Tamils of Silicon Valley

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Enjoy part 1 of our new series ‘Tamils of Silicon Valley’, spotlighting top Tamil talent in the region. 

 

It seems like not a day goes by that we don’t hear about Silicon Valley; the epicentre of the tech industry. Nestled south of the San Francisco Bay Area, tech elite from all over the world have flocked to the region known for spawning some of the most recognizable and innovative tech products. 

 

It may thus come as no surprise that many of India’s most talented tech minds have come to call Silicon Valley home.

 

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As highlighted by Sunainaa Chadha in an article for Firspost, Indian success in Silicon Valley can be traced to the first wave of Indian migrants who settled in the region in the 1970s and 1980s.

 

“They decided to forget which part of India they were born in and just focus on the cause. When the first generation of Indians in Silicon Valley succeeded in shattering the glass ceiling, they decided to help others follow their path. They realised that they had all surmounted the same obstacles. And that they could reduce the barriers to entry for others behind them by sharing their experiences and opening some doors,” said Vivek Wadhwa in an article for the Economic Times.

 

According to Wadhwa, the conscious development of an Indian tech community shaped successive generations of Indians seek opportunities outside of the traditional realm of engineering, towards careers in tech management.

 

Today, “almost all the big US technology companies have technology pioneers of Indian descent, including the fathers of the USB and technology blogging” wrote Samuel Gibbs in an article for the Guardian. In fact, according to a study conducted by Wadhwa in 2014, 15 percent of startups in Silicon Valley have been founded by Indians, despite just consisting of 6 percent of the region’s working population.

 

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One of the most famous and successful Indian faces of Silicon Valley is Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google. He is perhaps the most recognizable Indian-Tamil success story in Silicon Valley. However, there are many other Indians and Indians of Tamil descent who have reached great heights of success within the US tech industry, including: Ram Shriram, Board Member of Google; Meyya Meyyappan, Chief Scientist for Exploration Technology at the Center for Nanotechnology, NASA Ames Research Center; and S. Somasegar, Corporate Vice President of the Developer Division at Microsoft.

 

Given the contributions of the Indian community in Silicon Valley, it is no wonder that many tech corporations in the US continue to seek cream of the crop talent from India’s prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology, which have spawned minds like Pichai of Google and Satya Nadella of Microsoft. However, while working in the US may have previously been presented as the ultimate opportunity to work in the centre of the global tech industry, while also presenting a chance to live a new way of life, the attractiveness of working in Silicon Valley may be beginning to fade.

 

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The same multinational corporations that used to entice engineers to leave India started making their way into the country in the late 1980s and have picked up, offering many Indians competitive salaries and enticing job prospects closer to home, as posited by Ananya Bhattacharya for Quartz.

 

A booming tech industry within India, a rapidly growing economy, in addition to recent threats made by President Donald Trump to overhaul America’s immigration policy may serve to curtail the migration of future generations of Indians in Silicon Valley.

 

Skilled Indian tech workers have long used the specialty occupation H-1B visa to work in the United States, a visa category President Trump began calling into question during the 2016 election. As highlighted in a study by Goldman Sachs, about 70 percent of the 85,000 H-1B visas granted in 2015 were issued to engineers, designers and coders from India. The threat of potential restrictions to the popular H-1B visa has left many stakeholders in Silicon Valley businesses concerned about the future health of their companies, as many have sought and relied on top international talent in order to achieve success and remain competitive in one of the world’s most challenging industries.

 

While the future generation of Indian growth in Silicon Valley remains unclear, it is undeniable that many Indians have left a mark in the Mecca of the tech industry. While growth, diversity and innovation in Silicon Valley may be facing new challenges, this will certainly not cease ingenuity and success for tech minds within the Indian, and at that, the Indian-Tamil community.  

 

If you or someone you know works in Silicon Valley we’d love to hear from you! Share your experiences with me at: Shanelle.k@tamilculture.com. We might just discuss your experiences in an upcoming article.

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Shanelle Kandiah

Shanelle Kandiah

A graduate from the University of Toronto, Shanelle recently completed her Master's in Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University where she wrote her Master's Research Project on the state of Sri Lanka's democracy. Born to a Sri Lankan Tamil father and a Filipino mother, Shanelle has always been eager to learn more about her cultures and to find opportunities that will allow her to give back to her community.

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