Archive for the ‘My views on people’ Category

Mangalyaan (India’s maiden Mars Mission) all set

December 1, 2013

Today (December 1, 2013) around 1 AM the final manoeuvre was successfully accomplished by ISRO scientists so that the space station can move off the route of circling Earth and sent on its very long (680 million km) journey to be concluded in the next 300 days

It is a moment of joy all engineers in India. ISRO with shoe-string budget (compared to NASA budget) is able to achieve a lot

It once again shows the power of focus; one hopes the powers that be (Governments) allow Scientific departments with sufficient freedom to pursue excellence. Space and Nuclear power have shown; the rest should follow (Electronics, Steel, Power, Water, Airports / Airlines, Oil & Gas, Rail, Road, Mines, Construction, Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Food processing engineers, if given freedom will create wonders right here!)

Infosys Science Prizes 2013 were announced on November 12, 2013

November 12, 2013

The fifth edition of Infosys Science Prizes announced on November 12, 2013; the winners areProf Ramagopal Rao, IIT Bombay (Engineering & Computer Science)

    • Professors Nayanjot Lahiri, History Dept., Delhi University and Ayesha Kidwai, Linguistics Dept., Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi (Humanities)
    • Prof Rajesh Gokhale, Institute of Genomics, New Delhi (Life Science)
    • Prof Rahul Pandharipande, Mathematics Dept., ETH, Zurich (Mathematics)
    • Prof Shiraz Minwalla, TIFR, Bombay (Physics)
    • Prof A R Vasavi, Nehru Museum, New Delhi (Social Science)

Roots of sound pioneer Roy Dolby’s India link

September 15, 2013

Dr. Ray Dolby passed away on September 12, 2013 in USA at the age of 80; he is an unusual entrepreneur, who created a “niche” area and made amazing products by starting a company (Dolby Laboratories); ensured that the products continuously evolved and dramatically improved, over full five decades. In addition, he ran a profitable corporation successfully without getting too greedy or developing arrogance; and, along with his wife contributed liberally to philanthropy.

After his undergraduate education Dr. Roy Dolby moved to Stanford for his Masters Degree in 1957; he moved further to University of Cambridge for his PhD degree in Physics in 1961. He took an unusual step of working for United Nations for the next couple of years that took him to India for an assignment at New Delhi in UNESCO. As part of his assignment, he had to record several pieces of Indian music (both the classical and folklore); that assignment took him to several Ashrams in North India in UP and Punjab.

Those were the days of analogue audio recoding; both “spool” and “cassette” type. Dr. Dolby used to carry loads of audiotapes to do the recording. He got very frustrated when he found that concerts of amazing quality that he personally listened to, were terrible on the recorded tape, primarily due to “hissing” noise created by Sitar & Veena – two common Indian string instruments – and the ceiling fan noise (common in many concert halls in North Indian towns, particularly Ashrams). Many of us would have talked about the frustration to our friends or complained to the higher-ups, particularly if our assignments were with UN. The genius of Dr. Roy Dolby converted the challenge to an opportunity.

“Cutting out hissing noise” became his Mission; by “amplifying low level high frequency sounds during recording, and cutting them out during playback time”, “Dolby Laboratories” managed to produce much better sound in audiocassettes; “Dolby” became synonymous with “high quality audio”. The October 2005 Issue of “Electronic Design” has a full article devoted to this. Dr. Dolby completed his UN Assignment in India and went back to Cambridge and with an initial savings of $ 25,000 started the company UK in 1965 (the company moved to USA in 1976); the rest, as they say is history.

