Ganga Reflects from Silicon Valley
Gangadharan Esakki had not planned to defend his PhD dissertation in a Zoom Meeting on May 25th. He was hoping for a more intimate exchange in the ECE building with Committee Chair, Dr. Marios Pattichis and friends…but COVID-19 abruptly changed that venue.
"This COVID pandemic struck during my dissertation writing and it was a distressing time because I could not go outside or visit friends,” said Esakki, known as “Ganga” at ECE. “It was just me and my apartment, yoga mat.... a lot of coffees and barely sleeping."
Ganga finished his dissertation and successfully defended it during that Zoom Meeting. And in a recent interview he explained how he got through it.
"My yoga practice and meditation helped me to clear my mind and get the words out of my brain onto the dissertation," said Ganga. "My advisor — Dr. Marios — also worked along during the pandemic with me on several sleepless nights and with hard work and with his effective feedback, we were able to get the dissertation done."
His persistence paid off. The 32-year-old now works in Silicon Valley at Intel (Santa Clara) as a Video Systems Engineer, developing new systems architectures for 5G video ecosystem.
Ganga was born and raised in Chennai, the capital city of the Indian state Tamilnadu, formerly known as Madras, a trade seaport during the British colonial days.
He received the B.E. degree with distinction in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Anna University, Chennai, India in 2009.
“I was fascinated by Integrated circuits and cameras.”
He applied to six graduate schools in the United States and was accepted at three of them but decided to attend UNM because he was offered an International Amigo Scholarship that included an admission into the PhD program.
Ganga was the first person in his family to pursue graduate studies and the first to come to The States, which meant he was on his own here.
“My supportive family encouraged me to pursue my PhD in USA and have been a solid source of my inspiration.”
He joined the Image and Video Processing and Communications Lab at ECE in 2012, advised by Dr. Marios Pattichis.
His dissertation ("Adaptive Encoding for Constrained Video Delivery in HEVC, VP9, AV1 and VVC Compression Standards and Adaptation to Video Content") focused on exploring encoder parameterization and mathematical optimization for video codecs, analyzing camera motion activities and codec-agnostic adaptive delivery for video-on-demand and streaming applications.
"My PhD journey was phenomenal," said Ganga. "The great thing about grad school is that it is filled with wonderful curious minds and I managed to pocket some of them. I learned about different cultural backgrounds, languages and met people from different countries. My friends were a great moral support and fun to hang around.”
Ganga attended many science seminars from various other departments, even though his major was at ECE. He also worked in Tech Support in the Spanish and Portuguese Departments where he was introduced to Flamenco, Salsa and Spanish.
In addition to garnering inner strength from yoga, Ganga found pleasure in writing poetry, which he eagerly shared with the ECE community during his graduate years. Hardly a month went by when one of his poems would appear on the great monitor in the atrium of the ECE building. His poetry has been archived by the ECE department and a few of them can be found by clicking here, here, here and here.
"I am not entirely certain that I can call myself a poet, but I originally started writing poems a long time ago in my native language Tamil," said Ganga who was influenced by the works of Robert Frost, William Wordsworth, Kahlil Ghibran, Charles Bukowski and Pablo Neruda.
"I used to go to Slam poetry nights in coffee shops near UNM and even performed in some of them. I have written at least 30-40 poems and will keep writing. It is an evolving process."
Ganga is a yoga practitioner who trained from a very young age in Hatha yoga and meditation. He learned Ashtanga yoga and advanced vinyasas in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe by attending many yoga workshops and classes. He volunteered teaching yoga free to the Indian kids at the Hindu Temple Society of New Mexico and he represented India in multiple cultural performance shows on/off campus.
Even though the pandemic has presented Ganga with many challenges, he has found the experience to be instructive.
"One thing I noticed during this pandemic is that we as humans fail to appreciate the small things that add up to the big picture. The irony is: We also fail to see the big picture....maybe it is the duality of the human mind.
"We need to ascend more higher to know our true Self," said Ganga.