Satya Nadella’s weakness shows he’s human like the rest of us

A Hyderabadi romantic.
A Hyderabadi romantic.
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
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Satya Nadella grew up in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad and studied engineering at the Manipal Institute of Technology, before moving to the US and finding his way to the corner office at Microsoft in 2014.

But the CEO of the tech mammoth has remained close to his roots, making frequent trips to India, and often interacting and collaborating with Indian entrepreneurs. Today (Nov. 06), for instance, Microsoft and online taxi aggregator Ola announced a partnership to build a connected vehicle platform for car manufacturers.

The 50-year-old also took the stage at a business conclave organised by the India Today group in New Delhi today and talked about his love for cricket, Mahatma Gandhi, and artificial intelligence. Edited excerpts from a conversation with journalist Rajdeep Sardesai:

Cricket or tech talk, what do you prefer?

One of the most amazing experiences as part of this book tour was to go to Lord’s for an interview with ESPN Cricinfo and talk about technology. So it harmonised my entire life for me. I went to the headquarters of cricket and talked about the two things that I am most passionate about.

Hyderabad or Redmond, where is Satya Nadella’s heart?

I grew up in the Deccan plateau and now I live in the Sammamish plateau—and both of them are very much a part of my life. I always say that I am a product of two amazing American things—American technology reaching me where I was growing up, and the American immigration policy that allowed me to live my life.

Pick one: running or pumping iron?


Pick one: ML Jaisimha (former Indian test cricketer) or Sachin Tendulkar?

That’s tough. But, look, I’m a Hyderabadi romantic at heart and so ML Jaisimha.

Who is your favourite Indian? Someone who’s inspired you all these years.

Gandhi ji. There’s no question. His life, his message, not only as an Indian but as a global citizen… I think everything that he represented is so current.

What do you think will be the next big thing in tech?

The three things that I think about are mixed reality, artificial intelligence (AI), and, now it’s a little out there, but quantum (computing).

Is there a buzzy innovation app that you think is destined for failure?

Anytime you think that this is it, this is the final technology that you ever need, it has got a finite shelf life.

What is your weakness?

I start lots of books but I finish few of them.

What is your wish for India and the world in 2018?

I hope that we not only celebrate the amazing opportunity we have to create technology or use technology. But perhaps, the currency of our times is going to be the surplus (technology) that gets created in and around us. (We must ensure) how is it equitably being distributed because that’s what creates stability in democracies like India or the US. That’s what creates overall global prosperity in the long run, so I hope that we can crack the new models of growth that allow us to make progress.

There are a lot of people out there who worry about the impact AI will have. Can you give them a message?

I’m a great believer that technology is a tool. We as humans will have to make decisions. We as societies, governments, policymakers will have to make decisions on how do you use this technology to create the surplus. That’s what’s going to define whether we achieve equitable growth or not.

Can you share your vision for India in 2040?

As a technologist, one thing that I try to shy away from is doing these predictions because you’ll always get them wrong. The one thing that I do believe in is the choices that people in this room make in 2017 are going to define what’s going to happen in 2040 because life is past-dependent. Societies are past-dependent. People who talk about AI—we have a choice in front of us. AI can empower us, AI can be inclusive—depending on the choices we make as designers of AI versus abdicating the responsibility for new technology.