The life of an undergrad in computing at Georgia Tech can be quite demanding, forcing many to choose just two from the three proverbial options of the college experience: good grades, a social life and adequate sleep.
But Ajai Karthikeyan, a senior computer science major, seems to reject the notion that two out of three ain’t bad. He has maintained a strong grade point average, manages to have lots of time and fun with friends, gets enough rest and has even added a fourth must-have—student leadership—to his agenda.
Since arriving at Tech from his home in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Karthikeyan has been named Outstanding Freshman and Outstanding Sophomore (2008 and 2009, respectively), helped launch a student newsletter-turned-newspaper-turned magazine called Firewall, founded the Georgia Tech Entrepreneurs’ Society, serves as president of the Undergraduate Council and is currently working on starting up a few other projects.
“When I graduate, everyone who is graduating with me will have a computer science degree just like mine,” the 20-year-old says. “I want to set myself apart, and the experiences I’ve had in Entrepreneurs’ Society and the Firewall may be more helpful to my success in the end than some of my classes.”
Karthikeyan would like to start his own company, so he focuses much of his academic energy on people-oriented design, commercialization and marketing of technology, and successful entrepreneurship. He has a few ideas for start-ups already, but he describes those ideas as “still in the pre-napkin stage—that is, not even ready to be jotted down on a paper napkin.”
A native of South India, Karthikeyan moved with his parents to Dubai when he was 6 years old. Elementary education in Dubai includes computing instruction from the earliest grades, so he was learning about computers and even writing code as a kid. By his junior year in high school, he had decided to study computing in college and make a career of it.
“As a field, it’s young and vibrant. I love the fact that you can do so many things with it, because the possibilities are limitless,” he says. “You never know what is going to develop.”
The same could be true of the projects Karthikeyan takes on. Firewall, a monthly newspaper for and by computing undergrads, was initially conceived as a two-page electronic newsletter. It launched in October 2008 as a 16-page, black and white publication with College funding, and by its third issue it had been transformed into a 24-page color magazine almost completely supported by advertising revenues. Karthikeyan headed the publication initially but has since departed from the organization’s leadership to focus on other projects.
As the founder of Entrepreneurs’ Society, Karthikeyan arranged for a series of weekly public lectures by successful entrepreneurs, investors such as Sig Mosley (president of Imlay Investments) and student entrepreneurs like Jason Ardell and Tim Dorr (recent computer science graduates who founded Feedscrub, a service that filters RSS feeds according to user preferences). It now serves as Georgia Tech’s official student entrepreneurship organization with affiliations with the Advanced Technology Development Center and other Atlanta entrepreneurship groups.
Cedric Stallworth, assistant dean of the Office of Outreach, Enrollment and Community, calls Karthikeyan an asset to the computing student community.
“Ajai not only keeps his fellow students up-to-date about what’s going on around the College, his initiative and free-flowing ideas have even helped create new opportunities for them,” Stallworth says. “He’s had a remarkable couple of years here, and we’re looking forward to more of the same in the future.”
Karthikeyan plans to complete his bachelor’s degree in computer science and earn an MBA, perhaps with a few years in the workforce in between. In the meantime he’ll keep coming up with ideas and might even start writing them down on napkins, in the hopes that he will be able to turn one or two into viable companies.
“The startup culture suits me better than the corporate one,” he says.
No surprise there.