The Editorial Team faced one of those instances, when a person’s resume runs longer than the article we plan to write, when we ran into Mr Dilip Venkatachari. With a BTech in Electrical Engineering he flew straight to Rice University to get his MS after which he sped right on to Harvard for an MBA with Distinction. He had a mini tryst with journalism as the editor of insti’s newsletter, Focus, and was known for his bold ventures even back then. He was also the Soc-Sec of Godav. This member of the Board of Directors of Pan IIT USA was however still unsatiated and went on to work with Google, Yahoo, Paypal, McKinsey and Goldman Sachs in addition to having three start-ups of his own. When he isn’t taking the time off to indulge and impart wisdom to young correspondents, he can be found in Bay Area.
Tell us a little bit about your experience as the Editor of Focus.
Generally, the admin used to have control over the newspapers. They used to read articles before they were published. To circumvent this, the Focus team used to print and give the newspapers to the admin clerks only on the morning of circulation. It was a very exciting experience. Once, when I was taking a walk outside insti I found a vendor selling Mardi Gras tee shirts… and he had a whole carton of them! On further investigation I discovered that the Students’ General Secretary was also involved in a long web of corruption. The Focus team then published an expose and ensured that action was taken against the students involved.
What were your best memories from your time on campus?
When you look back 20 years later at your time here, there is a lot that you won’t remember. You learn more advanced things as you go along. Your initial years do however leave a really nice feeling in you. The thing I can’t forget is the whole workshop experience. We had alternate weeks of just filing away at a block. You were given a piece of metal and you were supposed to channel it, shape it etc. All you had was a file. Slightly better than a nail file. You would be left wondering how in the world you were supposed to reduce it to that shape. Well. We would try to sneak through to the machine rotation guys just to chop off parts. (Us: Did it work? Him: *sinister nod*) The trick was to mess it up a little bit in the end to make it look hand done. (laughs)
How have you managed to stay connected to your friends from IIT?
After IIT, when we graduated, we all accidentally ended up in the Bay Area. It just happened that one area attracted all the jobs and we all ended up there. There are thirty people in my class and twenty of them live within a five mile radius of me! I kid you not. Just from my Godav and Narmad I have about forty or fifty friends. I might run into them when I go to the Grocery Shop.
Hiring when you’re abroad is more based on the people you know. I remember this chip company, I think it was AMD, two of my classmates joined and the manager needed 6 people and he asked them ‘Do you know anyone?’ They said, ‘Do we know anyone? We’ll get you everyone you need!’ Everybody showed up and a bunch of people joined them. They started to assume that there was only one school in India – IIT Madras. All that the manager saw was more people showing up. He just assumed there was an unlimited production of such guys.
Could you tell us about your Pan IIT experience?
I’m very active at Pan IIT and was President there for a while. We basically wanted to brand IIT. I was a part of the team that made sure that 60 minutes did a show on IIT. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGIgJWvt6fw). We are currently trying to delve into the smaller cities and get more participation from there. It’s kind of a struggle for us. There’s no problem in the Bay Area. We have a local Diwali festival. We realised that people only cared about their IIT. We decided not to mess with that. The money for events would be held and accounted for by individual IITs.
In addition we also started these inter IIT type competitions and those used to be amazing. There was this huge indoor auditorium and the noise inside was deafening. You couldn’t tell if the crowd was cheering for you or against you. Every single guy was an ex IITian or his family. Infact, this was managed by the spouses’ association.
In 2003, when we organised the first pan IIT event, one of the guys I was working with, Rajat Gupta, was able to persuade Bill Gates to attend. And it wasn’t just the alumni. The majority of them turned up with their entire family. The American ambassador to India flew to America just to give a speech at the event. It was pretty interesting.
What sparked off the interest for maintaining such a connection and why are you so keen on giving back?
Of my three schools, I remember my IIT experience the most. My MBA experience was very different from both my undergrad and grad in the sense that in MBA, you spend a lot of time with your peers because the idea there is that eventually your work life is going to be in a large part the people you know – networking. But even then, if I need to ask a question or I need help with something, I always turned to an IITian.
What we’re trying to do is to convince alumni to give back a minimum of say 100 dollars every year, a lot more if they can afford it because money can help you a lot. You might not believe that we only paid 100 Rs per semester back then. We spent more on movies. We wish to pump back in a whole pool of resources for you since this college gave us so much. We don’t want that imparting culture to ever stop.
Is there anything you’d like to say to the students at Insti?
Your time here is part of your formative years. You learn a lot. And it’s not just in the classes. IIT will be the most fun time of your life. Don’t forget that a vast majority of education is about the co curriculars that you do. Be it Saarang or some sports that you play, always give it your fullest and go for it! Finally, don’t ever forget your friends. Not only for dealing with the bouts of nostalgia, but also because contacts are very valuable in today’s world. I get a lot of calls from Harvard Alumni saying, ‘I’m looking for a job, any help?’ I get very few calls from IITians. I think that’s missing importantly from the fresher alumni. You’ve got to learn to ask for help. When you say ‘What can I do for you’, that’s marketing. You need to go to a guy and say ‘What can you do for me?’ It really helps a lot.
Dilip Venkatachari (BT/1981/EE) is currently the CEO of Compass Labs.
Chennai 36 wishes all its readers, fellow students and large family of professors and alumni a very Happy Diwali.
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