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An Open Letter to IIT Students

Posted on Monday, Mar 31st 2008

I received an email last week from Anuj Dayal, a Junior Year Undergraduate at the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur. Anuj asks the question: “What’s next for India? What should we, IIT students, do?” (You can see the message in its entirety below.)

First, let me thank you, Anuj, for asking the question. It delights me to see that you are asking the right question. It makes my journalism efforts worthwhile. In this piece, I will attempt to address the question, and we can also discuss the issues at length here.

You see, the India I grew up in was not an India of opportunities. We had to leave the country to access opportunities. Your India is a different India. Opportunities are and will continue to be much greater in India, than in the US or Europe.

With that backdrop, I would encourage you to think of the India that you want to build, given that you are entering the workforce at a point where the basic platform is ready. You have the world’s attention as one of the two greatest consumer markets of the 21st century. You have a financial system that is ready to support high momentum growth and building of new enterprises with an openness unknown to prior generations.

Your India is brimming with optimism. Take advantage of that mindset.

Your India is also full of problems. Solve them.

Your India, I believe, needs to be an entrepreneurs’ India. Your generation will need to rise above the risk-averse tendencies of your previous generations. They have been satisfied with too little. You can do much more.

So, my number one advice to you, IIT students, is that you need to change your expectations from “getting a job” to “finding a platform for doing your life’s work.”

You, the best, the brightest, and the most fortunate of India’s youth, need to reach for bigger goals.

So what could be some of those goals?

To answer that question, look at the problems that are pretty much staring us in the face.

India’s supply chain is a disaster. Amidst rampant urbanization, India’s cities are bursting, fuming, overflowing.

If the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian Sea rises a few inches due to global warming, could it wash over your precious institute?

Water is fast becoming a crisis, and India will need to figure out how to meet the population’s drinkable water needs, as well as the water needs for growing crops and livestock.

You, new engineers, need to build a road system, a port system, and an air-transit system that scales with India’s growth ambitions. You will also need to build cars that do not pollute. You will need to find alternative sources of energy, including solar, wind, and nuclear.

You will need to design food processing techniques, build affordable and energy-efficient housing, formulate new drugs using computational biology models.

And yes, you will also need to design software, hardware, chips, and information systems.

So why did I put IT as an afterthought to what all you need to achieve?

Because, in the last decade, IT has sucked all other engineering disciplines dry of their best minds. Even the IIT Civil Engineers and Mechanical Engineers are writing low-level software for Oracle or IBM. If you continue at this rate, none of the other major disciplines will get their rightful share of leadership that is your responsibility to provide.

Another reason is to underscore the need of IT to support all the other disciplines. Today, many of the opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship are at the cusps of different disciplines. Biology and Computer Science. Design and Manufacturing. Technology and Education. Software and Entertainment. Architecture and Materials.

My alma mater, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has put a huge emphasis on interdisciplinary programs at the cusps of various departments. Yours needs to do the same.

At the end of the day, if you seize the opportunities, take the risks, and not get complacent with the fact that some multinational is willing to pay you 15-20 Lakhs a year right out of college, there is no limit to how much money you can make.

And let me be very clear: you can and should plan on making huge fortunes. There is a venture capital industry coming together in India to support your wealth creation journey.

But, remember, risk and reward have a direct correlation. And, to reap the rewards, you have to learn to build. Build products. Build companies. And finally, Build fortunes.

In the short term, as you step out of the institute, look for the best employment opportunities that will teach you to build. Not only build products, but build yourselves.

And if managers and recruiters try to “buy” you for a few extra lakhs, be sure to remember that your end-game is to have a much grander scale of impact than what they ever dared to aspire for.

Good luck!

[ps. Please read my Vision India 2020 series for further ideas on what to build and how.]


Full text of Anuj Dayal’s email:

Dear Ms. Mitra,

I am currently a Junior Year Undergraduate at the Indian Institute of
Technology at Kharagpur. I have been following your articles and opinions at
Forbes, from the piece about Sridhar Vembu to the most recent one about the
coming IndoChina War.

The piece was alarming to say the least. The thought that struck me and the
vibe that I get from most of your articles seems to suggest though, that Indian
engineers would need to start to move towards greater ingenuity and
inventiveness, than what an outsourcing business requires if they need to
maintain the growth of the Indian Knowledge Sector.

Being from one of India’s premier technology institutes, it is not only an
opportunity but also a responsibility for students like me to start thinking
about where India’s next growth story would spring from.

