The recent appointment of Parag Agrawal as Twitter’s CEO raises the question of why so many India-born techies work at the world’s most powerful Silicon Valley companies.
According to the BBC, Indian-origin people make up around 1% of the US population and 6% of Silicon Valley’s employment, but they are disproportionately represented in the upper ranks.
Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Sundar Pichai of Alphabet, and the CEOs of IBM, Adobe, Palo Alto Networks, VMWare, and Vimeo are all of Indian ancestry.
R Gopalakrishnan, former executive director of Tata Sons and co-author of “The Made in India Manager,” is quoted by the BBC as saying, “No other nation in the world ‘trains’ so many citizens in such a gladiatorial fashion as India does.”
Growing up in India prepares Indians to be “natural managers,” he continues, invoking the legendary Indian corporate strategist C K Prahalad. “From birth certificates to death certificates, from school admissions to acquiring jobs, from infrastructure inadequacies to insufficient capacity,” he adds.
They become flexible problem-solvers as a result of the competition and chaos. They also frequently prioritize the professional over the personal, which aids in overworked American workplace culture, according to Gopalakrishnan.
“Anywhere in the world, these are traits of top leaders,” he argues.
Indian-born CEOs are also part of a four-million-strong minority community that is among the country’s wealthiest and most educated.
Scientists and engineers make up about a million of them. According to the BBC, Indian software engineers receive more than 70% of H-1B visas (work permits for foreigners) awarded by the US, and 40% of all foreign-born programmers in areas like Seattle are from India.
According to the authors of “The Other One Percent: Indians in America,” “this is the result of a major shift in US immigration policy in the 1960s.”
Following the civil rights movement, national-origin quotas were replaced by quotas that prioritized talents and family unity. According to the BBC, highly educated Indians began flocking in the United States soon after, first as scientists, engineers, and doctors, and then, overwhelmingly, as software programmers.
The authors claim that this group of Indian immigrants “did not resemble any other immigration group from any other nation.” They were “triply selected” because they were not only upper-caste rich Indians who could afford to attend a reputable college, but they also belonged to a smaller sliver who could afford a master’s degree in the United States, which many Indian-born CEOs had. Finally, the visa system limited it down to people with specified abilities — frequently in STEM, as the preferred category is termed — that match the US’ “high-end labor market needs.”
BBC reports, technology entrepreneur and scholar Vivek Wadhwa explains, “This is the cream of the crop, and they are joining firms where the best ascend to the top.” “They have an advantage because of the networks they have formed [in Silicon Valley] – the notion was that they would support each other.”
Many of the India-born CEOs have also worked their way up the corporate ladder, according to Wadhwa, which gives them a feeling of humility that sets them apart from many founder-CEOs who have been accused of being arrogant and entitled in their vision and management.
Men like Nadella and Pichai, according to Wadhwa, bring a level of caution, reflection, and a “gentler” culture that makes them ideal candidates for the top job, especially at a time when big tech’s reputation has plummeted amid Congressional hearings, rows with foreign governments, and the widening chasm between Silicon Valley’s wealthiest and the rest of the country.
There are perhaps more obvious explanations. Because so many Indians can communicate in English, it is easier for them to integrate into the diverse US tech industry. According to the BBC, the concentration on math and science in Indian education has resulted in a strong software business, which trains graduates in the necessary abilities, which are then reinforced in top engineering or management institutions in the United States.
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