Satya Nadella as Microsoft CEO: What the rise of a non-IITian tells us.

Editorial in Economic Times dated Feb 6, 2014
Now that we have cheered ourselves hoarse over the elevation of an Indian to the top of the fourth-largest company in the world by market capitalisation, it is time to ask if there is anything to learn from Satya Nadella’s rise. 

Microsoft is full of brainy graduates of India’s premier institutions of engineering, the IITs, besides graduates of the best schools of many other countries. Yet, Nadella, from a relatively humble Manipal Institute of Technology, has been chosen to lead Microsoft at a time of great challenge. Not that his engineering skills are in question. Rather, his non-engineering talents seem to have helped him vault over droves of talented nerds. 

Young Satya, we are told, was an all-rounder at school. He played a lot of cricket, played pranks, loved music, was a champion debater and a good student, but not at the top of his class. And he fell in love with, wooed and married a girl who was a junior both at school and college. This is not the picture of the ideal student most Indians have in mind: disciplined, focused souls who curb every natural instinct to explore the world outside their study material and are exemplars of filial piety, especially when it comes to marriage. 

It is perhaps likely that such curbing of curiosity, rebellion and non-scholastic interests allows bright minds to game the tough entrance test for IITs, but robs them of, at least, a part of their creative instincts and ability to innovate and experiment. The new economy calls for not just hard-core technical skills but for the ability to think out of the box, to innovate and to take calculated risks. We need to ask whether the IIT culture is stripping some of our brightest youngsters of a major part of their potential.

We need many more quality educational institutions. Education itself must change from mastering texts to questioning knowledge as it exists, so as to create it anew, and to add to it. This calls for a change of culture in general, in how schools are run, in relative salaries of teachers vis-a-vis others. We need armies of toiling engineers, but we need our share of Nadellas, too. 

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