” Every man who has become great owes his achievement to incessant toil.” – Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya
Indians for decades have been playing an important role in the global technology landscape. While CEOs from various walks of life have made a mark in IT, engineering is the most common undergraduate degree to attain the top leadership rank. The reason why their success needs to be celebrated is that these leaders have made an incredible mark in the tech world with their unique leadership style and tech acumen, playing a vital role in the growth of their respective organizations and to the society.
Every year on 15 September, India observes Engineer’s Day to remember the birth anniversary of Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, one of the greatest nation builders who contributed to the field of engineering and education. On Engineers’ Day 2021, let’s travel back in time and look at some of the India-born leaders who started as engineers and have made it big in the world of computing and technology and have made us proud, many still at the helm. (Names given in alphabetical order)
Ashoke Soota, Tech Visionary, Co-Founder Happiest Minds Technologies
A veteran of India’s thriving IT industry, Ashok Soota has rightly proved that age is just a number. At 68, Ashok started Happiest Minds, and in September 2020 — at the age of 77 — he successfully took it public. He helped nurture Wipro in its early days, and launched Mindtree, and took it public in 2007.
Born in 12 November 1942, Soota spent his childhood in what is now the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, his father was a doctor in the British Indian army. He received his Bachelor of Electronics degree in 1964 from IIT-Roorkee and in 1973, pursued his MBA from the Asian Institute of Management, Manila, Philippines.
Soota began his career with the Shriram Group of Companies after completing his engineering and in 1985, he was hired by Azim Premji to build Wipro’s IT business. Over the next half a decade or so, Soota virtually became Wipro’s poster boy, and served as President of Wipro Infotech from till 1999. Under his watch, Wipro’s IT business revenue scaled from USD 2 million in 1984 to a USD 500 million run-rate in a span of 15 years.
His career took a fresh turn in 1999 when he founded Mindtree at the age of 57, along with 10 senior executives from a number of companies including Wipro. The next decade or so saw Mindtree go from strength to strength till it became one of the most successful stories in India’s mid-tier IT space. In 2007, as the founding chairman and Managing Director of Mindtree, Soota, successfully took Mindtree public.
In 2011, Soota co-founded Happiest Minds Technologies in Bangalore, with the mantra that companies should focus on making their employees happy, who will then make customers happy. Over the last three years, Happiest Minds’ revenue growth was roughly 20 percent versus about 8-10 percent for the industry. Its annual revenues now have hit that USD 100 million mark.
Arvind Krishna, CEO, IBM
Arvind Krishna was born in a small town of Elaru in Andhra Pradesh. The 57-year old CEO of IBM is an alumnus of IIT Kanpur where he pursued a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. After moving to the US, Krishna also completed his PhD from the University of Illinois in electrical engineering. Krishna, who joined IBM 29 years back, hasn’t worked in any other company in his entire lifetime, his LinkedIn profile says.
He was appointed the CEO of IBM in January 2019 and replaced Ginni Rometty who has taken an exit from IBM after working for eight years. On Krishna’s appointment, Rometty said, “Arvind is the right CEO for the next era at IBM.”
Prior to becoming the CEO, Krishna was the senior vice president of Cloud and Cognitive Software at IBM. He also holds numerous distinguished alumni awards from Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur and the University of Illinois. Additionally, he is also a co-author of around 15 patents.
Azim Premji – Founder-Wipro, Investor, Philanthropist
Azim Hashim Premji is an Indian business tycoon, investor, philanthropist and the chairman of Wipro Limited. He was responsible for guiding Wipro through four decades of diversification and growth, to finally emerge as one of the global leaders in the software industry.
Born in 1945 in Mumbai to an entrepreneur father Mohamed Hashem Premji, Premji went to the US to study Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University but on the news of his father’s death, the then 21-year-old Azim Premji returned home to take charge of the family’s cooking oil business. Though it took him 30 years to be able to shell out time to study again, he did complete the Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University.
