I received an email last week from Anuj Dayal, a Junior Year Undergraduate at the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur. Anuj asks the question: “What’s next for India? What should we, IIT students, do?” (You can see the message in its entirety below.)
First, let me thank you, Anuj, for asking the question. It delights me to see that you are asking the right question. It makes my journalism efforts worthwhile. In this piece, I will attempt to address the question, and we can also discuss the issues at length here.
You see, the India I grew up in was not an India of opportunities. We had to leave the country to access opportunities. Your India is a different India. Opportunities are and will continue to be much greater in India, than in the US or Europe.
With that backdrop, I would encourage you to think of the India that you want to build, given that you are entering the workforce at a point where the basic platform is ready. You have the world’s attention as one of the two greatest consumer markets of the 21st century. You have a financial system that is ready to support high momentum growth and building of new enterprises with an openness unknown to prior generations.
Your India is brimming with optimism. Take advantage of that mindset.
Your India is also full of problems. Solve them.
Your India, I believe, needs to be an entrepreneurs’ India. Your generation will need to rise above the risk-averse tendencies of your previous generations. They have been satisfied with too little. You can do much more.
So, my number one advice to you, IIT students, is that you need to change your expectations from “getting a job” to “finding a platform for doing your life’s work.”
You, the best, the brightest, and the most fortunate of India’s youth, need to reach for bigger goals.
So what could be some of those goals?
To answer that question, look at the problems that are pretty much staring us in the face.
India’s supply chain is a disaster. Amidst rampant urbanization, India’s cities are bursting, fuming, overflowing.
If the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian Sea rises a few inches due to global warming, could it wash over your precious institute?
Water is fast becoming a crisis, and India will need to figure out how to meet the population’s drinkable water needs, as well as the water needs for growing crops and livestock.
You, new engineers, need to build a road system, a port system, and an air-transit system that scales with India’s growth ambitions. You will also need to build cars that do not pollute. You will need to find alternative sources of energy, including solar, wind, and nuclear.
You will need to design food processing techniques, build affordable and energy-efficient housing, formulate new drugs using computational biology models.
And yes, you will also need to design software, hardware, chips, and information systems.
So why did I put IT as an afterthought to what all you need to achieve?
Because, in the last decade, IT has sucked all other engineering disciplines dry of their best minds. Even the IIT Civil Engineers and Mechanical Engineers are writing low-level software for Oracle or IBM. If you continue at this rate, none of the other major disciplines will get their rightful share of leadership that is your responsibility to provide.
Another reason is to underscore the need of IT to support all the other disciplines. Today, many of the opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship are at the cusps of different disciplines. Biology and Computer Science. Design and Manufacturing. Technology and Education. Software and Entertainment. Architecture and Materials.
My alma mater, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has put a huge emphasis on interdisciplinary programs at the cusps of various departments. Yours needs to do the same.
At the end of the day, if you seize the opportunities, take the risks, and not get complacent with the fact that some multinational is willing to pay you 15-20 Lakhs a year right out of college, there is no limit to how much money you can make.
And let me be very clear: you can and should plan on making huge fortunes. There is a venture capital industry coming together in India to support your wealth creation journey.
But, remember, risk and reward have a direct correlation. And, to reap the rewards, you have to learn to build. Build products. Build companies. And finally, Build fortunes.
In the short term, as you step out of the institute, look for the best employment opportunities that will teach you to build. Not only build products, but build yourselves.
And if managers and recruiters try to “buy” you for a few extra lakhs, be sure to remember that your end-game is to have a much grander scale of impact than what they ever dared to aspire for.
[ps. Please read my Vision India 2020 series for further ideas on what to build and how.]
Full text of Anuj Dayal’s email:
Dear Ms. Mitra,
I am currently a Junior Year Undergraduate at the Indian Institute of
Technology at Kharagpur. I have been following your articles and opinions at
Forbes, from the piece about Sridhar Vembu to the most recent one about the
coming IndoChina War.
The piece was alarming to say the least. The thought that struck me and the
vibe that I get from most of your articles seems to suggest though, that Indian
engineers would need to start to move towards greater ingenuity and
inventiveness, than what an outsourcing business requires if they need to
maintain the growth of the Indian Knowledge Sector.
Being from one of India’s premier technology institutes, it is not only an
opportunity but also a responsibility for students like me to start thinking
about where India’s next growth story would spring from.
I was wondering if you would be willing to share through The Scholars’ Avenue,
IIT Kharagpur’s campus newspaper, a word of advice on what we could be looking
If you do agree you could contact me at the e-mail address above following
which we could further discuss your views on the subject and ways through which
they could reach IIT Kharagpur’s student, professor and alumni community.
And you can access my Forbes columns here.