Microsoft India COO, Irina Ghose talks about the pizza called life, the importance of being a lifelong learner, and accelerating India’s digital transformation
“The most important thing I have learnt at Microsoft is the art of staying curious,” says Irina Ghose, who has been with Microsoft for over two decades and recently assumed the role of Chief Operating Officer (COO) for Microsoft India.
As the COO, she is responsible for driving end-to-end operations for Microsoft in the country. And Ghose plans to use her learnings to continue working with more than 14,000 partners and customers, aid the country in its digital transformation, and provide skilling platforms for India’s youth.
“We are working closely with customers and partners to enable India’s digital journey. We can co-create solutions and provide a blueprint for this journey. India can pilot innovation that can be scaled globally,” she says.
Microsoft Stories India recently caught up with Ghose to speak about her new role, her aspirations, and the driving factors in her career. Edited excerpts from our conversation follow:
Tell us three things that people would love to know about you.
I believe that the pizza called life has five slices–family, work, friends, self, and giving back. It’s important for us to look at all these five factors holistically to understand the true purpose of life. I’m not perfect in balancing all the five slices of life, but I never give up.
I’m a runner and I consider life as a marathon. Running a marathon teaches you the importance of perseverance; it helps build character by cultivating endurance and stamina. It helps you to become a better version of yourself and teaches you to take things in your stride.
While many people think of marathons as an individual sport, it’s not. You encounter blind spots and dead ends in each run, and during these moments you get a lift from the people around you.
Finally, I am a person who has a bias for action. I take decisions fast to keep moving on.
You recently completed two decades at Microsoft. What are some of the key learnings during this period?
When I think about the days when I joined Microsoft and the organization right now, things have pivoted many times over. But the one thing that has remained constant is the culture of change driven through a growth mindset.
Microsoft has also given me a lot of opportunities to reinvent myself. I took a few non-conventional routes during my journey, including a brief stint at Redmond and those were some of the steepest learning curves in my career. It was during this time that I got to see the larger picture and how the different pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fit together from different vantage points.
The most important thing I have learnt from various leaders at Microsoft is the art of staying curious. Over the years, I have realized that learning keeps your brain flexible and moulds your thinking in new ways.
It’s interesting to hear you emphasize learning. How do you upskill yourself and why is it important to keep skilling up?
With rapid transformation, we don’t know which skill can take us to a vantage point. I encourage freshers to take new certifications because there can be no better endorsement for their skills. I still take up new courses every few months and there’s a lot of nervousness and excitement before any exam.
At Microsoft, we also invest in skilling and upskilling. We work with the government and NASSCOM to develop training modules for cybersecurity and AI for Indian youth. Those are some game-changing skills that the future generation must invest in.
What excites you about your new role?
The industry right now is rebounding after two years (of the pandemic) and it’s no longer about digital transformation, but digital acceleration. With that as the backdrop, I really feel excited about a few things.
Firstly, I look forward to working together with everyone to create big, bold visions and bring in really innovative thinking.
The second part is our ability to create a force multiplier. With a vibrant base of 14,000 partners, we can transform the customer journey.
And finally, I work towards our mission of empowering every person and organization in India to achieve more. Technology has the power to scale, but the needs here in India are quite nuanced. So, we are at a point where we have huge untapped opportunities.
What are some of the opportunities that you see emerging in India?
In India, cloud will be at the heart of the digital innovation journey. As per IDC, the Indian public cloud ecosystem is expected to rise dramatically, reach USD 9.5 billion by 2025 (21.5% growth).
We also have a vibrant ecosystem of startups that are coming up with innovations that can serve small and medium industries, large enterprises, and governments. Our strength also comes from a large developer population that’s fueling the digital growth in banking, manufacturing, and retail organizations.
Finally, the youth population of India, which is natively connected to the internet via mobile, are creating digital assets like never before. This has led to massive transformation across sectors like health tech, fintech, citizen services, and edtech.
What’s your message for our customers and partners in India?
We are moving from a mobile and cloud era to an era of ubiquitous computing and ambient intelligence. Along the way, we are witnessing some standout trends, some unfolding faster than the others, but all of them powerful in their capacity for transformation.
We are working closely with customers and partners to enable India’s digital journey. We can co-create solutions and provide a blueprint for this journey. India can pilot innovation that can be scaled globally.
I have three callouts for our customers and partners in India.
Today, Microsoft is the largest cloud player world-wide and in India. And we are building the next level of our cloud infrastructure for our customers’ needs via our industry clouds. These industry clouds are frameworks, built along with our partners, who bring in their IP’s as well as replicable frameworks to make the solutions comprehensive and extend to the last mile of industry execution.
We have the most integrated portfolio of offerings with our six solution areas, spanning right from our cloud infrastructure, along with the most comprehensive data estate, application offerings and developer tools, right up to our solutions towards employee productivity, and collaboration in a hybrid world and business applications for a connected customer experience. All of these underpinned by a strong foundation of security. Our partners are complementing our platforms with their solutions which we can offer to customers through our joint go-to-market strategy.
Finally, in the world of technology, it’s never an end, but always a bend. Our customers and partners are always shining the light on the next wave of emerging trends, to not just create mega shifts in the industry, but also look at real problems at the grassroot level and solve for them.
What is your calling besides the work you do at Microsoft?
I come from a family of educators and the one thing I have always known is that education is the biggest and the only leveler in society. While growing up, I saw a lot of girls being left on the fringes, and I knew I wanted to do something to change that.
So, when I was leading the education segment at Microsoft India, I had the opportunity to convert my calling to fruition. My foundation is called ‘MyLittleBit’; we began by setting up a digital literacy lab for underprivileged girls in a government school and training the teachers there on tools like PowerPoint, Word, and Excel. The foundation’s work has scaled since then to cover the entire spectrum from providing scholarships in STEM education to training them and getting them placed in jobs.
It’s amazing to see the girls coming in with a spark and being able to do their little bit so that they don’t drop out from the education cycle.