New Microsoft CEO Remembered for Focus

Dr. K. Vairavan, UW-Milwaukee professor and computer science chairman, entered his lab on the 7th floor of the university’s Engineering and Mathematical Sciences building one morning. He noticed a sleeping bag on the floor.

“What’s this sleeping bag doing here?” he asked one student.

The student replied, “That’s Satya’s. He’s been sleeping here all week, working late in the night.”

Satya Nadella’s focus, hard work and people skills have propelled him through the ranks at Microsoft Corp., to his eventual promotion to Chief Executive Officer this Tuesday, professors who knew him at UWM said this week.

Nadella has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Manipal Institute of Technology, an MS in computer science from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an MBA from the University of Chicago.

Dr. K. Vairavan was one of Nadella’s professors during his time as a graduate student at UWM.

In an interview with Media Milwaukee, Vairavan recalled how Nadella was always focused. He always knew what he needed to do to achieve his goals. Vairavan said his impression of Nadella was based on that razor-sharp focus.

He said that students who transition from electrical engineering to computer science tend to display deficiencies in certain areas, such as programming and discrete mathematics, but Nadella made the transition seamlessly. Nadella completed his graduate degree in less time than most students who have a solid computer science undergraduate background, according to Vairavan.

“I’m a learner,” Nadella said, according to Microsoft’s website. “What excites me is that I’m learning something.”

Nadella started his MBA at the University of Chicago while he was working for Sun Microsystems. After he moved to Redmond, Washington to take the job at Microsoft, he made weekly flights back to Chicago to continue his MBA program. He completed it in two-and-a-half years.

Dr. Hossein Hosseini, professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and computer science chairman at UWM, was Nadella’s adviser during his graduate studies at the university. In an interview with Media Milwaukee, he attributed Nadella’s success to three factors: good technical knowledge, a strong business vision and interpersonal skills.

Hosseini said that the electrical engineering degree provided Nadella with hardware knowledge, while computer science degree provided him with software knowledge, making Nadella an impressive hybrid-engineer. Furthermore, the MBA complemented Nadella’s technical training, making him the technical savvy businessman he is today.

According to Dr. Vairavan and Dr. Hosseini, Nadella was always a kind, respectful and honest student. Honesty is a fitting character for Satya Nadella, whose first name means “truth” in Sanskrit.

His personality has always been one of his strengths. Bill Gates shared thoughts similar to those of Hosseini.

“Satya is a proven leader with hard-core engineering skills, business vision and the ability to bring people together,” Gates said in a February 4 press release.

Hosseini said he has been telling students for years that those are the traits that lead to success.

Nadella volunteered his time to the College of Engineering and Mathematics Upward Bound Program. When he returned to Milwaukee last April to receive the Chancellor’s Innovation Award, he told guests that one thing he learned through helping inner city students was empathy, according to Vairavan.

Hosseini recalled a memory from that visit as well. He said that, despite all of the success, Nadella has remained as humble as he remembers.

“Last year, when he came to receive the Innovation Award, I remember waiting for him in a meeting room. When I saw him, he was smiling the way he always smiled, and he was waiting to shake my hand.”

According to a February 1 article in The Times of India, he hasn’t gotten too big to visit his home of Hyderabad, India, either. He has visited Hyderabad Public School every time he’s been invited.

Perhaps the college students of today should take a page out of the book of Nadella. Dr. Vairavan thinks so.

“He should be a source of great inspiration to our students,” Vairavan said. “They can reach great heights, if they are focused, hard-working and disciplined.”