It takes a village to achieve SPEC-tacular success – Harshavardhan Thatipamula’s story

When IIIT Hyderabad launched SPEC, an alternative admission channel for meritorious, rural and economically disadvantaged students, little did they realize that down the line, they would be celebrating sweet success, with Harshavardhan Thatipamula snagging the Best all-rounder award for 2024. Here’s his story.

Growing up in the artistic village of Cherial, famed for its Nakashi art form, Harshavardhan was always a self-driven youngster. A student of the local Vikas Grammar School, the ambitious pupil aced his entrance exam to join the government-run Telangana State Model High School. With a 10 CGPA, it was a no-brainer that he would get into the 6-year integrated program at RGUKT, Basar (founded by IIITH Chairman and Turing Award-winner Dr. Raj Reddy). He would wrap up his first PUC term with a high 9.9 CGPA and rounded up the 4 semesters with a 9.5 score.

His liberal-minded parents with primary agricultural income coming from their farmland, emphasized the value of education.  Harshavardhan’s math, chemistry and physics teachers Y. Santosh Reddy and Sudheer Reddy, guided him, gave him extra coaching at RGUKT and also expanded his love for STEM subjects.

It was thanks to a timely nugget of information shared by a senior that the young scholar came to know about IIIT Hyderabad’s 2018-launched SPEC channel. He would track admission updates on the IIITH website for an entire year. “I was able to crack the exam and interview and got into CSE. The full financial support offered by the institute was a major blessing for us because joining IIIT Hyderabad was my dream and it would have been very difficult for us to afford it on our own”, observes the gritty youngster. “My primary motivation was that I would land a good job with my IIIT credentials and thus would have done anything to get into the Institute”.

SPEC of stardust
Today, alumnus Harshavardhan Thatipamula is the Poster boy for IIITH’s  SPEC program. His Best All-rounder award marks the success of IIIT-H’s unique initiatives in diversity, equal opportunity and inclusivity, launched 6 years ago.

“We created a special admission channel (SPEC) for students with rural and economically disadvantaged background, with extraordinary talent, for our B. Tech programs in ECE and CSE to increase diversity in our campus ” explains Prof. Jayanthi Sivaswamy, of Center for Visual Information Technology (CVIT). Rural applicants with a STEM background are recruited through RGUKT, UDAAN and Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya (JNV) and the needy students are funded, for the 4-year B. Tech tuition, hostel and living expenses. “The first two batches (2018, 2019) were fully sponsored by the CSR grants from the Canadian IT giant CGI and subsequent batches, are supported together with CSR Grants from AT & T, The Alumni Fund and the institute’s financial aid”, explains Meenakshi Viswanathan, Head – CSR, Resources & Development, Alumni Affairs.

“Today, there is a broad spectrum of diversity and inclusivity on campus, economically and geographically, with students coming from far flung villages in Assam, Chhattisgarh and even J&K”, notes Prof. Dipti Misra Sharma of the Language Technologies Research Centre (LTRC). The Institute featured among the top three awardees in India, for High impact CSR program in the woman empowerment space in 2021. The raison d’être of the program is that it would be a self-sustaining scheme, where graduating students will voluntarily pay forward the kindness received, by financially supporting another needy student in the future.

Locked down in a new campus during a pandemic
“My SPEC batch was given special permission to move into campus during the lockdown in October 2020”, comments Harshavardhan. “After 15 days of isolation, there were one hundred of us, locked in on campus.” It was a hardworking, high-achiever competitive environment “but everyone was very approachable and I made good friends.  But from the point of view of my studies especially in mathematics, it took me a little time to level up and score good grades”, he adds. From the very beginning, he dived into volunteering work, in the administration of the fortnightly COVID tests, vaccination drives and was proactive in extracurricular life on campus.

String of cherished moments
“It has been a series of proud moments for me”, he ponders. “Society sees you in a different light when you graduate from a top-tier institute like IIITH, one of the top five in Hyderabad. My first cherished memory was winning the Student Parliament elections in my second year with a good majority. The support that I garnered as an elected Member of Parliament and then as Speaker were great moments”.

“Sitting in on meetings with professors who are very good in their domains of expertise, was very inspiring”, he observes. As General Secretary of the Student Parliament (2023- 2024), he worked with student committees, the mess, hostel and stalls committees, finalizing new policies and amendments to existing policies and there were occasions where he was called upon to assume the role of an ombudsman, when problems cropped up on campus. “Watching professors like Radhika Mamidi and P. Krishna Reddy figure out solutions to campus issues has been a great learning experience that has helped me develop, both in my professional and personal life”, he remarks.

Apart from networking with students, staff and faculty, he enjoyed his role as volunteer and the nicest spinoff was the recognition he received for his overall contribution to the Institute. “I am very thankful to IIIT Hyderabad for considering me worthy of the Best All Rounder Award”, says the freshly minted alumnus.

Harshavardhan is presently doing an internship with Google Hyderabad, as a front-end developer. He also holds a full-time offer with Microsoft. “It is thanks to opportunities provided at the institute that I could crack Google”, he believes. “I had the advantage of an excellent curriculum and academic culture. Technically, we are far more aware and the projects we undertake makes us industry ready”.  The scholar had two interesting internships; as an Android developer at Change Kart last year and an earlier internship at SS Infotech, where they worked on an android and web application that assists village administration to digitally track vaccination drives and covid cases. “We had excellent exposure to several challenging college projects like the development of applications like C, Shell Scripting, Operating System concepts, designing an online game called Clash of Clans Clone and the full stack development of a food ordering portal.”

Growing up with discipline
Harshavardhan’s problem solving and networking capabilities, his gregariousness and leadership traits trace back to his father and uncles who have contributed at local and state-level administration. “They encouraged that spirit of selflessness and overarching responsibility to contribute to the community. They also taught me to see how I can effectively use my knowledge and energies to speak out for those without a voice”, says the young achiever. “I am also grateful to my local guardian in Hyderabad, Bhaskar Goud Jangoni, another father figure who guided me a lot and played a crucial role in my life”.

“My childhood was disciplined and I thank my parents  Krishnaveni and Venkatesh Goud for instilling the value of time and money, in my sibling and me, at an early age. They were very particular that I maintained 100% attendance in school, yet encouraged me to explore new things” says Harshavardhan who was very socially committed in village life, as a youngster. He had a good set of friends growing up and would spend many happy days on the village sports field, playing cricket, volleyball and kabaddi.

“I enjoy Telugu songs and always have music playing in the background nowadays especially during assignments”, observes Harshavardhan whose reading is limited to technical books and stories about statesmen. The days on campus were packed with busy schedules but he and his friends would make time for cricket, table tennis and outdoor sports.  He has wonderful memories of the Old Boys Hostel and the midnight forays to the canteens, while working on late night submissions. “Immediately after submitting our assignments at midnight, we would head out to DLF and the small eateries down the road, to de-stress”.

Being an active member of the community is what sets Harshavardhan apart. “Interacting with people, knowing what’s happening in their lives, their stand on issues, connecting them to solutions are things that give me immense joy”, he shares. “I loved walking around campus, checking in with the service staff, knowing their stories and making life simpler. Who knows. Someday, based on the opportunities that the future brings, along with convenience and situations, I would definitely like to step into politics. But, right now my sole priority is to excel in my IT career”, he concludes with a smile.

Deepa Shailendra is a freelance writer for interior design publications; an irreverent blogger, consultant editor and author of two coffee table books. A social entrepreneur who believes that we are the harbingers of the transformation and can bring the change to better our world.


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