Amit Singhal is brimming with enthusiasm and possibilities. Publicly, he is known as the master of Google’s ranking algorithm. Without this guy, we wouldn’t get anything useful when we “google.” Privately, he believes he can do more to change the world. Much more. Watching him deliver the keynote address at an event I attended recently, made me suspect this ambition stems from his homeland, India. “Technology can have huge impact on human life,” he told a room full of young programmers on a Friday night at Code For India. This was what’s known as a hackathon, an all weekend-coffee-induced-sleepless event where teams of volunteer coders in silicon valley collaborated with coders in Bangalore, India. They made things like apps to help the public to report election irregularities, allow women report rape, and games to improve financial literacy. “After 23 years [in search], I go to work and jump up and down every day because it is still so exciting,” Amit said. He’s had success, sure. An invention so ubiquitous that it’s become a verb. But giving back, is what gives Amit Singhal joy.
“Imagine that today, a farmer in India has more information at his fingertips than the King of Spain did 20 years ago.” he said. “The impact of what you do here goes way beyond one person, one team, one company, one country.”
You might have seen a google search promo video that went viral earlier this year. It’s about a grand-daughter in India using google to reunite her grandfather with his childhood friend in Pakistan after they’d been separated during partition as kids. Amit must have seen this video dozens of times. But he still got misty eyed and swallowed hard. (ok, I admit: so did I…) It took on new meaning, watching this video in his presence. Asian immigrants give to silicon valley and silicon valley gives back to Asia. I’ve heard aspiring entrepreneurs time and time again hold up Steve Jobs as the epitome of silicon valley success. Young Indians might also hold up Amit Singhal- a man who looks like they do, speaks like they do. A man who knows where they’ve come from and how lucky he’s been.