V Vaidyanathan, assistant vice president and head, global innovation office, Cognizant Technologies, is the chairman of the 'Innovation Track' at the Pan-IIT 2008 conference to be held in Chennai at IIT-Madras from December 19 to December 21.
In an e-mail interview with rediff.com, he speaks about Pan-IIT and the various ways in which IIT-ians have brought glory to India. Excerpts:
How do IIT-ians plan to give back to their country and to transform it?
A survey conducted as a part of Pan-IIT clearly brings that out. As we look ahead, the theme of Pan-IIT-2008 gives a flavour of the dimension in which it will happen. Creating and nurturing research and innovation eco-systems in India, driving entrepreneurship, leading large organisations, and direct contribution to nation building by way of participating in Policy making are some of the ways in which the IIT-ians are contributing to India.
This Pan-IIT-2008 conference reflects on that, brings it to foreground and intend to amplify it.
How do forums like the Pan-IIT help? What are the biggest achievements of the Pan-IIT?
The fact that IIT-ians form a significant part of the best brains of the country is well known. Forums like Pan-IIT bring them together and target it towards nation building. That is the significant role I see happening.
If IIT-ians are the 'bright Sun', Pan-IIT would be the lens which focusses it towards productive purpose.
What do you think is the biggest contribution of IIT-ians to India?
In India, they were (and are) part of leading and running major corporations and forefront of major scientific and research activity. From space science onwards, you would find IIT and/or IIT-ians engaged in foreground or background.
In the global arena, they are salient members of scientific and research community, leaders of corporations VCs and entrepreneurs. When one takes a broad view, the fact that they bring glory to the country of origin is something to feel proud of.
In difficult times like these, how do IIT-ians plan to help the industry, the country?
To my great surprise, I am finding IIT-ians in many different areas steering the ship. People like me are in the Industry ensuring that we continue to sail. There are many who are directly and indirectly involved at policy level and contribute.
What are the challenges that India faces in the new millennium? How can IIT-ians help address these challenges?
The new millennium heralds the time of India. This is our moment of opportunity to take our place under the sun. As indicated earlier, IIT-ians playing significant role in not only addressing the challenges, but also create and lead opportunities.
Where I see IIT-ians playing a significant role is in actually driving the solution.
What keeps India from becoming a product giant like it is in services?
Nothing prevents India from becoming a product giant. Most of the time it happens by first catering to the domestic market and then taking it to the global market. You already see evidence of that. As our economy grows, we will see more of it.
How do you contribute to the society, industry, IIT?
If it is a direct personal question, I do that in my own way. What I do it as 'social cause' is small (in relative terms) and personal. But what is important is what I do in a large way. I stand as an aspirational icon for budding youngsters, I use all my intellectual ability and hard work to continue to grow the business I work so that many people get as well as keep their jobs, by constantly being in touch with alma mater, I bring in what I see as relevant for the 'world' into focus for IIT. I being myself, bring pride to the institution of IIT.
What role can IIT-ians play to develop India as a knowledge economy?
I guess just accelerate what they are already doing and do more of it.
Many IIT-ians have preferred to go aboard rather than work in India. Do you think this trend will change in the wake of the recession?
That is a notion. The recent survey conducted as a part of Pan-IIT-2008 give numbers which tell a different story. More than 60% of IIT-ians are staying and working in India.
How important is innovation for an entrepreneurship to succeed?
Innovation is a necessary condition for a successful entrepreneurship activity.
What is it about IITs that sets its graduates apart from others?
The environment where the standards are high and non-negotiable, merit and excellence flows all around and enormous focus on critical thinking and abstract problem solving.
When you made it to IIT; what was that experience like?
Taking a first look at my child!! While 'pride' is an approximate moniker for it, it is much more complex than that.
Did you have any role model who inspired you in your career?
Many. Most of them were my teachers.
How did the IIT help build your career and personality? How does the IIT-ians network help?
IIT let me first realize two things: My ability is a lot more than what I thought, and I am at par if not better at global scale.
Once you realize that, then rest is how you deal with life as it comes. I haven't used my 'IIT network' explicitly for personal or professional gains. But, the association helped me do things and keep at higher end of excellence.
Could you tell us 5 things that young IIT-ians, entrepreneurs must do to succeed?
Take a broader view of things.
Realize that you have capacity to make a difference wherever you set your mind to.
You are somebody to reckon with and a role model. Understand the responsibility that comes with that.
You are here because of your passion and hard work. Keep that a life-long habit.
Make a difference.
What advice would you give today's IIT-ians who are tomorrow's entrepreneurs?
You can make money anyways; so don't worry about it. Do what you want to do because you are passionate about it, and because you can make a difference and bring a transformation for the better. That is the fun part.
Should India have more IITs? Why?
There are too many young minds of exceptional caliber, too many issues of significance to deal with and too few institutions of high excellence. Policy level facilitation have to be given to create many IIT-like institutions. We owe it to those bright minds.