India was a much different place in 1988. The world’s second most populous country was a third smaller than it is today. Its economy was hardly a dominant force. And India sent far fewer of its brightest minds to the United States for post-graduate studies.
Anurag Gupta was much different, too. He had just earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering from Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, the oldest of the country’s engineering and management schools. He was poised to depart for the United States in pursuit of a master’s degree in computer science at the University of Rhode Island.
A year later, Gupta with a master’s in hand, headed south to Georgia Tech for his doctorate. The perennial high-achiever graduated in 1993 and set out on a lengthy career with leading technology companies. But a desire to return home remained, so Gupta and his wife and children moved back to India.
Growing up in Kharagpur, Gupta, Ph.D. Computer Science 1993, enjoyed a cultured upbringing due to his father’s role as a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology. He thrived in art, drama, debate, and sports and demonstrated a prowess for drama and debate, as evidenced by numerous prizes from his school. But, Gupta’s area of strength was apparent: science.
“A couple of my science projects won prizes at the district, state, and national level science fairs,” Gupta said. “One was a solar water heater, and another generated electricity from cow dung slurry.”
Gupta found engineering to be an ideal outlet for his scientific proficiency in college. Fortunately, his top choice and the country’s best school was just down the road. But, first he had to pass the rigorous IIT Joint Entrance Examination. The exam was administered annually to nearly 100,000 prospective IIT students. Only around 2,000 students were admitted each year.
Gupta finished 157th among the thousands.
He studied computer science at IIT, graduating with honors. Following graduation, Gupta’s father encouraged him to go to America for graduate studies rather than joining a company in India. Gupta agreed and departed for America in 1988.
He stayed for 21 years.
Molded by Midtown
Gupta’s four years at Georgia Tech were busy. He was a graduate teaching assistant for freshman classes on Unix and algorithms and a graduate research assistant for a U.S. Department of Defense-backed project on parallel discrete event simulation.
Toward the end of his time at Georgia Tech, Gupta says he discovered his purpose in life.
“I realized in 1992 that, while solving tough technical problems was interesting, what really galvanized me was solving tough technical problems that had a huge impact,” Gupta said. “Making benefits of technology accessible and ubiquitous was my focus then and still is.”
That discovery has guided Gupta through an accomplished career with many elite companies within the tech industry, including Intel, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo, and PayPal.
Gupta and his wife decided to come home in 2009. The Guptas wanted to expose their children to Indian culture and felt it was an optimal time for a move. They eventually relocated to the Indian technology hub of Bangalore. There were some adjustments along the way.
“I have had to re-learn skepticism, hard negotiating skills, and street smarts that were not used as extensively in the nicer but cut-and-dried, rules-based U.S. environment,” Gupta said.
But the family relishes living in India, enjoying Bangalore’s nearly constant climate of 70 degrees along with its friendly, social environment. Furthermore, his children enjoy school, friends, and Indian food. His son has also enjoyed a few of India’s subtle contrasts with America.
“Rishee enjoys playing badminton outside with his friends year-round,” Gupta said. “He also routinely negotiates with grocery owners.”
Gupta joined PayPal because it has a solid business model and he was enthused by the opportunity to bring payments to the next billion users.
“Mobile payments now constitute nearly 20 percent of our overall payment revenues,” he said. “We are focused on simplifying our software systems to enable us to capture these opportunities quicker and at a larger scale.”
And yet, Gupta said his four years in Atlanta remain critical to his successes.
“Georgia Tech taught me to break the mold and apply learning to new situations usefully and creatively,” he said.
That “break-the-mold” spirit brought the Guptas back home.
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