The Essai Files: 10. Arman Puri

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Arman is the real OG of essai. A favourite of favourites (he comes for a chat whenever he’s in town), a member of the family. Arman sits down, exuding some sort of nervous confidence. He starts off by declaring that he doesn’t want his interview to be anything like any of the other essai files. Upon further examination, it transpires he hasn’t read any of the other essai files. As always, he just wants to be different.

Essai: We don’t really know where to start... Let’s begin with a quick question. If you could choose where to begin, one era to live in, what would it be?

Arman: 16th Century in Florence … Actually, can I change? 1920s in the US. Actually, that’s quite cliche. Just somewhere in Italy in the mid-1500s.

E: Always trying to be different. That’s interesting, because there’s no way you could have done computer science in the 1500s.

A: True, but I see myself belonging to the genre of Da Vinci: a scientist beyond his years.

E: Sure. You’re dreams and ideas of yourself have always been big, potent, often pungent. Okay, so why don’t we bring it back to the 21st century. What have you been getting up to at Berkeley?

A: So I’m majoring in Data Science, specialising in Artificial Intelligence. And I might do a double major with Computer Science as well. We’ll see how next semester goes. I went to Berkeley intending to major in Computer Science, but I took a couple Data Science classes, and it was more my cup of tea.

E: Cup of tea… Was it hard switching from Computer Science to Data Science?

A: It was pretty easy, because it’s not that different. Data Science wasn’t a major when I arrived. But in my Freshman year, I took an intro Data Science class, and I just really clicked with it.

E: So what’s the point of Data Science?

A: Data Science uses programming to get useful insights out the vast quantity of data which we are generating every second. For example, I did a project studying the sentiments behind Donald Trump’s 15-20,000 tweets. Given a new tweet, the program could predict whether the sentiment was positive or negative. Like “crooked Hilary” would suggest it was a negative tweet.

E: That doesn’t sound like a very useful insight…

A: Well, that’s just one example. We did another project, where we were given some medical data about women. We were able to build a model that predicted with 97% accuracy whether someone had breast cancer or not. That was really cool. Computer Science seems quite abstract, but Data Science allows your to specialise and find solutions to real life problems.

E: But Data Science has certainly had some bad publicity recently- so many people are suspicious of it after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

A: Okay, well the ethics behind Data Science can be questionable.

E: How so?

*Arman thinks for a long time*

A: Privacy is a major issue. There was a case recently where a company in the Bay Area was analysing people’s travel data by reading license plates. There was a huge leak of car license plates. So there definitely have to be measures taken to keep data private.

E: Interesting. How do your studies connect with what you might do later? I know you have this startup idea? Do you have plans to come back to India after you graduate?

A: No, I definitely want to work in the US. There’s no chance I’m coming back to India – I can’t speak for 10 years time, but definitely not in the short term. I want to do my own thing, and try building my own thing. I enjoy a lot of my classes, but I don’t feel a deep passion for them. I’ve done investment banking internships working 16 hours a day, but I didn’t love it. But I feel truly passionate about my startup idea – that’s where I can give 120%.

E: So was it scary deciding you didn’t want to come back to work for the family business?

A: Scary in a way, but I think it’s worked out well. It just isn’t my cup of tea – I know I use that phrase a lot. And my Dad knew I should be doing something else. I’m just really lucky that I’m currently in a place I want to be, doing what I love.

E: You’ve been a bit cagey about this startup idea of yours – can you give us a pitch in one line?

A: It’s a music-based startup facilitating the discovery of undiscovered artists.

E: You’ve definitely been practicing that line! So where do you see yourself one year after graduation?

A: Ideally working on my startup – but that is slightly utopian. It’s tricky. I will apply to some big companies, mostly on the West Coast, all in tech. But I do want to become an entrepreneur, and the advice I’ve got is to work for a small company. That way you get more hands on experience, and learn much more quickly.

E: This sounds like you’re interviewing for a position with essai. Your application is under consideration. Speaking of which, what were your first impressions when you came here – tread carefully?

A: It’s very weird to think it’s five years ago since I was at essai. Back then, the office was in GK2. But my first impressions, I thought it was really cool. These young guys – you just got me. We hit it off from the start, though I did make you want to pull your hair out.

E: Yep that’s one way of putting it!

A: I’d worked with tutors before, but they were older, and it was a really different experience. I really liked the environment and the structure at essai. The process was very personalised, personal, personable. And I can still remember you grilling me on vocabulary in every class.

E: What does capricious mean?

A: …

E: Arman… Hint: Your vocabulary is capricious at best... Anyway, I remember you as this short kid, who thought he was the smartest guy in the room. That was one of my jobs, to teach you that you weren’t always the smartest guy in the room.

A: Yeah, I’d agree. You definitely helped broaden my horizons. We did a lot of critical reading and writing, which definitely helped. You did a good job of “culturing” me. For example, when I was practicing the essay, we’d worked out twenty examples I could use in the test. Machiavelli still sticks out – what’s the book called again? *The Prince* I’ve always been fascinated by Italian history: Medici, Da Vinci, all that. I ended up taking an Italian history class at Berkeley – and I got an A. I can actually attribute that interest in history starting with our classes together.

E: Okay, imagine you’re being sent to a desert island. You can take three music tracks, a book, a film, and a luxury item. What do you take?

A: If I could take a film series, I’d definitely take Star Wars. Otherwise, probably Forrest Gump.

E: Music?

A: Three music tracks – that’s a hard one. I couldn’t even tell you. ‘Africa’ by Toto, for   sure. I’d want different genres… ‘Catch and Release’ by Matt Simons. Hmm… Any rap song… ‘LSD’ by A$AP. My luxury would have to be a computer.

E: A book?

A: A book – I’d take The Prince by Machiavelli.

E: Not ‘The Little Prince’? Thought that might be more your ‘cup of tea’. Ok, carrying on  – some quick fire questions now. If you were on the run from the law for a year, where would you hide out?

A: Cuba.

E: If you could take one person with you?

A: That’s a hard one. Can I go by myself? *No*. Then my younger brother I think.

E: We love Madhav. Ok, Beer or wine?

A: Wine.

E: If essai were a college?

A: Yale.

E: Fancy dress costume of choice?

A: Honestly not a big costume guy. Never do it.

E: Best magic trick?

A: The three card trick.

E: Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

A: Everywhere – Delhi, London, New York, Silicon Valley.

E: So everywhere and nowhere. What advice would you give your 15 year old self?

A: [Redacted]. Maybe, that the easy way out is not always the easy way out.

E: Finally, if you only had 1000 dollars to invest, how would you invest it?

A: Stocks. *Which stock?* My startup.

E: Arman, you were one of the originals for us. It’s partly through you that essai grew, so thank you for that. We love you and your family

A: Thank you. It’s never over. You are family.