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Artistic Intelligence: Some Indian Americans in Silicon Valley Dance to a Different Tune

Artistic Intelligence: Some Indian Americans in Silicon Valley Dance to a Different Tune

  • All the world’s a stage, and Indian Americans are not just engineers and CEOs of Silicon Valley. They are also actors, directors and writers who give equal credence to their creative passions as they do to their professions.

Engineers of Indian origin in Silicon Valley are known for their creativity, innovation, and ambition. Many of them are founders of startups, CEOs/CTOs of large corporations, or are middle-level executives across the spectrum of tech companies in the valley. They are mega achievers and strive to excel in their profession. In the process, many have raked in millions. In coffee shops and dinner parties, the conversation topic amongst Indian engineers is mostly about the next venture, funding rounds, and exit strategies. Their ultimate goal is to succeed at any cost. The measure of success in the valley is how much money one has made and how high up the professional ladder he/she is.

Away from this limelight, this rush to make money, a small minority of Indians try to make sense of life in a slightly different way. They, too, are mostly software engineers and professionally doing very well. Most of them graduated from highly reputed Indian institutions like the IITs; they even did their masters and Ph.Ds here in the U.S. They work in some of the biggest and well-known tech companies, and some are even middle-level managers. But this is where the similarity ends. Their desire to do well does not end at excelling in their profession; they would like to pursue that other passion in their lives, too. That other passion could be theater, arts, dance, or literature. They are trying to do well in both and are succeeding at that.

Growing up in Bhopal, I remember talking to my Dad’s friend and poet Ashok Vajpeyi, an IAS Officer instrumental in founding Bharat Bhavan, one of India’s leading cultural institutions. Bharat Bhavan was inaugurated by then Prime Minister Indra Gandhi. His interview in India Today had just come out where he referred to himself as a poet. In those days, every teenager’s dream used to be to get into IAS. Seeing him not mentioning IAS in his title intrigued me, and I asked him about it. His reply: a shoemaker makes shoes for a living, what he does aside from that is what matters. This statement had a profound impact on me. From then on, I always strived to balance professional achievements and pursue one’s interests.

Anindya Chakraborty. Top photo, A scene from “Mr. India, a play about a simple tea seller’s unlikely rise to power. (Naatak photo)

It was at the back of my mind when I decided to move to the U.S. I was concerned that I would be too focused on my professional career and forget about my other interests. So, it was refreshing to see these individuals doing well not just in their chosen profession but also in their areas of interest. Take the case of Anindya Chakraborty, Global VP Engineering for Ruckus Wireless — now part of a publicly-traded company Commscope Inc. He did his Masters from IIT Kanpur in Computer Science and MBA from Santa Clara University. From all yardsticks, he has done well professionally. But what is less known is that he is also a theater director of repute and has directed eight plays in English and Bengali. His shows encompass all genres, including comedy, tragedy, historical, musical, and thrillers.

Siddhartha (Sid) Chattopadhyay

Dr. Siddhartha (Sid) Chattopadhyay is a computer scientist by profession. He works as a software engineer at Google. Sid graduated from IIT Kanpur and completed his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Georgia. Apart from being a computer scientist, Sid is also a novelist, an artist, a music composer and a performer. His novel “Empathy Engineer” was recently released on Amazon with excellent reviews. The backdrop of the book is a Silicon Valley-based love story. While narrating the love story, the author has highlighted several prejudices in South Asian society, including color and gender bias. Sid is an accomplished musician and plays several musical instruments like sitar, guitar, and drums. He has released music albums and has composed music for plays and performs regularly on stage. His artwork includes sketches with a compelling and deep-rooted message. 

Sudipta Chatterjee is another Silicon Valley engineer who is also an actor, director, and voice artist. Sudipta completed his Bachelor’s in Computer Science from NIT, Surat, and Masters from UT, Austin. Sudipta works as a Technical Solutions Consultant at Google. Outside of work, he is an officer at Naatak, managing their online presence. Naatak is the oldest and most famous South Asian theater company in the San Francisco area. As an actor, Sudipta has played various protagonist roles from Tagore classics to Agatha Christie murder mysteries.

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Sudipta Chatterjee

There is this enduring mythology in Silicon Valley that most of the startups started in a garage. It has become so fashionable that any aspiring entrepreneur would tell you that he/she is working on their next idea in their garage. The individuals mentioned above use their garages for their other creative pursuits. Anindya and Sudipta extensively conduct their theater rehearsals in their garages while Sid does his music practice in the garage. While the next idea for a tech entrepreneur is conceived and incorporated in garages, most venture funding and other business deals with venture capitalists occur in coffee shops, part of Silicon Valley folklore. Here is where things differ slightly with Anindya, who would instead invite his theater organizers at home and discuss things in his backyard. Sid manages his entire operation himself, whether releasing his book on Amazon or releasing his album on YouTube. 

With all their creativity in performing arts and literature, these individuals are still techies at heart at the end of the day. When asked were they ever tempted to use their creativity to develop their new idea and start a company of their own, the answer was a resounding yes. All of them would like to one day work on the next big thing and start a company of their own. Till then, they don’t mind working on their other passion, whether it is writing novels, creating music, or directing/acting in theater.

Nimish Singh lives in Fremont, California, and has made Silicon Valley his home for the last 26 years. He has led engineering in startups before and currently heads one of the engineering groups in a leading Cybersecurity company. An avid reader, Nimish is actively involved in local theater as a playwright and songwriter.

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