I was wondering if you would be willing to share through The Scholars’ Avenue,
IIT Kharagpur’s campus newspaper, a word of advice on what we could be looking
to do.

If you do agree you could contact me at the e-mail address above following
which we could further discuss your views on the subject and ways through which
they could reach IIT Kharagpur’s student, professor and alumni community.




And you can access my Forbes columns here.

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Thank you Sraman for your deep insight suggestion to the youg generation.

One thing which I would like to add over here is, if you could address in your blog to the yougsters who are not pursuing there academics from IIT then it will enhance the impact of your blog and will minimize the inferiority complex amongst the yougsters who are not from IIT. Please address them also in your next blogs then it will be a moral booster for them as well. since more than 95% of Indias young talent is not from IIT they are from other institutes and they are also the future of India.

This is not a suggestion but a request and hope that this will be considered.


Mohammed Abdul Rasool Thursday, June 12, 2008 at 12:22 AM PT

I would like to add something regarding Mr. Rasool’s request. Every one has his chunk of struggle in life. Every person who has seriously prepared for IITJEE (which includes those couldn’t make it to IIT despite their hard work) have had fulfilled more than half of their struggle. Rest have to complete that as well. work hard and progress or sit back and stay behind a lot many. whatever you do, do it with full commitment. I’ll give you an example which you can extrapolate for more calrification. this example is the result of 2003 IITJEE exam. the person who had scored a rank around 700 secured hardly 5 marks more than the person landing up at around 2200. since at that time the total number of seats were somewhat around 3000 one can easily comprehend that the person who might have secured a rank of say 5000 was no weaker than than a person managing to get a seat as far as the academics is concerned. Just take IIT as a media hyped brand and believe in yourself. Most of the success stories in India are not from IIT. Being from IIT Kharagpur i know only two successful entrepreneurs.

archi Thursday, June 12, 2008 at 12:48 AM PT

The case for India’s talemts

a wonderful article and have set me up on a thinking trip..

For years, I have built the passion to do “Something Big and meaningful” and have been exploring different ways of getting there.. Have I gotten to the end point where I want to be .. Hmmm no.. Why?? Because, like some of the posts ( yours and other commenters ), it s not the inspirations but the mentors that were missing.. I come from a modest middle class family starting to combat the basic layers of need and along the way looking for the guiding beacons while wanting to stay afloat. Somewhere its the basic umbilical cord thing which every entrepreneur must break free and take the risks and uncertainty in his stride.

Couple of points here..
1. In early 90s, I quit my job in accounting ( me is a commerce grad ) to get into software. Why?? because I wanted to see the world. Wanted to see how people lived their lives abroad, what practices they followed in workplace and other things. IT was a means for me to get there. I thoroughly enjoyed my jump, learnt software development skills and excelled at it. It is not as if people chose to brain dead themselves by joining IT after doing IIT,engineering etc. But when the aspirations built from pre-GATE exams, of getting ahead somewhere in life hits you during your comparison with a modest IT developer, the person hits ground zero of his ambitions and fancies. Money talks. If ideas are getting somewhere, again money talks.. read VC greed..

  1. Despite being in IT, I strongly support those proponents that IT has caused major disruptions in developing this country as a superpower. Yes. IT has bought magnificent amounts of dollar revenues, making themselves and other participants fabulously rich. But they have also sucked the engineers talents from where they should be rightly so..So, what happens now? we have IT coders, project managers and consultants implementing their masters’ diktats while infrastructure projects can’t be implemented because the skill sets are no longer present in the market. Having done with engineers, these mega corps are after Bsc, Bcom, BA grads as well. The avarice is unabated and is just killing. Take a look at the call centre business too.. good talent wasted on managing some dumb customer’s product pains. In all my years and having gone through it personally, I ask to these decision makers, what is so much about software development that it needs only engineers ?? First, we have to halt these marauders of talent on their tracks. What is already invested must be effectively shaken up from the zombie state and galvanized into an IP generating monster.

  2. IITs.. They have these aura on them that is sooo elitist.. Agreed, they fought hard at the exams and got there ahead of the other kids. But are they the brightest.. Hmm I have my reservations.. I deal with talents from various engineering institutions, and am yet to see some bright sparks..with a burning desire to build something and not just do the job/work.

