After traveling across the globe from his birthplace in Hyderabad, India to join Duke's Masters of Engineering Management Program, 21-year-old Nishanth Lingamneni found himself one of the youngest people in his class, having no prior full-time work experience. Nevertheless—just one year later—he had his choice of two prime U.S. jobs: product manager for Microsoft Corp or senior marketing analyst for Alltel Communications. In July 2007, after a six-month hiatus rediscovering his home country and other parts of Asia, Lingamneni began his career at Microsoft in Redmond, WA.
A Budding Marketer
Lingamneni said he had initially "followed the crowd" to study engineering. Yet, he soon realized that his interest lay not in the development of technology itself, but rather in the marketing of technology. That interest led him to Duke's MEM program, where he tailored his course electives accordingly, enrolling in classes in technology commercialization and strategic planning, among others.
Outside of class, he found plenty of opportunities to get involved. He was a founding member of the MEM Program's development committee, aimed at improving efforts to recruit new students to the one-year program. He also worked on an effort to inform potential employers about the program's success in arming engineers with a variety of business and management skills.
His inspiration for supporting the program, which he has continued to do since graduation by making presentations in Singapore and elsewhere, was simple.
"After you get to Duke, you realize it's a big family down there," he said. "People help you and you help people."
Taking the Plunge
Soon after his arrival at Duke, Lingamneni heard a presentation from entrepreneur-in-residence Vivek Wadhwa about a study he was launching on the outsourcing of jobs to developing nations including India and China. Wadhwa was looking to enlist five students in conducting research on the number of engineering degrees being awarded overseas relative to those issued within the U.S. The numbers frequently cited at the time suggested that the U.S. was falling far behind.
Lingamneni volunteered and took charge of obtaining more accurate numbers about engineering graduates in his native India.
"Getting that one number took us two months," he said.
But it was well worth the effort. The study results challenged the notion that the U.S. was slipping behind developing nations to the degree earlier statistics had indicated.
The statistics released from organizations in China and India include not only four-year degrees, but also three-year degrees and diploma holders, their report said. These numbers have been compared against the annual production of accredited four-year engineering degrees in the United States."
The revised tally raised the number of graduates in the U.S. to 222,335, compared to 215,000 in India and 644,106 in China. The findings received widespread attention in the national and international media.
"We expected to show up in Science Magazine, or maybe a few web sites," Lingamneni said. "We were shocked by the attention. Nobody expected it. My parents were calling to ask why I was in the Hindustan Times. Every major newspaper in India carried our name."
The Path to Microsoft
Lingamneni landed a summer internship at Microsoft. There, he worked on the marketing of PC Gaming and Windows Media Center. To be successful, the job required him to learn everything there was to know about the features of the products and what they had to offer to consumers.
"No one is an expert at first," he said. "You have to talk to developers, program managers, marketers and work with the product itself. You have to know exactly what it can and cannot do, how it does what it does and most importantly, why people would want to buy it."
He ultimately enjoyed his experience enough to take a full-time job working on the same team he interned with that summer. As the first in his family to come to America, Lingamneni said he hopes to gain at least a few years of experience here before he may consider taking his newfound expertise back to India.