Satya Nadella, the executive vice-president of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group, has worked under the leadership of Bill Gates and has also been the president of Microsoft’s $19 billion Server and Tool business.
The Hyderabadi’s journey has been what dreams are made of; after graduating from the University of Mangalore, in Electrical Engineering, Nadella got a Master’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin and then a Master’s in Business Administration from Chicago.
Now, the US-based Nadella talks about his school days at Hyderabad Public School, working under Bill Gates, his current position and much more.
Q You joined Microsoft in 1992, what kind of impression did Bill Gates have on you? What have been some of the most rewarding moments in your career?
Bill is an amazing person. What he achieved at Microsoft is a story that is well known and celebrated. I was lucky enough to have been part of that ride since 1992. I will never forget the first email I got from him with some pointed feedback on a set of features in a product that I was building. It was exciting that the CEO was directly sending me mail on a feature that I never thought he would notice and then spending all of my weekend crafting my response to his email. I had a chance to work closely with him during my years in Bing where he was very interested in how we could change the game in “search” and even today some of the core threads around new UI or semantically rich storage or natural language search are big themes that he is pushing us to innovate as part of Windows Azure, SQL Server etc.
When I started at Microsoft, I was lucky enough to be part of the rise of the client-server paradigm. Now to have a chance to be part of the Cloud wave, which is amazing in terms of the sheer ability to impact every walk of life.
QTell us more about your family and your days in Hyderabad.
I am still connected deeply to Hyderabad. Both my wife and I went to HPS. Our parents live in Hyderabad and we visit them every year.
There were many influences on me while growing up. In the late Seventies and early Eighties when I was growing up in Hyderabad, it was a bit more laid-back and that gave you time to think about things differently without perhaps being caught up in the narrow approach to one’s journey through life.
Perhaps more than anything, I think playing cricket for HPS taught me more about working in teams and leadership that has stayed with me throughout my career. There was this one particular incident in a match where my school captain noticed I was bowling some really ordinary stuff. He took over the next over himself, got our team the much-needed breakthrough and then threw the ball back to me in the next over! I will never forget that. What made him do that? Is this what they call leadership? These are the kind of questions I have since reflected on as I approach many of the things I do today leading teams.
Q. Every year United States witnesses a large influx of Indian engineers trying to make it big in the country. You are living the dream of every Indian who goes to the US. How has your journey been?
I think the combination of graduate education in a field like Computer Science and the opportunity to apply this in a work environment like Microsoft is what drove me. The impact these opportunities create can lead to work that has broad, worldwide impact. This is an unparalleled opportunity.
Q. What is your role as an executive vice-president of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group?
My team delivers the “Cloud OS”, Microsoft’s next generation backend platform. I have been in this role for the past two-and-a half years and oversaw the transformation of what was a $19 billion Server and Tools Business — from client-server software to cloud infrastructure and services.
Q. What are the tips and guidelines that you would like to give aspiring students to follow their dreams?
Be passionate and bold. Always keep learning. You stop doing useful things if you don’t learn. So the last part to me is the key, especially if you have had some initial success. It becomes even more critical that you have the learning “bit” always switched on.
Q. How do keep yourself motivated? Who have been your mentors so far and what have you learnt from them?
I have had the good fortune of moving within Microsoft to new areas every four to five years. I have worked across Windows, Office, Dynamics, Bing and now Cloud and Enterprise.This journey has both kept me on my toes and constantly motivated.
I have also been lucky to work for many accomplished and inspiring people like Doug Burgum who was the founder of Great Plains, Jeff Raikes who is now the CEO of the Gates Foundation,and now Steve Ballmer. I have learnt many things about both leadership and strategy from all of them. Perhaps more than anything what strikes me most is how every single one of them was both very ambitious for their teams and yet very grounded and humble. I think this to me is the true goal for any leader.