Dolby Laboratories started with their first product Dolby 301 with “Type A Dolby Noise Reduction”. Over the years the company created products for stereo & surround sound, embraced the “digital world” and pioneered high quality sound for “movies” (including Star Trek); and, recently addressed the need for high quality sound in mobile handsets and smartphones. By following an unusual business model of directly making professional grade audio equipment, and only licensing its technology for consumer equipment and by capitalizing its intellectual property through dozens of patents (Dr. Dolby alone had more than 50 patents) yet charging very low royalty, Dolby Sound touches more than 7.2 billion consumers today! Dolby Sound is used by more than 17,00 films! With more than 1,500 employees Dolby Systems has won several Emmy, Grammy and Oscar awards.

An inspiring engineer, deep technology, amazing products and an admirable corporation – thy name is Dolby; it is nice to see its India roots!

Professor Sowmyanarayanan Sadagopan is the Director of IIIT-Bangalore. He had discovered the “Indian connections” several years back, when he had a chance meet with Dr. Dolby in an Airport Lounge! These are his personal views. He can be reached at

(Appeared in Times of India, September 15, 2013)

Learnings from Steve Jobs

September 1, 2011

Apple CEO Steve Jobs stunned the world on August 24, 2011 by announcing his decision to resign as the CEO of Apple. No other company has been so closely associated with the CEO for so long – Steve Jobs led every product, took every key decision and even did many of the key products launches! Though his resignation was not unexpected, as he is fighting his rather serious health problems for more than a year, his announcement did cause a lot of shock. Business leaders, academics, techies, analysts and many of Apple and Steve Jobs’ admirers, have written a lot already. Here is a quick take on what you – students – can learn from an outstanding professional career of Steve Jobs.

  1. Be bold

Steve Jobs dared to be different. More than a decade back, he took the bold decision that Apple products will NOT support floppy disk drives; recently, he followed it up with the decision NOT to have optical drives (CD / DVD) on Mac Books. He created a lot of problems to many by deciding not to support “Adobe Flash” on iPhone / iPad. Apple was the first to bet on HTML 5 on iPhone and SSD (Solid State Disk) for Mac Book Air. In many such instances, the entire industry followed Apple. Steve Jobs also made no secret that Apple does not believe in “market research”; Apple creates products that the market has never seen; Apple products being so good, the market laps them up when launched! Even at a personal level, very few CEO’s would talk about their humble early days in public; that too in the graduation ceremony at the world’s richest university; do read his Stanford University commencement speech titled “Stay hungry, Stay foolish”

  1. Combine design and engineering

Apple’s USP is that every product has a design appeal. There were many personal computers, but Apple Macintosh stood out; Apple iPod stands out among a crowd of MP3 players; Apple iPhone is a tall leader among many smart phones; Apple iPad has practically no competitor in the past 18 months! What makes Apple products special is their exemplary designer touch. Apple products are extremely well engineered too! Often in India “design” is confused with “flimsy” ideas often through “looks” with no enduring quality. Steve Jobs ensured that design AND engineering are combined to produce lasting products with exceptional appeal.

  1. The importance of hardware & software

The hugely successful products from Apple combine hardware and software to deliver exceptional value to the customer. Way back in early 90’s, Steve Jobs ensured that floppy disk in Apple Mac computers would “pop out” by “software click” rather than “pressing a button”. The run away success of iPod, iPhone and iPad is the hardware AND software integration, where Steve Job’s company controls the destiny of both hardware and software evolution, so that Apple product deliver superior customer delight year after year. Steve Jobs may not win the “religious war” of “open systems”, but Apple customers who have enjoyed the delightful products from Steve Jobs’ company have voted overwhelmingly for such hardware + software! The Microsoft & Nokia partnership announced in February 2011 and Google acquisition of Motorola Mobility on August 15, 2011, overwhelmingly vindicate this trend.

  1. Be brutally honest

Steve Jobs had his failings too. But in every such occasion, he admitted the mistake and even atoned for them. When iPhone 4 had “antenna” issues, Steve Jobs had a thorough Radio engineering work in the impressive Apple Labs, made a personal appearance, clarified the issue and offered a “case” free of cost. When the first set of iPhone customers were upset with the sudden drop of price from $ 699 to $ 499 with the launch of iPhone 3G, Steve Jobs announced cash refund to all the early customers.

