It’s often said you could appreciate the status of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) in India if you put together the status of Harvard, MIT and Princeton. The IITs—with seven campuses, in Mumbai, Kanpur, Delhi, Kharagpur, Chennai, Roorkee and Guwahati, and a few more in the pipeline—are probably the hardest school in the world to get into. Years of preparation, a six-hour entrance exam, the month-long wait for the results—after that, only the best and brightest are admitted. This is the single biggest reason for the success of IIT alumni.
What the US and western countries import when they roll out the red carpet for IITians is really smart people. IIT undergrads leave their American counterparts way behind, and are favoured over almost everyone else, for the IIT degree carries pre-assigned credibility. It isn’t just tech firms that recruit them. Consulting and software firms, bankers—all come to pick the best talent in India, on the IIT campuses.
If you think engineering grads are nerds, not particularly bold or creative, IIT breaks that mould too. It converts students into risk-takers and leaders. Some of the smartest, most successful and most influential Indians who have migrated to the US seem to share a common credential—they are all IIT grads. The IITs prepare students for an analytical career, which, coupled with years of experience in different environments, produces real success stories. Microsoft, Intel, Sun Microsystems—you name it and IIT grads have played a leading role everywhere. The IIT brand is synonymous with Indian excellence.
For me, the IIT experience was one of the richest and most valuable I have had. It gave me the opportunity to interact with extremely smart people, sometimes a humbling experience. IITs prepare you to work cross-culturally and do diverse things. From my batchmates, one runs a hedge fund in New York, another is a successful trader on Wall Street and yet another a professor of computer science at MIT.
When the best companies in the world come to seek out the best tech-trained talent in India that has consistently proved itself in diverse fields, they go to the IITs.
The IITs have contributed to almost every field: Jairam Ramesh from the UPA government and Manohar Parrikar from the NDA both graduated from IIT Bombay. Infocian Nandan Nilekani, who went on to head the UIDAI project, also graduated from IIT Bombay. Victor Menezes, who retired as senior vice-president of Citibank and co-chairs the American India Foundation, and Raghuman Rajan, the current governor of the Reserve Bank of India, all share the IIT DNA. Narayana Murthy and Chetan Bhagat, names that need no introduction, are also from IIT. The list of IITians and their stellar contribution to not just the economy or their chosen vocation but to nation-building is endless. It was IIT that encouraged the entrepreneurial streak in me. Many IITians have become entrepreneurs in India and overseas, making significant contributions to the growth of the Indian economy.
Having said that, the IITs alone aren’t the repository of talent in India. There are other institutes of repute, such as BITS Pilani, the Manipal Institute of Technology and other regional engineering colleges that prepare students to reach the top. This is also an indicator that Indian students are exceptionally capable individuals, ready to take on the world.
(Sumant Sinha is the founder, chairman and CEO of ReNew Power Ventures.)