How engineering students across the country & especially in Pune are taking their careers into their own hands

BAJA SAE India is a name synonymous with undying passion, hard-work, sleepless nights, mud, muck and grease. If you haven’t heard about it, it is the annual engineering design competition that challenges engineering students from across India to design, build, manufacture and race their very own All Terrain Vehicle. To do well at ‘BAJA’ as it is popularly known has been the dream of thousands of students since its inception in 2007.

Doing well at BAJA for an engineering student equals having companies line up for them during college placement. My teammates had job offers from three different companies on the basis of BAJA. Even today, as they are growing and progressing in their varied organisations, the single most important event that has helped them develop themselves and develop a thinking process that is confident of solving even the most critical of situations has been BAJA.

So what makes BAJA so special? What is it that attracts employers to students who have tasted mud at BAJA? Why do students invest their time outside the comfort of classroom learning? And how do the BAJA members have this deep sense of self-belief?

Let me dissect that through three distinct characteristics unique to BAJA –

BAJA isn’t a club, committee, contest or a fest. You can’t put x number of hours at BAJA and gain experience. BAJA is a student-run ‘enterprise’. Right from funding, to designing, to fabricating, to auditing, to branding and even logistics, everything is executed and managed by a team that is led and managed by a core group of students.

Which means it is a full-blown business that’s innovating, designing and solving a problem. And ofcourse, selling it too. To be a part of this enterprise, you have to give much more than just your time.

BAJA means real money, real hard work, real risk and real victory!

 

We were only 20 odd when we were selling our spirits to raise funds from big corporates, designing vehicles that could withstand torturous terrains, fabricating and building complex mechanisms with our own hands, handling logistics and the men involved with it, branding our car and even auditing our own accounts.

This enabled us as students to innovate, fail, test, learn, adapt, triumph and achieve success as a group of students. There is simply no better learning process than taking on responsibility and owning a job to get it done.

An incident I remember very closely was the time when we realised we had made a rulebook error in the engine bay of the rollcage of the vehicle. It was 1 am and we were depressed and angry. We were in denial and were in no way prepared to cut and redo the rollcage. We debated and at about 3 am we realised we had no option but to cut and redo the engine bay. This was a huge task, but only because of the team we had, we were able to get teams of 2 doing three different tasks such that we had a new engine bay up by 3 am the next night. In spite of college being on, suppliers being in different areas of the city and the team alternating shifts, we completed the task. That 24-hour circle was one of the most satisfying I had ever taken on my life clock. We had borne failure, stress and difficulty as a team and transformed it into a lifetime story of victory for ourselves.

 

The second most important thing that the team learns is to self-learn.

Everything that a BAJA team member has to do stems around learning fast. They have to learn how to sell their spirit to gain sponsorship, learn engineering principles, learn man management, learn delegation of work, learn how to reverse engineer their seniors’ mistakes and improve upon them and much much more. More importantly, through this, they develop an attitude of never taking no as an answer. In fact, the self-learning process is so strong during BAJA, that engineering principles not learnt through a semester of learning, happen through a practical experience of less than a day. What is also interesting is that this self-learning process helps them develop the confidence of taking on any job and owning it. This is what employers and successful businesses yearn for.

 

The third most important thing that a BAJA student learns is the ability to work in a team. Since BAJA is an intense activity of almost 9-10 months, every team member has to go through the rigours of working in a team. A BAJA team typically has a leadership group of fourth years, then a mix of third years and second years.
There are different departments such as design, fabrication, finance, sponsorship, race technicians and much more. Each student is involved in every activity or a leadership position in some way or the other. This experience of working in a team helps them and makes them ready for their professional life. It helps them understand the dynamics of a team leader and the responsibility of a team member. Like every organisation, the passengers of the team are the people who in spite of being part of the team, are not able to progress as much as the movers and shakers of the team.

As a team, you see dreams of being the best in the country. You see those dreams come true or you see them crash. At the time, you will not realise it, but the skills learnt during this journey of 9-10 months is exponentially more important than whatever the end result might be. It really does set you up for life!

The success of any BAJA team heavily depends upon the knowledge transfer from the earlier team. If there’s no knowledge transfer and no mentorship, years of work can disappear in no time. At the same time, a good team can become exceptional if their seniors mentor them correctly and guide them and help them avoid the mistakes they have made. Arguably, BAJA’s most successful team – TEAM NEMESIS from College of Engineering, Pune have mastered this. Their mentorship and knowledge transfer is the best in the country. It comes as no surprise then that they are the best BAJA team in the country consistently for the last six years!

