The CSE Tale

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“It’s been quite some time, things have changed a lot”, are the words of Prof. Amares Chattopadhyay, as he tries to recollect things much distant. “How did it all start?” is the question prompting the response from the person who has been the very first Head of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad. The story of the department begins all the way back in the year of 1997 from the very first discussion between Dr. Dalim K. Paul, the then Director of Indian School of Mines and Prof. Chattopadhyay, the erstwhile Head of the Department of Applied Mathematics. Prof. Chattopadhyay, by then, had been a part of the ISM fraternity for around two decades as a faculty in the Applied Mathematics department. He had also been contributing towards Computer Technology in the institute, teaching subjects like Computer Organisation, Operating Systems and Programming Languages to postgraduate students of M.Tech in Computer Application. This course had been in place since 1988, but it was in 1997 when the need of a department offering B.Tech in Computer Science and Engineering surfaced.

ISM was already supreme in the Earth Science disciplines. The idea was to develop ISM into a full-fledged international-level technical institute, which was much easier said than done. With Prof. Chattopadhyay in mind, the Director sketched plans for a Computer Science & Engineering Department in the institute.

The planning went into fruition one fine morning when Prof. Chattopadhyay was presented the charge as the Head of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. The session 1998-99 marked the beginning of the department, with two professors, both from Applied Mathematics discipline - Prof. Chattopadhyay himself and Late Dr. Manatosh Chakraborty. The infrastructure consisted of two classrooms, one office room and three faculty chambers. A humble start in comparison with the current state of proceedings. “The most encouraging part was the response from the students”, recalls Prof. Chattopadhyay with a glow in his eyes and smile on his face as he rejoices his days that led to everything the CSE department is today. There were countless struggles in the beginning. One of the more prominent being the decision upon a course structure that would stand at par with the IITs. The task was carried out in 1997 in association with some eminent professors from IIT Kanpur, IIT Kharagpur and ISI, Kolkata.

Until 1999, the teaching staff at the department included the HoD himself, Dr. Chakraborty along with a number of visiting professors from reputed institutes like IIT-Kharagpur; ISI, Kolkata; Shibpur BE College (presently known as IIEST, Shibpur) etc. “The students were very good, so attentive, it was a joy seeing them, so enthusiastic, even on weekends, when we invited visiting professors,” says the recently retired maestro, in his chamber, happy to finally get some time off for his own research. It’s not wrong to say that things were significantly different for this department at the beginning of the new millennium, at the time of its infancy with only two dedicated Computer Science Professors - Prof. G. P. Biswas who joined the department in 1999, and Prof. Prasanta K. Jana, who joined in late 2000. Both of them would later head the department, Prof. Biswas taking the reins from Prof. Chattopadhyay and Prof. Jana succeeding him.

The growth of this department has been very organic. The first few years were spent in ensuring its survival followed by an infrastructural spike in the year 2003 when the department shifted from its home in a corner of the Heritage Building of ISM to its current location. With that in place, the Department then grew in strength of its family members from three full-time Computer Science faculty in 2004 (the other two being from Applied Mathematics), to 16 as we speak. A natural growth doesn’t stop at survival; it then strengthens and ensures a successful future. Currently, the department is further undergoing infrastructural growth. Another floor is being built on the Departmental Building as well as on the adjoining Management Building. The two would be connected together via a corridor.

Computer Science and Engineering has lately been one of the most successful branches of ISM. For the past 10 years, quite admirably, the placement statistics of the department is well over 80%. But that was not always the case, at least not with the first batch. The first batch of ISM-CSE graduated in the year 2002 with a strength of 20, quite a low number compared to the present final year batch strength of 107. This year was a crucial one for both the students of first batch and the department, for fairly obvious reasons. A Computer Science Department in a mining institute was a tough sell, some say it still is. Prof. Jana recalls visiting Kolkata along with Prof. Chakraborty to invite the companies for on-campus recruitments. He went to companies like Cognizant, TCS and PriceWaterHouseCoopers. Elsewhere, Prof. Chattopadhyay went to Gurgaon, Noida, then all the way to Hyderabad and Bangalore in the same quest. Inspite of their efforts, though, the response was lukewarm. The technical companies were a little skeptical of the young academicians from a department not well known to them. The best that our professors could do was to hand over information brochures to them. 2 out of 20 got placed on campus, though with the combined efforts of the professors and the students themselves, the off-campus results were encouraging. Both Prof. Chattopadhyay and Prof. Jana have a fondness in their remembrance of the first batch, something they accept is more than just nostalgia.

