Top 10 Innovators

Date:   Wednesday , December 28, 2005

The siliconindia Top 10 Innovators has been compiled by a panel of experts and Senior IT professionals from the tech field. We at siliconindia are confident that their work in transforming technology will have great impact on businesses and society of today and tomorrow.

Judges have gauged a nominee’s potential to make innovations in the field of IT. The selection was based on the individual’s innovation, which was judged on the following variables:
A Complexity of endeavor, and ingenuity.
B Scientific, technical or engineering awards received.
C Contribution to community, commercial application, or broader field of research.
D Creativity in innovation.

While compiling this list on these exciting young gung-ho professionals we learnt a lot. The foremost was that the technical school where one acquires specialized knowledge matters but not to the extent that one need have studied in a great engineering school or possess U.S. experience or have doctorate to be an innovator. Age also doesn’t matter. Some will start innovating right out of college. Some will gain domain skills and start innovating in the later part of their career. Your workplace, people you work with, your manager are all catalysts to spur the creative element. Maintaining touch with ever changing technology is sacrosanct for relevant innovation. Hence always looking at the big picture is appreciable rather than constraining oneself with assigned modules at work. A key quality that these admirable young men possessed was their humbleness.

Picture Perfect
The turning point for Jignashu Parikh came when he moved from a state college in Gujarat to Indian Institute of Techno-logy, Bombay as a Research Associate where his professor motivated him to invest a few years into higher studies, build on the fundamentals and gain research experience to get the most out of his potential. Parikh resisted many high paying job offers from multinationals and focused on getting a post graduate degree in Computer Science. He cleared the GATE examination with flying colors and enrolled at the much-coveted Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Parikh’s passion for innovation elevated him to Senior Software Engineer at Yahoo! Software Development India in just about a year. Today, at the age of 26, Parikh is credited with 10 patents.

“The idea behind joining Yahoo! is the very fact that your work can impact the day to day lives of millions of users,” says Parikh, who is excited about his latest innovation, Contextual Text Analysis and Summarization. This work has recently been applied for improving Yahoo! Image Search relevance. Currently, image search on all major search engines relies on the text surrounding the images in the Web pages. In typical Web pages, only a few words around the images actually describe them. Parikh’s algorithm enables automatic annotation of images with possible words from the Web page that project the image. Searching the query words on these annotations retrieves more relevant images.

This technology is also being tested for contextual advertising which is a multi-million dollar business aimed at automatically matching the text on Web pages with contextually relevant advertisements. Parikh’s algorithm not only enhances the search experience for the users but also empowers business. Another innovation Yahoo! will file a patent for.

“For me getting a patent does not give the ultimate satisfaction; I want to see my innovation being accepted by Yahoo! as a product, which finally reaches the users,” he says. After graduation, people generally look for employment. Opting for a job is an obvious choice; to believe in yourself and projecting yourself differently, is the important thing, says Parikh. As Robert Frost said,
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference.”

Jignashu Parikh 26
Senior Software Engineer, Yahoo! Software Development Center India Pvt Ltd, Bangalore.

A He works mainly on search relevance, played a crucial role in extracting document summaries using contextual semantic analysis. Other innovations include a system called SmartSearch, enables personalizing and customizing search results and query mining.

B He received a B.E from DDIT, Nadiad, Gujarat and a Master’s from IISc Bangalore.
C First Patent filed in: 2003, on Search Relevance and Query Analysis.
D After a stint as a Research Associate in IIT Bombay, Parikh joined Yahoo! in 2003.

Art From The Heart
Innovation is all about a strong desire to create something new. One need not hold a doctorate to be an innovator. Niraj Gupta is recognized at Adobe India as an innovator whose tools are used across Adobe’s product line. ‘You don’t have to be an engineer to innovate. All you need is an idea and lots of creativity,” says Gupta, Engineering Manager at Adobe India. Creativity has been at the core of his heart since childhood, which he spent in Ramnagar amidst Himalayan flora and fauna learning to paint, sketch, draw, and remain artistic.

Identification of the need coupled with the freedom at Adobe led Gupta to invent a tool that helps in painting objects with gradual colors, and uses object shape in smooth color transition. “I wanted to paint a heart in such a way that there is a light pink color at the center and it becomes red as it reaches the edges. The earlier graphic tools allowed transition from one color to the other but not in the shape of the object you wanted,” says Gupta who spent several months coding to develop the tool that ultimately led him to his second patent.

