Looking Back at My UPSC Journey
I was blissfully working in an MNC at Bangalore after graduating in B.Tech Computer Science. My school friend started giving UPSC Civil Service Exam (CSE) and the idea of ‘Let’s try’ started in my mind. I thought about a month whether I should take up IAS exam. My decision was more philosophical rather practical at that time. I thought there won’t be any meaning to my life if I continue to work as software engineer all my life rather than working directly for people of the country. Also, the idea of working for a private person never went well for me. Working for government which in turn works for the common man appealed more. I met a senior IPS officer and he advised me to quit the job and take up the exam as he told I have the potential to clear the toughest exam. His words gave confidence. It was overwhelming experience as I had never met any civil servant in my life before. I listened to him and resigned from the job. I was in Delhi within a week searching for coaching institutes.
Tip: Take your own time to decide whether you really need to be a civil servant. Read, see and understand the nature of routine work at government offices performed by civil servants like IAS/IPS/IRS/IFS etc. Meet young officers who are in 5-10 years in civil service as they can give you better picture of job profile of a civil servant. Do not sit for the exam due to others’ pressure. Work out the pros and cons of your current career vis-a-vis civil services. And know your strengths and weaknesses to assess the suitability. Otherwise you can excel in any other field and be happy.
Well, I started CSE preparation by staying at Delhi on a rented place. The chilling winters and simmering summers were really harsh for someone from Bangalore. I had 4 months of time for preliminary exam. I studied on my own without coaching and cleared the prelims. But my confusion started after clearing the prelims. I took geography and public administration as optional papers then. I had 3-4 months for preparing both subjects along with General Studies(GS) and Essay. I was not ready to take any risks. I joined coaching for optional subjects and also GS at the same time. And spent nearly 10 hours sitting in classes before the Mains. It was such a terrible idea. I couldn’t sit and study books after coming from the classes. I dropped out of the classes within a month. I always wanted to prepare in a perfect manner and started making notes one month before the exam. Thought I will do writing practice once I cover the syllabus atleast once. But in the exam hall, I couldn’t complete the papers and left many questions unattended. I failed Mains in my first attempt.
Tip: Consult seniors and do ask their opinion whenever you are in dilemma. Try to follow their advise if it is logical. Do not join coaching institutes before the exam. You can study on your own if you have a good mentor or guide. Write more tests by covering the syllabus for each test for both prelims and mains. And never try to cover 100% syllabus and do not try make your notes with perfection. Just remember to take CSE as an exam and do what it takes to clear the exam by being practical.
By this time, It was like too much studies and long hours of sitting everyday. Govt of Karnataka notified a new job, Panchayat Development Officer (PDO) which gave an opportunity to work at the grassroots of the country. Myself and my school friend who was preparing with me thought we should apply. I thought I could study for the CSE along with work. We applied and got selected for the job. We both joined the work and started working at remote villages. I was looking after the development of 6-7 villages in panchayat, spending govt money of about 4-5 Cr per year. The work involved monitoring the construction of individual household toilets, houses for the poor, roads, drinking water supply etc. There I was working in villages, talking to poor everyday and taking a salary of Rs 15,000 per month after working for a MNC in Bangalore. But working for the poor was far more fulfilling as I saw the smiles on the faces of the people when they got the government benefits in less time and without corruption, when there was someone who could talk and listen to their problems. But I couldn’t study for CSE as the job was new and challenging and I immersed myself completely in the work. I wrote my second prelims with full confidence and even applied for leave from work before Prelims result. But I failed in Prelims itself in my second attempt. It was very heart breaking. I had to resign from PDO job as I couldn’t study and focus on CSE again.
Tip: Do not get distracted from other exams and loose focus on CSE. One should always ensure preparation is continuous and consistent. And do not loose the faith in your ability to clear the exam if you fail few times. However, your experience in other jobs always helps you in future.
The pressure to go back to work started increasing from parents and relatives. And I did search job again after a gap of almost three years. I got job as lecturer in computer science at Govt of Karnataka again and with 2-3 hours of teaching everyday, I could study for 5-6 hours per day for the exam. I made a group of 4 friends and decided to write one answer on a topic everyday. We chose a topic and wrote answer and uploaded in online by 9 pm each day. Then, we did Skype or Hangout to discuss the same for 30 min after 10 pm. This was consistent for almost 6 months. We covered all the topics in the syllabus for both GS and optional paper. Took Prelims Test Series to check the preparation and ensure I got more than 110 marks in each test. I wrote prelims by applying leave of 6 days. I could revise most of the basic subjects in 6 days. I cleared Prelims. I did join Mains Test Series and took weekly tests without missing any test. After Mains, I had so much time till Prelims. I applied for internship at Ministry of Rural Development. I was fortunate to get a call from the Private Secretary of the Minister to join for internship in his office. I was in Delhi again for three months sitting with a senior IAS officer and learn many things which are not thought in books. Mains results came somewhere in March first week. And I failed in the Mains for the second time in my third attempt. I felt very miserable.
Tip: Sometimes you fail even when everything you did is perfect. But nothing is perfect until you better yourself relatively when compared to others. This exam is all about relative performance. You should do a consistent preparation over a 10-12 months and remember the stuff required for the exam even when you sit in the exam hall with all pressure inside you.
I did watch many motivational videos and read some books to keep up the motivation levels after all this. Almost everyone among friends and family gave up that I will clear the exam. I started going jogging everyday in the morning. Started to play badminton. Stopped talking about the exam with friends. Congratulating friends who cleared the exam became routine and also, commenting on their training pics in Facebook also became normal. But I always believed myself. I stopped expecting others to certify me. I felt I am competing with myself. I started to study from 4 am to 9 am; 6 pm to 12 pm along with work. I did follow same method of writing answer on one topic everyday. This time I did better. I prepared mind maps in one page about almost all the topics in the syllabus. I gave atleast 20 tests for optional subject and 30 essays before Mains. I wrote again for the 4th time! I felt I did better. I cleared Mains.
Tip: Believe in yourself when you are down. Its your ability to raise again when the opponent in the ring knocks you down, matters. You are not lost, if you can raise again!
I started my UPSC interview preparation. I could see many positive changes in my personality. Added my work experience in village panchayats and at Ministry of Rural Development to the biodata in Mains Detailed Application Form (DAF). I took 4-5 mock interviews at Delhi. I met atleast 10 officers and took tips from them for the interview. I gave the interview which lasted for 25 minutes. My work experience and calm nature during the interview helped to get good marks. Finally I cleared the UPSC CSE. And joined 90th Foundation Course at Mussourie on 7th September, 2015. That was the beginning of another journey which is far more interesting and challenging. I will write about training and first posting in my next post.
If you have any questions, you can send a direct message at Instagram page @harishn25 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Harish Y N,
Ministry of Finance, New Delhi