Real Numbers: Integer Numbers

I faced my third and last interview of my life at IIT Bombay for the position of Lecturer at the Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering. The panel consisted of 8 experts who bombarded me with several questions. I recall most of the questions were not relevant and were more to show off what they knew. In front of these experts I was just like a kid. But I did my best in responding while keeping my cool.

In closing, one of the Professors (TK Ghosh of IIT Delhi) pointed out that I was having only 2 years of experience against the requirement of 3 years.

Director A K De asked me “Dr Modak, do you have anything to say?”

I took few seconds to answer.

I said firmly and calmly measuring every word “Sir, are you looking for Integer number of years of experience or the Real number of years of experience? In my two integer years of experience, I think I have managed four real years of experience. There may be applicants here with six years of integer years of experience for instance but may have only two years of real experience

Director De smiled. The panellists were quiet including Prof TK Ghosh.

In a weeks’ time, I was appointed at IIT Bombay as a Lecturer. I also received a counter offer of interest from IIT Delhi – courtesy Professor T K Ghosh. He had simply loved my response on integer and real.

Last week, I was conducting an annual appraisal of my colleagues at EMC Environmental Management Centre LLP. Colleagues had varied experience in years of working before and while at EMC. Generally, I could observe (and I am sure you will also agree) that everybody’s understanding was that more the experience more is the seniority and so more should be the remuneration.

I have no quarrel with this logic. I however think that it will be a pity if someone with more real experience will have to stay behind just because his/her integer years of experience is less. Afterall, it is the real number of years of experience that should count. A deserving colleague should have a non-linear growth in the organization – organization that recognizes talent, abilities and passion of its people. Personally, I would never work in an organization that has no such vision and a process of recognition. Not surprising therefore that organizations use KRAs and your achievements on the targets count apart from your qualifications and integer years of experience.

I love to work with my colleagues at EMC so as to improve on their integer years of experience. My Professor Friend always says that EMC looks more like a training company and not a typical consulting organization that focusses more on how to maximize use of people and not build a solid and rounded experience. And when such colleagues get poached by the market, I don’t have any regrets. You need to understand your role in the professional life in a larger context and think good about the society and not be petty. I would certainly like EMC to be known as an organization that builds more of real experience and not limit to integer years of stay.

The distinction between integer and real numbers is applicable when it comes to publications. I have come across CVs where the list of publications runs in pages. If you are not an academician, then this long list of publications is generally skipped. Many publications in this long list are either replica or with no real contribution (i.e., just leveraging on the position) or included in conferences where no peering has been done.

I therefore like to see CVs that list only key publications that have created major impact or have been cross-referred by many, giving a foundation to whole new thought towards research, policy and practice. Such a short list in fact can be humbling. I recall my 75-year-old Chinese professor Fude at Asian Institute of Technology  sharing his CV that listed only one major publication for each year of his active professional life. Professor A G Ivakhenenko at Kiev used to publish once in 10 years on his contributions to Group Method of Data Handling (GMDH). I remember Editor IEEE writing that how honored the Journal was that Professor chose Journal of IEEE to express his thoughts! Once again, you must look for real number of publications and not integer.

Professor heard me patiently. He said “Well Dr Modak, there are several more examples. Countries talk about the integer numbers when it comes to growth in GDP and forget that the real GDP could be much lower if we accounted for degraded resources and contaminated lands. India’s real GDP for instance may be much lower, even by 4-5%, if realities on the status of our natural capital is to be considered. However, who cares? Concepts such as Gross Ecological Product (GEP) are not for political masters who limit their vision and action to a period of 5 years i.e., the election cycle.  (Read

When we lose people in their early ages because of a mishap or a sudden heart attack or a deadly disease like cancer, we feel sorry and talk about the short life. There are personalities however who live short when it comes to integer number of years but contribute significantly to the society in real terms. A person dying at the age of 40 contributes much more than someone who has lived life for 80 years

Professor when he heard me, extinguished his cigar and concluded

“Dr Modak, So  we have to decide whether we want to live an integer life or real. Very few realize the difference”

and I added

“Yes Professor, and amongst those who realize, even fewer decide to live life that is real!”

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  1. Prasad , very very interesting blog.
    Loved the way you have explained the significance of integer and real numbers which is so true.

  2. Interesting way of looking at the talent ( of own, and others), and life. Very interesting read. Thank you, Dr. Modak. Warmly Neelam.

  3. As always, it’s a delight reading you Dr. Modak.

    My real experience is one that involves the people, places and situations that I came across during work. And through interactions with my colleagues they’re very distinct from theirs. The colleagues are almost almost a decade younger than me. I think my real values are tacit. A function of both the real and integer that comes handy to navigate certain situations we face. However, this remains unacknowledged. Rather than producing results by myself, I find myself at ease in supporting colleagues on how to reach the results. Somewhat an invisible work.

    Let me stop here or else one may think that I’m from the RANT Corporation!

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