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IIT alumni meet in New York ponders success

By Sujeet Rajan

NEW YORK: Sixty years ago, on August 18, 1951, when the first Indian Institute of Technology was inaugurated at Kharagpur, the New York Times ran a front page story which emphasized that in course of time, the “IITians will be known for their loyalty to their alma mater and many Alumni Associations will be active in India and abroad.”

The first session of classes in Kharagpur started with 224 students. Today, after graduating more than 200,000 students from a total of 16 campuses in India, with up to one third of them based in the United States, the prediction of the Times resonates, at the IIT Global Conference underway here.

The theme at this year’s three-day meet is “Solutions for a Better World,” and some of the panels on energy, healthcare, innovation, and education underscore that for the 1,200 plus participants, with discussions varying from new technology in healthcare deliverance in India to how applications are changing with the onset of 4G and the demand for more bandwidth. But one of the unique features of this year’s meet is the strong effort at alumni services, and the concept of loyalty to their own.

For the first time, there is a jobs fair, with a dozen brand name companies like Google, Bloomberg, Deloitte, Genpact, HCL and Amazon, among others invited to participate, a series on entrepreneurship, where veteran IITians are doing “instant mentoring” for recent graduates, and the closing panels on Sunday, are devoted to talks with Directors from IITs, as well as a discussion on the future of the IIT alumni movement. All these are departures from the conventions of the past.

A new initiative being undertaken this year by the PanIIT globally, is WHEELS, an acronym for Water, Healthcare, Energy, Education, Lifestyles in the rural areas, and Security, which will explore creative solutions for sustainability in these critical areas in India, and which will see extensive discussions in the coming years.

To commemorate the 60 years and hark back to its theme of loyalty, the Director of IIT Kharagpur, Prof. Damodar Acharya, inaugurated the meet by lighting a traditional lamp. On Friday night, the Grammy-nominated artist Chandrika Tandon, Chairman of Tandon Capital Associates, who is a “half IITian,” having married one, rendered some excellent fusion music, and even got the crowd to sing along with her on the bhajan Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, in honor of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary on October 2nd.

“We made a conscious effort at alumni services,” said Gautam Advani, Principal of GO Inc., and co-chair of the conference, speaking to Global India Newswire.
The idea for the jobs fair is also to facilitate the companies who recruit from IIT campuses, to look at mid-level skills from the pool of workers closer home, says Advani. Since the Lehman Brothers crash, the percentage of IITians who have been laid off in the United States is no different from other ethnicities, and many MIT graduates are going through the same pains, he says. But there are no numbers as to how many IITians have been displaced from their jobs in this country.

Advani is worried, however, that the US could make some “politically-motivated mistakes,” which would curb innovation and there won’t be enough skilled people to make use of the R&D facilities, which is what draws skilled workers in the sciences and technology areas to the country.

“This country, if it makes a couple of stupid mistakes on immigration, stops immigration, and innovation stops, then this country deserves an “L,” will be another Japan,” he argues, referring to the stagnant economy of Japan, which is yet to recover fully after 20 years in the slump.

Advani , who graduated from IIT Bombay, 1971, with a degree in chemical engineering, headed to the MIT Sloan School of Management, and later became the second Indian to work on Wall Street in investment banking.

Advani is, however, gung ho on New York becoming the epicenter of innovation, beating out Silicon Valley and Bengaluru, as far as home grown start-ups go. “For the first time ever, we are seeing the New York City metropolitan area drawing as much early stage venture capital companies as in California,” he said. “New York is poised to be the next center of innovation and now rivals Silicon Valley in the amount of capital raised for entrepreneurial ventures.”

Suresh Shenoy, an IIT Bombay (’72) alumni, and now Executive Vice President, Information Management Consultants, Inc. (IMC), a Virginia-based consulting and technology company, says that there is high demand for specific skills in technology jobs in the US, despite the recession.

He debunks the theory that a lot of IITians are heading back to India to start their own ventures. “It may be a trickle, not an exodus. Those IITians who are looking to go back and start ventures in India, find it more convenient to have an office in the US also, and not just in India,” said Shenoy, adding that “innovation is global.”

Like Advani, Shenoy is upbeat about the US sparking another round of innovation by investing liberally in start-ups.

Pointing out that his own company, IMC, have 26 job openings at present in areas like bioinformatics and clinical informatics, for which it is hard to get personnel with the right kind of skills, Shenoy argues that a few IITians who had lost jobs at Lehman Brothers, went on to work in Barclays and now several of them have opened their own financial consulting and venture capital firms.

One person who had turned up at the conference specifically for the jobs fair, turned out to be not from IIT. Rachana Bhatia, a New Yorker, who had been laid off two days ago from her job as a programmer in Manhattan, is the daughter of an IITian. Her father, Sushil Bhatia, was an alumni of IIT Bombay. Bhatia, who studied in Albany, NY, however, was optimistic about finding a job soon. She said the jobs market for programmers was strong in the New York area. (Global India Newswire)

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