From Brickbats to Bouquets – Heartwarming Tale of a Software Engineering Researcher

At 30, Karthik Vaidhyanathan has finessed the art of organizing top-tier global conferences in his research area of software architecture. Success did not come easy for IIIT Hyderabad’s rising star, whose trajectory was peppered with a series of broken bones, crushed dreams and numbing rejections.

Possibly the youngest Assistant Professor on campus, his was a charmed life. After completing his schooling and B. Tech from the Amrita educational institutions, he would have an epic run in Italy, pursuing his Masters and post-doctoral research at the University of L’Aquila and Ph.D from  Gran Sasso Science Institute (GSSI) during the pandemic era.

Diwali celebrations at L’Aquila

Karthik’s research lies in the intersection of software architecture and ML with specific focus on building sustainable software systems and self-adaptive systems.  He explains thus, “When you are at an ATM and the software crashes, what if it could automatically fix itself? Can you use machine learning to dynamically reconfigure software architecture so that your systems can continuously improve itself?”

As a part of his research activities, he is a reviewer/organising committee member in various top-tier conferences and journals.  Earlier in March, he served as Web Chair at the International Conference on Software Architecture (ICSA 2023) in Italy. The young researcher who often gets mistaken for a TA on campus, works in the Software Engineering Research Center and is part of the leadership team of the Smart City living lab.

Juggling roles at SERC and the Living Lab
When Karthik chose to return to India after his post-doctoral work, he believed that India had very limited research in software architecture and that was one thing that he brought to the table.  At SERC, he juggles the hats of teacher and researcher, contributing to the industrial ecosystem with IIIT in a sweet spot, surrounded by science and tech-based industries.  He teaches a course in software  engineering and is a co-coordinator (alongside Prof. Raghu Reddy) of an executive program offered by SERC on software engineering for data science with Great learning as partners.

“As new faculty, it is amazing to see how welcomed you feel and how inclusive the environment is,” he notes. The Virtual labs project that he is involved with, will make python programming more intuitive for students. His research in software sustainability seeks better mechanisms to reduce carbon footprint, especially for ML and IoT systems. “It has been a learning experience to work with professors Raghu Reddy, Venkatesh Choppella, Vasudeva Varma and Raman Saxena at SERC”, he observes.  With Anuradha Vattem and Prof. Ramesh Loganathan at the Smart City Research Center (SCRC), their team is working on data pipelines architecture of the software side of IoT systems, building digital twins and crowd management systems.

“Dr. Karthik is an enthusiastic, inquisitive, cheerful guy with lots of energy! Sometimes a bit too much, especially when it comes to conversation about cricket”, grins Prof. Raghu Reddy. “He has great potential and is willing to learn/collaborate with others to achieve it.  I hope he becomes a known name in the field of Software Architecture/Self-adaptive systems. I remember talking to a technical director of SEI (CMU) about how they wanted to hire him. So, I am very happy that he is here at SERC !!!”

From the backwaters of Ashtamudi and Palakkad to Italy
Born into the erudite Tamil agraharam community in Sekharipuram, Palakkad, Karthik did his entire schooling in  Amrita Vidyalayam in Palakkad. Intermediate was a critical juncture when Karthik opted for computer science with the inspiring guidance of Anita, his lecturer.  When he joined Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham at Kollam for B. Tech in computer science, his volunteer efforts would open out interesting avenues and networking opportunities. After a short internship at Infosys, he would return to Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham for a dual degree program; pursuing M. Tech in ML alongside a one year M. Sc at Italy. “I got into Universita Degli studi dell Aquila on a full scholarship for my M.Sc. in software engineering for adaptive systems”, says Karthik who graduated with 110 /110 cum laude, pegged as the maximum score in the Italian academic system.

CSE Batch of 2014

He notched up a year of industry experience at Knowledge Lens, a Big Data and IoT company, as Product Lead and Server Administrator. During an interview, while listening to a student fumble for a basic answer, he was struck by the fact that he was sitting at the wrong side of the table, and that he would rather be teaching! The Eureka moment happened because growing up, he had always seen himself as a teacher and held his mother’s vision of teaching as the gold standard!

He was accepted into the Ph.D. Program at Italy’s prestigious GSSI, one among ten selected from over 500 applicants globally and would work under the guidance of Prof. Henry Muccini. “Even though I could not pursue my childhood passion in physics, I was in an Institute known for astrophysics and got to interact with Nobel laureates”, he remarks. During his Ph.D tenure, he married his college junior Sreelakshmi and they would begin married life together at Italy, where he concurrently worked with Founding Minds, a US-based software company as a consultant ML architect.