  1. Bet on patents

Free software movement and the hugely successful “open source” philosophy are nice. Steve Jobs over the years has benefited from “open source” and Apple contributes to “open source” too; for example, Mac OS is derived from BSD Unix and Apple contributes to WebKit browser component. Yet, Steve Jobs has no confusion that when it comes to business success, what matters is the intellectual property protection through patents. Apple has a very large patent portfolio; often, Steve Jobs and his company do not shy away from legal battles when Apple needs to protect its interests; they can even go after Chinese factories, though Apple critically depends on them for their iPod, iPhone & iPad production!

These are some key lessons from an extra-ordinary CEO who broke every stereotype. He did not go to the best college; he did not pursue CS degree; he is not even an engineer, let alone a computer engineer, though he engineered some of the best computing products, that too both hardware and software! Indian students should take a special note that Steve Jobs does not have an MBA (Bill Gates does not have it either), though he is undoubtedly the most successful businessman of our times. Last month Apple had more cash than US Government, if you have any doubt about his company’s business success!

Go discover more about this amazing designer, get inspired and practice it in your own professional career.

Best of luck!

Professor Sowmyanarayanan Sadagopan is the Director of IIIT-Bangalore. These are his personal views. He can be reached at

India-born Sunil Kumar named Booth School (University of Chicago’s B School) Dean

July 29, 2010

Professor Sunil Kumar of the Graduate School of Business (GSB) of Stanford University will take charge as the Dean of the prestigious Booth School of the University of Chicago on January 1, 2011 as per Businessweek article of Feb 28, 2010.

Dr Sunil Kumar teaches Operations Management and Technology at Stanford. He has a Bachelor’s Degree from NIT Surathkal, a Master’s Degree in Computer Science from Indian Institute of Science and a PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign.

In the backdrop of Dr Subra Suresh taking charge as the Dean of MIT’s Engineering School two years back and Dr Nitin Nohria named as the Dean of Harvard Business School recently, this news is indeed very welcome.

Professor CK Prahalad is no more

April 17, 2010

Professor C K Prahalad renowned management guru passed away on April 16, 2010 Friday night in San Diego after a brief illness

Considered by many as one of the foremost management gurus of our times, Professor Prahalad has influenced the broad thinking in the filed of business management through his powerful ideas often articulated extremely well in his series of books

  • Competing for the future,
  • Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid
  • The future of the competition
  • New age of innovation

and his articles in Harvard Business Review such as “The core competence of the corporation” (one of the most downloaded article of HBR)

“Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid” is an idea that has changed the way corporations across the world designed products & services. He urged the chief executives of many Fortune 500 companies to look at the emerging markets as the target for designing products instead of designing products for the First World and selling them in the Third World post their economic life. In fact in several policy circles “BoP” (bottom of the pyramid) had become a standard acronym.

We in IIIT-B were fortunate enough to host his center, aptly titled “Center for Global Resource Leverage” in the past five years.

Professor Prahalad had amazing energy even at his age of 65; he used to be the first one to arrive in the IIIT-B campus in 2007 when we conducted a 2-week Research Bootcamp for B  School Professors and had the stamina to teach for hours!

In the recent years he has been able to galvanize positive energy among many senior members of several Indian corporations. His article on “India @ 75” is widely used by CII in several of its conferences. Generations of Indians will continue to draw inspiration from his active & productive life that made a huge difference to India and the world.

