The elevation of Parag Agrawal, the 37-year-old IIT-Bombay alumnus, as the CEO of Twitter comes as yet another testimony to the dominant role of the Indian immigrants in the success story of America’s technology sector. A closer look at the profile of the companies in Silicon Valley, the global technology hub, reveals how Indians have come to be regarded as the world’s richest pool of tech talent. Agrawal, a doctorate in Computer Science from Stanford University who rose through the ranks to become the firm’s chief technology officer in 2017, joins the long list of Indians who are at the helm of the global technology giants including Satya Nadella of Microsoft Corp, Shantanu Narayen of Adobe Inc, Arvind Krishna of International Business Machines Corp and Sundar Pichai of Google. Every time an Indian origin professional takes a top post in a multinational company in America — a regular feature in the last couple of decades — an important question that begs attention is why can’t India replicate the Silicon Valley model, particularly when it is essentially the Indian talent that is dominating the show at the global hub. The main reason is the absence of an ecosystem that nurtures innovation and creativity and promotes entrepreneurship free from the stranglehold of rigid regulatory systems and corrupt bureaucracy. This has virtually prevented India from emerging as the world’s next Silicon Valley, despite being endowed with abundant talent. India has long branded itself as the world’s leading outsourcing destination, particularly for the global technology companies, but the time is now ripe for the country to reinvent itself, given the burgeoning startup and innovation culture.
India needs to further improve government regulations to encourage support for technological innovation, train tech talent and incentivise it to stay in the country and continue to improve its risk profile by attracting significant foreign and domestic investment in technology. Like his Silicon Valley compatriots, Agrawal comes from a technical background and worked his way up within the company. At 37, he is the youngest CEO among the global top 500 companies. Ever since waves of Indian graduates poured into Silicon Valley in Northern California in the 1970s and 1980s, talented Indians have made breakthroughs, pushed boundaries and held positions of power in the world of technology. Almost all the big US technology companies have technology pioneers of Indian descent, including the fathers of the USB and technology blogging. More than 40% of the foreign tech workers in the Valley are from India. The US tech industry has grown increasingly dependent on Indian workers. According to the State Department, the US has issued more than 1.7 million H-1B visas since 2009, with over 65% going to people of Indian origin. Close to 70% of H-1B visa holders work in the tech industry, up from less than 40% in 2003.
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