Shining a Spotlight On: Shyamal Anadkat'22

May 27, 2022

Duke AIPI graduate sets sights on the future, changing the world for the better with AI

Shyamal Anadkat

Shyamal Anadkat is finishing his Duke Artificial Intelligence and Product Innovation Master of Engineering with a graduate certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.”

Lao Tzu

His list of accomplishments is impressive—he delivered an inspirational and moving speech at his Class of 2022 hooding ceremony, reflecting the hard work, grit, determination, curiosity, and consistency he has applied to all aspects of his life. As he stands on the precipice of the next chapter in his life, he is as dedicated as ever to using what he has learned in Duke's AIPI master's program to serve his surrounding community and change people’s lives for the better.

He took time out of his busy schedule to talk about the journey to Duke and his love of the outdoors, and to give some advice to incoming Duke AIPI students.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background

I grew up in Rajkot, India, the city that was also home to Mahatma Gandhi. Rajkot is an entrepreneurship-driven community, and entrepreneurship runs in my family. My father and my grandfather ran their own businesses, which contributed to my entrepreneurial spirit. Growing up, I was fascinated by math and physics and was fascinated by magnets and robotics. Engineering came naturally to me, and my family supported and nurtured my curiosity and love of these two subjects. I decided to attend school for my undergraduate degree in Madison, Wisconsin, which was a big shock, especially my first winter there. I loved the city, though, and the surrounding town was beautiful. I double-majored in computer science and computer engineering, which led to human-computer interaction research projects. I also worked on a research project relating to Astrobotany, which is studying plant interactions in space. My first internship was with a FinTech company in New York City. I fell in love with programming and solving new problems. In 2017, I completed an internship at Grubhub, which has been a pioneer in the food delivery industry. Looking back to my childhood, this all started with a passion for math and physics and growing up in an environment that supported my interests and curiosities.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I don’t have a specific job title or company in mind, but I see myself growing professionally as an engineer, an entrepreneur, and an AI enthusiast. My lifelong goal is to build a long-lasting impact on my surrounding community, wherever that may be, and help make people’s lives easier. I am always brainstorming solutions to everyday problems with the intent of giving back by way of using my skills to build products that will change people’s lives. 

Is there anything you will miss about graduate school?

I will definitely miss the freedom and flexibility to take classes that I am interested in and the ability to explore my curiosity. The program encourages students to deep dive into what interests them, and I will miss being in this environment where that is strongly encouraged. I will also miss living around the campus and collaborating with my peers and faculty members. I have made long-lasting friendships, and this whole experience has been an enriching and satisfying event in my life. Lastly, but maybe most importantly, I will miss the student discounts!

How do you de-stress from the pressure of school?

I love spending time in nature, and I try to hike or run around the Duke pond and the Duke Forest trail. I find that spending time in nature is very satisfying and soothing. I also make time to meditate at home and reflect. When I find I have something on my mind, journaling is a great way to get ideas and thoughts out onto paper. I also enjoy playing tennis. I am a big proponent of physical exercise and how this helps manage stress.

If you could do the program all over again, is there anything you would change?

The program is so well-designed and executed, that I wouldn’t change anything about the classes or program, per se. If I could go back, I would have done one more elective or class in the Fall instead of taking more classes in the Spring, which would open some free time for activities. Also, I would love to have done one more semester of school to cover all my interests and to take additional electives. Jon Reifschneider is an outstanding individual and mentor. You can tell he took the time to curate and execute a well-designed, industry-focused Duke AIPI program that challenges you and prepares you for the professional world.

Which course was your favorite, and why?

I have two favorite classes that I would love to talk about. The first is AIPI 540: Building Products and Deep Learning with Jon Reifschneider.  This class was very well structured in that we produced some great projects in a short time and focused on practical, hands-on applications. As a result, we were able to build a solid portfolio. Not only did this class help me think of new ideas, but I also used the new resources and tools needed to be successful. These high-fidelity projects, which are based on theory and state-of-the-art research, provided an opportunity for independent work and real-world application. These projects were structured to mirror the industry, so managing time and presenting in a way that the audience understands was paramount. My second favorite class was MENG 540: Management in High-Tech Industries with Professor Edward Marshall. Professor Marshall served as an amazing mentor and guided us through the leadership traits necessary to become successful managers. We also learned the importance of building your own leadership brand, which requires collaboration, trust, and ownership in projects and in life in general. This was an eye-opening class for me, and there were many valuable lessons on learning about yourself, and how to become a good manager and leader in a high-tech industry. I appreciated the fact that we were given time to reflect on our purpose and values. We focused on self-reflection and self-management, which are keys to success.

Name a few things on your bucket list

I would love to spend some time in the Himalayas for a few months to reflect, hike, and do other outdoor activities. I would also love to learn all I could about the local culture and crafts. My second bucket list item is to travel to a remote place with a few books and journals and spend time away from all the worldly devices to self-reflect. I have always wanted to try wakeboarding. I also have a goal to create a nonprofit trust in honor of my late father to help communities in need in my home and around India. He spent his life in service to the community around him, and I feel this would be a wonderful way to honor his memory.

What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve done?

A: I went on a cruise to Cancun and had the chance to jump off the ship into the middle of the ocean. I felt like this was not something that would happen again, so I took a chance and decided to jump. There was another occasion during my undergrad time, a friend of mine and I booked a sky diving trip at the last minute and drove to this little town and jumped out of a plane.

What three pieces of advice would you give to the incoming Duke AIPI class?

I feel like my graduation speech is an accurate reflection of my advice to the incoming AIPI class—be curious, be consistent, and embrace change. Ask good questions to yourself as well as to others. Decide what you want from the program and be curious. Curiosity manifests itself in the questions you ask. Make time to reflect on what interests you, and don’t worry about what everyone else is interested in. This is especially true with elective classes. Be open to other students’ interests, but don’t take electives because everyone else is taking the same class. Make sure you give space for your interests. Be consistent with your goals and what you want to get out of the program. Be sure to manage your time effectively, especially with projects and use the projects to build your portfolio and brand. Another important trait is embracing change and being adaptable. While in school and in life, you are going to face professional and personal hurdles. Be open to change in an optimistic way and use this time in graduate school as a playground to experiment with interests.