Innovation, as Gupta says, can be sparked off by a small idea and great deal of enthusiasm. He evaluates the idea in different parameters and takes it forward. This process enhances and motivates him to work harder to achieve his goal. Innovation can come from anywhere. You only have to keep eyes open and identify new things in the work you do. And Gupta does just that.

Niraj Gupta 35 Engineering Manager (Digital Imaging and Digital Video group)

A Played a crucial role in developing multiple products at Adobe India and holds two patents to his credit.

B He received a Bachelor’s from University of Delhi and Master’s in Computer Application from University of Pune.

C Joined NIIT Multimedia Technology Group in 1995.

D Joined Adobe in 1999. Filed his first patent in the same year.

E Hobbies: Painting, sketching, computer graphics, animation and multimedia.

Mind your Words
Filter out the bad and keep the good is basically what Gopi Krishna Chebiyyam’s innovation for e-mail server security, tracking incoming and outgoing e-mail traffic is all about. This McAfeeian is now working on a new e-mail filter that will help categorize e-mails by the nature of words in that email.

This filter is an addition to the already existing e-mail filters like Anti Virus, Anti Spam, Content Filter and File Filter. Such actions prevent any lowering of employee morale or productivity, which abusive e-mails can render. The usage can also be extended to protect organization-customer relationship too. Such revolutionary thinking in managing e-mail by Chebiyyam is an extension of the McAfee culture, which spearheads anti-spam and anti-virus systems for corporate and personal data protection.

Though Chebiyyam’s first three patent ideas did not reach fruition, he did not give up innovating. He hit upon gold in his fourth attempt and it could be termed his first successful patent filed. Persistence surely pays. It is an essential credo to follow to be a successful innovator. At McAfee, whoever files for a patent gets an incentive of $4000 upon approval by the McAfee Internal Patent Review Board and $2000 when the patent is awarded by the U.S. patents office. This should certainly make Chebiyyam happy. However, it is not all about money; “I feel good about my innovation because it won’t sit idle but rather has an immediate business use,” underlines Chebiyyam.

He believes innovative ideas can be more easily implemented in start-ups rather than bigger organizations where it takes more time. McAfee provides such a startup-like environment when it comes to inventing and incubating ideas, but at the same time unlike a startup one needn’t worry about the funding at McAfee, as it encourages such endeavors by their employees. Chebiyyam also points out the active involvement of the management in promoting innovation and creativity.

Gopi Krishna Chebiyyam 30
Works at McAfee, Bangalore for the McAfee Secure Messaging for Exchange, SME family of products.

A He received a B.Tech. in Electronics and Communication Engineering from JNTU College of Engineering, Hyderabad.

B Chebiyyam started his career at Siemens Communication Software, Bangalore in 1996 and followed up with stints in product development companies Kron, Telsima and finally McAfee.

Chipshape Achievements
Slow is fast and less is more. Debapriya Sahu, Senior Design Engineer, Wireless–RF Applications, Texas Instruments uses this one-liner to stay focused on overcoming obstacles. It was in 1998 that he received the first of his four patents, and has four pending approval. Talk about his first patent, it stirs up emotion as he revisits the nostalgic moment.

It was while designing a delay lock loop for a DSL Modem, that Sahu came across a dead zone, which he kicked alive with his innovation. Launched in 2002 the AR7 chip redefined conventional broadband communication and made it affordable. It eventually became the world’s first single chip DSL bridge innovator modem–a complete System on Chip.

In Wireless-RF Applications group, Sahu has led the RF front-end designs for single-chip GPS and DTV solutions. These front-ends provide extremely challenging RF solutions in 90 nm process node enabling system-on-chip integration for wireless applications.

“Yes, engineers in India can come up trumps in innovation if they avoid focusing just on the modules assigned to them and rather look at the big picture,” says Sahu. Clear understanding of the basics taught in schools helps to dream big along with constant touch with cutting edge technology. “Innovation is creativity in the right kind of environment and challenges,” signs off Sahu.

Debapriya Sahu 37
Senior Design Engineer, Wireless–RF Applications, Texas Instruments

A Received a B. Tech in Electrical and Electronics Communication
Engineering from IIT Kharagpur in 1990.
B After graduation he joined the mixed-signal design group at Texas Instruments, India.
C First patent received in 1998.
D His main interests are in RF transceivers and frequency-synthesis solutions.

Algorithm Alchemist

“Routers were the route to my best innovation,” chuckles Venkat Pullela, Senior Manager, Internet Systems Business Unit, Cisco. If you are not a techie, to put it simply routers send packets of information to the neighboring router so they eventually reach the destination. Just like a mail going from post office to post office to finally reach the recipient. In between many services can be provided from router to router like security and quality. The question is how to provide many services at one shot in a given timeframe through algorithms using hardware.

