The Futurist Technologist

Khushwant Singh

Gurdeep Singh Pall Corporate Vice President, Business AI, Microsoft Corp.

Gurdeep completed his engineering in 1987 and kept his resolve to go abroad. During the last year of his degree, he actively researched American universities in which he could pursue a Masters degree in computer science and took the GRE.

Higher Education in USA

The University of Oregon was one of the several universities that offered Gurdeep admission in the course of his choice. Opting for Oregon, Gurdeep, while awaiting his study visa joined Wipro, Bangalore as a management trainee. He had been selected via the campus placement department. ‘In those days computer literacy was so low that anyone with the slightest degree could get a job,’ jokes Gurdeep. Wipro, which had just forayed into the business of computers from selling Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), gave Gurdeep an experience he cherishes. He especially values those memories where Azim Premji, then CEO of Wipro, would address the newly inducted management trainees on the value system of the company. Gurdeep would carry the importance of values with him there on.

Soon, it was time to head to the United States of America. It was the first time ever Gurdeep was going overseas. He remembers flying on the legendary but now defunct PANAM Airlines. He landed in Los Angeles en route to Portland and was collected by his maternal uncle, who had immigrated to the US back in 1968. Gurdeep spent a few days with his uncle at Portland before heading to Eugene, Oregon.

‘It was an exhilarating experience,’ is how Gurdeep describes his university years. ‘I was the first time out of the country, I wore a turban yet everyone welcomed me with open arms,’ he says. Since the concept of imparting education was way different than India, Gurdeep was in for a surprise the very first day. He had never expected a classroom to be so casual. Especially so when the head of the computer science department is delivering the lecture. Gurdeep was shocked to see many students sitting with their feet up on the desks and addressing their professor by his first name. In India, it is akin to blasphemy! It is an act that is to be scorned upon, given the value system of showing respect to a teacher and an elder. Not only this, he found a few students munching snacks and gobbling pizzas. Imagine a student eating chole-bhature during a lecture in any of the IITs?

Other than the initial shock, Gurdeep looked at this causal approach with a different perspective. He learned to be okay with it because he felt that it was more essential to focus on the core than the context, or the trappings. ‘For a student, the subject that he is learning is the most important – it’s core. Everything else around it plays a supporting role. And frankly, the education system that I had grown up with had at times emphasized context more than the core,’ he said while reflecting on his university days. Reminiscing further he also confides that back then he had no idea that his selection of subject would play such a significant role in the years to come, in fact, his entire future. The world of computers and Internet, unlike today where it has pervaded every aspect of our lives, was not really a big thing back then. ‘I mean, today kids grow up with it as an intrinsic part of their lives, but then very few people had even seen a computer.’ The first time Gurdeep saw a computer was in class eleven when he had gone for a school trip to Jadavpur University, Kolkata. The university had just procured a new Burroughs-6700 mainframe computer and had it installed at the Regional Computer Center, and for students interested in this field it was nothing short of a pilgrimage, air-conditioned labs, punch cards, and all.

Khushwant Singh
  • Manpreet Singh