Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to offend University of Pennsylvania or IIT Kharagpur or Yahoo or any individuals or parties involved. The goal of this blog post is to point out some of the inefficiencies and acknowledge them as one of the motivations behind developing TrueCerts platform.
The year was 2005. I was applying for a PhD program in Computer Science in the top US universities. I have applied to 14 US universities. On Dec 2nd 2015, I received the following email (see the screenshot below) from the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), Penn Engineering, Office of Academic Programs, Graduate Admissions. I have redacted the name, email address and the phone numbers in the emails, to preserve their privacy.
Here are the photos of the original transcript (I received from IIT Kharagpur when I graduated) and the additional transcripts (I received from IIT Kharagpur when I requested them for my PhD application). They are all laminated by IIT Kharagpur and sent to me. Feel free to laugh at my appearance on the transcript. I do too 😉
IIT Kharagpur stated the following in their transcripts policy.
“Institute does not take responsibility of sending the duplicate copy of grade cards (transcripts) directly to other institutions/organizations, in connection with the applicants’ admission/employment etc.”
My reply to the above email and the response from UPenn are shown in the following screenshot.
In Summary, UPenn was concerned that my transcript was laminated and opened. Surprised by their response (“Your application will not go any further with the opened transcript”), I have spent couple of hours searching online and discovered that there is a lot of scam involving fake degrees and fake transcripts. There are “professionals” in India and China creating the “highest quality fakes”. These fake transcripts are often laminated. So, UPenn decided not to process any applications with opened and laminated credentials. All my credentials are valid and correct, but my application was not processed because IIT Kharagpur has no way to securely send valid transcripts and UPenn has no way to efficiently validate applicants’ transcripts.
I have applied to 14 universities and some of them rejected me because ‘they found a better candidate’ or ‘the research group was not looking for new PhD students’ etc etc. But my UPenn application not going further because of an inefficient and broken system is frustrating, to say the least.
After a week, I have recovered from this frustration and went back to my daily routine of reading research papers on Theoretical Computer Science. I said to myself “I will get into one of the remaining 13 universities and I have to focus on my research and resolve the P vs NP problem” 😉 I eventually got admission into GeogiaTech and a handful of other universities. I joined GeorgiaTech and did my research at the intersection of complexity theory, game theory, combinatorics, and structural graph theory.
On a lighter note: There is a simple way to verify that my transcript is valid — ‘Simply open it and look at my grades’. There are some really bad grades. My CGPA was just average. I have received a C grade in complexity theory (which later became my primary PhD thesis topic at GeorgiaTech). Nobody in their right senses would create a fake transcript with those grades 🙂 During the last decade, whenever I met any IITian I first set them up by telling my credentials (B-Tech from IIT Kharagpur, Masters from USC, PhD from GeorgiaTech, Taught at Princeton) and then I bet with them that their CGPA at IIT is greater than mine. I never lost till date. I take pride in this fact 😉 In my defense, I was an all-rounder at IIT Kharagpur, balancing studies, serving as a ‘secretary of fine arts, modeling and dramatics’ of my hostel, painting, learning guitar and many more things.
A second incident: During summer 2010 (at the end of my fourth year as a PhD student at GeorgiaTech), I was offered an internship at Yahoo labs and the Yahoo HR team wanted to verify all my credentials (my IIT B-Tech degree, USC Master’s degree, work experience). Yahoo uses a third-party service to rigorously verify all credentials of potential employees / interns. Yahoo fired their own CEOwhen they found out that he lied on his resume. This process is very rigorous, but very time-consuming. The verification of all my credentials took more than couple of months. Meanwhile, I was waiting with my fingers-crossed (figuratively speaking) and hoping these verifications happen soon, so that I can start my internship and earn some serious summer money for two months and see a bank balance of more than $1,000 dollars for the first time during my grad school 😉
Later that year, when I discovered Bitcoin white paperand the underlying Blockchain, my first thought was to use the technology to build a ‘document integrity platform’ to issue tamper-proof credentials(degrees, transcripts, employment certificates, Visas, Identity documents, driver’s license etc), which can be verified instantaneously and securely on the blockchain without compromising the privacy.
Early 2011, I got busy writing my PhD thesis and joined the CS department Princeton University in September 2011. I have spent the first couple of years teaching at Princeton, mining Bitcoin, keeping track of Blockchain news and hoping that somebody will develop a ‘document integrity platform’. To my relief, some entrepreneurs tried to develop a ‘credential verification solutions’. To my frustration, none of those solutions are perfect. So I started preparing myself to become a full-time entrepreneur (with several exciting startup ideas) and left Princeton in summer 2015. I hired a truck driver (driving towards west coast) and told him that I will meet him around Sunnyvale/Santa Clara/ San Jose area in couple of weeks. I drove my car for a week to reach the Silicon Valley.
Today, I am very glad that we have a complete data integrity solution (for universities, employers and enterprises) and I am very excited that we are preventing fraud and corruption in several areas using our TrueCerts platform.
Every week I read several stories about fraud and corruption online (Eg: the recent college admissions scandal). I approach the involved parties and explain how such instances can be rigorously prevented using technology.
I feel very fortunate to have discovered an exciting vision towards a fraud-free and efficient future. This discovery happened through the above mentioned unfortunate events and many more real-life experiences. Sometimes the most frustrating problems in your life are the biggest opportunities to develop a rigorous solution.