Middle-Class IITians and Engineers from Regional Colleges Write Their Own Success Stories in USAnil Menon, one of the senior most officers at Ciscso, described education as his salvation and only security that nobody could take away from him. He lived typical middle-class days while growing up in Mumbai. In fact, middle class upbringing with emphasis on education has been part of many successful Indians like him.

Satya Nadella, newly-appointed Microsoft CEO, is one such ordinary person to have joined the bandwagon of a few successful Indians raised in middle-class family with emphasis on education.

Their remarkable success on the global platform proves that success has no fixed formula. We strive to get an insight into their unprecedented achievements and discuss similarities they share with each other at the forefront of top US companies.

Deepak Visweswaraiah, Managing Director of NetApp (India), asserts that in spite of a good number of Indians from financially-sound background, Indians who are making their presence felt at the forefront of top US companies are mostly from middle-class.

He also talked about his firm’s executive vice-president and another guy in line with top job in the firm. Both are Indians and come from similar backgrounds.

The founder of NetApp, George Kurian’s father was an executive with Graphite India, Bangalore. George’s brother, Thomas is an executive vice-president at Oracle.

Padamshree Warrior’s father was a professor while Nikesh Arora’s father was an officer in Indian Air Force. Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella’s father was an IAS officer.

However, this elite middle-class would come with many implications before liberalization. Education would top the list followed by pressure to outsmart others in the race. In fact, before liberalization, middle class kids could not afford to fail in education because that was all they had to excel in their careers.

“My goals were simple when I came here: I had to get through two years, I had to make sure I didn’t run out of money, I had to make sure I did well, and I had to make sure I was able to return his money (Arora’s father loaned him $3,000, his life-savings). Failure was not an option,” said Arora, the most important executive in Google right now after founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Founded in 1950s, IITs became the best bet for all these achievers in pre—90s Indian era. Although many other options in education mushroomed after liberalization, IITs continued to churn out the best engineers of the world. Indian’s fascination with IITs grew with time and with 500,000 candidates writing the entrance exam for over 9,000 seats in 17 IITs in 2012, we can only wonder over its growing popularity.

“The best and brainiest among them (Indians in the US) seem to share a common credential: they’re graduates of the IITs. The quality of education at IIT is extremely high, but more important is the selectivity. When you take the best and brightest of a country the size of India, you’re already getting the cream of the crop. And you end up seeing a lot of them come to the US to topnotch universities,” said Oracle’s vice-president Sonny Singh.

However, the recent appoint of Satya Nadella as Microsfot CEO proved that not all success stories can be from IITs only. Satya Nadella is an alumnus of Manipal Institute of Technology.

Cisco’s Warrior’s and Google’s senior Vice Presidents are both alumni of Manipal Institute of Technology.

“While the curriculum is rigorous and challenging, I think I benefitted most from being challenged by a lot of smart people around me. So, when I came to Berkeley to do my PhD, it wasn’t as difficult a transition as it might otherwise have been,” said Ramesh Govindan, an IIT-Madras alumnus and professor of computer science at University of Southern California.

Such is the clout of IITians in the US that if one moment a student is graduating the other they are working in the country with any leading global giant of their choice.

“Many American cities have pan-IIT alumni chapters, while in places like the Bay area in San Francisco individual IITs have active chapters. For example, at an IIT-Madras alumni meeting there, at least 100 people turn up. That’s also a factor in the continuance of the success of IITians in the US,” said R. Nagarajan, dean (international and alumni relations), IIT-Madras.

In fact, it is not just the tag of IITs that have US companies running after IITians. Indian graduates are believed to have certain qualities, which are hard to find elsewhere.

“There are attributes he has noticed among Indian students that sets them apart from other foreign students. These include superb written and spoken English, familiarity with textbooks, technical papers and online courses, and experience with modern software technologies. The hunger to succeed among first-generation immigrants holds as true for Indians. Extending this to the analysis about why Indians are occupying senior positions in more and more Fortune 500 technology companies. Many learn disciplines in addition to their undergraduate majors – some computer science graduates also learn, informally or formally, about business, law or even medicine,” Mani Chandy, professor emeritus of computer science at California Institute of Technology, said.

Living and studying in India also helped many achievers learn some life-skills that they picked up outside their classrooms.

“I think playing cricket taught me more about working in teams and leadership that has stayed with me throughout my career,” said Satya Nadella.

A deep insight into US corporate and university culture made the success journey of Indians easy.

“In my experience, the key to the success of Indians is that deep down they have developed a confidence, not just in their abilities, but in the fact that if you put in the hours, the system will reward you,” said Menon.

“When my family went to America, we left behind a system in which people are often denigrated because of their caste, religion, language or skin colour. The US, of course, has its own deeply troubled history with regard to race, but its path has tended toward more equality,” wrote author Suketu Mehta.
This post was published by Rakesh Singh, The product head at askIITians and an IIT- Delhi and IIM-Kozhikode alumni.

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