Senapathy “Kris” Gopalakrishnan, Co-Chairman of Infosys, is one of the most recognisable faces of the IT industry. He obtained his M.Sc. (Physics) in 1977 and M.Tech. (Computer Science) in 1979, both from IIT Madras. In 1981, he co-founded Infosys with six other entrepreneurs; he went on to serve as their MD and CEO from 2007-11. A Distinguished Alumnus of IITM, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 2011.
Excerpts from the interview by Anand Rao and Vinay Sridhar.
IIT Life and Education
Can you recall for us some of your memorable moments in IITM? What did you take back from your time here?
I came to IITM to do M.Sc Physics and M.Tech Computer Science which was my first stay outside home on my own. That itself was a very interesting experience as I was coming from Trivandrum where everyone speaks only Malayalam to a campus where everyone speaks in English! M.Sc was a small batch as the rest were B.Tech or M.Tech (primarily B.Tech), so we felt like a minority in a large ocean. We were put up in Alakananda hostel; the rest of the inmates were all first year B.Tech students. It was quite an interesting experience to spend time with them, myself having come to a world class institution from a small town.
In second year, I became the Literary Secretary of the hostel and got involved in some of the campus activities and got a lot more immersed into the campus life. It gave me confidence to face challenges; that I can compete with the best. The classrooms were quite interesting because the pedagogy is very different from other colleges. Here, you are expected to learn a lot by yourself while outside they spoon-feed you to some extent.
It is said that every individual in IIT is unique in one way or the other. What do you think set you apart from your peers?
Every individual is unique irrespective of whether he is an IITian or not because everybody is different! But what is interesting about IIT is that the friendships you create here stay your entire life; the branding you get as an IIT alumnus stays your entire life. Wherever you go and meet another IITian and there is an immediate bonding that happens which is actually very unique and very valuable because I believe that opens many doors. Within the IIT system we try to be part of and identify with certain groups. For instance, I started programming in 1975-76 – that was the time when the new computer centre came up and they launched FORTRAN classes. I joined that and got into the computer crowd.
If you were back in campus today, what would you have done differently?
I don’t think I will do anything different because, at least for me, those years were very valuable; they molded me and created opportunities for me. Because I got introduced to computers I followed my M.Sc with an M.Tech in Computer Science, so I changed my discipline from physics to computer science. It was very fruitful. So I wouldn’t probably change anything (laughs).
How has your academic life in IIT helped you in industry – did it directly benefit you in your field or was it a completely different scene when you entered industry?
It did help me in many ways actually. First, the pedagogy is such that I had to learn to learn and that has helped me entire life and will do so in the future as well – because in today’s world you have to continuously learn. Second, I did M.Tech in Computer Science and that was very relevant because it gave me a basic knowledge and foundation in the subject which helped me tremendously in my career. It was completely relevant to what was needed in the development of my career.
These days the top jobs offered at IITs are from consulting firms or investment banks. Do you have any opinion on this? Is it the trend that will take its course?
I believe that every industry has to become competitive; every industry will have to do what is necessary to attract top talent. Today the financial services industry and the consultancies pay the best compensation packages, so the best students go to them. Rather than looking at this as a negative, I would see how this can be converted into a positive, by saying that other industries should also compete for the best talent, which can be done by making the compensation package competitive – therein lies the solution. Say, tomorrow the automotive industry is more competitive than the financial services, people will automatically migrate towards it. Some students may look at the excitement of working in the automotive industry and may not look at compensation. But most students look at compensation at the beginning of their career, so you have to make sure that the compensation is competitive.
Recently, Mr.Narayan Murthy commented about the falling standards of students of IIT, in terms of students and the education system itself. Do you have any opinions on that?