  3. I think the key solution is education and infrastructure. Education is getting fantastically better.. The number of free openware courses from premier institutes have put good course material for our educators and to anybody alike to build upon. Companies like Educomp, NIIT are taking the learning virus all over the rural landscape, equipping schools and colleges with new thinking. That is a very important thought enabler..Secondly, Infrastructure.. Earlier we used to think, Bombay-Bangalore road trip… Oh! thats only for those folks who can’t afford trains/air travel and have to take a bus to do that. Thanks to the new building blocks and road transformation, we are beginning to think distances are achievable because the supporting framework is getting there. Thats wonderful

  4. We are not going to see corruption off anytime soon. But change is happening as evident from the computerization efforts in birth,death and land records. Hope does exist..

as i mentioned earlier the post was very overpowering and awesome…


Krishna Thursday, June 12, 2008 at 6:04 AM PT

i can identify with what is written here regarding IT companies and the kind of work they do,i worked in so called “one of the biggest IT companies” in india and was very disappointed with the whole work experience,i just left my job with that “big IT company” and joined a small start up,hope some day i ll make a movie on my exp in indian IT industry

rahul Thursday, June 12, 2008 at 2:58 PM PT

Good one guys. Think it got a bit side tracked somewhere with focus on IT & IIT. Can we share some success stories (in social entrepreneurship)?

Think most of you would have read / heard Harish Hande’s way of lighting up rural India. Would love to read more of these stories that would inspire dumb guys like me.

Thanks to everyone for sharing their wonderful thoughts.

Sathya Sunday, June 22, 2008 at 8:54 PM PT

We have crisis in education, health care, and infrastructure. Those are the core issues and we need IIT smarts to tackle those.

Sam Miller Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 6:14 PM PT

hey nice idea…That u r thinking About India.I can give an idea regarding the Improvement of Rural India…(the country of villages).We can start some industries in rural area and make the village people to get employed…So that the poverty line goes down………………We can train those people and extract work them…

deepa Tuesday, September 9, 2008 at 9:43 PM PT

First of all, i would like to thank you for the inspiring article. Well, I am an engineering student from a decent college, though noe ivy league. I happen to be very much interested in entrepreneurship. IMHO, people’s fear drives them into believing that entrepreneurship fails. They don’t want to be branded by others as a failure in life. What they fail to understand is that the attiatude they possess when it comes to other issues is a fake one. While a care-a-damn attitude just comes in handy for family related issues and for things that need attention, it is not being used effectively, in the right sense. Well, i for one have decided to follow my dream soon. Because the field i am going to venture into requires a lot of reading and i am proud to say that i have been reading a lot of articles on the same. While people still discourage me saying “Be practical. This won’t work out!” , I still have the belief that i can make it because it is i and i alone who can make my life-either a disaster or a successful one and i know i will succeed.

While individuals can be inspired in a lot of ways, they will have to understand that the inspiration lies within them.

In case you wondered what the field is, it’s Social media. I may be a failure in the eyes of people when things go awry, but the pride one gets when accomplishing things, is inexplicable.

I sincerely wish more and more people follow their dreams and do they want to do rather than cower within from basic inhibitions.

Thank you again, Sir, for the awe-inspiring article!

rampantheart Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 11:53 PM PT

Oops, i am sorry, “Sir” was a typo! 🙂

rampantheart Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 11:55 PM PT

I am agree with anuj and anuj has asked a good question .nice artical.

JaiRam Gaur Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 11:25 PM PT

We definitely need more articles like that!

Rajat Pashine Friday, February 13, 2009 at 1:58 PM PT

[…] Find the whole answer here: An Open Letter to IIT Students […]

An Open Letter to IIT Students « Salaf Entrepreneur Saturday, March 28, 2009 at 4:30 PM PT

well..surely we are “argumentative Indians” included..I think some very valid points have been made in this post & subse

Amol Pawar Tuesday, April 7, 2009 at 4:22 AM PT

Hi Sramana,

This was my first visit to your web site. I must say, it is a nicely written article.

I think, the first thing, we Indian, should focus on increasing the literacy level. That will take care of most of the problem, if not all. Education is not just reading and writing but it should teach to think.

I myself working in a well known Indian IT company. Here, I see, people do not have mindset to think differently. They come to work, work like machines and go home. I don’t blame them for this. Here the mentors come into the picture. If we get good mentors, we can see the difference.


Mukesh Chauhan Sunday, April 12, 2009 at 11:35 PM PT

Sramana, as an IITian who graduated 15 years ago and who has NOT restricted himself to working with just large American or Outsourcing firms, I find your article extremely weak and borderline offensive.

