SANTA CLARA, Calif. — A large number of Indian Institute of Technology graduates gathered at the Santa Clara Convention Center June 25 to take part in the inaugural IIT Bay Area Leadership Conference.

Titled “Journeys,” the conference was an occasion for many IIT graduates to share their journey from their college days in India to leadership positions.

A number of industry big-wigs, including the Indian American founder of the Symphony Technology Group, Romesh Wadhwani, gave keynote speeches. Additionally, lightning talks were presented by experts, as well as panel discussions on entrepreneurship and leadership topics.

Among the talks was “The IITs as a Startup: Learning from the Past to Shape the Future,” by Stanford Law School fellow Dinsha Mistree, whose father is an IIT alumnus.

Mistree believes that meritocracy and autonomy are the two reasons that IITs have been successful. IITs, bestowed with the autonomy to have their own governing structure, built a culture supportive of merit, he said.

The IITs received help from UNESCO, the U.S., Germany, Russia and the U.K. for a period of time, he went on. They had visiting faculty that helped with set-up, with the intention of putting IITs at par with the top rung international universities.

Mistree said that foreign visiting faculty had requested political insulation during their tenure and there was a healthy tension between government involvement and foreign assistance, giving the IITs the autonomy they needed to flourish.

He continued by saying the Indian government did not want the foreign advisers to stay too long.

Mistree concluded his talk with a call to action for the IIT alumni in attendance. He asked them to fight against the political encroachment and create a parallel funding channel.

Also during the conference, in his keynote, Steven Sinofsky, former president of the Windows division at Microsoft, said that IITs are the “shining jewel of the world.” Continuous interference from the government risks tarnishing these jewels. As Nehru has said, IITs are amongst the temples that modern India has created. It is ours to preserve and raise to the sky, not to be pulled down to earth by short-sightedness.

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