The Futurist Technologist

By
Khushwant Singh

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

Gurdeep’s interest in computers kept growing but also presented its challenges. Other than the transition from an Indian education system, finances were always going to be an issue. His father could only afford the air ticket and a small budget after which Gurdeep had to figure out ways to fund his education. To cover his costs he started working as a teaching assistant, a job that took care of his tuition fee besides providing him a stipend for his living expenses. It also augured well for him because he got to teach as well as learn, a combination that gave an immense fillip to his thoughts. ‘I had no safety net and when you don’t have one you do whatever it takes for you to survive,’ said Gurdeep elaborating on his anxieties during his college days. ‘There was no way I could not maintain at least a B average in the Master’s program. Because if I slipped below that I knew I would lose my job and I would be packing my bags to head back home.’

In addition to this was the challenge of reaching the college, as he didn’t get housing on campus. Transportation was a serious problem, especially in the evening. The last bus would leave at seven-thirty whereas his computer laboratories would function late after that. He would sometimes walk back five miles in freezing temperatures to his rented accommodation because he couldn’t afford a taxi.

All the struggles that he faced during his college years notwithstanding, Gurdeep had an enriching and satisfying university experience and completed his Masters in 1989. Luckily for him, during the course itself, Microsoft Corporation spotting talent in the young lad had offered him a job, which he had applied for independently through Microsoft’s recruiting center.

Microsoft

After conducting two rounds of interviews with Gurdeep at its headquarters in Redmond, Washington State, Microsoft Corporation offered him a job on 1 November 1989 – interestingly exactly 5 years from the fateful day on the bloody train in India. He was given a two month window in which to accept or reject the offer, but a new challenge awaited him. He was still to complete his Master’s thesis without which he would not get his degree, and the job offer would rescind. He had to submit it before the deadline for that academic quarter, which was looming large in a few weeks. He literally took his sleeping bag to his university office and camped there for the next few weeks.

The topic of his thesis was specification and verification in distributed real-time systems, a new area at the time. His thesis involved formally reasoning with and analyzing mission-critical systems which must handle most important data and tasks not get bogged down by irrelevant things in case of a disaster. Real-time systems control critical things like space shuttles, oil rigs, and so on. Gurdeep completed his thesis on the last day, which included official formalities like sign off on his thesis by his supportive advisor, Dr. Virginia Lo, and he finally joined Microsoft on 8 January 1990.

Gurdeep’s starting salary was the US $30,000 along with stock options. ‘Back then I had no clue what stock options meant. I just thought of them as something which looked great on the offer letter, little realizing that they would become the most significant part of my offer,’ he says, reminiscing about the good old days, where just landing a job with Microsoft was enough of a consideration. Like other high-tech companies committed to attracting top talent, Microsoft would also help Gurdeep get an H-1B work visa.



Khushwant Singh
  • Manpreet Singh

    Nice!