Mihir Sarkar: 10 Years

via Medium

Aug. 29, 2022


By Mihir Sarkar

10 years ago, on 17 July 2012, I defended my PhD dissertation in the amphitheater on the top floor of the Media Lab’s new E14 building, on the east side of the MIT campus. My PhD advisor, Barry (who invented Csound), had retired the year before and moved back to his native New Zealand. He joined on Skype. Mitch (who invented Scratch) chaired the committee. My third committee member, Chris (who invented JackTrip), long-time collaborator and supporter from Stanford and advisor to my first startup, completed the panel. I call my PhD committee members by their first name because that’s how I addressed them. In my 7+ years at MIT, they came to mean more to me than just professors, advisors, and colleagues.

The auditorium was decently filled, and many more people joined online for what was one of the first live streamed PhD defenses at the Media Lab. I tweeted about it with hashtag #worldmusictech. I had a tabla, which I barely played, as a prop on stage. The first few minutes were a flop: Barry was supposed to say a few introductory words about me, supposedly also as a morale booster, but because of a technical problem (he was remote), his mic didn’t pick up his voice, and he couldn’t hear us either. We waited in silence with resignation until his lips stopped moving. And then I spoke about my research…

Since then, I drove cross-country (almost — but that’s a story for another time) and moved to California; worked for a startup in music education, which went bust after barely 3 months of me joining; co-founded my own startup in online music collaboration, which ran out of money and steam before we got any traction (or product for that matter); started another startup where my partners dissolved the partnership without my prior knowledge; interviewed for and received an amazing job offer only to be told they wouldn’t accept my O-1A visa; tried consulting without much conviction or success; worked for yet another startup that almost left me with mild PTSD; in the meantime, I moved back to Europe (and then left the UK post-Brexit); dealt with family, health, financial, administrative issues (partly, but not solely, due to being an alien in the US)… We moved, took risks, failed, got up, and we’re still getting up. At the same time though, I mentored, taught, discovered, learned, and continued to create…

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