Azim Premji took over his late father’s business (Western Indian Vegetable Products Ltd began in 1945) and diversified into other products such as hydraulic cylinders, soaps, and lighting products. In 1977, he renamed his company as Wipro. After IBM withdrew its computer business from India, Premji’s company started with manufacturing microcomputers under an agreement with US-based Sentinel Computers and soon diversified into providing software solutions in addition to its hardware operations. In 1999, Wipro became the only Indian computer manufacturer to receive Y2K-compliant certification from the National Software Testing Laboratory in the US.
Premji is known to live a simple lifestyle. His employees speak about his honest, modest, frugal ways of dealing in office. Wipro has an innovation centre in Silicon Valley, which is focused on developing new technologies and collaborating with startups. Premji’s elder son Rishad succeeded his father as Wipro’s executive chairman in July 2019.
Azim Premji’s philanthropic arm ‘Azim Premji Foundation’ was founded in 2001 and it works in the area of elementary education, focusing on rural areas to enhance the quality and equity of school education.
Jayashree Ullal, president and CEO, Arista Network
Jayshree Ullal is the president and CEO of Arista Networks, a cloud networking company. Ullal was born in London, and raised in New Delhi, India, through her school years. She eventually attended San Francisco State University where she graduated with a B.S. in engineering (electrical). She went on to Santa Clara University where she received a master’s degree in engineering management. Ullal began her career with engineering and strategy positions at AMD and Fairchild Semiconductor. She was also named by Forbes magazine as “one of the top five most influential people in the networking industry”.
Kirthiga Reddy, Venture Partner for Softbank
Kirthiga Reddy is venture partner for Softbank’s $100 billion Vision Fund. Reddy is Softbank’s first female investing partner and the former managing director of Facebook India, where she played a key role in supporting the company’s growing number of users, advertisers and developers worldwide. Kirthiga also had a stint in Phoenix Technologies and Motorola. She holds an MBA from Stanford University, where she graduated with top honors as an Arjay Miller Scholar, an M.S. in Computer Engineering from Syracuse University and a B.E. in Computer Science from Ambedkar University, India.
Nandan Nilekani, Co-Founder, Infosys, visionary and technocrat
Nandan Nilekani also known as the man behind the IT boom is an Indian entrepreneur, technocrat and educationist, who is currently the Chairman of UIDA, the Unique Identification Authority of India. He is the member of the Board of Governors of the IIT, the Indian Institute of Technology. Along with that he is the head of TAGUP (Government of India’s technology committee).
He graduated in 1978 from the Indian Institute of Technology (Mumbai) with a degree of Electrical Engineering. After his graduation Nandan applied at Patni Computers where his interviewer was N R Narayana Murthy who later became his guide and guru. Upon his resignation from Patni Computers in 1981, the entire division followed suit.
Nandan co-founded Infosys in 1981 that had a humble beginning but saw immense success due to the hard work, commitment and exceptional skills of Nandan Nilekani along with other founders of course that also included his mentor, Murthy. The company became the top most name in the Indian IT industry for the nest twenty years. He contributed to the company on various positions including managing director, president and chief operating officer. In March 2002, Nandan assumed the responsibilities of CEO of Infosys after Murthy left the post. He became the head of UIDA in 2009 as the Cabinet Minister, a post that he still has. He is also the president of NCAER (National Council of Applied Economic Research) and the member of the board of governor of ICRIER (Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations). He is also on many advisory boards including the Bombay Heritage Fund and the World Economic Forum. Nandan also co-founded NASSCOM and TIE (The Indus Entrepreneurs).
Narayana Murthy, Co-founder – Infosys, visionary leader and mentor
N.R.Narayana Murthy is the legendary cofounder and retired chairman of Indian technology giant Infosys. After completing his studies in electrical engineering from Mysore and an M. Tech from Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, Narayana Murthy served as a Research Associate at IIM Ahmadabad. He then served as a chief systems programmer there. He got the opportunity to work on India’s first time sharing a computer system. He successfully designed and implemented the BASIC interpreter for the ECIL (Electronic Corporation of India Limited)
His first set up was a company named as Softronics. The company failed terribly within one and a half year of operations. He later joined Patni Computer Systems, Pune. It was in the year 1981 that he started Infosys. Murthy served as the CEO from the years of 2002 to 2011.
Narayana Murthy along with six other IT professionals established Infosys in the year 1981. The initial capital investment was of Rs. 10,000 only, offered to him by wife Sudha Murthy, a renowned social worker and an author by profession. Murthy handled the position of CEO of Infosys for around 21 years. This position was later given to the co-founder of Infosys Nandan Nilekani.
He is known for his work in the field of designing and implementation of the Global Delivery Model. He handled the position of Chairman from the year2002-2006. After this, he became the chief mentor.
Murthy stepped down as chairman in 2011 after 30 years with the company and took the title of Chairman of Emeritus. He returned in 2013 to hand over management to a professional CEO in 2014. In 2013, Narayana Murthy was appointed for the position of Executive Chairman and Additional Director for the duration of 5 years.
Narayana Murthy is listed among the top 12 greatest entrepreneurs in the Fortune magazine. He has been named as the Father of Indian IT sector by the Time Magazine for his remarkable contribution to the sector of outsourcing in India. Prestigious awards like Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan has been given to him.
Nikesh Arora, CEO, Palo Alto Networks
Born in 1968 in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, Nikesh Arora completed his engineering from IIT-BHU, Varanasi before starting his first job at Wipro, where he used to sell computers to government departments, which he quit before going to the US at the age of 21.
In the US, he completed his MBA from Northeastern University, Boston. In 1992, Arora got his first job at Fidelity Investments where he got the opportunity to lead the finance team. After leaving Fidelity Investments as the vice president of finance, Arora joined T-Mobile in 1994 where he worked for four years before joining Google as the chief business officer. Notably, during his time at Google, Arora was the highest-paid employee of the company.
After working for more than nine years at Google, Arora then joined Japenese investment firm Softbank as the president and COO. In June 2018, Palo Alto Networks appointed him as the CEO of the company. At that time, media reports highlighted that Arora got a paycheck of $128 Mn at Palo Alto Networks.
Padmashree Warrior – Founder, CEO and President of Fable Group
Born in 1961 in Vijayawada, India, Padmasree Warrior gained a degree in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi in 1982 before moving to the US and graduating from Cornell University with masters in chemical engineering. From Cornell, Warrior started her 23-year-career with Motorola in 1984. Starting out as only one of a few women at the company’s Arizona facility, she rose through the ranks. Warrior served as general manager of Motorola’s Energy Systems Group, as well as chief technology officer of its Semiconductor Products department and general manager of Thoughtbeam before it was shut down.
In 2003, Warrior became a senior vice president and Motorola’s chief technology officer, before being promoted to executive vice president in 2005. Under her tenure, Motorola won the National Medal of Technology from the President of the United States for the first time in 2004. Warrior remained chief technology officer at Motorola until 2007. She held executive positions at Cisco Systems from 2008 to 2015, including roles as its Chief Technology Officer and Strategy Advisor. In 2019, she started her entrepreneurial venture Fable that is aimed at improving cognitive fitness and is currently is Founder, President and CEO.
Parag Agrawal, CTO, Twitter
Parag Agrawal is the current chief technology officer of Twitter. He is responsible for Twitter’s Technical Strategy, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Consumer, Revenue and Science teams. An engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Tiwari has been with Twitter since 2011. Prior to this Tiwari has also worked with Microsoft, AT&T and Yahoo’s research teams.
Rajeev Suri, Ex-CEO, Nokia
Born in New Delhi in 1967, Suri completed his bachelor’s in electronics and communication engineering from Manipal Institute of Technology in 1989 and got his first job as a production engineer at Calcom Electronics. Suri was appointed as CEO of Inmarsat in February 2021. He was previously the CEO of Nokia until 31 July 2020. Before being appointed Nokia’s CEO in May 2014, he was the CEO of Nokia Solutions and Networks from 2009 and held various positions within Nokia since 1995.
Ruchi Sanghvi – First Female Engineer Hired by Facebook
Born in 1982 in Pune, India, Ruchi Sanghvi became Facebook’s first female engineer, joining the social network in 2005. Sanghvi moved to the US and gained a bachelors and masters degree in electrical computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in 2004. She worked at Oracle before breaking the male-dominated engineering mould by joining Facebook in 2005. She left Facebook in 2010 and a year later founded Cove and later with two other co-founders. The company was sold to Dropbox in 2012 and Sanghvi joined Dropbox as VP of Operations. In 2016, Sanghvi established South Park Commons, a residential and professional tech space that functions similarly to a hackerspace.
Sabeer Bhatia – Co-founder Hotmail.com
This Indian-American businessman co-founded the webmail company Hotmail.com. Born in 1968 in Chandigarh, Sabeer Bhatia moved to the US in 1988 to study at the California Institute of Technology transferring from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science. Bhatia then went on to obtain a masters in electrical engineering from Stanford University. Thereafter, Bhatia briefly worked for Apple Computer as a hardware engineer before moving to a Cannon subsidiary FirePower Systems Inc.
He, along with his colleague Jack Smith, set up Hotmail on 4 July 1996, American Independence Day, symbolizing “freedom” from ISP-based e-mail and the ability to access a user’s inbox from anywhere in the world. As President and CEO, Bhatia led Hotmail until its eventual acquisition by Microsoft in 1998 for an estimated $400 million. Bhatia worked at Microsoft for one year after the Hotmail acquisition and in April 1999, left Microsoft to start another venture, Arzoo Inc, an e-commerce firm. Bhatia started a free messaging service called JaxtrSMS.
Sanjay Mehrotra, CEO, Micron Technology
Sanjay Mehrotra is the current CEO of Micron Technology. Mehrotra joined Micron in May 2017, after a long and distinguished career at SanDisk Corporation where he led the company from start-up in 1988 until its eventual sale in 2016. In addition to being a SanDisk co-founder, Mehrotra served as its president and CEO from 2011 to 2016, overseeing its growth to an industry-leading Fortune 500 company.
Prior to SanDisk, Mehrotra held design engineering positions at Integrated Device Technology, Inc., SEEQ Technology and Intel Corporation. Mehrotra earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California, Berkeley and is a graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Executive Program (SEP). He served on the board of directors of Cavium, Inc., from 2009 to 2018. Mehrotra holds more than 70 patents and has published articles in the areas of nonvolatile memory design and flash memory systems.
Sundar Pichai – CEO, Alphabet Inc and Google
Born in July 1972 in Madurai, Sundar Pichai excelled in studies at his school — the Jawahar Vidyalaya in Chennai — and earned a seat at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, where he completed his B.Tech in metallurgical engineering.
During the course he won a scholarship to study materials science and semiconductor physics from Stanford University from where he went on to complete his M.S. While he had planned to pursue a PhD from Stanford, he dropped out and joined Applied Materials as an engineer and product manager. He eventually quit and pursued an MBA from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 2002.
Pichai joined Google as the President of product management in 2004. He was entrusted initially with Google Search toolbar and also went on and took charge of the search, Maps, research, Google+, Android, Chrome, infrastructure, commerce and ads, and Google Apps. Interestingly, Pichai was also the one at Google who came up with the idea of developing Google’s own browser.
In 2015, he was made the CEO of Google just when the company restructured to create Alphabet as the umbrella organization. Under his leadership, Google has been focused on developing products and services, powered by the latest advances in cloud computing and artificial intelligence.
On December 3, 2019, Pichai was finally named the CEO of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and stepped in to take over from Google cofounder Larry Page.
Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft
Born on August 19, 1967, Satya Nadella grew up in Hyderabad. He then went to earn his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Manipal Institute of Technology before heading to the US for higher education. In the US, Nadella completed his master’s degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and then earned an MBA degree from Chicago Booth School of Business.
After completing his college journey, Nadella got his first job at Sun Microsystems, an information technology service provider which was acquired by Oracle Corporation for $7.4 Billion in 2010.
The current Microsoft CEO joined the company as a young engineer in 1992. At that time, Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates was the CEO of the company. Initially, Nadella worked with Microsoft’s television projects and Windows NT operating system.
It was in 2000 when Nadella finally got an executive post when he was appointed as vice president of Microsoft Central. The next year Nadella was promoted to the vice president of Microsoft Business Solutions wherein he spearheaded numerous acquisitions for the company.
In 2007, he became the senior vice president of Microsoft Online Services where he was given the responsibility of heading Microsoft’s search engine Bing, gaming device Xbox Live, and enterprise tool Microsoft Office. Finally, in February 2014, Nadella was appointed as the CEO of Microsoft after the then CEO Steve Ballmer had announced his resignation in August 2013.
