Ittiam Unboxed August 12, 2020

“We Empower Our Talent Pool to Stay Ahead through Continuous Learning.”

Hear it from Shailesh Ramamurthy,
Senior Director, Competency Center, Ittiam


Welcome to yet another edition of Ittiam Unboxed, where Shailesh Ramamurthy, Senior Director, Competency Center, Ittiam talks about the company’s laser sharp focus on continuous learning, upskilling and reskilling. Shailesh says that Ittiam empowers its talent pool with the latest knowledge, skills and resources through its Competency Center. The Center provides impactful training programs for its fresh as well as seasoned engineers based on the ever evolving industry requirements and customer engagements.

Q1. What is Ittiam’s strategic intent behind instituting a Competency Center?

Ittiam’s Competency Center has been envisaged as the nerve center for fostering continuous learning and upskilling across the organization in the domain of video technology and related areas. We achieve this through a judicious mix of classroom trainings and hands-on projects and exercises, and also by enabling prototypes in forward looking technologies.

It has been said that, ‘The man who graduates today and stops learning tomorrow is uneducated the day after.’ A moment’s thought makes us realize how much more true this is for today’s technology industry.

In the last couple of decades, we have witnessed a sea change in technologies related to digital video and audio. It is particularly inspiring to witness their innovative implementations, analytics, applications and the amazing use cases they enable in the current unprecedented scenario brought on by COVID-19.

We at Ittiam have always prioritized the need for adapting to these changing technologies and ways of thinking. Our Competency Center therefore equips Ittians with the latest resources, ideas and thought processes to provide innovative solutions for technology challenges arising in a dynamic global context.

Our Competency Center serves to empower our talent pool to grow into trusted technology experts and keep evolving into their next best avatars as technologists

Of course, apart from what the Center offers, individual business units also conduct brief training sessions for engineers based on their specific project requirements.

A nice analogy we could use to understand how the Competency Center works collaboratively with the Product-development teams is in order here. In the exciting world of machine learning (ML), conventional ML works in two phases: a training phase (used to make the model learn as per a chosen algorithm) and an inference phase (using the trained model to perform its job). The former phase (training) can be said to be broadly analogous to the training imparted by the Competency Center while the latter phase (inference/deployment) is analogous to talent getting deployed in the product development teams. Interestingly, in the world of artificial intelligence and machine/deep learning, there is also a paradigm known as ‘continual learning’ which refers to the ability of a model to learn continually and adapt, such that the learning is not restricted to the training phase alone, but continues during deployment and on-the-job. Such continual learning paradigms have been very useful, for instance, in autonomous or self-driven vehicles. It is our vision that the same continual learning paradigm inspires both the Competency Center and product-development to function as inter-twined and continuous processes that strengthen each other, and enhance the eventual performance autonomously and organically.

Q2. Tell us more about the dynamic technology field Ittiam operates in that calls for a greater focus on continuous learning.

Ittiam has deep expertise in digital video that enables us to deliver stunning next-generation experiences.

In today’s world, digital video fits into the same paradigm as the classical Jevons paradox in economics – “The efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource.”

Substitution of the word ‘resource’ with ‘digital video’ shows us how true this is of digital video.

On the one hand, video compression technologies have shown unprecedented developments in being able to compress high quality video into highly compact bitstreams. On the other hand, especially in today’s context, we see a massive increase in delivery and consumption of digital video for education, enterprise and entertainment.

Video compression has become even more important today since bandwidth demands scale with the number of users in internet video. 8K, HDR, HFR, and WCG that were thought of as futuristic in the recent past have started seeing adoption in various industry use cases.

In the recent past, Ittiam has been making significant contributions in the latest video technologies of both the MPEG world as well as the Alliance for Open Media.

Machine learning also promises phenomenal improvements in digital video. Ittiam not only offers excellent products that draw from the best of both words (of machine learning and digital video) but is also exploring some of the forward looking technologies in this space, as we speak.

The singular aspect that defines the field we operate in is Change. Only by adapting ourselves to the evolving context and perhaps by proactively driving positive change can we stay ahead.

Q3. How does our Competency Center set the stage for freshers to cut their teeth on video technology?

We conduct a systematic and well-structured technical induction program for all freshers.

Our technical induction program aims to enable a seamless transition for young minds from college to the technology industry. We offer training modules in state-of-the-art technologies within Ittiam’s focus areas. We try to make learning fun and the sessions lively to ensure that participants are well engaged in the learning process. Learning occurs most effectively when everyone interacts freely building upon thoughts and concepts, with significant group participation. All this is done without sacrificing the rigor of the technical subjects involved.

Secondly, we stress upon the fluidity of the paradigm. The training modules comprise of digital video, digital audio, software development and engineering, and relevant techniques from machine learning. The entire induction program has been designed as a certification program with regular grading of the exercises and projects.

By leveraging the learnings from our programs, the versatile Ittian will be able to effortlessly transition between projects in various domains and across business units as per need.

We owe the success of the programme to subject matter experts at Ittiam who design the training content, evaluators who grade the exercises, ‘tech-buddies’ of the new recruits who form the window of interface into the BU, the HR team that manages the operational aspects seamlessly and the leaders of the organization who provide strategic guidance.

