For a long time blocked by a glass ceiling in the United States, Indian engineers have enjoyed great recognition in large companies in recent years. Many of them are now reaching management positions and moving to Silicon Valley. What is the reason for this success?
Twitter, Microsoft, Alphabet…and the list goes on. Many leaders of Indian origin hold executive positions in the world’s largest companies. A dazzling achievement even though Indian immigrants represent only 1% of the U.S. population and 6% of Silicon Valley workers. But it wasn’t always this way.
“For a long time, Indian immigrants were stereotyped out of leadership roles: they were seen as excellent engineers but not as leaders”, says Indian entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa, a professor at Carnegie-Mellon University’s School of Engineering in Silicon Valley.
India’s colonial past has undeniably played a role in the development of the Indian diaspora. As a reminder of the British colonial era, English is not only the common language among the states of the country, but also the language of instruction in universities and colleges.
The colonial era brought much suffering to the Indian population and left a lasting impression on the mentality of many Indians, which is often more Westernized than it first appears.
The administration and legal system are still largely based on structures that were introduced to the subcontinent by the British. In addition, most families place a high value on education. Young people are encouraged to distinguish themselves from an early age in the face of countless competition. Only the best manage to overcome bureaucratic obstacles and succeed in the world’s second most populous country.
Education and entrepreneurship
Google (Sundar Pichai), Nokia (Rajeev Suri), Adobe Systems (Shantanu Narayen), Pepsi (Indra Nooyi) and Mastercard (Ajaypal Singh Bangaont) are all now headed by people from the subcontinent.
Since the 1980s, thousands of English-speaking engineers have been trained each year in Indian universities, especially in Bangalore. Computer science colleges are considered to be training grounds for a promising future, as are the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT). Some of them then choose to continue their studies in the United States. After graduation, they are recruited by large companies or decide to found their own start-ups.
“Indians first became successful as entrepreneurs and then entered the venture capital world by becoming partners in funds”, explained Indian entrepreneur Venktesh Shukla in an interview with Les Echos. “Once the glass ceiling was broken, big companies started giving them management positions. And now they are CEOs!”
In 2012, the Kauffman Foundation estimated that one-third of Silicon Valley companies founded by migrants were founded by Indians, compared to 8% by Chinese.
Indians in Silicon Valley today have an unparalleled number of assets: in addition to their perfect command of English and their advanced technical skills, they also have a reputation for having a more flexible and humble style of governance than their Californian colleagues.
“When you come from a country like India with its diversity of religions, languages and cultures, it makes you more open and better able to manage differences”, says Vivek Wadhwa. “At a time when tech leaders are being singled out for their controversial practices and arrogance in the face of criticism, this is a great cultural asset.”
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