My experience with ICTD X started when Operation ASHA was invited to give a demo of our technology that detects and treats Tuberculosis patients in disadvantaged areas. I had previously attended a conference called ICT4D in Hyderabad 2 years ago where I had presented our ‘eDetection’ technology. Initially, I thought this conference would be similar, but a cursory glance through the conference webpage revealed that ICTD was much more research-oriented. Being an ex-researcher myself, I was rather intrigued and decided there and then to attend the entire conference.
The first few minutes at the conference venue cemented my interest. As soon as I entered through the IIM gates, I met a PhD student and an undergrad from University at Michigan in the US, with one of whom I happened to have a common friend. Together we found our way from RJM auditorium to the New Campus through an underground tunnel. The tunnel along with the magnificent red brick buildings continued to awe me throughout the conference. IIM-A is one of the most prestigious MBA Schools in India, one that is the toughest to get through. Being at the campus for 3 days gave me a taste of life at IIM-A, especially after numerous interactions with IIM students. Best of all, I felt like a student again. Wearing sneakers, carrying a backpack, and walking a lot every day from the old campus to new and vice versa reminded me of my time as a graduate student at Georgia Tech, one of the happiest times of my life. The icing on the cake was that Georgia Tech was one of the main organizers of the conference, and I had the opportunity to interact with numerous faculty members like Dr. Neha Kumar and Dr. Ellen Zegura, and many PhD students.
The conference had a unique component of interactive ‘Open Sessions’ of a free-flowing nature that I thoroughly enjoyed. I also enjoyed giving my demo. I have given many demos before, however, this was the first conference in which so many people came up to me who were genuinely interested in the technology and its impact. They asked so many questions and came up with really good suggestions on what more can be done in this area.
The best part about the conference was the people I met. I met people from all stages of life and all stages of their careers, ranging from a Masters student at Rutgers University to Professor Richard Anderson from the University of Washington. The co-founder of the conference was Dr. Kentaro Toyama — the famous computer scientist who is also the author of the book ‘Geek Heresy’. A friend of mine, knowing that I work in ICTD introduced me to this book with a ton of admiration for the author’s work. It was an honor getting to meet and interact with him in person.
In one of the open sessions of the conference, we had an interactive discussion on Identity. It got me thinking- what is identity? Is it really important to have a strong identity in place? Is it so important to be self-aware? What if you take each day as it comes? I thought about this bit by bit each day and I came to the conclusion that even though nobody knows themselves a hundred percent, it is important to gather as much self-awareness as you can so that it can guide you through life. Through this conference, I learned a few things about ICTD. Also, through interactions with really smart people, I learned even more things about myself and my personality that I am grateful for.
The conference ended with a cultural performance by none other than Padma Shree Prahalad Singh Tipaniya & Troupe. His music was so soothing and relaxing that it put me in a trance-like state. It was an honor to be able to listen to him live. After the cultural night, we went back to the hotel and the conference for me ended with a card game that was a lot of fun. The conference was a very pleasant change from the regular routine of a daily job. It had something for everyone — be it a professor, researcher, a practitioner working in the field or just a student. It was also very tastefully organized, be it the peacock themed logo or the food or the venue. All in all, a wonderful experience that I will remember and cherish for a very long time.