This article originally appeared in the January 2018 Patti Perspective newsletter. Didn’t receive it? Sign up today!
Jagannath Rao is Senior Vice President of IoT Strategy and Go To Market for Siemens PLM Software. In his current role, Jagannath works with regional teams in different regional companies of Siemens around the world to introduce and promote MindSphere, its IoT data capabilities and how to solve customer problems with it.
Jagannath has a singular passion for learning, which permeates both his personal and work lives. He has been with Siemens for 32 years. While he could not have imagined his current role at the start of his career – it didn’t exist – his path has not been coincidental. He started working for Siemens in India as an electrical engineer after graduating from Bangalore University. In 2000, while working in Singapore, he became interested in the transforming technology of artificial intelligence (AI), and completed his Master’s Degree from the National University of Singapore in Knowledge Engineering and pursued AI as a hobby.
For example, he experimented with the Microsoft Xbox Kinect and its software development kit. Using the Kinect image sensor bar, he developed a program to control his home audio visual equipment by hand gestures, like waving a hand left or right to change the TV channel or up and down to adjust the volume. Jagannath also works with the Raspberry Pi computing device to do home automation projects and plays around with drones. Several years ago, when the first home 3D printers came out, Jagannath began experimenting with them. In 2013 he bought a Tesla so he could learn and understand that technology. He found and enrolled in a massive open online course (MOOC) on self-driving cars, one of many MOOCs he has enjoyed.
Jagannath continued to work in different areas of Siemens and as his responsibilities increased and he found himself running large P&L’s, he decided to earn an MBA from Manchester Business School in the UK to better understand strategic & financial aspects of business. His AI hobby at home didn’t cross paths with his professional life until cloud computing came along. “We had learned about technologies like neural networks, but it wasn’t possible at scale until the advent of the cloud and scalable computing power,” he says. Then, there was enough power for businesses to apply these technologies and it became a possible career path.
Jagannath’s passion for learning also extends to teaching, in both formal and informal settings. He began with the University of Georgia as chairman of the advisory board, and now on the faculty after having conversations with the school’s dean on how to prepare graduates for the digital revolution. He teaches a two-hour class every Friday that he designs to keep students on the forefront of technology developments in the fields of Machine Learning and AI.
In pursuing his interests in AI, Jagannath found that he enjoys coding. He quips, “Dabbling in AI means a lot of coding.” He is a strong believer that we should teach coding to kindergarten-age children, saying, “Whether they become programmers or not, it’s going to be very useful in their lives.” So, to that end, Jagannath also works with children ages 9-12, mentoring a small group each summer. This summer, Jagannath will teach young students how to design and create an object using 3D printer technology.
When not learning or teaching new technologies, Jagannath enjoys spending time with his two adult sons. One son works in hotel management in Dubai after finishing his degree in Switzerland; the other is pursuing his master’s degree in robotics in Munich, Germany. Jagannath visits India for several weeks each year, and recently returned from a trip there with his sons. Jagannath also dabbles with music in his home recording studio, where he and his sons sometimes “jam.”
When asked what advice he would give to those just starting their careers, Jagannath is emphatic that we must all become lifelong learners. He has spent a lot of time using MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) such as Coursera, Udacity, and edX and is a huge proponent of them. It’s free education available to anyone with an internet connection. The educational content is provided by experts, including some of the best universities in the world, and some courses offer certificates. During a recent graduation speech he gave at the University of Georgia, Jagannath told the graduates to think of themselves like an app on their phone. “What do you do with apps on your phone that you haven’t used for a year or two?” he says. “If you’re not keeping yourself relevant, someone’s going to delete you.”