Granted your 100,000 foot view of the situation is mostly on target but where is the depth that one expects from a good journalist? Even I could have written this article and done a better job at it. You are insulting the intelligence of your readers by being preaching without any insight or data.

This is a bit like listening to my 70 year old uncle provide career advice. Yes, I can listen and agree with his advice – however anything beyond that will result in personal disaster.

And I know people(and IITians) who have dedicated their life to building NGOs, humanitarian relief operations and so on. I have the greatest respect for them.

The only thing I know is I would not want my kids to be influenced by such shallow opinions.

Mathur Tuesday, October 20, 2009 at 11:22 AM PT

Hi Sramana ,
i m a Ist yr student from BITS Pilani-GOA.When i read your articles on India,it inspires me and assures me of a great entrepreneurship age.There will be many fortunemakers for sure..
Urbanisation and Industrial Development will be the priority then, but then, don’t you think we have actually lost the title “Agricultural Country” other developing countries..and our farmers dying and crop prices just shooting up…We the fortunemakers..What will we make the not so fortunate feed?……And urbanisation will step in…how does one think of getting that title back along with…accounting for being one of the world’s largest industrial producers and have the best manufacturing value added (MVA) per capita….
I wish i could change the attitudes of many..towards Agriculture….coz.genetics and Biological Computing seem smaller solutions to the growing demands and pending problems that disease such a productive sector in India..

Anubhav Kapoor Friday, March 12, 2010 at 3:50 AM PT

Very thoughtful article.
Rather than trying to get a job, it is a good idea to stand on the own talent and try to develop our country may be for making money by launching startup companies.
The key point is to understand the problem and provide the solution for it.

Ravi Sunday, March 13, 2011 at 12:53 AM PT

From a fellow IITian,

* (Re)search: What you find is what you have.
* Development: Build on what you have. You have more.
* Application: Use what you have to do what you want done. To solve problems nobody has (yet) solved.

Finally, do whatever you want, just be sure to leave behind what you found out.

Plain and simple, isn't it? 🙂

Arvind Singh Friday, August 12, 2011 at 2:46 AM PT

Hello madam, i myself one of the students from IITs, i liked the way you advised the Indian students who regard their job search as the only goal in life. You also mentioned about the requirement of engineers to think of water supply etc. But the problem still lies because even social responsibility among the students is very low. They even don't think to correct the politics which determine India growth by simple use of their right to vote. Without social consciousness and desire to mend to ruling system, there is not enough hope for future India.

bheem Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 12:42 AM PT

That needs to be changed by people like you … inspire the students to become more socially responsible.

Sramana Mitra Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 8:51 AM PT

Sramana, I am an IITian and an entrepreneur. I suggest you come and spend a day or two with anyone like me who is running an enterprise. You will probably write a very dfiferent article (and comments) there after.



Tarun Anand Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 5:13 AM PT

Do you really believe that given what I do, I am not in touch with IIT people? Including entrepreneurs?

Sramana Mitra Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 10:09 AM PT

Hi Sramana, it's not long I have been to your pages and am loving every bit of it, to say the least. Wonder, if only "technocrats" qualify for entrepreneurial ventures – what about the rest, who are not? Would like to hear from you some day…!!! Best wishes.

Somen Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 3:31 AM PT

Not at all. Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and forms.

Sramana Mitra Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 1:03 AM PT

Wonderful thoughts Sramana. If anybody out here has a strong background in ruby on rails technology and has an entrpreneurial mindset, connect with me at

Arjuman Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 10:16 AM PT

Indian engineers face a big responsibility. They need to transform India. Ms. Mitra accurately points out that the "middle class mentality" (i.e. get a good job) coupled with a plethora of IT and Managerial opportunities are diverting the average Indian engineer from transforming India.

Maybe it's time to incentivize other engineering fields. The Americans practically build Saudi Arabia's modern cities and Saudi Arabia doesn't even have a fraction of the engineering pool India has. If the Indian Govt made it lucrative for Western non-IT companies to compete for core infrastructure projects providing lucrative pays for non-IT related engineering jobs, maybe we can stem the IT sector from sucking away engineering talent.

alok Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 9:34 PM PT

As an American, I agree IIT graduates should stay in India. You've overstayed your welcome. We'll do fine without you. Thanks.

c++ Saturday, December 1, 2012 at 12:03 PM PT