Brand Games

Why Satya Nadella was made the CEO of Microsoft?

Created on 10 Dec 2021

Wraps up in 7 Min

Read by 4.4k people

Updated on 16 Nov 2022

It was summer, it was beautiful, and my life in the United States was just beginning.

Oh, how can I forget that day back in the late 80s! It's funny how just a few years ago, my only dream was to attend a small college, play cricket & eventually work for a bank in India and never leave the country...

I'm Satya Nadella, and this is my story. 

My great grandfather was a farmer who died young leaving behind my great grandmother and her 2 sons. To provide for her sons, she became a domestic servant. She had very unique children; one was seen as responsible while the other was a bit of a troublemaker. This troublemaker was my grandfather.

Despite being seen as less responsible, he became a police officer with an exponentially high salary. 

It was his education and career that enabled my father to pursue further studies while eventually allowing me to follow my passion.

My Parents & Childhood

My father was an economist & a Civil Servant, and my mother, a Sanskrit Scholar. I, on the other hand, was their ordinary son; average in school loved cricket and a mama's boy. She was the constant force of positivity in my life. Just the opposite of a strict mom never pressured me to do anything other than be happy. 

Dad saw things beyond the bounds. According to him, there was not a single exam he didn't ‘ace.’ I still remember he used to look at my marks and be amazed at how somebody could score this bad. Yet, he always kept my hopes high by saying, “Life is like a marathon; you will catch up this is not that hard.”
My father, Biggest motivator I ever had

When I was very young, my five-month-old sister died. I lost a sister, and my parents lost a child. This had a huge impact on me & my family, and so, all their love, care, and attention got directed towards me. My father’s enthusiasm for intellectual engagement and my mother’s dream of a balanced life- everything influenced me to my core. 

Our family moved a lot. I remember attending schools in many parts of India like Srikakulam, Mussoorie, Delhi & Hyderabad. We finally settled in Hyderabad when I turned 15, and I started schooling in Hyderabad Public School. It was the best break I had in my life where there was no pressure to follow a particular path. I was allowed to explore myself a little better. HPS has given India great minds such as Shantanu Narayen.

Being an average student, cricket fascinated me more than my studies. I always wanted to be a cricket player. Once, my father hung a poster of Karl Marx in my bedroom; in response, my mother hung one of goddess Lakshmi, but who I wanted as a poster on my wall was my cricket hero M.L Jaisimah. 

Don't you think cricket is an obsession for most South Asians? Anyway, this is an image where we played for the school team in HPS.

Source: Bloomberg Markets & Finance

My life was set in Hyderabad, but I was destined to do something big, according to my father. One day he told me, “Look, you’ve got to get out of Hyderabad. Otherwise, you’ll ruin yourself”.

It was hard to break my circle of friends, but Dad was right. 

Turning Point

By that time, I had already been introduced to the world of computers when dad brought me a Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer kit and my interest in computers became deeper and deeper, I started becoming curious about them and the confusion began, Cricket was my passion, but computers were a close second. A decision had to be made. Moving forward, passion for cricket took a backseat & computers became a priority.

I decided to be an engineer but flunked the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) entrance exam, but luckily, I had two other options to pursue engineering from Birla Institute of Technology & Manipal Institute of Technology. I chose the latter. Manipal put me on a path of silicon valley, where I was trained in microelectronics and the first principles of making computers. 

It's often said, “Life is the sum total of the choices you make.” After graduating from Manipal, I was faced with choices again. On the one hand, I could attend the prestigious Industrial Engineering Institute in Bombay. On the other, I could go to the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee (US) for a Master’s degree. 

The confusion began again. I never wanted to leave India, but a whole new world of possibilities was waiting for me. In those days, the student visa was a bit of a crapshoot, and frankly, I was hoping it would get rejected, but as fate would have it, I got my visa, and the decision was made. I was going to the United States.

The American Dream 

It was summer, it was beautiful, and my life in the United States was just beginning.

I entered the Masters in Computer Science program at Wisconsin. It was a small department with professors who were invested in their students. That gave me the assurance that I could tackle the biggest and most complex problems in computer science. Sure, I was homesick like any other kid, but America could not have been more welcoming. 