The same year Prof. Chattopadhyay took a sabbatical leave in favour of some of his research at Technical University of Vienna, Austria and University of Kaiserslautern, Germany. Consequently. Consequently, the headship was passed on to Prof. S. Dey, also from Dept. of Applied Mathematics. Prof. Dey acted solely as a Head of the Department. “We, me and Prof. Biswas, would give him a list of things needed by the department and he would, most generously and dutifully, convey our concerns to the Director”, recounts Prof. Jana.

Revitalized from his leave, Prof. Chattopadhyay was back to India and ISM in 2003 and took up the charge back from Prof. Dey. As opposed to his “first” term, the scenario was different. The department was up and running, firm on its feet, and the survival was ensured. He, then, focused on improving the factor of self-dependence, because even then the number of visiting faculties was dominant. This led to the recruitment of Prof. C. T. Bhunia in 2003, Dr. Chiranjeev Kumar and Dr. Sachin Tripathi in 2005. Dr. Kumar, who joined the department as a Senior Lecturer, currently serves not only as an Associate Professor but also as the Head of the Department. The beginning of Prof. Chattopadhyay’s second innings was rather happening as the department shifted from Heritage Building to its current home.

The department thrived under Prof. Chattopadhyay until 2006 when he willingly left to return to his home ground, the Dept. of Applied Mathematics. It seems apt to reason that as any doting father who would stop holding the bicycle from behind once the child takes control, he guided the department from its infancy to a point of stable self-sustenance.

Prof. Chattopadhyay might not be a part of the CSE family today, but his contributions to the department have been innumerable. They are very well summed up in the words of Prof. Jana when he says, “This Department has been a success story like nothing else, but it could have been possible only because it had a sound foundation built in the capable hands of Prof. Chattopadhyay”

With his departure, the mantle was taken up by Prof. G. P. Biswas and the issues of inadequate number of faculty and lack of reference material were tackled. The following years saw a significant increase in the number of students opting for Computer Science and Engineering. There were successive swift additions to the faculty, namely Dr. Hari Om, Dr. Sushanta Mukhopadhyay, Dr. Haider Banka, Mr. A.C.S. Rao, Mr. Tarachand Amgoth, Mr. Rajendra Pamula, until 2010. It was the start of the era that saw Computer Science and Engineering being counted among the leading branches of the institute. Another crucial area in which the department grew was Research. The department had started the PhD programme and the first student to complete his doctorate was in 2009. In the years to come, the department would further award 13 PhDs.

The department projected itself on the national map as it began organizing the national conference - “Recent Advances in Information Technology” in 2007. The first edition of the conference was attended by many esteemed professors from eminent institutes like IIT-Kharagpur, IIT-Guwahati and likewise. The conference was scheduled to be organised every 2 years, and the second National RAIT conference at ISM was organised in 2009.

Prof. P. K. Jana, in November 2010, stepped up as the head of the department taking the baton from Prof. Biswas. When he joined the department in 2000, it was soon after completing his PhD. “I couldn’t join the department immediately, I still had to finish up the semester’s course at BIT Mesra.” says Prof. Jana who has been an integral part of the department with an R&D project and three years of Headship under his name.

During his headship, Prof. Jana advocated the expansion of the department on the grounds that it was in a dire need of space. He proposed multiple plans related to the extension of the department, prepared blueprints to show the space allocation issue, and even sketched the possible solutions, which currently are being implemented. There were significant additions to the faculty under his headship. As many as six new faculty members joined the expanding CSE family including Dr. Sukomal Pal, Mr. Dharavath Ramesh, Dr. Arup Kumar Pal, Dr.(Mrs.) Sushila V. Maheshkar, Ms. Shweta R. Malwe and Ms. Tanusree Kaibartta.

