LONG BEACH, Calif. The Indian Institute of Technology’s Southern California alumni gathered here Sept. 14 for a conference at the Long Beach Marriott with the main takeaway being that “nerdy engineers” from the “Ivy League school of India” have had a dramatic image makeover: to one of contemporary professional diversity. Now, IIT alumni are project consultants, internet entrepreneurs, global industry advisors and have amongst them a 2017 technical achievement Oscar winner and a chancellor of a major university in the area.

The day-long event featured talks with successful SoCal IITians as well as multiple panels discussing topics of relevance in today’s business world. The latter included such subject matters as ‘Our Amazing Infinite Universe,’ ‘Technology in Business,’ ‘Technology and Media,’ and ‘Reducing our Plastic Footprint.’ The panels were moderated by experts in the field: Hitesh Ahuja, Smita Bagla, Gunjan Bagla, Priyank Saxena and Vinatha Nathan.

Dr. Parag Havaldar from IIT Kharagpur, an active participant in the conference, is best known for winning the 2017 Oscar for Technical Achievement. He was recognized for the development of expression-based facial performance-capture technology at Sony Pictures ImageWorks.

The highlight, of course, were the conversations with two IIT stalwarts: Ananth Krishnan, VP and CTO of Tata Consultancy Services; and Dr. Pradeep Khosla, Indian American Chancellor of the University of California, San Diego. 

Krishnan spoke about his company at the chat facilitated onstage by Gunjan Bagla. “TCS has been in the USA for 40 years and the U.S. is our most significant international market accounting for more than half of our revenues,” he noted. “ In the last five years we have made significant efforts to increase our footprint in America in terms of local hiring. We have been a significant presence in U.S. campuses as well as in the job market. Close to 15K Americans have found employment with us. We have been rated consistently in the top employers to work for. If anything, business is looking good for us.”

TCS’s footprint dominates the technology that is used to create end products. As Krishnan said, “This is like what Intel was to technology a decade ago. We heard the slogan ‘Intel Inside’ for computer products. Today, it is ‘TCS inside’ not just for computer products but across a wide range of business lines. It now behooves to say, ‘TCS Inside’ and soon we hope to say, ‘India Inside.’”

Vinatha Nathan moderated the discussion with Khosla. The chancellor talked about his strong belief in doing the right thing for the student body and the university as a whole. This is what triggered his announcement making UCSD a residential school where every student is guaranteed housing for the full 4 years, and at 20% below market cost.

On how he leads the institution, Khosla said, “My motto is to enable, empower and control nobody. Having said that, you cannot go to sleep, you need to have your finger on the pulse and the accountability of the organization; after all, we are talking about a $5.5 billion university. I must measure the progress of people.”

Interacting with people encompasses a large portion of day-to-day governance. Khosla likes to interact with nearly everyone who crosses his path—be it students, janitors, cafeteria workers, and this does not always go down well with senior level folks who feel that since these interactions are not with decision-makers they lead nowhere. “It is the lower level people who feel the pain and I want to decide whose pain we need to manage and how,” he said.

In Khosla’s playbook, UCSD’s strategic plan consists of four phrases: student centered, research focused, service oriented, public university, to which he has added a new vision of destination-destination for students and the local community.

This is what has allowed Khosla to cross hurdles: In 2012 UCSD launched a campaign to raise $2 billion for student support services, research and campus improvements in a decade’s time. On Aug. 19, 2019 the media reported that the university under Khosla’s leadership had raised $2.04 billion from individual donors.

Gunjan Bagla, at the conclusion of the conference, recognized all the volunteers who worked to put on such an invigorating event and welcomed everyone to participate and keep the contributions of the IITs alive. Lakshman Rao rendered the vote of thanks to all present. This was followed by an evening of fellowship wherein the IITians networked in true alumni fashion.

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