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Global Talent at NEC Labs – Kanishka Khandelwal

January 7, 2019

Kanishka Khandelwal
Data Science Research Laboratories

Lifestyle in Japan

― How has living and working in Japan been like?

Life in Japan has been great. I live in a dormitory for international researchers which is located near the office. I walk 20-minutes to and from work every day and don't have to take the metro so that's a good thing as it can get quite crowded during peak hours. NEC also provides language training which has been helpful.

― Prior coming to Japan, did you know any Japanese at all?

I attended classes in India for six weeks before coming to Japan. That's when I learnt basic conversational Japanese.

― When you came to Japan, was the conversational Japanese you learnt sufficient? Did you continue to pursue learning the Japanese language?

Luckily for me, everyone whom I'm working with speaks English. So I'm currently not pursuing learning the language.

― Favorite Japanese food?


― What is your favorite thing about living in Japan and why?

Life here is peaceful as compared to life in India. There are always large crowds in India and people are often found speaking loudly. Certain areas in Japan can get crowded at times too, however everyone just does their own thing. In public spaces like stations and on train, people are mostly quiet. Japanese people are also very polite.

― Which part of India are you from?

I'm from Central India, about 600km away from Mumbai. However, I studied at IIT Bombay in Mumbai.

― Have you had any negative experiences while living here, any obstacles you face?

In general I would say the language barrier. Many words are written in Kanji, so I have difficulty reading them. Another difficult thing for me is food. Because I am a vegetarian, finding vegetarian places can be difficult sometimes when I go out. On work days, I prepare breakfast and dinner at home, but I have lunch at the canteen. I learnt this phrase which is essential for me whenever I eat out. Upon ordering at a non-vegetarian restaurant, I will tell them "yasai dake", which directly translates to "vegetables only".

― Do you know any other languages besides English and Japanese? What are they? How frequent and when do you use them?

Apart from English and Japanese, I also know Hindi and Marathi. Hindi is my mother tongue which is widely spoken throughout India. I use Hindi on a daily basis when I speak to my Indian colleagues. Marathi is a regional language of Maharashtra. I only use it to communicate with my friends who also speak Marathi. However, my Marathi is not that good, so I try to learn from my friends by conversing with them. I communicate to my colleagues in English every day. And the occasional Japanese when needed.

Experience working at NEC

― What are some of the challenges your job presents?

Research itself is quite challenging. As a researcher you are competing with many others who are also conducting research in the similar fields. Your performance is dependent on the number of papers you publish and the patents you file. Another challenge for me is also language. Meetings are usually conducted in Japanese so I face difficulty understanding.

― What part of this job do you personally find the most satisfying?

The research profile is kind of peaceful. I like that you have the space to do research at your own pace and also in fields that you are interested in. Doing research also allows for collaboration, which is great.

― How do you like your colleagues? How is it like working with your manager? Has he/she helped you in any aspect?

My colleagues and manager are very accommodating towards me. Although I am the only foreigner in my team, I don't feel left out because they always try to speak English with me.
I interact with them well, which makes me feel comfortable. On a daily basis, they help me with the NEC system, because it's in Japanese. Apart from that, they usually give me suggestions on where to visit around Tokyo.

Skills/Personal attributes

― Are there any particular skills or personal attributes that prove to be effective for this job/field of work? How are they effective?

Critical thinking, determination and patience are all attributes that are effective for this field of work. You need to know how and what to research on and be able to filter the important information from a chunk of text. This takes a lot of time and patience.

Job requirements

― Would you say knowing the Japanese language is crucial prior to joining NEC? (Language barrier)

You should have basic knowledge of Japanese. But that should be sufficient prior to coming to Japan. Currently my Japanese is not too good, I haven't been using it much. We usually go to Indian restaurants, so there is no need to speak Japanese.

― Who would you recommend to join the team? (E.g., People who are passionate about research/ICT, etc. or are looking for fulfilling career, etc.)

My role is quite challenging. I'm currently working on 3 projects, and I've only joined for 6 months. So the person should be very passionate about this field. He/she should be determined to do this kind of work.

