Waves of excitement swept Mumbai, particularly IIT-B, soon after giant microblogging service provider, Twitter Inc. announced Dr Parag Agrawal as its new CEO, a hardcore ‘Amchi Mumbaikar’ replacing the founder-CEO Jack Dorsey.
The proclamation was greeted with pride at his alma mater, the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B), at Powai, where he studied between 2001-2005 and graduated in B. Tech from the department of Computer Science & Engineering.
IIT-B Director Prof. Subhasis Chaudhari said that the significance of any university is often judged by the collective achievements of its alumni and the glory they bring to their alma mater, and Agrawal “is one such alumnus that IIT is proud of”.
“The education and ambience that IIT-B provided to Agrawal, not too long ago, helped in bringing out the best in him. Building on top of it with hard work and dedication, he has reached the top. Our congratulations to him and we hope that IITB can continue to produce such achievers,” Prof Chaudhari said in a warm tribute.
A beaming Prof Supratim Biswas, his teacher at IIT-B’s Computer Science & Engineering Department, who taught him a couple of subjects, recalls Agrawal being the topper of the course in 2005 and bagging a coveted Silver Medal.
“He was extremely well-organised, very bright, well-behaved and focussed in life. He was the typical topper-type material and had all the qualities of an achiever,” he recalled.
He pointed out how IIT-B gets toppers from all over India and to excel them requires “special calibre”, which Agrawal displayed. “No wonder he has got this huge honour at such a young age.”
This is the second major honour for a Mumbaikar this year – in January, a University of Mumbai alumnus (1973), Prof Srikant Datar took charge as the Dean of Harvard Business School.
Born in Mumbai to a Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) officer and a schoolteacher, Agrawal studied at the Atomic Energy Central School No. 4, at Anushakti Nagar in north-east Mumbai, where his schoolmate was famed playback singer Shreya Ghoshal.
After cracking the IIT-JEE in 2000, he graduated from the IIT-B, and later proceeded to the US where he obtained his doctorate in Computer Science from Stanford University in 2011.
In between, in 2001, he bagged the gold medal at the International Physics Olympiad in Turkey, one of the many feathers in his cap.
After collaborative stints with Microsoft Research, Yahoo! Research, AT & T Labs for research in large-scale data management, in Oct. 2011 Agrawal joined Twitter Inc. as a distinguished software engineer and exactly six years later was appointed as the Chief Technology Officer in October 2017.
At Twitter Inc., Agrawal is responsible for its technical strategy, overseeing machine learning and AI across the consumer, revenue and science teams in the company.
Since 2011, he has led efforts on scaling Twitter Ads systems, and re-accelerating user growth by improving home timeline relevance.
Significantly, just 24 months ago in December 2019, ex-CEO Dorsey had deployed Agrawal as in-charge of Project Bluesky – “an independent team of open source architects, engineers and designers to develop an open and decentralised standard for social media that would help better control abusive and misleading information on its platform.”
November 29 marked a milestone for Agrawal as Dorsey announced his quitting from Twitter and passed him the powerful ‘handle’.
On his special memories associated with IITB, Agrawal says: “Working with friends to build shared storage and streaming services over the Hostel intranet and spending time near Vihar Lake behind Hostel 4 with close friends”.
And his unique Mantra for Success: “The whole can be much greater than the sum of parts.”
Agrawal is married to Vineeta, a general partner with a California-based VC firm Andreessen Horowitz and they have a son.
–By Quaid Najmi