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Intelligent Machines

Varun Aggarwal, SM '07

Alumnus puts Indian job seekers to the test

While studying electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, Varun Aggarwal read troubling statistics about his native India: even though 350,000 engineers graduated annually from more than 300 universities and 15,600 colleges, only 25 percent were considered employable. A massive shortfall of technical personnel was expected by 2012. The report blamed poor training, but Aggarwal remained skeptical. “I thought that one key problem was lack of any process to identify employable graduates,” he says. Typically, employers recruit only from elite institutions.

So Aggarwal and his brother, Himanshu, cofounded Aspiring Minds to develop a GRE-like standardized test for Indian job seekers in various industries, including technology, engineering, consulting, and finance. Their goal was to help graduates from all schools either land interviews or discover their shortcomings.

This story is part of the July/August 2010 Issue of the MIT News Magazine
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“Assessment tools draw a lot from the theory of machine learning and inference (statistical pattern recognition),” he says–topics he researched for his thesis. His training helped him build algorithms that, for example, present harder questions to people who have answered previous questions correctly. The Aspiring Minds Computer Adaptive Test, or AMCAT, assesses aptitudes, personality traits, and industry-specific skills. The test is statistically scored and adheres to objective testing norms, but it’s calibrated to reflect the cultural sensibilities and business requirements of India. College computer labs administer it for just $6.00 per student. Companies pay for test-taker data to help them find the most appropriate candidates to interview.

Encouraging employers and students to accept the AMCAT was challenging, but Aggarwal tapped into his MIT connections for guidance. “I actively use the alumni directory and LinkedIn to mine MIT alumni and network with them,” he says. He’s gleaned advice and leads on business development, strategy, media interaction, and more. For every 10 e-mails Aggarwal sends to alumni, he receives about seven responses and schedules five meetings.

In just over three years, more than 130,000 students from more than 550 colleges have taken the AMCAT. And test data have yielded some important findings. More than 70 percent of qualified candidates for IT jobs graduate from institutions many employers ignore.

But the AMCAT’s real value, Aggarwal says, lies in its ability to also pinpoint candidates who are likely to thrive. For example, a combination of deductive logic ability and basic mathematical skills predicted trainability in computer programming for an IT services company. “We have benchmarked AMCAT at various corporations,” he says, “and shown that certain parameters of the test score … can reliably predict success of a person in the company.”

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