Wired In: Saksham Saini
Each week, staff writer Paul Wood spotlights a high-tech difference-maker. Meet SAKSHAM SAINI, 22, a senior in computer engineering. at the University of Illinois. He is co-founder of CCG with Dhruv Diddi. It's a registered student organization that takes software projects from companies and clients within the university and hires students to work on them. The mission is twofold: first, it helps the students, freshmen and sophomores, gain real world experience in building industry level software. It also allows the clients to get the software projects completed at a lower cost and a faster rate while meeting the industry quality level. Clients include the Illinois State Geological Survey, where it is working with 50 years of data, and the Office of the Chancellor of Diversity. In this way, start-ups of the future have their genesis.
You've participated in many hackathons and coding events. What do you love about them?
To me, solving a puzzle turns me on.
Who else is on your team?
Dhruv Diddi, an ex-Google intern and founding partner; Chiranjeev Puri; David Zhang; Mukhil Murugasamy; and Lukas Kulbis.
So this is the puzzle for all of you: a start-up that is not intended to make anybody rich.
The most important thing is we build our self and credibility. The work is all donation-based because we are a registered student organization. The idea came from when my partner and I had trouble getting our first job because we came in with no experience, straight out of high school I'm from India. We realized that getting the first experience opens so many doors for you. Once we got our internships last summer, we thought, how about we start a company that basically hires these students and gives them the opportunity to work on these real-world projects to create opportunities for them. We were looking for projects and we realized there are a bunch of things within the university that need to be worked on, The reason we decided to go this organization route was that it would be easier to pass it down to incoming students, rather than going through a private entity. We started reaching out to engineering student groups, and we got a lot of interest from people who wanted to get more experience.
You decided to do projects within the university?
We realized there are so many other projects we could work on in the university. Right now they often hire third-party contractors and pay them top dollar. We're one of the top engineering schools, so why don't engineering students do some of this in-house? We thought we'd have to put a lot of time into these projects, but once we started, we realized that these students are really smart. You spend an hour with them, and they can just take off from there. It has been a great experience so far, even with no days off; Monday through Friday working at schools, weekends on these projects.
And did you get clients?
We're midway between two projects this semester, because we wanted to make sure we don't take on more than we can handle. As soon as we started to look for projects, people began to reach out to us like the Illinois State Geological Survey. We have this project using a lot of geological data from the past 50 years that they provide to different government agencies, municipalities, as well as utility companies. They know about the water tables are, what the content of the soil is, information to create a road or bridge. They built software as a prototype to present to all these agencies, but now they wanted someone to make a professional version of it. We were contacted later by the new chancellor for diversity last semester; she wanted an updated website. A major reason we got these projects was that we were ready to work for free. All we wanted was to get these kids experience. The units did donate some money so we could keep the program running.
And you also worked with the Activities and Recreation Center?
They work on systems there that are 20 or 30 years old, so every time you need to book an appointment or register for a fitness class, you call them and there's a guy on the other end of the phone who puts it manually into the system. Somebody might only be there for a certain time. We reached out to them to offer them an automated system. We have requests for more projects like the UI Engineering Expo committee, to build their mobile application for next semester. A few professors has reached out to us to work on their personal websites.
What's next for you?
After I graduate in May, I will move to Seattle to work for Amazon, where I was a intern last summer.
TECH TIDBITS ... from SAKSHAM SAINI
Any wearables that you use everyday? Xiaomi Mi Band 2 for fitness.
What social media are you on? Facebook and Snapchat.
Do you prefer reading books or on a digital device? I have a Kindle.
What are you reading right now? "The Snowball" by Alice Schroeder and "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman.