Most of you must be aware that Sundar Pichai was named CEO of one of the most admired companies of the world i.e. Google Inc. Recently the Google CEO paid a visit to IIT Kharagpur, his alma matter. There was also a Question & Answer (Q&A) session, which was moderated by InfoEdge MD & CEO Hitesh Oberoi, an IIT Delhi alumnus. The Q&A was a brilliant look into what Sundar Pichai believes in as a leader & what Google believes in as a company. It was a session filled with fun, facts & a lot of positive encouragement.
While the questions started off on a light note, there were many serious ones too. Sundar’s reply to each of them was very interesting & insightful. For you to find out for yourself, here’s a brief account of the session.
About Sundar Pichai & life at Google
Q. Did you do any crazy stuff during your time at IIT Kharagpur? Were you ragged?
A. Well, we used to bunk morning classes at times, due to our late night discussions. But I was surrounded by great folks. I have my best memories with my wingmates. As for ragging, it was very mellow during our times. We used to have “C.G Change” (Centre of Gravity Change), as it was internally called. C.G Change was when we returned to our rooms, the locks were still there, but our stuff was completely rearranged inside. Sometimes we had to carry senior’s luggage at times as a part of ragging (to another question).
Q. How was the mess food back then?
A. The mess staff was great. About the food, we used to guess whether it was Daal or Sambhar.
Q. 10 years after IIT, you joined Google. And 10 years later, you are running it. What according to you drives innovation at Google?
A. We always have an encouraging approach, internally called as 10x or moonshots. We try to build things which will be used every day and will apply to billions and most importantly solve real problems. We believe in aiming high, high enough to fail. If one works on really difficult things they have less competition. Even if they fail they will end up doing something great. that’s what drives things at Google. The products we develop should apply to billions of people. Take Google’s Maps for example, understanding the world around you applies to everyone.
Q. 10-15 years ago where did you think you’d be? And 10 years from now where do you think you will be?
A. 10 years is a big thing; things change a lot in 10 years. What matters is I love to build products for people and I hope 10 years from now I will still have chance to do that.
Q. What is Google’s next R&D product?
A. We have invested in Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence. We recently published a paper on early diagnosis of Diabetic Retinopathy which later grows into blindness using AI & ML. This will help in early detection & treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy by regular doctors. Google is not alone in these projects. But, AI & ML enthuse us a lot.”
Q. What role is Google playing in digitisation of India?
A. Google has been trying to work in as many languages as possible & we’ve made progress. We’re trying to bring down the smartphone prices to affordable numbers. Google has also been working on WiFi connectivity projects to bring internet access to as many as possible. We’re also working on a project called “Internet Saathi” which is aimed at teaching women how to use the internet. We’re also trying to help local merchant SMBs (Small & Medium Businesses) to come online.
Even Hitesh Oberoi brought up a few important questions on leadership & startups
Q. What is Sundar Pichai like, as a leader?
A. When you are trying to run 60k people, you have to rely on other leaders. So it’s more about empowering people and learning to let go; trusting them to do the right thing & remove roadblocks for them to be successful. Teamwork is very important & thus is setting up a collaborative culture.
Sundar Pichai’s views on Education, Technology & Indian Startups
Q. What has changed over the time that Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Machine Learning (ML) have picked up again?
A. Back then, computation was too limited to be able to appreciate ML & AI. So today, it has largely been due to dramatic advancements in computational power that we are able to actually put deep neural network algorithms to use. For example through application of Deep Learning (a branch of Machine Learning), improvement in results of Google Translate this year, were better than previous 10 years combined.
Q. What do you think about Startup India – the Government of India initiative?
A. The public-private partnership is amazing in India. We’ve worked on the Railway WiFi project in collaboration with Railtel. We’ve also worked on Aadhar & UPI in collaboration with NPCI. It’s very encouraging.
Q. Will India be able to catch up with China on Digital Front?
A. I think the goal should be different. But in 2-3 years, India will be competing with every other country globally. Startups in India are world class in the way they approach things & build products. So, it’s mainly a timing issue for now. They should just stay on it for a few more years.
Q. There are 5000 Engineering colleges. What would you recommend to them as far as education is concerned?
A. Indians have a tremendous respect for education and discuss a lot about it. But, Education here needs to evolve. It is important to be well rounded & try different things. In India, there is a lot of pressure to follow set lanes. Students should follow their passions more. These days, immediately after students enter IITs, they start thinking about IIMs. In the US most people don’t even choose their majors till they are in their final years. It’s okay to fail if you don’t get something. While getting into an elite institution matters, it never guarantees success. People from all walks of life are successful.
Students of IIT Kharagpur sought some tips about Career & Leadership, to which Sundar Pichai replied with utmost modesty. Here’s a few of them.
Sundar Pichai’s tips to the Students
Q. How can a student of Mathematics get into Google?
A. Machine Learning is all about mathematics & it is definitely easier to train a Mathematics student in it. So, they should keep doing what they’re doing.
Q. What tips would you want to give to the students?
A. I would really encourage people to let go of the pressure. Today students in India prepare for JEE from their 8th grade which is unbelievable. I just hope they are trying to understand things in a deeper manner. Also, keep your dreams! Most of how you want your life is up to you. Take the long term view. Setbacks won’t matter in the long run; it’s not the end of the road.
Q. Didn’t you face future insecurity as to whether ‘I will have a job or not?’
A. It’s a natural feeling when working with amazing people. It’s called Impostor’s Syndrome when people seem so good that you may feel that you don’t belong there. This is true for any elite institute. In fact, one should almost always try and feel like that in life & take it positively. Don’t feel very comfortable in what you are doing.
Q. How can we make our time at IIT valuable?
To which he replied, Don’t Overthink. Do what you like to spend time on, that should be the yardstick.
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