Good to see some things stay the same: Sundar Pichai on returning to IIT Kharagpur

6th Jan 2017
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“The last time I was here (IIT Kharagpur) was 23 years ago and I was sad to be leaving. The first thing I did now was get to my old dorm, Nehru Hall, and it is still the same,” says Sundar Pichai, Google CEO. Sundar, who has been hailed as Google’s favourite CEO by Rajan Anandan, today addressed an audience of 3,000 IITians at a fireside chat with Hitesh Oberoi, CEO and Chairman, Infoedge.

Sundar’s visit to India is further proof that Google is set on wooing the world’s second largest internet market — the country already has over 300 million smartphones and Google estimates this number to touch 520 million by 2020. Google believes it can work with a vast majority of sectors to transform the Indian economy.

‘You build for India, you build for the world', may be a common refrain Rajan and Sundar have used in their talks across the country, but there was nothing rehearsed about Sundar's nostalgia at returning to his alma mater.

When asked if he bunked any morning classes, Sundar called it a rite of passage but added, "I have to say, I worked hard as well." And what is his 10-year plan? He said:

“10 years is a long frame of time. In the 1980s there was no internet; the 10 years hence there were no smartphones. I don’t know what will happen 10 years later. But I know that I will always want to build products that touch billions of people.”
Sundar Pichai at IIT Kharagpur
Sundar Pichai at IIT Kharagpur

Build not for a few but a billion people

The CEO of a company that employees over 60,000 people, Sundar believes that Google has reached where it has because it aimed big. And what could be a bigger aim than touching a billion people? It is important that you make things people will use every day and that solve real problems.

Sundar says:

“Work on different things, aim so high that it is outrageous and even if you fail to reach the actual goal, you would have achieved something outrageous along the way. Google has always focused on a large user base — our focus has been a billion users.”

Talking about India, Sundar urged people to focus on solving deeper problems than are currently being targeted —while we may be spearheading the growth in the number of smartphone users and mobile internet, the country has only 300 million smartphone users as compared to its population of 1.4 billion.

“However, the trend lines are strong and I definitely think that in the next five to 10 years, big global companies coming out of India will be common,” he said.

sundar-pichai-iit-1
Sundar Pichai at IIT Kharagpur

Open up your horizons

Coming to a campus after 23 years can bring back a flood of memories. From the number of morning classes he bunked to Harry’s, a popular joint, and thinking ‘abe saale’ to be a common way of addressing people, Sundar shared some college stories.

But what he believes has changed is the fact that today, students start preparing for IIT from grade eight, which wasn’t the case in his time. While he believes that the Indian education system is one of the best in the world, it still has a lot of focus on academics. Advising the students, Sundar said:

“There is a lot of pressure on following set lanes and patterns in life. But success comes out of being well-rounded, aspiring to different things, taking risks, being creative, doing new and different things. It is okay to fail. Setbacks just don’t matter. Your drive matters. People do well from all walks of life. Just getting into an elite institution doesn’t guarantee success. Your drive does that. There are options everywhere, not just in engineering. You just have to love what you do.”

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