Harvesting Knowledge

A group of GIEP fellows working in India for Summer 2014

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GIEP Reflections – Krishna

What a summer! Prefaced by our work in Ann Arbor from January to May, my two months in New Delhi went by in a blur. Starting from the first day, where the first thing we did was joining an all-hands meeting in which every Digital Green branch was represented , it was a whirlwind, fast-paced experience that I won’t soon forget, both professionally and personally.

On the professional side of things, working with Digital Green was fantastic. Knowing that the work we were doing would result, in some fashion, in the betterment of the lives of farmers drove me throughout the entire process. Even when we had to pivot a few weeks in away from the work we had done for the previous several months, we were able to push forward to a new solution because there was so much complexity in the model that we were excited to find other places and directions that we could contribute towards. This also made being the only

Being able to go into the field and observe Digital Green work being done in villages was a real neat experience that allowed us to truly understand the context we were designing for and the realities and challenges faced by people on the ground. In our field, we always talk about designing with an understanding of your user-base, and now I have a new set of ‘users’ that I am aware of and will be thinking about when designing products.

It was also great connecting with so many passionate people at work. Being an organization with a strong social mission, Digital Green employs people with a wide array of interests, and I was able to have great conversations about things that were happening both in India and worldwide. It was especially interesting to hear from people that were so passionate about the political and social landscape in India, because this is a perspective that is almost impossible to get unless you’re embedded within a culture and have direct contact to these interesting people. I was able to hear about the struggles and challenges that people are facing in India, and it was really interesting to compare and contrast these with what’s happening in the USA. The connections I made and the lessons I learned through my co-workers are things I won’t forget quickly.

On a personal level, staying in New Delhi (or, to be precise, Gurgaon), was a really interesting experience. First, to get it out of the way, it was HOT. New Delhi is probably the hottest place in India during the summer, and I could definitely feel it. Luckily, I was still able to squeeze in a few local sight-seeing trips as well as weekend getaways to a cool hill station with views of the Himalayas and Agra to see the beautiful Taj Mahal. People often laud the food in New Delhi, and from my experience, the accolades are well earned. However, not being able to speak Hindi was a real challenge, and I’m not sure I would be able to live and work in New Delhi long-term unless I picked up more conversational Hindi. Being an Indian-American, people expected me to be able to speak in the language, and not being able to really got me in some awkward situations. Luckily, one of our group members could speak Hindi (Jasmine), and thus the language was not too much of a barrier. The people in New Delhi were generally friendly and more eclectic than what I am typically used to in India.

All in all, GIEP was an unforgettable experience. The professional work that I did allowed me to use the skills that I spent time perfecting over the last few years at SI, and this was ultimately the most rewarding thing. I was able to design and research using my own understanding of methodologies, without much assistance from a professor or reading guiding the way. If this sort of  ‘to the wolves’ type of learning experience was the only thing that the project provided, it would have been a success. However, by framing the experience in an unfamiliar work culture (India) and unfamiliar user population (farmers and field workers), the project delivered so much more in terms of personally gaining better project management skills, dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty better, and navigating unfamiliar territory with more confidence. It was an experience I would highly recommend to any curious students, and an experience that will undoubtedly shape my professional career moving forward.