Ed Roberts PC pioneer is no more

April 2, 2010

On April 2, 2010 Ed Roberts who created MITS ALTAIR computer, died t the age of 68

Writing BASIC program for MTS ALTAIR gave the much needed break for Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen; in the process, PC industry was created

A product of Oklahoma State University, Ed Roberts pursued Medicine as his second career (due to a 5 year condition that he will not make another computer when ALTAIR was acquired for a million dollar) and practiced Medicine till recently

Interesting twist; ALTAIR was perhaps the first general purpose inexpensive computer; Ed Roberts must be credited with the invention of PC in a way, though he never got the credit

Bill Gates and Paul Allen visited the ailing Ed Robets recently, a nice gesture for the two uber-rich billionaires

ACM Infosys Prize 2009 goes to Professor Eric Brewer of UC Berkeley

March 29, 2010

On March 15, 2010 ACM named Professor Eric Brewer of the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at the University of Berkeley as the recipient of the ACM Infosys Foundation award for the year 2009.

Instituted in 2007 (on the eve of 25th year of Infosys) the ACM Infosys Foundation award carries a prize amount of $ 150,000 and represents the first global award instituted by an Indian Corporation. The award recognizes personal contributions of young computer scientists and systems developers (typically 40 years of age) that exemplify the greatest recent contributions in the computing field. This award is next only to Turing award, considered the “Nobel” in computing.

The award went to Professor Daphne Koller of Stanford University in the year 2007 and to Professor Jon Kleinberg of Cornell University in the year 2008.

This year’s award winner is special in more ways than one. On the one hand Professor Brewer has made cutting edge research contributions to the very foundations of computer sciene and built large-scale laboratory environments to demonstrate the impact of his research contributions; at the same time, he is equally at ease with societal contributions through his research center TIER (Technology & Infrastructure for Emerging Regions) that helps tens of thousands of patients in rural India!

Professor Brewer studied BS (Electrical Engineering) at UCB (University of California, Berkeley) and did his MS  & PhD degrees from MIT. He is reportedly one of the youngest professors to be tenured as Full Professor at UCB at the age of 32!

Professor Brewer’s contributions are towards the building of highly scalable and reliable Internet infrastructure. He built a laboratory with a network of workstations (NoW) that could beat the performance of expensive servers. Taking this idea further he went on to co-found Inktomi in 1995, an early search engine that was acquired by Yahoo in 2003. Inktomi was the first to use low-cost PCs to build a cluster and use algorithms and data structures to make the infrastructure “fault tolerant” (function even in case of individual workstation failure), an idea routinely used by major search engines including Google today. That paved the way for highly scalable and reliable Internet that we all take it for granted today.

The other seminal contribution of Professor Brewer is the CAP Theorem that showed the inherent inconsistency of trying to make systems Consistent, Available and Partition tolerant; in the process, Professor Brewer proposed BASE (Basically Available, Soft-state and Eventual consistent) as an alternative. Today’s large-scale Internet systems routinely use the idea of BASE.

Yet another key contribution of Professor Brewer is the “Wireless Hypothesis” that talks of developed economies introducing Wireless Internet (and other) infrastructure to be introduced first, instead of eternally waiting for the traditional infrastructure (road, power, drinking water) to be fully available to all citizens. To “prove” his hypothesis Professor Brewer built WiLDNet (an innovative network protocol that uses low cost widely available Wi-Fi chips to build a long-range network usable in rural areas) that is of great relevance to emerging markets. ACM President Wendy Hall summarized it well in her Press statement that accompanied the award notification “Professor Eric Brewer’s influential work on scalable web services has defined the basic architecture that is used by almost all systems and make him a visionary with a potential to advance society on numerous social and economic levels”.

Naturally many awards followed Professor Brewer over the years.

  • Professor Brewer was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering and elected as an ACM Fellow in 2007.
  • SIGOPS named him Mark Weiser Award winner in 2009
  • Global Economic Forum recognized him as “Global Leader for Tomorrow”
  • Technology Review included him in TR100 (Top 100 Most Influential People for the 21st century)
  • Industry Standard declared him as the “Most Influential Internet Architect”.
  • InfoWorld named him as the “Top Ten Innovators” way back in 2001.

