Saturday, November 22, 2014

My mentor, Ashok Chandra

Last week was a loss for the high tech world, the Indian community in Silicon Valley, the Chandra family, and to several of us who had the chance to work with Ashok Chandra. Ashok passed away after a battle with cancer.

Ashok accomplished a lot in his career, but it was his demeanor and leadership that I value most. He valued people and he realized how to get the best out of people.

He was my mentor, and he was involved in almost all my career transitions. I would ask his advice every time.

When I moved from IBM Watson to IBM Almaden, Ashok was the lab head, and my final interview was with him. When I left IBM, I met with him. When I decided to leave Purple Yogi (Stratify) and return to IBM Research, he (and Prabhakar Raghavan) convinced me to join them at Verity to help form the Emerging Technologies team, where I learned a lot and had a very technically productive 4+ years. He was supportive of my move to Yahoo and into product management. He pulled me in to lead product at the then new Search Labs in Microsoft Silicon Valley. That offer led Google to make a decision (in 2 weeks!) since I had the Microsoft deadline. Years earlier, my first Google offer for an engineering manager role had taken an excruciating 6+ months. I had not consulted with anyone and I had eventually said NO (a mistake? :-)). Had I asked Ashok, would he have encouraged me? The second time, I decided to join Google since I correctly presumed that I’d have to make a lot of trips to Seattle to get anything done. If Ashok was upset, he did not show it - he understood, and supported my decision.

Ashok was who I went to for advice when the startup I was doing (Koollage) ran into a thorny situation, and Ashok was the first person I’d called to inform that I was quitting Google to go to Lexity. He was happy that some of the ex-Verity folks were back together again, and was so happy after the acquisition by Yahoo.

I sent him an email a couple of weeks back to connect so I could inform him of my upcoming transition from Yahoo, but there was no response. I had to decide on my own.

Ashok - we will miss you! We will miss your smile!