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Should I take CSE in a Tier 2/3 college or a Circuit Branch in an IIT/NIT? Is it worth pursuing a core branch (Mechanical/Civil) engineering? These are the questions every engineering aspirant asks, especially in the admission season. Let’s explore these questions.

If you are a 2024 aspirant, here are the updates for 2024 engineering and related entrance exams. Follow this page for latest announcements by various colleges.

The rise of Computer Science Engineering

In the late 90s and early 2000s, there was an IT boom in India and any engineer could become an IT professional. The salaries paid were crazily high and it seemed like doing an IT job was the path to becoming rich. There were companies like Infosys, whose ESOPs gave astronomical returns and employees who were part of the ESOP program ended up millionaires. Every parent then started encouraging their kids to just become an engineer, assuming life is set.

Slowly the scene changed. Post 2010, companies realised that those with a computer science engineering were better at coding skills and started giving preference to CSE and Electronics branches. Companies that recruited students via campus started making core branch students ineligible to sit for placements. This led to a rise in demand for CSE and Electronics over Mechanical and Civil. Students started preferring CSE in a lower ranked college over Mechanical in a Tier 1 college, just to be eligible for IT placements.

man in grey sweater holding yellow sticky note

Now what did the private colleges do? With many toppers in entrance exams preferring computer science, they started increasing the number of CSE seats and reducing the core branch seats, just so that the top ranked students come to their college. CSE doesn’t require much more than an AC lab and some computers. Now-a-days most students own a laptop, even if the lab computers didn’t work. Most CSE courses can be learned on Udemy, YouTube etc. Even sub-par faculty with measly salaries would suffice.

It’s the core branches that require qualified faculty, expensive apparatus and labs. Who cared about them, anyway? Many private colleges have over 3000 computer science students in a batch and a paltry 60 in mechanical engineering. Some colleges have only CSE and IT branches and have shut down all other branches.

But increasing CSE seats was not enough. The colleges also had to get them placed, in order to boast of high placements in their campus. They set up placement cells to connect with IT companies and invite them to recruit their students. And then they started advertising the 100% placements and 1Cr packages obtained by their students.

An advertisement for a good college has now ceased to be something to do with good faculty and excellent lab facilities. All that matters is the “package”. Doesn’t matter if the student has learned even 1% of engineering. As long as they can crack the coding test, GD and interview, that’s enough. A really sorry state of affairs. 🙄

Is CSE as lucrative as before?

Let’s analyse the salaries of an entry level engineer in the early 2000s vs what it is now.

I had received 2 offers in 1999 as a fresh Software Engineer. One from the erstwhile Satyam Computers, which is now Tech Mahindra and another offer from Infosys. While Satyam offered ₹12K per month, Infosys offered ₹14K per month. Post PF and other deduction, the take home in Infosys came to around ₹11K per month, which was enough for even a fresher to get married and live a comfortable life.

Let’s compare this to a fresher’s salary at Infosys and Tech Mahindra now.

Source: Business Today

As you can see, a Fresh Software Engineer gets ₹3.6Lakh PA in Infosys. That’s ₹30K per month. Just a little more than 2x of what I was offered in 1999!

If you assume an average inflation rate of 6.5%, the present value of the ₹14K I was offered in 1999 is now ₹60K. The salary for entry level engineers has actually halved! Can a fresher afford to get married and start a family with ₹30K? I don’t think so. 👎

Please don’t go by the ₹1cr packages advertised by colleges. Of a batch of 3000, 2 or 3 students who are highly talented may bag it and though we all love our kids, we need to be realistic and not assume our kids are going to be that lucky 3. Also note that for those 3 kids who do bag the ₹1Cr package, it’s mostly their own talent and the college has a very less role to play here.

Should you consider Core Engineering branches?

An IIT professor clearly explained the difference between computer science and the core branches. Core branches have a lot of years of research that needs to be learnt whereas computer science is relatively new and keeps evolving.

A fresher in computer science can be expected to create an app from scratch. But a fresh civil engineer can’t be entrusted the task of designing a new flyover. A fresh mechanical engineer can’t be expected to design a lift system or a new car model. These require a very high level of precision and can endanger people’s lives. That’s the very nature of these jobs. A bachelor’s degree is hardly enough to work on these high end projects. You have to get a Masters’ degree, work as a junior for several years before you lead these projects.

photo of man inspecting car engine

Coming to the circuit branches (ECE,EEE and ENI), the students are usually permitted to sit for CSE placements, but even in their core subjects, they need to be post graduates or have several years of experience to be able to work in new chip design projects in companies like Intel and NVIDIA.

