On the final day of his three-day, three-city visit to India, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spent time with school students and educators, at the Young Innovators Summit in New Delhi. In a fireside with Anant Maheshwari, President, Microsoft India, he reminisced about his school days while growing up in India and also shared his excitement around some of the student projects he saw earlier in the day.
“When I look back, one of the things that perhaps most shaped my own thinking about what is learning is my father used to always say, look, be focused on the process versus the destination,” Nadella remarked.
“Growing up in India, going to schools in Delhi and Hyderabad, I look back at those days even today and they’re very formative. My worldview was shaped by both my teachers, my friends, and colleagues from those days.”
Nadella met students from three schools, who showcased their projects and answered his queries. The projects included a chatbot to help teachers teach (Kamla Nehru Public School, Phagwara, Punjab), an AI-powered solution for people with speech impairments (Vikas Bharti Public School, Delhi), and a hyper-local pollution monitoring system (Suncity Public School, Gurugram).
“One of the things that’s been very exciting to me on this trip to India was meeting a lot of young entrepreneurs in Bangalore yesterday and today the young innovators here (New Delhi). The quality of their ideas, and more importantly the scope of their ambition and the level of empathy,” Nadella said.
Recounting his interaction with the students of Vikas Bharti Public School, he said, “They worked with one of the teachers who has a kid with special needs, with speech issues, and said, let’s go build essentially an AI tool that can actually substitute for a speech therapist, because access to speech therapy and speech therapists is scarce.”
“And to have someone who goes both as a group of students who have that deep passion, deep empathy, and then can turn into action, that’s what innovation is all about. That’s how societies and economies move forward. And I see that scale,” he added.
Nadella also met three young innovators, Pratik Mohapatra, Ishlok Vashistha, and Namya Joshi.
Mohapatra, who is currently an intern at Microsoft India and scheduled to join the company later in the year, showcased his idea of OrganSecure that won him a prize in Microsoft’s AI for Good Idea Challenge.
Vashistha, a student of Manav Rachna Institute of Research & Studies, Faridabad, spoke about Caeli, an AI-powered anti-pollution face mask that was the runner’s up at Imagine Cup 2019 World Championship.
Joshi, a 13-year-old whiz kid from Sat Paul Mittal School, Ludhiana, Punjab floored Satya by her story of how she found out about Minecraft and went about teaching teachers not only in her school but across the country and beyond.
“I must say, Namya has inspired me to go back to middle school and start my education all over again,” Nadella said during his fireside chat with Maheshwari.
“Namya’s story is an amazing example of how she was able to first enjoy the game and then learn effectively programming through playing the game. It’s inspiring to see how she turned it around and said, what if I could create learning lessons and what if I can create learning paths for others? That’s why we are very excited about Minecraft; it has the ability to attract young middle school girls into STEM education and computer science as a pedagogical tool. That’s exciting to see,” he said.
During the course of the conversation, Nadella warned about the imbalance between consumption and creation with technology.
“One of the things that I feel we will have to do as a society broadly, because I do fear, in today’s world there is so much abundance of devices in our lives and content in our lives that perhaps what is scarce is that human attention,” he said.
“But I feel that there needs to be more of a balance. Between, I’ll call it consumption and creation, that I think is going to be a real currency. If you overdo just consumption and don’t take the time to create, what’s the artefact that you created? That I think is going to be something that we will all have to pay a lot of attention to.”
Citing examples of cricketer Anil Kumble and Narayana Hospitals’ Dr. Devi Shetty, and how they are using coding to make an impact in fields like cricket and healthcare, Nadella encouraged students to learn how to code irrespective of the field of study they’d like to pursue.
“The thing that really inspired me is to think about how coding needs to become such a core skill, irrespective of whether you are in computer science or you’re in medicine or, guess what, even history or literature. I always think of coding is like poetry, it’s just compact expression. I think coding can inspire you in both liberal arts, as well as in sciences, to really make a difference,” he said to conclude the fireside chat.