The year of 2011 marked the foundation of Computer Science & Engineering Society, with Prof. Jana acting as the founding president. The CSES was set up with a purpose to develop the environment of Computer Science in the institute as well as the department, by organising invited talks, technical seminars, industry exposure etc. “Dr. S. Laik the then Dean of Student Welfare, helped us greatly in getting through the intricacies of founding the society”, recollects Prof. Jana.

Through this period, the placement statistics kept on improving with the batches of 2010 and 2011 registering 100% on-campus placements. The leaders of the industry took notice of the department and likes of Samsung, Microsoft, Yahoo, started visiting the institute. 2013 saw one of the best placement stories of ISM when Rachna Nandan secured a job at the Palo Alto headquarters of Facebook. This is just one of many testaments of the tremendous development of CSE at ISM, though arguably one of the most telling. At present, the number of companies visiting the campus has increased. The department has a long way to go on this front. As even the most prolific batches would fall short in comparison with prominent IITs. But, the times are changing. The face of any department is its students and how they perform. The students who come to ISM are choosing CSE. The best JEE rank to choose ISM has chosen CSE, a matter of pride for the department. More so as the recent Branch Change, which happens at the beginning of 2nd year of a B.Tech course, has resulted in 27 toppers of different branches of ISM opting for CSE.

Among the many instances of the growth of this department, the biennial technical conference - RAIT, was upgraded from national level to an international one. The first International Conference on Recent Advances in Information Technology was held in early 2012 and was attended by the leaders of computer science field from all over the world. The second edition of the international conference was organised fairly recently in spring 2014.

With over a decade of experience at ISM under his belt, Prof. Jana has seen it all. More importantly, he has devoted himself to the department in ways more than one. As an instance, the first batch was led by him, he recalls, for Industrial Training, something which both he and Prof. Chattopadhyay believed and still do, is of foremost importance for an engineer. “Lack of such experience can only produce bookworms”, says Prof. Chattopadhyay.

In 2013, after a glorious headship, Prof. P. K. Jana retired from his duty as an HoD. He counts the introduction of reference materials for the benefit of students as one of his prominent contribution as the head.

Dr. Chiranjeev Kumar followed Prof. Jana, taking over the charge at the end of 2013. He believes in practical education and has been devoting most of his managerial powers to ensure that the students don’t have anything to long for, for their rightful education. With the expansion of three of the most frequently used labs of the department he knows what he is doing. Today, it comes as a relief against the stifling of small and overflowing labs but this was not always the case. As department grew from less than 100 students in 2002 to its current strength of more than 400, the once abundant lab space became scarce. Not only the labs but the department itself became constrained. The space constraint is highlighted even more with the ever increasing count of faculty members.

The faculty count clocks at 16 as we speak and both Prof. Jana and Dr. Kumar believe that the department needs more. The new HoD believes that the strength of any academic department lies in its students, and ours is no exception. With time, Department of CSE at ISM has grown on to be counted among the most popular of the institute and a significant credit goes to the students. On the flip side, Dr. Kumar asserts, “The weakness of this department is also the students. I see bright and energetic students joining the department in their first year but they lose their fervour. I see students not living up to their potential which needs improvement”. As a matter of fact, the department is doing its part in ensuring that students get to reap the most out of their calibre. “As HoD my objective is to develop the department so that it could provide the best infrastructure to the students as per their expectations” reasons Dr. Kumar, “I believe the only reason why a student does not live up to his potential is due to a lack of platform. I also understand that the coding culture in our department needs to be more enthusiastic.”

Asked about how he feels about his new role, the visionary says, “I’m very happy to have been given this opportunity. I had many plans when I came here in 2005 and I feel happy to be given this chance. It’s my time to shape up the department.”