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August 16, 1999


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Tech Guru Dreams Beyond Silicon Valley

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Aseem Chhabra in New York

Rajiv Gupta If Hewlett-Packard's top computer designer, Rajiv Gupta had to write a screenplay based on his life, the treatment would read as follows.

The Year: 2005.

Hewlett-Packard's new Internet network-oriented language E-Speak has become the norm around the business world. Companies across the globe are using E-Speak to translate their new business ideas for the Internet into software code that link all the various elements of their commercial interests. E-Speak has become to the computer world, what the Web was for it in the 1990s.

Those pesky little competitors of Hewlett-Packard, based in Redmond, WA and the company that created the Java language in Palo Alto, CA are both adapting to the E-Speak technology.

And Rajiv Gupta? His team has successfully finished off the first phase of E-Speak ("Like the web, it will never be complete," he says. "People will continue to add new technologies and new nuances to it.") Now he is set to launch a new stage in his life cycle.

Rajiv Gupta and wife Debra
with their two daughters Veda and Anya There are plans to start new Internet-related businesses. But more important, Gupta and his British wife Debra have unveiled a plan to start a free school for underprivileged children in India.

In the image of the Shantiniketan institution, this school will place equal emphasis on the arts, the environment, morality and values, as well as mathematics, sciences and of course computers.

"What motivates me is making an impact," Gupta, father of Veda, three-year-old and 15-months-old Anya, says. "The world has to be a better place for my having been here. Otherwise my life has been a waste of time, and worse still, I have consumed resources that someone more worthy should have had."

Flashback to 1999. Rajiv Gupta, who is 36 years old, is in his ninth year of employment at Hewlett's Cupertino, CA facility. Here he heads his dream project, developing E-Speak -- the company's ambitious attempt to design what he refers to as the "next logical step to the Web."

Rajiv Gupta For years competitors like Microsoft Corporation with its leadership in the software field and Sun Microsystems with its Java language and the Jini initiative (which some have suggested is a direct competition to the E-Speak program), have dwarfed Hewlett's position in the computer industry. With the E-Speak technology, Hewlett is set to gain the spotlight that it feels is rightfully its own.

Gupta says in an interview from his home in Los Altos Hills, CA: "We are using Sun's Java language, we leverage on top of that and Jini is addressing a very different question than what we are trying to address. So I don't consider Jini as competition at all."

"At the end of the day, what we are creating (ie, E-Speak), we are going to openly make it available to the rest of the world anyway," he adds. "As long as what I am trying to do gets done I don't really care how it gets done. If Microsoft wants to use my technology and take it, go for it."

Earlier in an interview with The New York Times, Gupta says: "We have nothing against the idea of standing on the shoulders of giants (i.e. using Sun's Java technology to further the E-Speak goals) or on the toes of dwarfs."

Gupta joined Hewlett in 1990 having finished his PhD from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, CA. His PhD and his first project with Hewlett was in the field of compiler technology. Compilers, for those who don't know it yet, are the software that translates computer programs understandable and developed by the logical human mind into low level instructions which machines can comprehend.

Soon after he moved to his next major project -- heading the design team that developed the IA-64 microprocessor. A joint project between the Intel Corporation and Hewlett, this is the next generation chip architecture set to replace the Pentium family of chip processors.

As Gupta says: "With the technology that we developed together, and with Intel's manufacturing prowess, this will be the de facto processor architecture for the whole world." He adds, that already most major computer manufactures have signed deals to use the IA-64 technology in their future machines.

"When I started to work on the IA 64, at that time I thought that would be the biggest impact I would have on the industry," he says. "But E-Speak is going to have maybe ten times that impact. If IA 64 was developing a first system of gears, E-Speak is like the internal combustion engine -- the impact will be far, far greater."

Flashback further to 1990. "Caltech was a breeze," Gupta says of his six years that he spent at prestigious institution, adding that this statement "speaks well of the education system in India."

Rajiv Gupta A graduate of IIT Kharagpur and St Xavier's School in Bombay, Gupta found himself well prepared for the challenges at Caltech, when he joined the institution in 1984. He says, his first year at the Pasadena institution, which is supposed to be extremely difficult, "was a blast" with regular weekend trips to beaches and vacations to Australia, Fiji and Hawaii.

Having finished most of his course work in the first year, thanks to the head start he had, Gupta says he "goofed off" doing consulting jobs at school and even launching a business with a friend -- an MBA student at the University of Southern California.

They started a company to manufacture leather apparel and set up a show room in downtown Los Angeles. The leather was imported from New Zealand and the manufacturing was sub contracted to small shops in Los Angeles.

"One of the most successful product was a leather jodhpur, which I had designed," Gupta says, although he denies that he would call himself a fashion designer.

The business was profitable in its first year, but Gupta had to decide whether he wanted to pursue that line of work or to get back to his dissertation. "I eventually sold my shares to my partner and he is still running the business," he says.

Forward again to 1999. Gupta focuses on what his life will be beyond E-Speak. He says he has a number of business ideas that include creating a new business model in the tradition of eBay and

The other plan that both he and his wife have a passion for is to establish a free school for the poor in India. Starting a school and teaching children would have an "exponential affect," he says. "For every child that I will touch, I will effectively touch every person the child comes in contact with during his or her lifetime.

"This may be a very Indian kind of thinking," he says, "but I believe that I was given all these opportunities and benefits for a purpose. Having studied in the IIT system where a lot of the education was subsidized and it did not have to be subsidized. The country has invested in me and that's a debt I need to repay."

Indeed, Gupta has had many opportunities in life and some that he did not pursue. Following his PhD at Caltech, there were plans for joining a joint program of MBA at the Wharton School and an MS in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University. However Gupta followed his older brother's advice to be an expert in one field than to be a master in several different areas.

He certainly hopes the decisions he made and the paths he selected were the right ones. He is reminded of the 1993 film Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. In that movie Murray got several chances to revisit his life which helped him change his perspective about life.

"If there is one thing I could do in my life it would be to clone myself, travel the untravelled path, then meet up at the end and then figure out which path would have been better off," he says.

"For every decision you make, you never know how the other one would have turned out."

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