In its 2016 study, employment solutions company Aspiring Minds found that even though 52% of graduating engineers want jobs in software development and 43% in core engineering, only 3.67% have suitable skills to be employed in software product market and just 17.91% were employable for the software services sector. This National Employability Report-Engineers also found that a mere 3.84% of engineers qualify for a start-up technology role. “Although engineering students, in general, are well-versed with concepts on paper, when it comes to the use of these concepts in a real-world application, most students find it challenging,” says Lakshminarayan Viju Ravichandran, senior education technical evangelist, MathWorks India. The company is the developer of MatLab and Simulink solutions, among others, used by engineers throughout the automotive, aerospace, communications, electronics, semiconductors and industrial automation industries. MatLab is a programming language for algorithm development, data analysis, visualisation and numeric computation, while Simulink is a graphical programming environment for modelling, simulating and analysing multi-domain dynamic and embedded systems. In an interaction with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, Ravichandran shares how programming languages and simulations lead to better engineering education. Excerpts:
What is the importance of a programming language for engineering students?
Engineering students have traditionally been well-versed with concepts on paper, but when it comes to the use of these concepts in a real-world application, most students find it challenging. This translation of concepts to application is something that we, at MathWorks, refer to as computational thinking. Programming languages and simulations play an important role in the process of computational thinking and this ultimately results in better engineering learning. Like how a picture is worth a thousand words, Prof Arun Tangirala of IIT Madras said during the MatLab Expo 2017 that “simulation is worth a thousand lectures.”
What role companies like MathWorks play in reducing industry-academia skills gap?
Our technical team has been working with faculty across the globe to encourage the adoption of our software MatLab and Simulink in curriculum and research. The curriculum aspect of engagement includes both introductory-level courses to help students gain computational thinking skills and advanced courses for project-based learning. We also support student competitions in engineering and sciences, such as Robocon India, Baja SAEIndia, Supra SAEIndia and others, with software access and technical assistance to the teams to build their own robots and automobiles from scratch. In fact, the team that won Robocon India 2017—it will now represent India at the ABU Robocon (Asia-Pacific contest) in Tokyo this month—used MatLab and Simulink in their workflow. Such successes, we believe, are steps towards reducing the industry-academia skills gap.
Do you provide vocational training or conduct workshops for teachers or students?
We work with institutes across India in conducting workshops from time to time for both students and faculty. These include demonstration and hands-on exposure to software workflows for emerging trends including data analytics, machine learning, robotics, computer vision, etc. Also, there are hands-on hardware connectivity workshops targeting the use of low-cost hardware like Raspberry Pi and Arduino. In fact, a popular workshop that we have been looking at is the one where students come in to learn how to create an Android/iOS app using MatLab and Simulink. We have also been involved in faculty development programmes under the government’s Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme (TEQIP) phase-II.
Can a student opt for self-paced learning under MathWorks?
We offer both in-person training and online self-paced training. To start with, a student or faculty can enrol in the complimentary two-hour MatLab on-ramp training which covers the basics of this software.
What are the kind of jobs available to students skilled with programming languages?
The knowledge of programming languages will definitely be of use to every engineering graduate. Core domain and product companies, technology services and engineering
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start-ups, all demand that the engineers they hire are skilled not only in technical concepts, but also in the implementation of these concepts using computational tools.