On June 26, 2010 he will be formally awarded the ACM Infosys Foundation award.

Infosys CEO Kris Gopalakrishnan had the following to say in the Press statement “We are specially proud to honor Professor Eric Brewer for his contributions to computer science and his demonstration of the use of IT for the benefit of disadvantaged population in many regions, especially in developing countries”.

Professor Eric Brewer is no stranger to India. He heads the research center TIER (Technology & Infrastructure for Emerging regions) at UCB that focuses on technologies for the developing world. More than 25,000 patients in rural Tamil Nadu have benefited from tele-medicine that was provided by Aravind Hospital using WiLDNet technology, pioneered by TIER. He visited IIIT-B in the year 2007 and was in Bangalore last year to attend the marriage of his graduate student!

To get a taste of his contributions many of you, young students and professionals in the CS area should take a look at some of the widely cited papers of Professor Brewer listed below

  1. The nesC Language: a holistic approach to networked embedded systems (PLDI 2003)
  2. Cluster-based scalable network devices (SOSP 1997)
  3. SEDA – an architecture for well-conditioned scalable Internet services (SOSP 2001)
  4. Lessons from giant scale services (IEEE Internet Computing, July 2001)
  5. TinyOS (NSDI 2004) on Sensor networks
  6. Scalable distributed data structures for internet service construction (OSDI 2000)
  7. The case of technology in developing countries (Computer, July 2005)

Reading such seminal works will inspire you to do deep work.  Great researchers do not work towards rewards, but awards do motivate many youngsters like you to pursue rewarding research careers.

My very best wishes to many young students to undertake such award winning work.

(Appeared in Times of India, Education Times March 29, 2010)

Berkeley Professor Eric Brewer is ACM Infosys Foundation 2009 Award winner

March 15, 2010

ACM announced  today (March 15, 2010) ACM Infosys Foundation Award (next only to Turing Award, considered the Nobel Prize in Computing) for the year 2009 and named Professor Eric Brewer as the award winner.

Professor Brewer is best known as the Founder of Inktomi search engine (acquired by Yahoo); his academic contributions include the CAP Theorem concept, and “Wireless Hypothesis”

What I like most about his work is that he is able to

  • work on cutting edge computer science that too of fundamental nature (CAP Theorem – Consistency, Availability and Partition tolerance incompatibility, like Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem) ,
  • build solid real-world engineering experimental infrastructure (like Network of Workstations (NoW), and,
  • contribute enormously through his societal initiatives (Wireless Hypothesis and his TIER Network that has helped thousands of patients to benefit through Tele-medicine from experts in Aravind Eye Hospital in India)

He visited IIIT-B in the year 2008 on an invitation from Professor Balaji Parthasarathy

Infosys has done India proud through the endowment of this Award that identifies outstanding young (around 40 years of age) computer scientists;

Professor Daphne Koller of Stanford for the year 2007,

Professor Jon Kleinberg of Cornell for the year 2008,  and,

Professor Eric Brewer of UC Berkeley for the year 2009

This was part of the contribution of Infosys towards a larger cause in the Silver Jubilee Year (25th year of Infosys. that was founded in 1982)

This is what Kris said as part of the Press Release

“S. Gopalakrishnan (Kris), CEO and Managing Director, Infosys Technologies said, “We are especially proud to honor Eric Brewer for contributions to computer science research and his demonstration of the use of IT for the benefit of disadvantaged populations in many regions, especially in developing nations.”

Theater @ Campus in IIIT-B on Feb 13, 2010

February 14, 2010

It was truly amazing to see YoursTrulyTheater Group an interesting form of Theater that involves the audience!

Their ability to “in situ” create scenes out of just a few words from the audience that too relating to the particular campus was touching

We were proud to have our own alumnus (Sumit Acharya of the Class of 2004 who works for Oracle) as part of TAC Group

I do hope one day we can teach Software Engineering through such form of Theater!