Personal development

― In what ways has since joining NEC changed and developed you as a person/career wise? Are there any takeaways?

It was a sudden transition. Because in college, it is more of a relaxed environment. At work, it's different, you have to submit weekly reports and produce results and you have to be disciplined and punctual. The way you present yourself is also different. People feedback to me that I have changed a lot. Back in college I used to be more playful, but I have to be more serious now that I'm pursuing my career. In college, I can joke around with my friends and take time to do my own things.

― Is your work primarily individual or predominantly in groups/teams? Has this helped your team-working skills?

Currently my work is primarily individual. However, I would prefer to work in a team, because it's better to have different minds so that you get different perspectives on the same problem. In research it is very much necessary when you are stuck on a problem, it is good to have a different perspective from the outside to come up with a solution. Our project is in collaboration with a Sensei from Institute of Statistical Mathematics (ISM), we take guidance from him.


― How does NEC differ from other tech companies in India? Why did you choose NEC?

The roles that they provide are not challenging in my opinion. They are doing more development-based work and not research.

― What plans do you have for the future? Do you have any career goals?

I want to start my own company, but right now I feel like I'm too young to do it. I need experience in the industry. Maybe when I'm 35 I could look into starting a company of my own. I come from a business background. My father has his own business in the fabrication industry. My brother is also doing his own start-up.

― Do you have pressure from your family to start a business? Venture into ICT now, but ideally to start a business?

My father has been doing this for 30 years, he advised me to go out into the workforce to gain experience to explore and understand how the world works. He advised me that I should learn how to build relationships and understand how companies work. These knowledge can only be gained by working in the field for a decade. If I were to start my own company, I would have customers and it is essential to understand this relationship between businesses and customers. Short term goal is to understand how the world works. I'm getting to know about IT sector. I would also like to learn about economics and finance sector in the future. I've done my master's in microelectronics. Bachelor's in electronic engineering and minored in computer science.

― In which industry do you foresee starting up a company?

Right now I'm doing research in the field of AI, so my thinking is a bit limited. I'm always thinking about new problems or fields left to be explored. That we could provide solutions using AI, for example I think agriculture is quite new. In the past two or three years, many companies have been using IoT and AI for agriculture to improve food production. There is still a lot for me to explore, so it's still too early to say which industry I'll start a business in.

― Has working in NEC helped you achieve that? How so?

It's been only 6 months, so there's still a lot I can do to build my profile. But I have learnt a lot since, the learning curve has been quite steep. In college, there wasn't much to learn as I've already complete my courses in 3rd and 4th year, so the last 18 months (1.5 years) was quite relaxed for me. I was mostly doing research.

― If you were to start a company from scratch, what values would you build it on?

I would like my employees to have work ethics like the Japanese. They value their work a lot, so I would want to hire people who love what they do. That is one thing I would consider before starting a company or hiring anyone. Apart from that, I value customers more. Depending on the company I'm starting, like if it's a product or service company. The customers are like the kings, so I would definitely value them.

― If you closed your eyes and be anywhere in the world when they opened, where would you be?

I enjoy visiting waterfalls. So I would say Niagara waterfalls. However, there are many other places I would like to visit like Machu Picchu and Peru. The top of Everest would be good too, for five seconds to see what it's like, and come back.

― You said you've travelled to 15 countries. Which 15?

I've been to UAE, Turkey, Vietnam, Japan, India, Kyrgyzstan, France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Czech Republic, just to name a few.

― Where did you find time to do that?

In College, I went for summer exchange in Turkey, an internship in Dubai and a summer internship in Paris. So I had plenty of time to travel to the neighboring countries. I went to Vietnam last New Year's. This June I'm heading to Russia. The World Cup is held in Russia this year, so I'm going to watch the matches. As I've said I follow European football, and I like to travel so it's the best of both worlds. I like Ronaldo a lot, so I'll be supporting Portugal for the World Cup. But for football club, I support Real Madrid.