In 2011, Spreeha Biswas topped the ICSE board exam and became the first student from Tatanagar (Jamshedpur) to achieve such a feat. In line with the societal perception of success, he started preparing for IIT JEE and qualified in 2013 with a rank of 1720. Biswas opted to pursue Metallurgical Engineering and Material Sciences at IIT Bombay.
The 27-year-old said, “Somehow my choice was influenced by my childhood aspirations and I decided to go to IIT Bombay as I knew it had a good ecosystem for entrepreneurs.”
Two years into the course, however, Biswas realized that he was no longer interested in attending metallurgical engineering classes. In 2015, she took a bold and unconventional decision to drop out of IIT Bombay. She learned to code in school and made her mark in the business world.
“Over 2 years, I had coded for about 20 different applications for the startup, including a fitness app to track body movements using Kinect and an app for Cilika, India’s first digital microscope. I even built and sold a feedback app to a club in town. It was around this time that I came to know about human-centered design and it opened up a whole different dimension. I knew I had to go deep into it. So, I dropped out of IIT Bombay in 2015,” she told indianexpress.com.
“I was deeply fascinated by video games and how they are a perfect amalgamation of complex algorithms, art and psychology. I learned basic programming in school and started making small games. One of my proudest moments was a Minesweeper version in Java. was building,” she said.
Growing up in Tatanagar as a child had a great impact on him. “When I was 15, I found the story of JN Tata and all the leaders who built Tata over the years. It inspired me deeply. All I knew was that I wanted to grow up and run a business and I couldn’t wait to start. But, I was not learning it in IITs as our education system is not capable of nurturing the business mind at an early age,” said Biswas.
Asked if there was any way to pursue a technical bent with my degree at IIT Bombay, Biswas said, “After a point, I was not able to take classes for the degree. I decided to pursue that degree. That would prove to be of little or no use in my future career. It was better to take risks than to be a bad engineer.”
The decision to leave an institute like IIT Bombay did not go down well with his family. “They thought I was crazy and tried to give me counseling. But, when I had a patient conversation with my parents, they understood that this was not just a random interest area. This was my real passion. That was my true calling,” said Spreeha, who then learned about ethnographic research, data-driven design, behavioral studies, usability studies, and gained a very solid foundation for building responsible and humane technology.
“I started out as a design researcher and strategist and then became an associate partner. During this time, I also tried my hand at setting up an ed-tech startup, which unfortunately had to close prematurely,” says Biswas Said, who currently works as Chief Product Officer at Augnito AI – a maker of voice-to-text medical software.
“Healthcare is a very sensitive domain; It demands high precision. Even a small mistake can cost someone’s life. So, when we introduce AI into this environment, you have to make sure that you put clinical security at the center of all decision-making, you understand how people are going to engage with your AI. What are the biases that your AI can propagate and the potential errors that you need to reduce. That’s when my expertise in bringing human-centred thinking to AI comes into the picture,” said Biswas.
Currently, she is focused on building Augnito, but tries to help others who are looking for career advice. “When I was deciding to move out, I didn’t have anyone to watch or discuss and it was tough, so I do my best to help people with their questions,” she said.
Indianexpress.com has started a series on students who have decided to drop out of IITs after realizing their true calling. This article is the first in the lineup.