Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s April 18 talk at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln was an inspirational homecoming for Husker Shreeya Vaitla.
A sophomore double major focused on computer science and mathematics, Vaitla was among the nearly 1,000 who listened as Nebraska-native Jeffrey S. Raikes interviewed the tech wizard at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.
“I never expected to see someone from my hometown in India talking here in the same place where I’m studying,” Vaitla said. “This was a tremendous experience and reflects the importance of the university. I wasn’t going to miss this — even if I was 15 minutes late due to class.”
During the wide-ranging, hour-long presentation, Nadella discussed the importance of leadership, the need for diversity, passion of Nebraskans, being impressed by cutting-edge research on campus, and what modern graduates need to succeed in the marketplace.
“I’ve had an amazing time meeting a variety of folks from academia, the research community and start-up companies,” Nadella said. “It has really energized me to see people passionate about what they are doing here in Nebraska and the place they belong to.”
Presented as part of the university’s 150th anniversary celebration, Nadella’s visit was organized in partnership with Nebraska’s Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management. The namesake for the Raikes School, Raikes is a retired division president with Microsoft and co-founder of the Raikes Foundation.
Nadella’s visit to Lincoln included a tour of campus and local technological centers, including the Raikes School and Nebraska Innovation Campus. He also toured Hudl and met with tech entrepreneurs and university leaders.
During the dialogue, Raikes described universities as the “geese laying golden eggs,” producing a variety of start-up companies and inspiring innovation. Raikes and Nadella agreed it is disappointing that many people think of Nebraska as “flyover country.”
“There is cutting edge research here in Nebraska,” Nadella said. “It’s been truly exciting to see as it reinforces one of my core beliefs, that every part of the world has talent and opportunity.”
He liked the concept of Nebraskans calling the region the Silicon Prairie. However, Nadella suggested that innovators statewide should define what that means and not simply copy the model created by tech leaders in California’s Silicon Valley.
“Have your own unique texture and character,” Nadella said. “The goal should be to create your own identity.”
The Microsoft leader’s ideas on leadership — which covered the need to have empathy, adopt a team approach and the importance of emotional intelligence — resonated in Vaitla.
“The one thing that really hit me was when he said how EQ (emotional intelligence) is more important that IQ,” Vaitla said. “That’s something I’ve never considered before — that it’s more important to be able to work with people, examining the emotional elements in a decision, rather than just knowing how a system works best.”
That lesson also reflected Nadella’s advice to current students and soon-to-be graduates.
“Major in learning,” Nadella said. “We are at our best when learning, exploring and innovating.”