Director's Speech

Video Format

Pankaj JaloteLet me now spend a few minutes speaking to you as I always do after the official report with our graduates, you, who are entering the brave new world of working professionals. Professors are fond of lecturing, even the students are not very interested in listening as you all know. Unfortunately, I don't get too much opportunities to lecture so this is my chance. But don't worry, I'm not going to be too long, it's kinda short. It's not complex, and there is no quiz after this lecture. But I hope I will give you something to think about. It's evident that in the world today, disparity and compensation is increasing rapidly.

Some people are earning hugely more than others, and I'm not talking about founders or promoters, who have always made wealth, or industries like sports or entertainment where top stars always make significantly more than the next set. I'm talking about professionals and engineers. We know of professional non-founder CEOs earning compensations in tens or even hundreds of million dollars, and many of them actually started as engineers. We also know of some executives are very highly paid by corporations. Even at the entry level, salary differentials can be a factor of ten for tech jobs. Some starting IT engineers, and some of you are in that category, get 30 lakhs while 90% of the IT engineers get around 3 lakhs. This gap is not due to capital or entrepreneurship but due to the differentiated value attached to human talent by corporations. Never before has this gap been so vast.

There is a broader context why human talent is getting valued highly. As we all know, the pace of innovation is faster than ever before, new knowledge and technologies are all coming at a much faster pace. And innovation is getting adopted by us, and monetized much faster as well. Look at Facebook, Google, Whatsapp, Airbnb, Uber, and our own: Flipkart, Ola, InMobi, and you'll hear the founder of InMobi in a few minutes. Quikr, Mu Sigma, Zomato, all... all have these huge market share and valuation in very little time. In this competitive world of fast innovation and fast adoption, corporations are willing to pay handsomely for every little leverage they can get. Hence, the huge value of top human talent. Note that this valuation of human talent is not linear, in fact, it is highly non-linear.

A little better talent may get hugely compensated more. While politicians, sociologists, economists, all have to worry about how to reduce disparity, I submit, I think for you a pertinent question, for now, is why are some engineers valued so much more? Let us first be clear that in this world of fast innovation, your value is due to the skills and capabilities you have. What you can do is the most potent currency you have, far more than degrees and certificates and grades. While there is a broad range of skills that are useful and valued, there are 2 clear categories of engineers that are valued highly. The first is the innovator. Engineers are by training problem-solvers. Give a defined technical problem, and a good engineer can find a decent technical solution. But solutions for human and societal problems on which corporations run, on which organizations run, on which businesses run, do not respect discipline boundaries and don't come as an algorithm or a circuit or a mathematical problem.

Solving such problems requires the ability to combine various technologies with an understanding of people, organizations, and societies. It requires working in teams of people with diverse backgrounds and specializations to together create something. Finally, it requires the ability to execute. And all this requires what I call at-profile. Good technical understanding in some area, coupled with a broad understanding of societies and people, understanding of other areas in technologies, and capabilities of team-work, communication, and execution. The second category of an engineer, engineers who are valued highly, are the deep technical experts in their domain. Systems are hugely complex, more complex now and deep technical expertise is rare, therefore is highly valued and respected. Such an expert is one who no matter what how hard the technical problem, can always find a technical solution and is one who can develop it faster and better than anyone else. Such an engineer becomes a go-to person for any organization or a team.

Every organization has some such people, I personally know some organizations and they are the stars and are indeed valued highly. These two paths are clearly not mutually exclusive, and you can easily and many of you will move from being a technical expert to an innovator or the other way round. Our placement figures show that almost all of you have got a good start after graduation, largely due to the high-quality education you have received which developed skills and capabilities for both of these parts.

Now the question for you is what should you do in your professional life to continue being highly valued? Let me mention two traits which you may want to develop: you can stay ahead only if you develop a strong ability to self-learn. There will be no more professors or courses out there anymore. Without the ability to learn, it should be clear that even if you have strong skills today, you will not be valued tomorrow. This requires a meta-cognitive ability to know what you don't know. Something actually many people have a difficulty in. If you have this ability to know what you know and what you don't know, and you have developed a sense of what is important then you can grow. Of course, just knowing what gaps exist in your understanding and what is important is not sufficient.

You must have the motivation and drive to learn. In student life, consequences of your learning or not learning are just a poor grade. In your professional life, they are far more serious and that can make all the difference in how you are valued. So ability to know what you know and what you don't and the motivation and drive to do what you need to can help you continue being a highly valued member of the society. Though I've discussed how you can be a more valued member of the society, if you are in this category and I hope all of you already are and will be, it is incumbent upon you to give back to society, and while having benefited from this disparity to do your bit to bridge it.

When giving back to society, keep your alma-mater always in mind at the top. Give back to the institute that helped you succeed. While there are many ways to contribute and promote this institute's interest, one clear way is to financially contribute. As you know, our model is that of self-sustaining, and support from all will be needed to ensure that we keep our fees at a reasonable level. I always urge the alumni to contribute 1% of their annual income. I realize that this may be too much at the start. Perhaps a more appropriate goal is to start by contributing one day's salary. Earlier, there used to be a practice of contributing one day salary every time a disaster was announced. I remember we used to get a sign-up sheet every time something would happen in the country, and all of us would happily sign for giving our one day salary.

This level is clearly possible even at the start of the career, and if all graduates gave one day salary, even with our current alumni base, a quick calculation shows that your contributions can cover almost the entire budget of student clubs. So I thought maybe fully supporting students clubs could be one of the first goals that you can build for yourself. To be with you in giving back to the Institution, some time back my wife and I had announced that we will contribute one month of my salary every year.

We've already increased this and our plan to increase it even further for the rest of my tenure here. This is a gesture on our parts since I now clearly see that what we have achieved is far more valuable and satisfying. Building a fine institution which can graduate students like you with strong commitment and support from faculty and officers of the quality we have is simply invaluable and worth supporting. I'm sure you will be valued highly wherever you work and that you will do your bit for the society and the institute. Let me end by parts of a quote by E. O. Wilson which captures somewhat the sentiments I expressed. 'You're capable of more than you know. The world needs all you can give.' Once again, congratulations to all of you for your hard-earned degrees and I wish you all best for your life and career. Thank you very much.