~by Sourav Ghosh
How do you profile a renaissance man?
Penning this profile of Dr. Prithwis Mukerjee a similar quandary grips yours truly.
He describes himself as an Engineer, Coder, and most importantly as an Imagineer. Even these words do not fully capture the polymath that is Dr. Mukerjee.
Over a freewheeling conversation that began with his childhood and culminated in the present day, here’s a glimpse of his career, his wit and the ringside view he has had of the digital tsunami that is transforming our everyday lives.
Born into a Bengali family in Kolkata, he excelled in academics, with a special affinity for Math and Physics. He remembers the emphasis his parents placed on education and learning. These early influences cultivated in him the curiosity to remain a lifelong learner, discovering new subjects and mastering new technologies.
A precocious student, he cleared the IIT entrance test in Class 11, so he did not have to appear for his higher secondary (Class 12)! He joined IIT Kharagpur to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering. By joining IIT, he could ward off family pressure of having to pursue a degree in Medicine.
With great fondness, he recalls his undergrad years at IIT Kharagpur. He revelled in the academic pressure and forged deep friendships which last to this day. He also discovered his talent as a pugilist. So after four years of Fluid Dynamics in the classroom and Upper Cuts in the boxing ring, Dr. Mukerjee emerged a freshly minted Mechanical Engineer.
From IIT, he moved to the US to pursue his MS. His precocious streak continued, and he has the unique distinction of becoming a PhD without having to complete his MS. Returning to India, he joined Tata Steel in their Computer Services Department. He was handpicked as an Executive Assistant to the Executive Director, a stint which offered him deep insights into how corporate strategy is formulated at very large organizations.
His career progressed with stints at Tata Information Systems, PwC & IBM. Holding key positions, Dr. Mukerjee was at the forefront of the computerisation and automation efforts of these organizations.
Asked to pick one of the watershed moments of his career, he recalls his stint at PwC in their fledgling internet division. It was an exciting time, despite the skepticism in the lay public and corporations about this new fangled technology. Dr. Mukerjee soon recognised this as a seismic shift in the way the world would transact business.
A firm believer in adapting tech for the betterment of lives and streamlining archaic processes, he plunged headlong into evangelizing this technology. From strategizing to hands on setting up of the network, Dr. Mukerjee ran the gamut of operations. An experience he today credits for giving him a deep understanding of network systems and how to configure them.
He recounts an incident when he was tasked by a banking major to set up a network in their Manila offices. When he landed, his team found the city was shut down as there had been a military coup d’état. A feebler soul would probably have turned around and returned by the next flight.
Responding to the challenge, he gathered his team and smuggled themselves into the bank HQ. Rolling up his sleeves, he began the daunting task of physically setting up the network. He recounts crawling between desks and laying the cables by hand. A visual far removed from the cerebral tech expert we know so well.
As an Imagineer, who evangelized the internet, he is a firm believer in emerging technologies. One of the earliest Crypto converts, Dr. Mukerjee surmises that in today’s digital world there is probably no pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, rather you would find a crypto wallet stuffed with Bitcoin. So with disclaimers and a firm “Caveat Emptor” in place, readers know where and what to look for!!!
Under his stewardship, his division grew to be the largest revenue generator at PwC. However, Dr. Mukerjee felt the tug of academia. He first joined IITK as a full time faculty. Around this time Prof. Charanpreet Singh, an ex-colleague from PwC, was setting up the nascent Praxis Business School. Coming on board initially as a part time faculty, Dr. Mukerjee eventually became a full time faculty member. Together with Prof. Charanpreet Singh, he set out to change the paradigm of business education.
Initiating pioneering courses like Business Analytics, he continued to break new ground. Most business schools now offer courses in Analytics. However when Praxis began this course it required all of Dr. Mukerjee’s evangelical skills to get it off the ground.
With a checkered career and accolades over the years, Dr. Mukerjeee remains the quintessential Captain Kirk. Ever willing to seek new frontiers. He began his voyage into the metaverse long before most people had even heard of it. He holds “Virtual Estate” (for want of a better expression) and an avatar to go with it in the virtual world Second Life. Interested folks can get more details at his blog:
A widely read author with several titles to his credit. Much like the person, his books reflect the breadth of his intellect. They range from deep exposition of subjects like Business Information systems to Philosophy and his Capt. Kirk avatar finds expression in Science Fiction novels like Chronotantra and Chronoyantra.
Signing off, I am left wondering how an individual can accomplish so much? The answer can be found in his inimitable words – “When resources are limited, creativity is unlimited!!!”.