This is one of the few pictures taken of me at Milwaukee, where I was studying. The place was just stunning. I thought, “God, this place is heaven on earth!”

Source: Bloomberg Markets & Finance

At Wisconsin, I took image processing, a computer architecture class, and LISP,  the oldest computer programming language. I understood pretty early that microcomputers were going to shape the world. On the other side, I became interested in the theoretical aspect of computer science designed to make fast decisions in an atmosphere of great uncertainty & finite time. 

Years passed, I left Milwaukee in 1990 for my first job in Silicon Valley at Sun Microsystems. Sun was unique with its amazing workstation & workforce. After working for two years in the company, there was a constant rush of questions in my mind.

I wanted more and had to face choices again. The choices in my life never ended. I always wanted to return to graduate school for my MBA and als to work for a company filled with people who believed they were on a mission to change the world. This time, I got to do both. 

One afternoon everything changed when I received an unexpected opportunity for an interview at Microsoft, which I agreed to give. 

When I was being interviewed, one question was, 

“You’re at the crossroads. A baby falls and is crying. What will you do?”

I thought to myself- this is a search algorithm I didn't learn. After waiting for a while, I said- “I’ll go to the phone booth and call 911.” 

He gets up, escorts me out, and says- “You know what, you need to develop some empathy because when a baby falls, you pick them up & hug them first.”

I was convinced that I didn't make it but was surprisingly hired. The year was 1992, and I actually joined a company filled with people who believed they were on a mission to change the world- MICROSOFT.

During this time, I also wanted to go to business school, so I decided to do both. Took a part-time MBA program at the University of Chicago, flew there on the weekends and finished my MBA in two years. Ah, so glad I did!

Likewise, it was an exciting time to be at Microsoft. Not long after joining, I met the CEO, Steve Ballmer, for the first time. He stopped by my office to give me one of his very expressive high fives for leaving Sun & joining Microsoft. The amount of joy that a mere high five gave me made me realize how important it is to connect with people and have empathy. 

That's how I understood why I was asked a question about it in the interview. I started to feel a sense of empathy and a desire to empower others.

I was given a leadership role to lead major projects related to cloud computing as an executive vice president of Microsoft’s Cloud & Enterprise group. I got to lead the transformation to the cloud infrastructure & service business which outperformed the market. Soon enough, I was given a chance to lead R&D for the online service division.

I vividly remember in 1998 when we (Microsoft) became the largest market cap company in the world. That day we walked around thinking we’re the smartest people on the planet, God's gift to mankind. Sometime later, I realized that was not the case. It is just a ‘temporary thing,’ and what matters is your ability to learn, grow, and be grounded in reality. That's when I thought, Let’s not be a know-it-all and let’s be Learn-it-all.

New Beginning

Years passed, I wanted to work at Microsoft and no other company in the world. We worked a lot and learned a lot. According to Bill Gates, "The computing industry has never been more complex. Despite all the revolutionary changes such as Artificial Intelligence, we are still just getting started." On the other hand, it was visible that Microsoft was failing to adapt to every new technological trend. Also, the company's culture was inflexible & rigid. To cope with this, someone with a Growth Mindset was required. Bill Gates & Steve Ballmer, the only CEOs of the company, decided they needed a new Leader.

After experiencing various roles in the company on the morning of February 4, 2014, I was introduced to employees as Microsoft’s third CEO alongside Bill Gates & Steve Ballmer, the only CEO’s in Microsoft’s forty-year history.

And I couldn't help but remember what my mother taught me... She said, “Do your own thing at your own pace as long as you enjoy it, do it mindfully & have an honest purpose behind it, Life won't fail you.”

Here is another story of how an Indian is making us proud in the USA: Parag Agrawal

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Ayushi Upadhyay

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A Keen Learner. Tiny, brainy, and studious, this quiet one stays in her zone until she pops. And once she does, boy, are her comebacks snappy! There is no financial question that she can't answer through her magical blog-writing. 

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