From the next Android update being named after an Indian sweet to his cricket and football crazy childhood days, Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai spoke about most everything one would ask Google about if they were researching Pichai.
The CEO, who was on a two-day visit to India, interacted with students, teachers and social media at Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) in a Q&A session moderated by cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle.
Excerpts from the session.
RailTel Wi-Fi project at 400 stations
Internet search giant Google announced on Wednesday that free Wi-Fi being set up across 400 railway stations will be “highly reliable and hi-speed” that would surpass what the average internet user gets.
The network is being set up by Google in partnership with the Railways’ telecom wing, RailTel and Mumbai Central will be the first station to get the facility. “We are very excited about the public Wi-Fi project. (It is the) largest such project in the world, covering 400 railway stations. Reason why we are doing it is in India, when you bring access to the Internet, it changes people’s lives,” Pichai said. As a student at IIT-Kharagpur, Pichai often travelled for days by train from Chennai to Kharagpur.
Connecting phones through balloons
Google is also serious about connecting to the remotest part of India through its balloon-based project Loon. Though it initially faced trouble with a few Indian ministries, Loon has now been given approval for a pilot project after the CEO met India’s telecommunications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday.
“Project Loon will be a reality in India. Google was in talks with telecom operators and regulatory authorities in the country to bring it to India, especially for rural areas which lagg in connectivity,” he said.
Highlighting India’s significance for Google, Pichai went on to say, “We do things first in India like YouTube Offline which started in India and is now in 77 countries. It is a goal to build things here. We do things we can build here at scale which will apply to the world.”
Software developer or a cricketer
Students were curious about Pichai, the youngster. Responding to their questions, he said that he would still be coding software if he wasn’t hired by Google. Known to joke about his recruitment by Google, Pichai had earlier stated he got into Google because he “wasn’t interviewed by Larry Page.”
As for cricket, a favourite Indian question, Pichai described himself as a huge fan, and said he wanted to be a cricketer in his childhood. “I did dream of being a cricketer like so many Indians. I used to be a huge fan of Sunil Gavaskar when he was playing and later, Sachin Tendulkar when he played. I always had a dream,” he said.
Football, Messi and Barcelona
Aside from cricket, Pichai is also an avid football fan and roots for the Barcelona FC star, Lionel Messi. “ I remember when I was young I would drive my mom crazy. I would wake up in the middle of the night to watch the soccer World Cup and to watch the Brazilian team in those days. Cricket and football are two sports that I follow. I am a big Barcelona and Messi fan”.
Mithai as the next Android update
“I am open to the idea of naming (the Android OS) after an Indian dessert. I will ask my mother for some suggestions and put up a poll,” Pichai said. Google has so far shown a sweet-tooth in naming the Android OS with names like Lollipop, Marshmallow and Kitkat.
Pichai, who went to the US for his master degree, was all praises for India’s education system. “To move forward, creativity is an important attribute,” Pichai said adding that students in the US have a more practical approach, compared to India where things are rather methodical. “In the US, education is experiential, very hands on. People learn to do things, project-based experiential learning. Teach students to take risks. The system shouldn’t penalise students for taking risks.”
Bringing the focus back to women, the CEO said that India had very few women working in the field of technology and he wanted to change that. He highlighted Google’s programmes of bringing women online from rural parts of India. “It is global problem; less than one-third in usage in rural areas. Most women in rural areas don’t think the internet applies to them. The most important thing we can do is to bring them online.”
Silicon Valley in India
Pichai spoke highly of Indian entrepreneurs and their ideas. He said that India could soon become the Silicon Valley of the east. He added that he was surprised in a good way to see the quality of ideas originating in the country.
How to stay ahead
Pichai said that his company was continuously reinventing itself to stay on top of the game. “In the tech world, everything changes at a fast pace. You have to reinvent yourself. India is an amazing, vast country and future trends will come from India,” Pichai said. The CEO said that the company was focused on innovation and was always looking at building products for the future. “Constantly thinking about what to do next, Android is here and doing good and we always think on what next. We think about virtual reality, constantly thinking about pushing forward. We have always had an ambitious mission. We want to do an even better job -- do much better with Artificial Intelligence and machines,” he said.