Nadella’s leadership styles have enabled Microsoft to re-emerge as an innovative and exciting tech company.
Shantanu Narayen, Chairman, President, CEO Adobe
Shantanu Narayen is the chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Adobe Inc, a software company with a diverse portfolio. Born in Hyderabad, from where he did his schooling, Narayen aspired to become a journalist. However, things took a sharp turn in his life as he finally decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in electronics and communication engineering from the city’s renowned Osmania University.
After completing his graduation, Narayen moved to the US to complete his master’s degree in computer science from Bowling Green State University and MBA from the University of California’s HaaS Business School.
Shantanu started his career by holding product development roles at Apple and Silicon Graphics, before cofounding photo-sharing startup Pictra. It was in 1998 when he joined Adobe as the vice president and general manager of its engineering technology group.
In 2005, Narayen became the president and COO of Adobe and was finally promoted to the role of CEO in 2007, thereby joining the list of Indian CEOs at major tech companies.
Vinod Dham – Father of the famous Intel Pentium processor
Born in 1950, Vinod Dham, known as the ‘Father of the Pentium Chip’ for his contribution to the development of Intel’s Pentium micro-processor. The Pune born entrepreneur graduated in electrical engineering from the Delhi College of Engineering is 1971, later moving to the US and gaining a master’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Cincinnati in 1977.
He specialized in solid state electronics – the core technology found in every smartphone and tablet computer as well as many laptops – working on flash memory at NCR Corporation before joining Intel. There he led the development of the Pentium processor, as well as co-inventing Intel’s first flash memory technology, before rising to the rank of vice-president of microprocessors.
Dham left Intel in 1995 ending up at Intel’s largest rival in the computer chip business AMD, before moving onto a series of startups and then becoming a venture capitalist focused on early stage startups in India.
He has received numerous recognition over the years. In the past he was named as one of the top 25 executives in the computer industry and one of the top 100 most influential Asian Americans. Recently Dham has been highlighted amongst the Indian Americans who have helped shape America, at the storied Smithsonian in Washington DC.
Vinod Khosla – Entrepreneur, Investor and Technologist
Born in 1955 in Delhi, India, Khosla was inspired into a career in technology by reading about the founding of Intel in 1968 at the age of 14. He gained a degree in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi before moving to the US to obtain a masters in biomedical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and a masters from the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1980.
In 1980, leaving academia, Khosla joined electronic design automation company Daisy Systems before leaving in 1982 to co-found Sun Microsystems along with Stanford alumni Scott McNealy and Andy Bechtolsheim, as well as Bill Joy. There Khosla served as Sun’s chief executive until 1984.
Khosla joined Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm, as a general partner in 1987 investing in technology firms and Indian finance companies. Khosla then left the company in 2004 to start his own venture capitalist firm, Khosla Ventures, which manages around $1bn of investment capital and invests in clean technology and information technology startups. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair joined Khosla Ventures in 2010, advising on environment-focused investments.
Thomas Kurian – CEO of Google Cloud
Kerala-born Thomas Kurian is being hailed as the brain behind Google Cloud’s turnaround story. At a young age of 17 he moved to the United States and graduated from Princeton with a bachelors degree in electrical engineering Thomas Kurian’s corporate life started in 1996 at Oracle holding various positions in product management and development.
Kurian became Vice-President of Oracle’s eBusiness division and focused on giving Oracle a strong presence over the internet. He then took the responsibility for Oracle Fusion Middleware product portfolio which later became Oracle’s fastest-growing business and industry’s leading middleware product suite.
After spending 22 years in Oracle, in November 2018, Kurian joined Google’s Cloud organization and within a year he was promoted to senior vice president. He became the CEO of Google Cloud in January 2019.
(This is an excerpt from ‘Techtonic Shift: A Brief History of Computing and the Web’ by Sohini Bagchi, Editor, CXOToday.com. The book is published by . You can get a copy of the book with Orange Publishers and on Amazon.in to read about tech CEOs and their inspiring stories as well as many other interesting technology events)