[Minor update: Nov 24th, 2013. Created: Feb 4th, 2009. This is still a work in progress.]
Hi, I am Atanu Dey. Thanks for visiting my blog on India’s economic development.
I live in San Jose, CA, and work with Niti Digital in Mumbai.
You can contact me by writing to me atanudey at gmail.
A brief bio:
I am an economist with a background in development. I did my doctoral work at the University of California at Berkeley. My PhD thesis title was, “Universal Service Obligation Imposed Cross-subsidies: The impact on the demand for telecommunications in India.” Prior to going back to school, I worked at Hewlett Packard in the Silicon Valley in their computer systems division. (Building 44 in Cupertino, just in case you were wondering.)
While at UCB, I was also a Reuters Digital Vision Fellow at Stanford University 2001-02. During that time I developed a model for the development of rural India. The model is called “RISC — Rural Infrastructure & Services Commons.” I used the RISC acronym as a play on words, since Vinod Khosla co-authored the concept paper with me. (RISC also stands for “reduced instruction set computing,” something that SUN and HP had pioneered, and as is well-known, Vinod is a co-founder of SUN Microsystems.)
The reason I have some familiarity with computing is because I studied computer science at the post-graduate level. After an MTech in CS from IIT Kanpur, I had gone to do my PhD in CS at Rutgers University but I got out with an MS in CS because I liked the idea of working for HP in California.
Working for HP was fun but I was more interested in understanding why India was poor. After being with HP for seven years, I quit to wander around India, US and Europe. I did that for five years. It was a great learning experience for me and gradually I understood that economics informs the question of poverty better than any other discipline. Though rather late in life, I realized that I was an economist — all these years I had no clue that I was one because I had never been exposed to economics. During my extended sabbatical (or voluntary unemployment, if you will), I read a lot more than I used to and slowly it dawned on me that I had to study economics formally. It is a hard subject in any case, and on top of that, I am not disciplined at all. Getting a PhD in a subject is a good way to learn the subject. At the very least, you get a decent foundation.
I believe in foundations. If you have a good foundation, you can build excellent things.
Of course, it was not easy for me to get admission to a PhD program in a good university, considering that I had precious little (none actually, not to put too fine a point on it) formal exposure to economics in my previous academic training. But persistence matters. This is perhaps the only “entrepreneurial” thing I have ever done.
You may say that I have attention deficit disorder. I did my undergraduate from Nagpur University in mechanical engineering. Then I moved to CS, and then to economics after a few years of product marketing at HP.
In any event, after I finished my PhD, I toyed around with the idea of working for a consulting firm. I did not pursue it when I realized that it involves a lot of work on other people’s terms even though the money is good. Fortunately, I had work in short-term consulting which paid the bills. I was in no hurry to get a regular job. A friend, Reuben Abraham, then at Columbia University, introduced me to Rajesh Jain in April 2003. We all share a common interest in the use of technology in development.
Rajesh Jain persuaded me to move back to India to work with him. What I admire about Rajesh is his capacity to work hard, think big, and his can-do attitude. I am not impressed with money because I don’t need much of it anyway — beyond a certain modest amount needed to live a rather frugal life. What impresses me is hard work and persistence in the face of adversity — two qualities that I don’t have.
I think I am plenty smart. But then you may ask the quintessentially American question: If you are so smart, why aren’t you rich? The answer is easy. To be rich, you have to be both smart and hard working. Unless of course you are completely corrupt — as big-time criminals and politicians generally are. (I realize that those two sets have considerable overlap.)
I am not rich because I don’t work hard. Let that be a lesson to you.
Seriously though, I have worked with Rajesh since late 2003. This blog is his idea. I used to write a blog while at Berkeley — “Life is a Random Draw”. I have taken it down because it was getting spammed too much. This blog is broadly about economic development. More about the blog in the “Read this First” tab. (Under construction. Do visit in a couple of weeks.)
Living in India after living two decades in northern California is hard, especially so if the move is from Berkeley (where I spent the previous eight years) to Mumbai (a city with nothing to offer me.) After a little more than a year, I left Mumbai for Pune. Pune is better than Mumbai in some respects. I work remotely from home.
Well, that is about it. More to come.
Meanwhile, be well, do good work, and keep in touch.
Jan 24th, 2012 Update:
I moved back to the San Francisco Bay area in June 2010, and now I live in San Jose although I continue to work with Rajesh Jain in Mumbai. I usually visit India about twice a year and spend a few weeks traveling around India and meeting people.
In other news, I have published a book, “Transforming India.” Please take a look. Thanks.