thing I am happy and satisfied that I chose the field that I loved.
Currently, I am on study leave from a reputed engineering institution of Pakistan where I work as faculty member. In my recent meeting when I told them about my future plans of continuing my PhD degree in computer science (networks) field I was slammed with: “Whatever you do it’s your choice but remember you work in electrical department and after completion of your studies when you will return with low rank PhD degree in computer science instead of reputable electrical engineering degree, I’m afraid the institution will not entertain you” and at that moment I asked myself again: Does Degree “Name” is what really Matters…?
“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” (Steve Jobs).
The writer is a communication networks researcher by profession, university faculty member by inclination, gadgets maniac and no-holds-barred technology enthusiast. He loves everything and anything related to Telecommunications.