Isn’t that challenging, asks Pullela. But he did it and gave the vision to truncate an earlier algorithm than ran to thousands of lines to a 700-line algorithm for a router called Catalyst 6500, which has generic usage across all products at Cisco. Now wherever Cisco Routers are in use—be it in remote surgery or supply chain — this algorithm plays a crucial role.

“Innovation can’t be taught; only picked up. Early in your career innovation really does not take off because you are picking up domain knowledge,” says Pullela. Innovation could be out-of-the-box thinking but it boils down to, he says, “Hey! Is there a simpler way of doing it for making things better?” That is the funda behind successfully innovating—and Pullela got it right.

Venkat Pullela 36, Senior Manager, Internet Systems Business Unit, Cisco

A Pullela manages IOS development and test teams in India for Cisco Router—Cat6500. He played a decisive role in the design of Catalyst 6500 family of switches.
B Holds a B.Tech in ECE from NIT Warangal and M.Tech in Computer Science from IIT Kanpur.
C Career Profile: Initially worked in CMC Secunderabad for a few months before heading to the U.S. Later was at Synopsys, UBNetworks and joined Cisco in 1996. Pullela returned to India two years ago to head a team at Cisco India, Bangalore.
D He has filed over 20 patents in various switching technologies.

Let the Server Do
Chirag Dalal has a twinkle in his eye that gives away the number of thought tracks running in his head at any given point of time. As a Senior Engineer at Symantec Corporation, Dalal has developed solutions that help organizations prioritize and store data, the way they want. The solution understands the intent of a particular application and helps deal with provisioning of storage to servers making large-scale storage deployments and Storage Area Network Management easy.

Starting with his first patent application in 2002, Dalal says, “It was definitely a great feeling. I remember sharing it with my friends and colleagues and feeling really a sense of deep accomplishment.” Accomplishment apart, it’s also the recognition that comes with innovation that motivates him to perform better everytime. He believes it changes the way one works and thinks.

For Dalal, the motivation is to work on increasing the ‘innovation’ quotient in the products and solutions, to build upon on the strategic value in the products/services thus reducing the end user pain points. There is a strategic importance to the value-add the innovative features hold for the end-user and that is a vital area to stay focused on, says Dalal. In fact, it is important to find the innovation element in your day-to-day work. Most often, people don’t realize the innovation they do in their day-to-day life, this realization needs to come about. This is exactly what has helped him innovate. The realization that innovation cannot be from just within. A lot has to do with the products and solutions you work with, the work culture and the benefits of being a market leader in both the storage and security space. “Our products and solutions are always scaling new heights, defining new standards in innovation and value. This leads to thinking in a very different angle as compared to the thought process required to catch up with the competition.”

“The journey never ends – once you begin, from that point onwards, all new product innovation that we bring in poses one important question – and that is, how can we patent the innovation to protect the IP for the company?” Dalal sums up.

Chirag Dalal 31 Senior Engineer, Symantec Corporation
A Invented software that helps companies prioritize data.
B Has 13 patent applications. First Patent filed in 2002.
C Completed an M.Tech in Computer Science from IIT Bombay.
D Career profile: Joined Symantec (formerly Veritas)
Software in 1997.

Limitation is a Blessing
How do you transmit data to very large distributed populations cost effectively through existing broadcast networks? Ajay Gupta, Director, HP Research Labs, Bangalore has the answer. Most of these broadcast networks are set up for either television or radio broadcast and not for transmission of data. The key challenge is to encode and decode the data along with the audio and video signals. Transferring this data securely and to the appropriate receiver was also another challenge. Gupta’s invention is focused on riding on conventional networks but delivering data through these networks. One of the first applications of this noteworthy technology is in the area of distance education - for instance training and development of health workers, teachers and agriculture extension workers where HP labs has tied up for first technology trials.

Necessity is the mother of innovation, says Gupta when asked why this unique innovation was not done elsewhere. Challenges in a country like India presents unique need and opportunity – and focusing on them to create cutting edge innovations, which can then be taken globally, is the model that he is following. “Indians can excel akin to the Israelis. In Israel strong needs of the defense industry had driven Israelis to innovate. The same people then took technology innovations and management culture into global businesses. India with its rapidly growing economy presents a huge opportunity to innovate,” opines Gupta.

