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Prof S Sadagopan, director of IIIT Bangalore, was our guest on the Times Techies webinar last week. There were lots of questions from the audience. Here are a few of them, with Sadagopan’s answers (answers have been edited for space reasons).

Are AI, data science different from computer science?


AI, analytics, data science are computer science. Basic computer science will consist of computing (hardware), programming, databases, etc, but much more important is to use it to process and analyse data, and then, figuring out how to understand that data and draw insights and foresights. It has been an evolution. Computer science has moved from simply storing 0s and 1s, to doing lots of things with them in every area. Facebook is nothing but digital sociology.

How important is mathematics in computer science?


Mathematics is very important. Machines can do things very fast, but in the process they can also create a lot of junk. You should be able to take that junk out and look at the essence. That’s where mathematics comes in. It can abstract things much better. Mathematics teaches you to ask the right questions. The computer will find the answer. But it’s far more important to ask the right questions. If you don’t know how to do that, whatever answer the machine gives you, you will start believing in them. You can correlate anything to anything. You can get confused between correlation and causality. Just because two things happened together, does not mean one is causing the other. Mathematics gives you the rigour to understand this.

You may not always need to know a super high level of mathematics. But you should have a good functional-level knowledge of it.

Is there value in doing a Master’s in computer science if you don’t want to go into academic research or teaching?


Increasingly now, a lot of research happens in corporate labs. The Google or Facebook research labs employ really cutting edge researchers. So it’s no longer just in academics that those with higher skills are needed. Also, the greater depth that a Master’s provides might prepare you to do a really innovative startup, instead of another me-too.

How can someone improve their coding skills?


There are lots of competitions. There’s the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) International Collegiate Programming Contest, the world’s most difficult one. There are smaller coding olympiads, including in India. You should participate in those. There are also lots of courses available which you can take.

But much more important is to focus on a domain. If you are a biology person, look at what coding could mean for biology. If you are a finance person, look at what coding can do there. Excel in your domain, and look at all the (programming) tools available. There are lots, and most are free.



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