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Whose glory are we basking in?

November 30, 2021

Twitter just got a brand new CEO. An Indian-born American and an alumni of IIT Bombay. A noticeable pattern: Microsoft – Satya Nadella, Alphabet – Sundar Pichai, IBM – Arvind Krishna, and now a welcome addition to the league of US tech companies run by Indian-born IIT graduates. This news has been quite a subject of debate and argument among my friends and being an IITian myself, I felt it my responsibility to clear up few misconceptions and put forth some context.

Now, you may have noticed how I took care of mentioning “Indian-born”. Because none of these people are solely Indian citizens and yet, media houses and Indian netizens are continuously glossing over the menial fact that they were born in India and studied at IITs. That’s preposterously and highly ludricous at so many levels. In this totally unplanned post, I just want to say a couple of things.

Screengrab of Patrick Collison’s tweet.

Screengrab of Patrick Collison’s tweet.

THE ACTUAL REALITY

Let me put this in perspective: From a population of over 1.3 billion, that’s 1,300,000,000 people, occassionally comes one smart guy who goes to another country to lead a company and contribute to their GDP. Instead of shaming over and really putting our thoughts as to our deficiency as a country to retain that mind, we are basking in misplaced glory and pride. What have we achieved? What are we proud of, really?

“Your personal experiences with money make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world, but maybe 80% of how you think the world works.”

— Morgan Housel

Our minds are incredible at fooling itself into believing it knows sufficiently to form a sound opinion on a matter. That is the gist of what is wrong with Indians today. Words-of-mouth, herd psychology, incentives, a general aversion to seeking out real knowledge in books and libraries, and a systemic training to suppress original thinking.

If one asks a US citizen to summarize their views on India, this might be what it would be:
Third world country. Cheap labour. Corruption. Taj Mahal. Road side paan spits. And occassionally a tech graduate from an IIT who pays my paycheck.

NOTHING HAS CHANGED

The point is, nothing has changed. Taxpayers money are still unable to target rural areas and primary sections, places where money should really go if we are to ensure Indians stay in India. An urban dweller tech grad would have zero incentive to stay in the country while they eye lucrative packages, a higher standard of living, and a developed country.

Financially, we lag miserably. Money poured into IITs and IIMs are a fraction of what is invested in the Ivy Leagues. Less than 0.5% of the budget is continuously allocated for fundamental research in the country. Excuse me but that’s pathetic. The success of the US stems from effective judicial and administrative systems (also the WWs) which facilitated extensive research in the 40s-50s, a cause of the digital revolution. None of the companies IITians run today were existent 20 years ago. We have a severely skewed sense of value creation and we pay for it.

GETTING A JOB != INVENTING A JOB

Now, let’s dismantle the hype around the word CEO. It’s very cool if you become one. Especially cool if it’s one of the tech companies today. But CEOs are not autonomous bodies that have free decision-making powers. They are answerable to a board of directors. Answerable to shareholders, the media, and the public – the consumer.

CEOs are people handed down responsibility of a company. But who came up with the idea of the company in the first place? Who thought that people might want to express their thoughts in 140 characters or indexing web pages would be helpful to people? Who saw the value before it was existent?

I heard this dialogue in David Finch’s “The Social Network”,

“Harvard undergraduates believe that inventing a job is better than finding a job”. ~The Social Network, 2010

I have forgotten much of the movie but this has stayed with me. It’s something to be quite thoughtful about. Why are Indian undergrads so damn crazy about getting a job? Systemic destruction of promoting original thinking at our beloved primary education system.

Post on Linkedin.

Post on Linkedin.

WRONG PERCEPTION OF IITs

These news would create a wrong perception of IITs which would send demands for getting into one sky-rocketing, leading to more cut throat competition in the already jostling environment of JEE preparations.

To all prospective aspirants and especially parents:
Fact: IITs are premier engineering and technical institutes of India.
Not fact: IITs are magical marvel institutes which will ensure handsome packages and US citizenship.

CLOSING WORDS

And yet, after all this, I’m optimistic. Take a look at this post by Prof. V. Ramgopal Rao, Director, IIT Delhi. Focus on the 3rd point.

Post of Director, IITD on Linkedin.

Post of Director, IITD on Linkedin.

The Indian startup ecosystem is booming. The Indian markets will heavily reward innovative solutions. What we need is an ability for the next generation of nation builders to figure out what people want and deliver them at scale. Steve Jobs said once,

“People don’t know what they want until we show them.”
~Steve Jobs

I have no doubt, when we augment real value creation with our Indian training as hard workers, we would emerge in our most deserving colours. So, when Christopher Nolan depicted an Indian drone in the wheatfield scenes in the futuristic world of his movie “Interstellar”, he may have correctly prophesied our technological dominance.

FOOTNOTE

  1. This is an unplanned draft which did not undergo the usual cycle of reviewing and editing. Some text maybe suboptimal; factually, grammatically, and/or conceptually.

Basil | @itbwtsh

Tech, Science, Design, Economics, Finance, and Books.
Basil blogs about complex topics in simple words.
This blog is his passion project.