Business & Economy

India’s student elite dreams of emulating Google, Microsoft CEOs

By David Asta Alares

New Delhi, Feb 12 (EFE).- As Indian engineers seem to be dominating the Silicon Valley, with some of the biggest tech companies such as Microsoft, Google and now even Twitter being headed by Indians, their success has inspired the most qualified students from the South Asian nation to seek careers abroad.

The chairman and CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella and Google CEO Sundar Pichai are set to receive one of India’s highest civilian honors soon, an evidence of the pride they evoke in this nation of over 1.35 billion people.

The success of Indian-origin executives has attracted significant media coverage back home, and when Parag Agarwal took over as the Twitter CEO in December, media outlets were quick to release updated lists of the most successful Indians abroad, which include Anjali Sud, the chief executive of video-sharing platform Vimeo.

Sumanta Manna and Pushpal Sabui, masters’ students specializing in textile engineering, are yet to decide whether they want to continue studying in India or go abroad.

“So according to our project we will decide if we need to stay in India or go abroad. (…) Overseas, we (can) get a broader kind of opportunity, other domains will be open for us,” Manna told EFE at a tea-stall outside the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi.

The institute is one of the 23 IITs spread across India, considered the country’s most prestigious and exclusive centers for science and education since they began to be established in 1950.

Millions of students vie for the around 15,000 seats in these institutes, with less than 1 percent getting through amid intense competition.

Securing a government job can be as hard, if not more.

Arjun, wearing a tracksuit and smoking at a small corner-shop in one of the narrow streets close to campus – full of students’ residences and private coaching centers – told EFE that his best bet for a future was to find a job in a state-controlled company.

Going abroad is too expensive for this postgraduate student, originally from the northwestern state of Rajasthan, while the private sector offers little security in India, according to him.

The Microsoft and Google CEOs are former IIT students, like many other Indian-origin executives overseas, and both Manna and Sabui cite the experiences of ex-students as a motivation for leaving the country.

According to academician Vivek Wadhwa, the co-author of a series of studies over the profiles of immigrant entrepreneurs in the United States, the dominance of Indian-origin executives is significant in Silicon Valley.

“More than 15 percent of Silicon Valley’s startups are founded by Indians. who constitute 6 percent of the working population” in the US, Wadhwa told EFE.

He said there were many possible reasons behind this overrepresentation, which is also evident in the political and university arenas.

“There are many lessons to be learned. The most important is that Indians in Silicon Valley did something they didn’t do in India: leave regional, caste, and religious differences aside and help each other,” the author said.

However, Harvard professor Vikram Patel insists that more than factors such as solidarity among each other, family values and work ethic – cited by some experts – it was something else that defined these go-getters.

“The ones who migrate to the west, you know, this is not an average Indian. In the last 50 years, the Indian migration to the West has been educated, privileged Indians to a large extent,” said Patel, adding that he was himself from a privileged family and had observed his peers over many decades while working abroad.

“They already are right at the top of the food chain, even in India,” he said, before explaining that these young professionals were leaving their country because their careers “are being obstructed by age or prejudices and hierarchies.”

Patel, a psychiatrist, also listed caste and excessive emphasis on seniority as well as corruption and growing religious divisions as some of the factors that push India’s elite students to head abroad.

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