A 2016 report pegged employability of fresh engineering graduates between 4% and 7%. Student-run enterprises and clubs are one of the only ways India will be able to sustain its engineers. During BAJA, many of us figured out what we were good at just because we had the chance to explore a variety of careers.

Running an enterprise during my college is one of the smartest decisions I have taken in my career.

 

Friends and I who were a part of BAJA, were ready in the eyes of the employers to handle the pressures of the real world and click fast with the changing work environment.
Our employers could see that the engineering students passing out with a year-long experience with BAJA could sell ideas, practically apply otherwise mundane engineering principles, manage people, delegate work, break big tasks into small ones and lead a team.

Today, this attitude and the skills listed above are the so-called 21st century skills that are essential for one to do well in his or her career no matter which career or profession you may choose!

On a closing note, the student-run nature, the self-learning process and working in a team taught me much more than any classroom did during the four years of my engineering at Sinhgad Academy of Engineering. We had an amazing environment of learning backed by our Head of Department who was a huge patron of BAJA. This led to us creating a brand of vehicles at BAJA that is revered till today.

Click here to watch the TV show on Team Vamos led by Yusuf in BAJA SAE INDIA 2012

34 Comments
  • Aditya Jhunjhunwala
    Posted at 10:38h, 24 July Reply

    This article brilliant captures three important principles:
    1. The best way to learn is by taking responsibilty
    2. Self learning is life long learning
    3. Being able to work as a team to solve is a huge asset every company is looking for in their potential recuits.

    Superbly captured by Yusuf!

    • Yusuf Hakim
      Posted at 05:18h, 25 July Reply

      Hey Adi,

      You have summarised it perfectly! Along the way, it definitely helps to have a life transforming mentor like you!

  • Shinichi Yamamoto
    Posted at 11:28h, 24 July Reply

    Running an enterprise during college seems like a larger than life thing.
    I have been working for the past 1 year and I get overwhelmed everyday by the intensity of it. Can’t imagine you pulled it off while doing your college studies.

    Thanks for writing this!

    • Yusuf Hakim
      Posted at 05:17h, 25 July Reply

      Hey Shinichi,

      It definitely is larger than life! As students we really didn’t know what ‘work ethic’ was until we finished the project and applied it in our professional lives!

  • ASHWINI MISHRA
    Posted at 14:08h, 24 July Reply

    Brilliant Yusuf! Superb correlation and really well spun… All the best buddy 👍

  • Tasneem Murtaza Mala
    Posted at 14:38h, 24 July Reply

    Good work Yusuf. A very inspiring article for todays students.We hope all of them can incorporate the above three principles during their studies and in their careers.

    • Yusuf Hakim
      Posted at 05:15h, 25 July Reply

      Hi Tasneem aunty, thanks for the kind words and for reading the article. Yes, it makes the whole experience of being a student very enriching and happening 🙂

  • Mohammad A. Bagasrawala
    Posted at 14:56h, 24 July Reply

    A Baja team is more than just any team. It us a family where everyone us working towards a central goal of being the best. Lessons learnt in this family have helped me more than anything in my career. Very passionately and thoughtfully written.

    • Yusuf Hakim
      Posted at 05:13h, 25 July Reply

      Hey Mohd, you would know a lot about BAJA and what it does to the life of a student! Kudos to being a part of a very successful BAJA team 🙂

  • Mohammad A. Bagasrawala
    Posted at 15:01h, 24 July Reply

    A Baja team is a very important organisation enrolment in which is a life changing opportunity. Lessons learnt will guide me for life. Very beautifully and passionately written. Great work

    • Yusuf Hakim
      Posted at 05:11h, 25 July Reply

      Hey Mohd, you would know a lot about BAJA and what it does to the life of a student! Kudos to being a part of a very successful BAJA team 🙂

  • Shubham Pokale
    Posted at 16:02h, 24 July Reply

    I’m from a commerce background but the way you’ve put it, I really wish even we had something like this. You’ve tried your hands on basically everything from engineering to finance to selling, etc. The idea of doing this during the college life is very very intriguing to me. The fact that students are running every aspect of it just blew my mind. Like can we really do that? It’s a great read and an inspiring one.

    • Yusuf Hakim
      Posted at 05:09h, 25 July Reply

      Thanks Shubham! Running a student run enterprise is really great fun!

  • Imtiaz Lokhandwala
    Posted at 16:51h, 24 July Reply

    Well done Yusuf.. This spirit of enterprise is well documented and you are lucky to have got the taste of this.. well done and keep the spirit of enterprise alive to kick of bigger global ideas. This will be g a change to the world. Good Luck.