Q4. How do you enable experienced engineers to hone their skills and stay ahead in the game? Have you adapted your training programs for the new reality of working from home and remote collaboration?

Recently we launched a course on digital video for an experienced set of engineers with multi-disciplinary skills and proven expertise in their respective fields, but are expanding their horizons laterally into a new domain

Customizing the methodology helped. For instance, since the group was quite experienced in software development and engineering, we did not cover those aspects formally. However, we put greater emphasis on the theoretical and conceptual aspects of digital video fundamentals, especially pertaining to those aspects that were new for some of the engineers.

We further debriefed our engineers on practical design considerations in the domain so that it enabled them to take on hands-on challenges by leveraging the implementation skills they already possessed.

Our focus is on enriching these sessions by opening up the floor at suitable junctures for more interactivity and for sharing technical experiences.

Post March 2020 lockdown, we administered this course online to a select set of engineers. The collective maturity of the group coupled with the intensity with which the group continuously connected to the theme, by actively interacting as well as asking questions, was very heartening. As the faculty, it was my endeavour to provide the right pacing of the course, laying emphasis on key topics as we progressed, so that everyone is on the same page and no one feels disconnected.

Apart from trainings, we have been relying on regular online meetings for design discussions and technical brainstorming to an extent I had not imagined before trying this medium!

In the past couple of years at Ittiam, I also cherish the engaging in-house sessions I have delivered, on various aspects of patenting and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), which is very crucial for an IP-based company like Ittiam.

Q5. How does Ittiam further research and scientific inquiry through external collaboration?

Given our standing in the field, Ittiam has earned opportunities to participate in the standardization of some of the most important video technologies, rubbing shoulders with veteran technologists in this area.

We also work together with the Indian national body, Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) in some of the video standardization activities. The consortium of organizations that we are part of, which works with BIS also helps identify aspects of International Standards that are suitable for our country and its needs.

Ittiam was invited to deliver talks for BIS at the recent World Standards Day with its theme of “Video standards create a global stage.” At the event, we highlighted how our technologists help build international standards in the realm of digital video.

Shailesh Ramamurthy delivering a talk at a BIS meeting on World Standards Day

We have also been participating at the international level in standardization activities, for instance in the MPEG (JVET) meetings. Ittiam’s excellent reckoning was witnessed by me along with our other technologists, during our interactions with video coding experts from various parts of the world at the MPEG (JVET) Standards Committee meeting.

At one of such meetings, we were spontaneously encouraged by the chairs to demonstrate some of our relevant work to the entire gathering of video experts. This was very well received. All of these are due to the collective wisdom, vision and efforts of Team Ittiam that all of us are very proud of!

Q6. Based on your experience, could you please elaborate on the synergies between work in research, development and engineering on the one hand, and training on the other?

I feel fortunate to be born in a family which is deeply connected to academics and learning. My masters at IIT Kharagpur involved significant components in digital video, computer vision, pattern recognition and machine learning, wherein I feel blessed to have been awarded the ‘Dr Shanker Dayal Sharma’ gold medal for the best all-rounder post-graduate student.

I have also been fortunate to pursue a career which has woven these very technologies into it. In my earlier stints in the last two decades, I was fortunate to be involved in technologies relating to image and video compression and scalability. This led to opportunities to participate in Standards Committee meetings and related work (which continues at Ittiam as well). I also started getting invitations for delivering tutorials and invited talks in these technologies at prestigious international conferences.

This theme continued parallely with my regular work in design and productization in the realms of video, audio, media transcoding, content based retrieval and systems engineering aspects, collaborating with various advanced technology groups world-wide. All these areas synergized very well in my experience to yield many innovative solutions which also led to patents and publications.

For a number of years, I also taught Masters level courses in multimedia, data mining and machine learning for a very prestigious engineering institute. Apart from mainstream teaching, this also gave me exposure and experience in formulating course contents autonomously, setting question papers, grading and so on. Within my professional career, I was also invited to mentor people, to help them grow technically and professionally.

Q7. As we wind up, could you provide some examples of how your analytical bent of mind helps inform your other pursuits?

I have had deep involvement and formal tutelage in classical music since my childhood. This synergized well with my formal education and training, enabling me to discover some aspects in the uncharted territory of audio and music signal processing.

I am fortunate that I am in fact a step closer to visualizing ‘how the audio waveforms sing!’

The ability to analyze multidimensional features in acoustics also helped me come up with customizations in designs of the flute, upon which I have worked with chosen instrument makers.

Analytical abilities also helped me pursue certain areas of musicology and constituent plurality of grammars followed by different classical schools over the ages.

Shailesh unwinding with his favorite flute post Gothenburg standards meeting in July 2019

Q8. What are your recommendations to fresh and experienced engineers of today?

As engineers with any level of experience, you must have a constant thirst for staying ahead in the game in terms of knowledge and expertise. Given some of the challenging and exciting use cases we work on, it is imperative we keep abreast with the latest in technology and trends. These could be in our own field of digital video and video analytics as well as enabling fields like multicores, parallel architectures and next generation hardware. Make the best of all learning and training opportunities to keep whetting your minds and staying inspired to enhance the quality of your work.

As Aristotle said, ‘The pleasures and results arising from thinking and learning will make us think and learn all the more.’

Meet you again with another interesting edition of Ittiam Unboxed

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