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Harsh Parikh | IBM - Duke University

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Moving on with our Career Series, we bring to you a 2015 Computer Science graduate,Harsh Parikh. He quit his high paying job at IBM to pursue higher studies with an intent to create societal impact. Read on to know how his travel during Foreign Exchange and visits to various parts of India shaped his thoughts and actions.  

Harsh J. Parikh, a computer science graduate of the 2015 batch of IIT Delhi, a blue scholar at IBM Research Labs and currently studying Economics And Computation at Duke University! Looks interesting. The Board of Student Publications comes up with an exclusive narrative by Harsh about how the dream of being a small part of a big change made him leave a cushy job at IBM.

“Nothing more than a genuine curiosity to understand the functioning of world around me encouraged me to take a “Socratic” approach to life. Inspired by the philosophy of great philosopher Socrates, “Socratic” approach to life suggests asking very fundamental questions to eventually answer complex questions of life. With this mindset, working on research problems was the natural choice in my life. In the same spirit, I tried asking the why's of my life and connecting it to what I intend to be. Logically analysing the implications of my actions, I made decisions and decided my course of action.Throughout my entire undergraduate life, keeping in mind the holistic picture of purpose has helped me be sharp and clear.

My last semester at IIT gave me an opportunity for self-introspection and cartesian meditation. I travelled to a number of places across India including tribal areas of Mysore, Jhabua and naxal-affected area of Bastar. I have grown up in an urban atmosphere and experiencing only one side of Indian society. But my cross-cultural experiences during the foreign exchange, and bucolic Indian experience deeply connected me to the roots of Indian culture.

During rural expeditions, there were a numerous  incidents which inspired me understand the very culture of India. Jhabua is the classic example of that. The society had reached upon a culturally driven solution to classical problem of “Tragedy of Commons”. Just to give you an idea, “Tragedy of Commons” is one of the primary reasons why we are unable to find solution to the problem of global warming. In Jhabua, to check depleting groundwater, the rural communities came up with the tradition of “Halma”. On the occasion of “Halma”, villagers make trenches around the mountains in the shape of Lord Shiva’s hair, colloquially called as “Shankar Jatayien”. This helped in capturing the rainwater and conserving it. It was given a status of pious act in the name of Lord Shiva, and hence everyone readily participated in the action. The replenished groundwater was judiciously used by the villagers without any checks as it was considered as an auspicious resource. Indian cultural evolution had surely found answers to some of the contemporary world challenges.

After graduating from IIT Delhi, I joined as a blue scholar at IBM Research Labs in Delhi. While I was at IBM, my past experiences inspired me to understand the dynamics of Indic culture and try to appreciate its beauty. With an intent to work for societal impact, I planned to work at interface of mathematics and social science. Economics, as a descriptive discipline attempting to scientifically understand the social behaviour, turned into my natural choice for future course of work. However my love for computer science was no less and hence I decided to pursue research at the intersection of both. Currently, I am pursuing Economics and Computer Science at Duke University. 

Many of the world’s greatest problems have been elegantly tackled in our culture. Rather than condemning our very culture, we need to understand it from an Indic framework. Thus, I look forward to understanding society from a mathematical standpoint. In simpler terms, if we are able to create mathematical models for such problems then we will be able to replicate them at a larger scale for the use of the society. It is simply an effort to be and make a better existence for humanity“