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Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor

Ash Patel, Yahoo?s chief product officer, wears many hats, writes Amitava Sanyal

india Updated: Oct 01, 2006 05:48 IST

The émigré: After living in the south Gujarat village of Rayam near Navsari till he was five years old, Patel and his mother joined his father in Leicester, UK. Somewhere along the line, Ashwini Kumar became Ash. Following a Bachelor of Science (with honours in computer science) from King’s College,

London, Patel did stints at several places. Then, in the late 1980s, came the Big Shift that was the stuff of his dreams: Silicon Valley. 
 
The manager: The first few years in the Valley were tough. Patel contracted tuberculosis “due to all the work-related stress”. After stints at several companies that closed down or sold out, Patel shifted from Oracle to Yahoo in 1996. At that time, Yahoo was a 50-people company. At the age of 30, Patel found himself to be a senior member working with a dozen-odd 20-something developers. Then came the rapid scale-up and the crash. “Laying off was tough. After all, any technology company is all about its people,” says the wizened 42-year-old.

The arch-geek: “When I am not working, I am geeking out,” tells the person responsible for all the big products to have come from Yahoo in the recent past — Chat, Messenger, MyYahoo and Finance among them. There was a time in the early 1990s when a few of his geek-buddies were hosting the main gateway for all emails out of Israel on a 14 kbps line at home.

Yahoo’s chief operating officer Dan Rosenweig, to whom Patel reports, tells this tale of geekiness: “After Ash had created MyYahoo, I was unhappy because I was not getting the newspaper headlines I wanted. One night, Ash hacked into my account and placed the RSS (rich site summary, a syndication tool) links of all the headlines. Now Yahoo has the highest number of RSS feeds on the Web.”

The family man: Patel lives with his parents, wife and two sons. His brother works in the UK in a “company called Yahoo”. He met his wife Anjana, a second-generation Gujarati NRI, through the family network — Patel likes to call it “an arranged meeting”. The workaholic does not share his wife’s passion for Bollywood. Instead, he likes to play games with his sons Avinash, 6, and Anirudh, 3. No, they do not have access to all the games or TV programmes — in this Patel household, that will have to wait a while.