Mohit Goyal graduated in 1968 with a B.Tech in Metallurgy. Since then, he has worked in a variety of companies including IBM and ICIM. He has over thirty years of experience in the IT industry. He is also a founding member and Director of the Indian Angel Network, a group that has now grown to over 200 members who are active in funding startups. 

I recall a scene from The Graduate, a blockbuster movie from the past, debuting the now famous Dustin Hoffman, where, in a scene from his graduation party, a big wig businessman whispers in his ear, “Plastics” and Dustin goes, “Huh?” I too had my “Huh” moment after school, when similar well wishers whispered, “Engineer” into my ear. Their verdict seemed unanimous and so I resigned myself to becoming an Engineer. Things were so much simpler in my school where everyone was sure that he would join his ‘Dad’s business’, which seemed such great a career option that I too resolved to follow my dad into the Airforce.

The “Engineer” is quite a remarkable professional; he has not just survived the tumultuous technology changes and global upheavals down the years but has emerged stronger than ever. The marquee companies that flocked our campuses to recruit trainees have come and gone – the Binnys, Metal Boxes, Dunlops, etc of our days – but the Engineer has soldiered on unscathed, being completely relevant to new age companies like Google, Facebook and the like. Far from losing relevance, the Engineer has truly come into his own in this new age knowledge era, achieving not just professional excellence in his career but, also, embracing that most exciting career option of all – entrepreneurship

While other professionals like lawyers, doctors, etc became entrepreneurs by starting small & niche “practices”, the engineer- entrepreneurs scaled up their “practices” and went global. The first generation, new age Indian entrepreneur emerged in the ‘80s and exploited the opportunities presented by a more liberalized local economy and, most importantly, the emergence of the knowledge era. Case in point is the Indian IT industry which grew from Rs 300cr (1990) to $100b (2011), thanks largely to this new breed of engineer- entrepreneurs. I feel proud to be counted among them, having started a software company, taken it public and, finally, selling it to UK based Xansa plc (now Steria). Now, as a founder director of the Indian Angel Network that provides funds & mentorship to startups, I have a ringside view of the stream of today’s confident youngsters – mostly with engineering backgrounds – who are willing to chuck up their jobs to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. I am amazed and awestruck by the audacity of their offerings; all cutting edge stuff that push the boundaries – sometimes credibility – of current technology; stuff at the very leading edge of our knowledge age, where even the large companies, with all their resources, fear to tread.

I have often wondered what exactly makes the IIT Engineer so successful and so much in demand in the real world. After all – and I think I speak for many – how much of what we learnt do most of us apply in our day jobs? I feel it is the upfront selection filter, together with the rigor & discipline of study – cruelly called mugging by many – that makes the difference. When I joined IBM, my first job, I was horrified at the prospect of facing another year of study in their “school”. Yet, once I got down to it, I quickly got into my stride. Needless to add, other than a few direct recruits from foreign universities, all the IBM recruits in my batch were from the IITs. I rest my case.

Many of us in the entrepreneurial community feel that encouraging entrepreneurship should be a national priority. Any country that provides its startup ecosystem with an enabling environment, will spawn thousands of startups from which will emerge  hundreds of corporations, many of which will finally find their way into the Fortune 100 lists. This directly impacts employment; remember that more than 90% of US’ employment is generated by small companies with under 30 employees and not the multinationals, as many believe. The cumulative impact of, both, employment and increased goods & services, on GDP growth makes for a compelling argument for any government to strongly focus on its startup community. Unfortunately, the side benefit of the entrepreneurs creating wealth for themselves in the process, seems unappetizing to many governments, who have obviously missed the larger picture.

There is a silent stakeholder group who must be applauded. And that is the parents and family members of the entrepreneurs, who provide moral (sometimes even financial) support, without which the entire entrepreneurial eco system would be at serious risk of imploding. Certainly, in my days, announcing to our parents that we wanted to become entrepreneurs after graduation would have elicited something much more radical than just a “Huh?” from them; I speak for myself on this with some surety! We have come a long way on this one issue alone.

The earlier IITians certainly did the hard slog to build IIT from “just another Indian university” into a globally respected brand but then, generation after generation of IITians have, thereafter, carried this baton forward and ensured that, today, there is no longer a level playing field out there; the IITian has a definite edge over the others in the knowledge era. Indeed, we have come a long, long way!