    • Yusuf Hakim
      Posted at 05:08h, 25 July Reply

      Thank you Imtiaz uncle for the wonderful motivation!! We as youngsters look up to successful enterprisers like you which help us on our way!

  • Aarti
    Posted at 05:36h, 25 July Reply

    Hey Yusuf, that was a beautifully written post. I think you have captured some really important points regarding how we should look at education.
    Looking forward to more of your writing !

    • Yusuf Hakim
      Posted at 13:29h, 25 July Reply

      Thank you for the kind words Aarti.

  • Rashida hakim
    Posted at 08:55h, 25 July Reply

    Hello Yusuf
    Hard work always counts
    All the best for your future projects
    We are proud of you
    And our blessings are always with you

    • Yusuf Hakim
      Posted at 13:30h, 25 July Reply

      Thank you! The hard work is what comes from what we see our parents do everyday 🙂

  • Prasan Shah
    Posted at 09:47h, 25 July Reply

    Brilliantly written Yusuf..
    You have perfectly captured how education in India needs to re -evaluate college education. This is a perfect summary of how doing your learning outside the classroom with new effective and innovative systems can help people learn and achieve their potential..!
    Looking forward to reading future articles from you brother!
    God bless!

    • Yusuf Hakim
      Posted at 13:32h, 25 July Reply

      Thank you Prasan! I know that you have also been part of out of classroom projects which have helped you shape your career successfully! Would love to hear your experience on our forum!

  • Mariya
    Posted at 15:41h, 25 July Reply

    Really proud! 😁

  • Fatema Mohammed Rupawala
    Posted at 17:24h, 25 July Reply

    This article motivates us and as aindividual to think out of the box and do it in a practical way and it really shows a team hard work, determination, focus, time management and keep pushing ourselves to learn more and more and make others also aware.

    Looking forward to read more of these articles.

    • Yusuf Hakim
      Posted at 10:48h, 26 July Reply

      Thank you Fatema ben for the kind words.The newer generations need worthwhile projects do that their energy can be channelled into projects so that we can see the skills they have. Great to hear from you here!

  • Akshay V Patil
    Posted at 06:06h, 26 July Reply

    I can still remember the day Alok & my self designed a chair in Pro-E With your help..!!

    If we look back in our life , 4 year’s of engineering would have been pointless without the Baja & FSAE experience ..!!

    Last week I had conversations with my teammates who works for JLR in UK and my self & many other Team members studying / working in Big 3 of Auto world in US.

    The only one thing is helping us in our personal & professional life which is experience gained from such student design competition. Those event simply gave me a new perspective towards learning engineering. Also sparked my interest in Automotive Engineering

    About leadership & Project management I think no degree or no Book can give knowledge or hands on experience like this ..!!

    I can surely say all those sleepless nights, Hard work , crazy discussion , Team meetings, work planning & execution , Hands on manufacturing , made me true Engineer…!!

    I would like to thank yosuf for giving me that opportunity.

    #BecauseaRacecar…!!!

    • Yusuf Hakim
      Posted at 10:54h, 26 July Reply

      We were only able to achieve what we did because of the amazing team we had. It was great fun! Thanks for the wonderful insight on how it has helped you in your life!

  • Rohan Khimavat
    Posted at 07:57h, 26 July Reply

    It’s so amazingly written and well put. I could actually imaging how BAJA goes and the excitement within participants

    • Yusuf Hakim
      Posted at 10:55h, 26 July Reply

      Thanks Rohan,
      It was definitely one of the best times of my life!

  • Aniket Borhade
    Posted at 10:24h, 26 July Reply

    I have read this article more than 5 times now. Every time I read it, it makes me even more realise what running an enterprise as such can do to young minds. It makes me believe in the power of the story & how it can change my life & influence countless others.

    I wish every college student in India gets an opportunity like this to get their hands dirty in real big projects. I could just imagine, how much it will build their confidence. I truly believe, being a part of the project like this has the power to set students for life.

    I so much loved the way you have put this article Yusuf, really thankful for this. Now you have got me reading, I am eagerly waiting for your next article to read.

    • Yusuf Hakim
      Posted at 10:56h, 26 July Reply

      Thanks Aniket! It’s great to be working with you to create the Enterprise,

      Look forward to some great experiences together!

  • Mustafa Lokhandwala
    Posted at 22:48h, 26 July Reply

    Very well written article! Truly captures the engineering and business elements of Baja!

    Ps : thanks for the shout out to Team Nemesis!

    • Yusuf Hakim
      Posted at 07:26h, 27 July Reply

      Thanks Mustafa! Nemesis owes a huge amount to you guys for the consistent success it has achieved!

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