Some reflections on #winning

sree kotay

I was privileged to receive the NAMIC Paragon Industry award (more on ‘privilege’ in a bit — but I do mean it — that’s not a #humblebrag — it was an award bestowed. If you want to see what “earned” looks like, read about fellow honoree: Reverend Luis Cortes, Jr).

As I was thinking about what I was going to say at the presentation dinner, I came across the NY Times piece “Calling Yourself ‘Humbled’ Doesn’t Sound as Humble as it Used To”. I’m generally a fan of Carina Chocano (though I didn’t realize it … check out her great piece: “I’m with Herland”). But something about this latest article just didn’t sit well with me.

Possibly because I was gonna mumble “Humbled” a bunch of times and then sit down.

But still.

A friend also posted on Facebook this cartoon on “Privilege”.

And it kinda hit me what was bothering me about Ms .Chocano’s piece, and it’s this: Words are just tools, and it’s a poor carpenter that blame them.

“Humbled” still best captures the sensation, I think, if you remove the cynic/too-cool-for-school glasses. Moments of celebration, especially in front of a community, do make you feel less important. They should.

You are less important than you think, and so am I.

My acceptance comments below, following a (as usual) wonderful spotlight stealing introduction from colleague and friend, Fraser Stirling.

(It’s mostly what I said that night — though I left off a few things in the flush of the moment :))

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Thank you Fraser for the introduction. Fraser doesn’t look like much, but he is funny and charming, so he’s got that going for him. :)

I’m pretty sure Fraser is going to be the first major reality TV star to come from the tech industry — which now we all know is just a stepping stone to the presidency… so thank you future President Elect Stirling for the kind words.

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It is hard, of course, to be up here and not be mindful of the current environment around us… the rise of Nationalism, and what that says about patriotism…. discussions abound on race and gender, orientation and religion… and of course, on that illusive notion of ‘Privilege’ and how that shapes us (or doesn’t).

Moments like this, it’s hard not to reflect on the privileges I’ve been given, and on the foundations upon which I stand on.

People are often surprised when I tell them about where I grew up — in the middle of nowhere Virginia… way down in the tippy point of Virginia, right where Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia all meet, about 8 hours west and south of DC.

To get a flavor for how big it was (about 2500 people), the nearest book store was over an hour away in the next state… I spent a *lot* of time at the public library.

And yes, as an Indian immigrant, I encountered my share of racism — mostly the casual racism of ignorance and exclusion, less so the angry racism of hate and fear… and that was its own privilege. Adversity builds character — and, you know, I pushed back too… my own brand of casual reactionary-ism. But all things said, it was a wonderfully surprisingly supportive place to grow up.

I think back to India — I left at 11 months — so don’t really remember it — but in India, when my parents were growing up, paper was quite expensive. Most people here don’t know or think about this, but trees, of the variety we have here, are not common — nor was industry there to support it.

So paper was expensive, and school kids would do their homework with slate and chalk: Erasable and reusable and available.

But the village where my dad grew up… not even that: He had a bag of sand. He learned his letters, Malayalam and English both, and his numbers, arithmetic to pre-calculus, by pouring his bag of sand onto the floor of his single room school house and writing with his finger.

That was *my dad* — not generations ago — who became a successful orthopedic surgeon — and now here I sit as a Chief Technology Officer for a Fortune 50 company… kinda cool, eh?

[As an aside: My mom, and her sister, born and raised in India were *both* Doctors, too. Female doctors — in the 1970’s. Remember that Harvard did not even admit women until 1977 when it merged with Radcliffe.]

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A personal hero of mine, Sir Isaac Newtown is quoted often by many: “If I have seen farther it is because I have been standing on the shoulders of giants”. Dude derived the laws of gravity, reinvented the field of optics, and invented calculus… all by the age of 27 (and that’s just for starters!). If *that* guy thought he succeeded because of the foundations on which he was privileged to stand…. well….

Another hero of mine, Neil Degrasse Tyson (who I think of as my personal chocolate Jesus :P), recently tweeted: “I dream of a world where the truth is what shapes people’s politics, rather than politics shaping what people think is true.”

Well… here is is what *I* know to be true:

I am grateful for my parents, who made me — figuratively and literally (gross, I know… but it happened — and your parents procreated, too :D). I’m grateful for my friends and family and the communities that supported me, including (maybe especially) the one that built and paid for that library I spent so much time in as a kid.

I’m very grateful for my wife and kids, who *every* *day* make me want to be a better person. I am also certainly privileged to be an Indian man in the technology industry in the good ol’ US of A.

And I am thankful for organizations like NAMIC, companies like Comcast, and executives like David Cohen [who was present supporting NAMIC that day], who even in their success, remember to reach back and pull others forward.

These are things I know to be true, and that shape my politics: only the tiniest few are, in any credible sense, self-made, and I’m certainly not among them. I have succeeded by standing on the backs and shoulders of others, and have been lifted up by a chorus.

I have been privileged, and lucky, and I can acknowledge that without diminishing myself.

I am Humbled.

Thank you.

sree kotay

Written by

immigrant. patriot. technologist.

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