My Son Launched A Hack Attack: Confessions Of Tech CEOs

T K Kurien, CEO of IT major Wipro, had to unhitch his ‘digitally enabled’ home from the World Wide Web because his son launched a remote ‘hack attack’ on the house.

“My wife and I would walk in to rooms around our home and the lights kept going on and off,” he told Boom.

This might sound a little afar and away but exhaustive conversations with over 30 information technology CEOs and over a dozen CTOs, mostly based out of India, on their tech and gadget choices revealed that most are charged up tech buffs themselves.

The conversations were on the sidelines of a recent gathering of IT leaders hosted by industry body Nasscom.

Productivity was the biggest driver for most of the gadget investments combined with, in many cases, a hard-nosed curiosity for the latest in the digital world, coupled with a desire to own it first. For which, they scoured the real and virtual shop shelves themselves.

The general profile of the tech CEO or CTO we spoke to: over 45 years of age, constantly on the move, usually across time-zones and running very large, globally dispersed enterprises - think starting employee size of 10,000 and going over 100,000.

CEOs like Kurien have built a sophisticated digital home lifestyle though many have converged most needs onto their top-end smartphones. The iPhone 6 seemed to lead the way when it comes to brand of choice. Very few CEOs/CTOs spoke of using or carrying tablets, with the smartphone evidently absorbing most of the tablet usage.

Significantly, close to three-fourths of CEOs in the survey sported the latest wearable technology or had their phones enabled with apps that allowed measurement of physical activity.

Moreover, almost all CEOs & CTOs carried more than one device. And combined the need for serious work with flexibility and quick access, depending on whether they were stationary or on the move.

Bangalore-based Mindtree’s KK Natarajan says gadgets in general enable productivity while wearables – the most preferred brand seems to be Fitbit – helped bring more discipline, particularly since the job involves being on the move all the time.

“My band helps be track how I am sleeping, how many steps I have taken. If I’ve not taken 10,000 steps then I make the additional effort.”

Tech Mahindra CEO, C P Gurnani, sports the latest Fitbit Surge which he demonstrated to this writer. The Surge, incidentally, is top of the line and magazines like PC Advisor say that it is packed with features for “the really committed sports and fitness nut”.

Gurnani also carries a Samsung Note Edge which boasts a curved screen that is a first of sorts. Gurnani says the good thing about his job is he gets to see such devices being tested or integrated into applications in his labs. “I have the advantage of having a peep into what’s going to come next,” he says, with no specific reference to Samsung or Fitbit.

If digital adopters like Kurien have done end-to-end wiring of their homes, people like Imran Sayeed, CTO of the $16 billion NTT Data, are going for the bleeding edge, a completely connected and sensor-driven existence where devices, appliances, all talk to each other.

“We just renovated our house, we installed a smart doorbell, a smart lock, a smart bathroom, a smart washer and dryer and a smart toilet. And I am now looking at a smart bed now,” says Sayeed.

A smart bed?

“Yes, it actually has sensing fibres. It measures how you change your positions on the bed and automatically adjusts the firmness to give you an optimum experience and in the morning it tells you how you slept, how many times you tossed and turned and so on,” explains Sayeed.

Most CEOs carry more than one device, including the wearable. Cognizant Executive Vice-Chairman, R Chandrasekaran, says he’s lost count of how many. Ditto with Kurien who says his desire to own new gadgets and carry them is so high his home has become a device graveyard.

Chandrasekaran says his smartwatch syncs with his smartphone. “I find it very convenient. I am able to read messages, in-coming calls, and all things now on just a flip of the wrist.” But he also carries an iPhone, iPad and guess what, a Blackberry as a safety backup.

And then he carries a laptop too.

When asked if all this required some heavy lifting, his response, “Different needs.” “If I have to do serious work, I need a laptop, especially, when I want to work on a spreadsheet or documents for presentations. An iPad is convenient, it makes you mobile, is SIM card enabled. The phone, you can’t live without and the smartwatch makes it convenient.”

Another multi-device CEO is Zensar CEO, Ganesh Natarajan. He has a Samsung wearable watch, a Samsung phone and an LG phone mostly for email. So a bunch of devices without which he admittedly feels “naked.” Though he is not much for reading mail on his smartwatch. “I don’t see that much of a use for a smartwatch till they make good things happen to it,” he quips.

Is there a pattern in let’s say between the technology intensity of the job and the gadget madness. Put differently, is a CTO of a giant technology company more device-intensive than let’s say a giant airline?

No clear pattern seems to emerge here.

Padmasree Warrior, CTO & Strategy Officer of networking giant Cisco, ranked as one of the most powerful women leaders in the world, sticks to a smartphone. “I have an iPhone 6s and probably it is a device I cannot live without. “

But Warrior has a different take on the personal device. “It’s not just connectivity, I take a lot of pictures, I access the internet, I am on Twitter and apps like that,” says the Vijayawada-born tech czarina.

Lufthansa’s CTO, Dr. Roland Schuetz, also carries an iPhone to check mail and stay in touch “as do most of our customers”. Elsewhere, he is fighting a massive battle to keep the demanding passenger digitally engaged before and after the actual boarding of the aircraft.

NIIT Founder Rajendra Pawar has a similar take to Warrior. “But today every person has a smart phone every person is a photographer and not only photographs but video. “

Other smartphone-only CEOs/CTOs include Bhaskar Ghosh, Group CEO for Technology at Accenture, but for whom the phone also acts as a wearable, through fitness apps.

Salil Parekh, Capgemini CEO for Application Service,s admits he uses a smartphone only for mail. Parekh does not ruling out going for a wearable though. “With the iPhone, I find there are so many apps that are useful for travelling and work-related stuff that it becomes much easier to deal with these things with a smartphone.”

Finally, there are those who fall back on the good ol’ Blackberry. Like Chandrasekaran. But Genpact Non-Executive Chairman Pramod Bhasin – also widely regarded as the father of India’s BPO industry – carries just a Blackberry.

“I am a true antique,” he says. “I find that I am getting overwhelmed by the amount of data and information coming at me. So I am actually trying to manage it.”

Bhasin says we ought to think about our habits as we are so addicted to our phones. “It’s beginning to get in the way of meetings and discussions because everybody is spending half the time on the phone,” he complains.

Perhaps that’s the distilled message from the movers and shakers of the technology world. Technology ought to make life simpler too.

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