In 2011, Spriha Biswas topped the ICSE board exams and became the first student from Tatanagar (Jamshedpur) to achieve such a feat. Aligning with the societal perception of success, she started preparing for IIT JEE and qualified in 2013 with 1720 rank. Biswas opted to pursue Metallurgical Engineering & Material Sciences at IIT Bombay.
“Somehow my choice was influenced by my childhood aspirations and decided to go to IIT Bombay because I knew it had a good ecosystem for entrepreneurs,” the 27-year-old said.
Two years into the course, Biswas, however, realised she was no longer interested in attending metallurgical engineering classes. In 2015, she took a bold and rather unconventional decision to drop out of IIT Bombay. She had learnt how to code in school and found her calling in the world of business.
“In 2 years, I had coded for about 20 different applications for startups including a fitness app to track body movements using Kinect and an app for India’s first digital microscope, Cilika. I had also built and sold a feedback app to a club in the city. It was around this time that I got to know about human-centred design and it opened up a different dimension. I knew I had to get into the depths of it. So, I dropped out of IIT Bombay in 2015,” she told indianexpress.com.
“I was very fascinated by video games and how they are a perfect amalgamation of complex algorithms, arts and psychology. I learnt basic programming in school and started making small games. One of my proudest moments was building a Minesweeper version in Java,” she said.
Growing up in Tatanagar had a huge impact on her as a child. “When I was 15, I came across the story of JN Tata and all the leaders who built Tata over the years. It deeply inspired me. I just knew I wanted to run a business when I grew up and I could not wait to start. But, I was not learning any of this at IIT because our education system is not capable of nurturing business minds at a young age,” Biswas added.
When asked if there was a way for her to pursue her technical inclinations while being at IIT Bombay along with her degree, Biswas said, “After a point, I was not able to take classes for the sake of a degree. I had lost meaning in continuing with a degree that would prove to be of little or no use in my future career. It was better to take a risk than end up being a bad engineer.”
The decision to drop out of an institute like IIT Bombay did not go well with her family. “They thought I had gone crazy and tried counselling me. But, when I had a patient conversation with my parents, they understood that it was not just a random interest area. It was my real passion, my true calling,” said Spriha, who then learnt about ethnographic research, data-driven design, behavioural studies, usability studies and got a very solid foundation into what it means to build responsible and humane technology.
“I started as a design researcher and strategist and then became an associate partner. During this time, I also tried my hands at founding an ed-tech startup, which unfortunately had to close prematurely,” said Biswas, who currently works as the chief product officer at Augnito AI – creator of voice-to-text medical software.
“Healthcare is a very sensitive domain; it demands high precision. The slightest errors can lead to someone losing their life. So, when we introduce AI into this environment, you have to make sure you put clinical safety at the centre of all decision making, you understand how people are going to engage with your AI, what are the biases your AI can propagate and potential errors that you need to mitigate. That’s when my expertise of bringing human-centric thinking in AI get in the picture,” Biswas said.
Currently, she is focused on building Augnito but tries to help out people who are looking for career advice. “When I was deciding to drop out, I did not have anyone to look up to or discuss with and it was tough, so I try my best to help people with their questions,” she added.
The indianexpress.com has started a series on students who decided to drop out from IITs after understanding what their true calling is. This article is the first in the lineup.