Snapshots with Sreelakshmi


 With family

Stolen laptop and a lesson in perseverance
The scholar would face severe health issues including hospitalization and other challenges but would look back at his European sojourn as a most fulfilling one.  Karthik’s laptop with all his research was stolen the day before he was scheduled to demonstrate an important app at the prestigious ECSA in Paris. Though shattered, with Sreelakshmi and his supervisor’s support, he would work through the night on a borrowed laptop and put together a convincing presentation. The appreciative applause that followed still rings in his ears as a valuable lesson in persistence.

“Since I was cash-strapped, my supervisor gave me a laptop from his fund.  I returned the device when I met him at L’Aquila for a conference last month”, he smiles gratefully.

Some Michelangelo and a whole lot of Vasari
During his post-doctoral tenure at the University of L’Aquila, Karthik worked on VASARI, a government funded project to digitalize Italian heritage sites and create an immersive visitor experience. For the Uffizi Gallery, home to Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci’s works, the team created a system that reduced waiting time from 4 hours to 5 minutes, using sensors and software.

Around that time, the desire to do something for India took hold of him. He had heard about IIIT Hyderabad’s emerging work on the grapevine and soon connected with Prof. Raghu Reddy. And thus began his IIIT Hyderabad journey. “I never considered any other Institute”, he says with pride.

Taking volunteer-work to epic levels
“I come from a lineage that includes academicians, IAS, Revenue and local administration and that is probably where I get my organisational talents from”, says Karthik whose parents were local government functionaries.  “In my village, as young children, we would organise temple festivals and fetes, sourcing sponsors and managing funds and that helped to hone my skills”.

More than scholastic accomplishment, it was Karthik’s outstanding organisational capabilities that would earn him recognition at a very young age. “For me, my awards came from getting certificates and special mentions from dignitaries for well-executed techfests”, says the youngster, who as CR and Secretary for PACE, organised premier conferences/competitions like ACM ICPC (2010, 2012, 2014) and Vidyut, a national multifest. The Asian regional finalist (team) for ACM ICPC 2013 credits his B. Tech mentor Anish Chandran for introducing him to competitive programming that opened the door to top-level conferences.

During his Ph.D and post-doc days, Karthik participated in ICSA and ECSA (2019), was web chair for I-CiTies 2019 and ECSA 2020 and campus ambassador for AWS. Later this year, he has been invited for a Dagstuhl seminar, a prestigious forum on software architecture and ML. Karthik will also be Poster track Chair and committee member for the Melbourne edition of CAIN, co-located with ICSE 2023.

ESCA volunteer team

What makes him tick
Karthik played a lot of football and cricket in school and college till he fractured his ribs and hands. This would be the first of many sports injuries that would force his mother to put a blanket ban on sports during exam season.  Even today, the Sachin fan’s fondest ritual on campus is the weekend faculty game of cricket.

“I watch anything entertaining that allows me to disconnect from academic life”, exclaims the diehard fan of Rajnikant and Vijay who would go for the 3 AM shows of Thailavar.  He enjoys reading books on philosophy, spirituality and science and recommends Ikigai and Deep Work by Cal Newport.

His physical fitness and spiritual regimen comprises of Angamardana, a hatha yoga practice and Shambhavi, aligned with Isha Yoga. He listens to hymns from the Krishna Yajur veda and one Bhagavad Gita verse daily. This practice harks back to his school days, when shlokas were chanted during lunch breaks.

Productivity tools like Notion or Outlook calendar helps him organise his day. Though travel is chiefly restricted to conferences/ workshops abroad, the vegetarian enjoys sampling the local cuisine and loves visits to museums and scenic spots. Karthik recently reconnected with his childhood passion for the mridangam after his wife gifted him the percussion instrument.

“The IIIT experience has been great”, he gushes. “From the empirical software engineering perspective, SERC ranks among the best in the country. On the global level, topics like self-adaptive systems, software sustainability or Raghu’s work with virtual reality is significant research that is being talked about in the community. Being in one of the India’s best Institutes and interacting with like-minded people is a privilege and I am eternally grateful to God, my family and to those who have ensured that I am here”.


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.



  1. Excellent Deepa

    Jyothi Punhani Chopra says:
  2. Excellent Deepa 👌

    Jyothi Punhani Chopra says:

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