Bangalore: As a 23-year-old techie back in 1983, Sharad Hegde was the first non-founder employee to join N.R. Narayana Murthy and company in Infosys. He grew to be senior vice-president and chief technology officer, and was the chief architect of Finacle, Infosys’ banking solutions product. Here he reminiscences about his journey with Murthy and Infosys.
I joined Patni Computer Systems in 1980. Narayana Murthy was already there, and he took classes for me, a youngster from IIT (Indian Institute of Technology), Chennai, and other young freshers. We had very little idea about what computers and software were all about. He would take these classes for us, and it was quickly apparent that he was one of the great teachers. He had the knowledge, of course, but the way he communicated, the passion he put into it, was outstanding.
He, Nandan (Nilekani) and the others had got together, and at that time itself he asked me if I wanted to join him, as he was planning to start a company. If I had accepted, I would have been the eighth founder. But I said I wanted to do my MTech in industrial engineering, so I declined!
Sharad Hegde. Photo Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
From NITIE (National Institute of Industrial Engineering), Mumbai, where I was doing my MTech, I went to Mysore to do my project at Mico. That is where I met Murthy and the others again. One of the first ever computers in India, a Data General it was called, was installed there, and the Infosyscians were on it. I was one of those who knew about that computer, so I would interact with them. From there, it was not too many steps away that I would join them. This was in 1983, I was just 23 years old.
So join them I did. I liked them, and the way they operated. That began my journey, till 2002, when I left, only because I wanted to stop working, and not because I wanted to join some company. (Today he is on the advisory board and an angel investor in Customer XP, a start-up.)
Between 1983 and 1990, I went on a lot of projects to the US, where we would do some development and maintenance work, some package implementation and the like. That was also when I met my future wife. She, too, was in Infosys, working in a unit back then called Infosys digital systems, on devices.
I was of course a technical guy, and NRN was fully involved with the managerial and financial aspects of running Infosys. Whenever I was in the US, when Murthy came down, he would bring some letters and packages from her!
He was very clear on the fundas. He would say: “When you write a program, get it right the first time.” Remember, time at a terminal was at a premium those days. He would say, “Once you finish coding, take a printout, get away from the terminal, and read it through. Once you go back to the terminal, make the corrections, and it should run the first time”. I still like to do that. When I code, I take a printout.
(From) 1990 onwards, I was involved in the development of Finacle, implementing it at Canara Bank, then ICICI and so on. In that decade, we would hardly meet. He was busy building Infosys to what it is today.
Once I was in Switzerland, and my wife and her parents had a bad accident in Mumbai. He called me and told me that this had happened and to come down immediately.
When I reached Mumbai, he was already there. My wife was in the hospital, her parents had died, and my child had lost one eye. He was taking care of them. I will always be grateful to him for that.
To me, Murthy has shown that one can start from scratch and build a company that competes with the world’s best. Today, corruption has become such a big issue with Anna Hazare and his movement. He showed even then that one could play straight and succeed.
He had the vision, of course. And he was never satisfied with incrementalism. He would say, “Stretch, stretch. Here is the target. Just do it.” In 1990, with that Gandhi rate of growth we had, there was some disillusionment, the other founders wanted to go. But he said, you opt out if you want, I am going on.
Today, I think it would be great if he is in some position in government, where he can drive policy. Maybe he can be President, I don’t know. In our system, presidents don’t do much, but maybe he will launch an era of presidential activism.
As told to Sridhar K. Chari.