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From Building CGPA Calculator to AI Innovator: Sai Ankit’s Journey from BITS Pilani to Visa

From Building CGPA Calculator to AI Innovator: Sai Ankit’s Journey from BITS Pilani to Visa

Sai Ankit, an alumnus of BITS Pilani (Hyderabad, ‘23), graduated with a B.E. in Electronics and Communication and is currently working at Visa as a Software Engineer focusing on AIaS (Artificial Intelligence as Services) systems. With a robust software development and research background, Sai has interned at renowned companies like Hotstar. His journey, from developing a popular CGPA calculator app to advancing AI technologies at Visa, reflects his passion for technology and innovation. Sai’s work has enriched his technical expertise and highlighted his commitment to solving real-world problems through cutting-edge technology.

Deep diving into 2019, share your first year at campus.

It was a pretty straightforward journey. Like most BITS students, I took PCM in the 11th and 12th grades and prepared for IIT-JEE. During this process, I learned about BITS and realized it was a viable option if I excelled in my board exams. After giving my mains, I secured a decent rank. Initially, I planned to attend IIIT Bangalore. However, I also received an offer from BITS for an M.Sc. in Economics on the Hyderabad campus, which I accepted. I was transferred to the ECE program during the final round of the admission process.

I had always intended to study Computer Science, and early in my undergraduate career, some seniors informed me about the possibility of making a vertical leap to switch disciplines. However, after a few quizzes, I realized this path wasn’t for me.

How did you develop an inclination towards software development?

I had an uncle who worked in the software field at Bloomberg, where he's been for 16-17 years. Ever since I met him, he has been in the US and has always inspired me. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and pursue a career in computer science.

However, unlike students in the north who had Computer Science courses in CBSE, we didn't have such courses in the Telugu states. I first encountered coding after finishing my 12th grade. During the summer break, I started exploring the basics of programming languages like C and HTML.

Initially, I didn't have a strong inclination toward computer science, but I deeply yearned to follow my uncle's path. I developed a genuine interest and passion as I delved deeper into coding.

How did COVID-19 affect your college experience?

For me, COVID turned out to be a significant boon. Although we missed out on the typical college experience with friends and hostel life, we were fortunate to have the first year of college offline. This allowed me to form lasting friendships with my wingmates.

The pandemic gave me immense time to focus on what I truly wanted to pursue. I took this opportunity to explore various fields. I even ventured into core areas like Phoenix development to see if it was the right fit. It was during this period that I discovered my path toward app development.

I tried my hand at everything. For about three to four weeks, I'd immerse myself in one area, then switch to another, continually experimenting and learning.

CGPA calculator has proven to be quite popular amongst BITSians. Tell us about your projects. Were you expecting it to become as popular as it did?

My first project in the app development space came after exploring web development and machine learning. I realized that tutorials alone wouldn't help me grow much as a developer—I needed to work on a real project.

During my first year of college, I spent a lot of time manually calculating my CGPA. To simplify this, I initially created an Excel sheet to automate the calculations. When thinking of an app idea, I decided to turn this concept into an application.

The early days were challenging because I didn't know how to store data or manage app-specific functionalities. It was a steep learning curve, requiring me to work 10 to 12 hours daily. After 20 days of continuous effort, I completed the app.

Initially, I hesitated to pay the $25 fee to release my app on the Play Store, but I decided to go for it. This decision paid off significantly. Not only did the app help me during interviews, but it also recently hit 50,000 downloads—a milestone I never expected to achieve.

Phoenix Degrees are known to be difficult to manage, and you've made an exceptional career doing CS. How did you manage to keep a balance in your routine?

Phoenix courses are known for their toughness, precisely what gives you an edge. You often need to answer just two out of ten or twelve questions to secure a decent grade, usually a 7. I focused on a very limited syllabus—probably around ten lectures. By solving previous years' questions and being strategic about my study approach, I could perform well without attending every class or tutorial.

Instead of trying to cover everything, I concentrated on smart studying techniques. This approach reduced confusion and allowed me to identify answers during exams quickly. If I didn't know the answer, I didn't feel pressured to attempt it, knowing I could still achieve a good grade by focusing on what I knew well.

The CS courses helped balance my GPA, preventing it from dropping too low. With a less overwhelming syllabus, I could grasp the material more effectively. In my first year, I had a solid CGPA of 8.3 and continued this approach through online classes. Being proficient in CS courses played a significant role in maintaining my academic performance.

How did you bag and prepare for an internship at Hotstar? What was your experience like?

That was a PS2, so I wouldn't consider it a personal achievement. It primarily came about because of my GPA. Therefore, I strongly recommend maintaining a good CGPA.

I opted for the 4-1 PS in our batch because I planned to go to the US for my master's. However, I put those plans on hold after securing a job. My PS2 at Hotstar was an internship, but I've also done numerous freelance internships that I haven't listed on LinkedIn or anywhere else because they were small projects.

After getting into app development, I started applying for gigs on platforms, like Upwork and Fiverr. I began receiving various small projects, each paying a few thousand rupees. Additionally, I often saw posts from seniors on Facebook asking for help with Python or small app development projects, providing more freelance work opportunities.

What is it like working at Visa? Do you get time to explore your hobbies and interests?

My company has a pretty relaxed culture. We typically work from 9 to 5 or 10 to 6, and then we have free time to pursue hobbies and interests. My primary role at Visa involves working on various backend services. I joined a team focusing on the AI aspect of transactions.

At Visa, AI models are employed to analyze the transaction whenever you swipe a card. These models help detect if the transaction is fraudulent or if there are any suspicious intentions behind it. We score each transaction and inform the bank whether it should be processed or halted. This work is particularly interesting because it addresses a current, ongoing issue rather than a project with an expiry date.

I've been learning a lot about distributed systems, which I believe are the future. I feel very fortunate to have landed on this team, as it has provided me with invaluable experience and learning opportunities.

Do you have advice for BITS students based on your experiences?

Utilize college well. These four years define your career in the future, but in this process, don’t forget to enjoy and experience as much as you can. College is when you learn a lot, and it’s important to carry that over and utilize it in your career well.