When core branch students compare themselves with their CSE peers, it can be demotivating, but students need to realise that once you gain enough experience in a core field, the salaries catch up with the CS engineers.

After COVID, there has been a push for make-in-india and manufacturing in India is expected to grow, therefore opportunities for core branches are likely to improve, going forward.

Demand Vs. Supply

A report by Times of India mentioned the severe shortage of core engineering branch students currently faced by industries.

Source: Times of India, Hyderabad edition

It’s clear economics. When supply is more, prices fall. If there are large number of Computer Science graduates, their entry level salaries will fall. We are already seeing the trend in entry level salaries. When supply falls, prices rise. If there is a shortage or something, prices rise. And that’s what are are likely to see in core engineering entry level salaries going forward.

Agreed, the government needs to create more opportunities for core engineers too, but blindly taking computer science assuming astronomical salaries and packages is not the right way to approach a career. Branches like Civil, Mechanical and Electrical can never go out of trend. As the population grows, we will need more houses, more flyovers, more vehicles, and more gadgets.

CSE in Tier 2 college Vs. Core in an IIT/Tier 1 college

This is the most frequently asked question in student groups. Every year during JEE counselling, students end up with this difficult choice – CSE in VIT Vs. Mechanical in BITS Pilani. Or CSE in NIT Warangal Vs. Civil in IIT Guwahati.

First and foremost, think of your interests. If you are passionate about coding and have been creating apps from class 9, surely take up CSE, irrespective of college as some other branch may not interest you.

If you are unsure, first do your research on the kind of jobs people do after a particular branch and whether those jobs interest you. In fact you must be doing this research even before preparing for your entrance exams. What if you realise you are not cut out for engineering at all and actually want to study law?

Should you take up a core branch?

If you like core branches, go for the better college. A better peer group always helps you grow as a person. Tier 1 colleges have much better faculty and infrastructure than Tier 2 and 3 colleges. One IIT professor has commented that it’s better to avoid core branches in a Tier 3 college.

If you are taking up a core branch, be prepared to study further and do a PG as jobs in these fields require much more knowledge than what a UG degree can offer.

Avoid doing engineering if you want to prepare for CAT and study an MBA. Here, any degree from a good college will help. If your goal is to prepare for CAT, it’s better do a B.Com or BBA and learn the fundamentals better. Leave the seat for a more passionate student. You can use the extra free year to focus on CAT and not spend it in engineering final year.

I am part of many student discussion groups and have noticed students who are sure they want to do an MBA in Finance from IIM and asking if they should do an M.Sc Biology dual in BITS Pilani and try for a computer science. I wonder why someone wants to spend 5 years in BITS if they are sure they want to get into IIM, when they can do it in 3 years. These are wrong career choices.

Back to core branches, if your family can afford it, consider studying up to the PG level, either in India or abroad. A masters in core branches will always be rewarding. Students need to stop thinking purely about packages while joining a college. A college does not offer packages. Companies do, and if you are the best in your field, you’ll get the package, irrespective of college, at some point in future. Choose based on your interests, do your research and then select a branch of study. Avoid taking engineering due to family or peer pressure.

Think of your career as a marathon and not a sprint. Students who get high starting salaries may find it difficult to move to another company after a couple of years as their salary expectation is likely to be higher, whereas those who started at lower salary levels will be willing to work for less. Ultimately, salaries get evened out. Think of building your skills and knowledge and make yourself employable.

Source: StatistaEmployability statistics of Indian Engineers

We are producing a large number of unemployable engineers (43%), because students lack the interest and are choosing it just for packages. A large number of mushrooming engineering colleges with low quality faculty and infrastructure are not helping the cause either. Try to be unique, not one in a crowd.

If you love coding, take up CSE by all means. And even here, don’t be dejected if you don’t bag the 1cr package. It’s perfectly ok to start at a lower salary. Your first job is more of a learning experience. Your future is in your own hands and college has a lesser role to play in the long run.

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