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Chequered Career
Harish Revanna
Tuesday, February 1, 2005
Kentaro Tayoma decided to go east, although his room window in his American house faced east, reminding him of his ancestral Japan. One day, a bolt from the east struck Microsoft to open another research facility in the Asia region, this time in India. Although Tayoma had never considered moving to India, it was only a one-day and one night’s thought that instilled in him a sort of craze to relocate to India. Because he believed his instincts, he was certain he was doing the right thing.

Tayoma, a physicist hopeful during his school days, pursued a Master’s degree in Physics from Harvard. But it was some part-time computer courses done in his free time that lured him to consider computer science as a prospect. “Computer science was so theoretical in nature but yet creative and its genesis is so clear cut, unlike physics,” he says. Again, his instinct entered his life advising a PhD in computer vision. Immediately following his thesis from Yale University, he wanted to be an entrepreneur and run his own company. This time again his instinct had steered his career to take up research at Microsoft. That was six years ago.

Four months ago, he moved to Microsoft India labs in Bangalore as the Assistant Managing Director of Research. With seven years of technical research experience in Redmond, Tayoma chose to inject himself into India’s social science research projects. Social science was Tayoma’s own initiative for Microsoft India, decided after taking field trips to the countryside and observing India needed such projects. This job holds him in raptures. He is traveling across the country with social anthropologists, economists and studying different villages to develop systems that communities are seek. “What we do is help them develop tools and write software of their preferences and provide them with their own content that helps them adopt computer science,” he says.

“One revealing thing about these villages is that they are not like the typical thatches, or mud walled houses like you picture. Except the fact that they are under-populated, most of them have all basic technology requirements like TV, phone, and radio,” Tayoma says. Today he has traveled to more than twenty villages and 100 small cluster villages. He says the very moment he stops to learn those villagers’ mindset he knows what they are actually looking for.

Tayoma’s new role in Bangalore has gone beyond his social science projects. Along with research, he also does some lab recruitment and develops people managing skills as well as motivating employees. Currently, Tayoma handles a team of five people for his social science projects and they are doing many jobs in the countryside. “All this is like running my own company,” he chuckles. However, his main technical research involves working on Microsoft’s GIS projects—a project for which Microsoft signed a memorandum with the Indian government to receive some remote sensing areas onsite. “We hope this GIS system would be a great success in India,” he says.

The interesting thing about Tayoma’s career is that his plans have always changed at the turning points in his life. “I had a set of strategies about my career, but never followed them,” he says. Does that mean straying from what he wanted? Tayoma instantly disregards this. His strategy could be a simple chessboard rule: Move whatever direction you want but reach the other end. Your goal is reached by overcoming all hurdles and playing within your limits.

Tayoma quotes one of his senior’s visions: “If all your research projects succeed, something wrong with your research.” Meaning, if you succeed in whatever you attempt you are probably not doing what you should.

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