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Google’s new boss

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Sundar PichaiImage copyright
AFP
Image caption

Sundar Pichai takes over at the helm of Google

With Google creating its own parent company, Alphabet, there’s a bit of moving about in the Google boardroom.

Larry Page is now chief executive of Alphabet. Sergey Brin is its president.

And moving up to be in charge of Google is 43-year-old Sundar Pichai.

Great news for Pichai, and good news too for India – his appointment makes him the latest Indian to earn a massively high-profile job in the US technology industry. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella is the other notable example.

Pichai’s life story is remarkable, and his rise to the top of Google is a glowing endorsement of India’s standing in the global technology industry, and equally, a reassuring reminder of the so-called “American Dream”.

Pichai was born and schooled in Chennai, India. He captained his school’s cricket team, leading it to win regional competitions.

He studied Metallurgical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur (IIT Kharagpur). According to one of his tutors, quoted in the Times of India, Pichai was the “brightest of his batch”.

He has evidently used his talent to great effect at Google, a company he joined in 2004. Products under his watch include Google’s web browser, Chrome, as well as the Android mobile operating system.

Android is by far the world’s most popular mobile OS – a fact made perhaps more startling by the fact Pichai’s family did not possess a telephone until he was 12 years old.

Challenges

According to a profile in Bloomberg magazine, Pichai’s upbringing was humble. His family lived in a two room apartment. Pichai didn’t have a room – he slept on the living room floor, as did his younger brother.

The family didn’t own a television, or a car.

But Pichai’s father planted the seeds of technology into his boy’s mind, partly thanks to his job at British conglomerate General Electric Company (not to be confused with the American General Electric).

Image copyright
AFP
Image caption

A from-rags-to-riches story

“I used to come home and talk to him a lot about my work day and the challenges I faced,” Regunatha Pichai told Bloomberg, adding that Sundar had a remarkable talent for remembering telephone numbers.

After graduating from IIT Kharagpur, Pichai was offered a scholarship at the ultimate breeding ground of tech geniuses – Stanford. The plane ticket to America cost more than his Dad’s annual salary.

At Google, Pichai is described as soft-spoken, and well liked. He is also very popular among developers – he runs Google’s annual developer event, I/O.

“Sundar has been saying the things I would have said (and sometimes better!) for quite some time now, and I’ve been tremendously enjoying our work together,” wrote Larry Page in his blogpost announcing all the big changes.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin have been hands-off with Google’s day-to-day running for sometime, and so, in Pichai’s life, today’s announcement is simply making it official: he’s in charge.

His remit is best summed up as Google’s core products – the bits that make the real money. That includes things like search, advertising, maps and YouTube.

He has challenges to navigate, like YouTube’s increasingly intense battle with Facebook in the video space. The social network has dramatically increased the amount of video being watched on its site – but YouTube still holds the title of most popular, for now at least.

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC.

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