The Futurist Technologist

Khushwant Singh

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

‘When you are in those moments, especially when you happen to be in charge of a piece which not is just about what your team or your company is counting on, rather its the entire industry is counting on that piece being right,’ says Gurdeep sharing that moment in the history of technology when he felt the onus.

Gurdeep elaborates his point. According to him the Internet pretty much took off after the development of TCP/IP and broad adoption of Windows 95. However, it is also when hackers really came into being and they started attacking Microsoft computers since the Internet was mostly running on Microsoft software. It was a challenge as Gurdeep’s team was responsible for that software. According to Gurdeep, hackers were managing to crash thousands of websites because they were constantly on the lookout for loopholes in the stacks, and the responsibility to fix them lay on Gurdeep and his team, and in some ways, the future of the viability of the public Internet depended on their response.

‘We soon created a system where we were often fixing ten critical patches per week and pushing them out to computers and websites, so these sites were uploading latest versions of our software and were no longer vulnerable to those attacks. For five years we went through this phase where these attacks kept happening and we were working seven days a week and twelve to eighteen hours days. Though such attacks still continue to this day and have since morphed in many ways, that was a highly critical phase because if we hadn’t got it right, it is in the realm of feasible that the whole idea of an Open Internet could have imploded. ‘Lot of times even promising initiatives like the Internet have to pass this point of irrefutability – before they are there to stay, despite the issues,’ says Gurdeep.

At this point, another fascinating assignment came Gurdeep’s way. It was way different from his initial profile but equally engrossing. It was an area that would help give wings to his childhood desire of inventing something totally new and magical. ‘As a child when I used to read about scientists inventing or discovering something, I always used to wonder how they did it.’ With three other Industry colleagues, he got to co-author the first VPN protocol – called Point to Point Tunneling Protocol(PPTP), which became a de-facto VPN standard on the internet. Put simply, a VPN is a secure “pipe” that is created over the internet between a computer and a private or company’s network. ‘It was pretty much what the world needed at that point. Almost all business users used this technology to connect with corporate networks,’ he says explaining the steps of technology, which would eventually make it an irrefutable part of human personal and professional life. VPN and Dial-up Networking (that he had worked on earlier) made “work from anywhere” possible, a capability that we all take for granted today.

The success of this creation further reinforced Gurdeep’s belief that if you create something of value people will flock to use it, and the impact will be tremendous. This philosophy and belief gave him the impetus to work on new things, which could add value to the status quo. ‘No one was telling us what to create. We were actually coming out with ideas that if we did it this way we could actually allow people to connect over broadband connections in their corporate networks,’ explains Gurdeep as to how each step empowered him to create more. He credits Microsoft, which he feels was a very enabling company to work with. It had talent, resources and a highly fertile environment for innovation He considers himself very fortunate that he began his innings at Microsoft, as it was instrumental in molding his career in elements more than just work. And of course seeing the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, work the way he does had a massive impact on Gurdeep.

Khushwant Singh
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