Ajay Gupta 43 Director, HP Research Lab, Bangalore

A His department focuses on product and service innovations that exploit rapid expansion of wireless infrastructure in the emerging markets.
B Completed his B.Tech from IIT Kanpur and M.Phil from Edinburgh University in Artificial Intelligence.
C Joined HP in 1986 in Bristol, U.K., Worked in HP Labs in U.K., U.S., Singapore and India.
D Granted three patents and thirteen filed.

The Compiler
Creative talent to deal with any problem leads a person to become an innovator,” says Kalyan Muthukumar. For more than a decade now, Muthukumar has been writing optimizing compilers for various processors and just loves doing it.

Muthukumar is passionate to share his innovation on prefetching data from memory to the Intel Itanium processor. “The complexity lies in prefetching data using fewer instructions,” he notes. Today his compiler plays a critical role in getting the best performance for applications that run on Intel Itanium Processors.

Generally prefetching data for multiple memory accesses requires many instructions. However, using special architectural features of the Itanium processor, Muthukumar has come up with a clever way to do such prefetching with fewer instructions. This helps to improve the performance of applications. He believes that innovation is the life-blood of the hi-tech industry, and it is the key drivers that will help the Indian companies move up the value chain.

Kalyan Muthukumar 46 Engineering Manager, Intel Technology India Private Limited, Bangalore

A Muthukumar writes compliers for processors.
B Received six patents, with eight pendings.
C Kumar received his B. Tech in Mechanical Engineering from IIT Madras, Master’s from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York (1983-85) and Ph.D. from the University of Texas.
D Muthukumar joined IBM in 1991 then he moved to Apple Computer in 1995 and after two years he joined Intel Corporation, California in 1997. In 2001 Muthukumar relocated to Intel India, Bangalore.

‘Innovation is a need’
Do not look deeply at how others have solved a problem at the initial stages of finding an original solution to a problem as it can bias your thinking and hinder creativity,” says Sriram Sethuraman, Video Technologist at Ittiam Systems revealing his mantra for innovation.

Sriram and his team work on algorithms related to video compression reduces the complexity and improving the overall visual quality of an encoder, decoder, or transcoder. It was not the patent the team received that excited Sethuraman but it is the work they executed to bring out the new solution. “Rapid and constant innovation is key for a company such as Ittiam that has intellectual property licensing as its core business,” he says.

Generally, those with doctoral degrees choosing a career in the industry tend to file patents fairly early in their career. The same thing happened with Sriram; he filed his first patent while at Sarnoff Corporation at the age of 27. It is Charlie Wine, from Sarnoff, whom Sriram considers as his role model; At the age of 65 Wine had received more than 100 patents and continued to innovate in new technology areas. “Patents are only one way of measuring creativity, as all innovations may not be patented,” says Sriram.

Sriram Sethuraman 36
Technologist/Senior Member of Technical Staff, Video and Imaging Group, Ittiam Systems Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore

A He played a crucial role in optimizing video encoders and decoders on DSPs, low-complexity MPEG-2 to H.264 transcoding, and creating intellectual property in the areas of video encoding, preprocessing and post-processing.
B Received a B.E. from Anna University, a M.S from Villonova University and a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh.
C Started his career with Sarnoff Corporation in 1996, Joined Ittiam Systems, Bangalore in 2002.
D Over the past nine years, he has received 19 patents, with 5 more pending approval and several yet to be filed.

Wired wirelessly

Challenged with problems networking or configuring varied wireless devices from multiple vendors? Srinivas Gudipudi, Development Manager, Computer Associates has the answer that promises seamless, hassle free configuration.

Today every organization faces a scenario of managing networking devices from multiple vendors, along with new releases of firmware for the devices. Most wireless network devices support different protocols like SNMP, Telnet, SSH and HTTP. Gudipudi had to address this issue as it involved developing a framework that would help IT-Network Administrators. The Device Configuration framework provides a data driven approach wherein by writing the related XML files, an end-user would be able to have the specific device configuration.

“This project put us on the edges all the way. We had to prove this was achievable and take it up to the next level. At every stage of development, we experienced joy and this inspired the team to work on more innovations,” Gudipudi says. Gudipudi defines innovation as a learning process where one learns through experience and comes out with better products. He also says that innovation should ensure that the innovations are practical and are of use to the end users.

Srinivas Gudipudi, 35, Development Manager, Computer Associates

A Holds a B.E. in Electrical and Communications Engineering from Mysore University.
B Career Profile: Began his career in 1992 with Sri Sai Electronic Design Center, as a Design Engineer, joined the National Remote Sensing Agency as a scientist to develop ground processing hardware and software for IRS series of satellites, then joined HCL Technologies, Baan Info Systems and CA.