Leading through COVID-19 and Pushing the Edge at Intel

Sambit Sahu, who first joined Intel as a new college graduate in 1992, is a vice president in the Network and Edge Group and general manager of the Internet of Things (IoT) Engineering Group. Based out of Bengaluru, India, he leads a global team of engineers working on technologies that improve the lives of people around the world, and his team spans India, the United States, Malaysia, China, Costa Rica, and parts of Europe.

In his three-decades-long career, Sambit has been part of four technology revolutions. We recently spoke with him about his view on India’s edge, how COVID-19 will change leadership, and why investing in people is the key to success.

As a global leader in Intel’s IoT engineering group, what do you see as a game-changing technology in the coming years, and how is your group ahead of the curve?

The game-changing technology as I see it is “edge computing,” which sits at the confluence of IoT, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and 5G technologies. According to a study by ABI Research and Intel, the total output of the AI and 5G combination to the global economy will reach US$ 17.9 trillion by 2035. Anything that sits between a sensor/actuator and the cloud can be technically termed as “edge,” thus enabling a hugely connected and intelligent world. This edge computing is the backbone of a world of applications in smart home, smart city, smart manufacturing, smart healthcare, education, retail, you name it.  I would say we are at the nascent stage of this major revolution. The IoT Engineering Group is heavily invested and leading multiple aspects of hardware, software, platforms, and IPs along with our partners both within Intel and the external ecosystem.

What do you see as India’s edge and what’s the potential of India in the world of IoT and distributed intelligence?  

 I see two aspects, both of which have far exceeded my expectations and imagination. India is heavily investing in the “digital economy” and has an aim of achieving US$ 1 trillion by 2025 with this. This is triggering a huge number of applications, technologies, products, and business model innovations for the country’s consumption and global proliferation. The start-up industry in India is booming. Big companies (both MNCs and India-based) are doing extremely well and having worldwide impact. Most of the investments are targeting the confluence of IoT, AI, and 5G, along with edge computing and services.

The other aspect I see is the amazing talent that India is producing on a huge scale. The current generation of engineers is very tech savvy, creative, and passionate about making a difference. Their knowledge and acumen in AI are outstanding. We are in a great state in India to shape up and take a big bite out of the US$17.9 trillion AI and 5G-based economy I mentioned earlier.

Let’s talk about your team’s innovation. What are the ground-breaking products or technologies enabled by your team that have made a difference in day-to-day lives?

My team is very motivated to bring in technologies and applications that will help the world, stepping up to help address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are doing several projects in smart healthcare & medical imaging, enabling immersive online education, video services and security, robotics, and logistics in vaccine transportation.

How will leadership evolve post COVID-19? Can you tell us some of the major differences you expect to see?

The COVID-19 situation has been heart-breaking. Many of our employees and their families worldwide have been severely impacted, and so many lives have been lost. It is devastating and very unfortunate. I am very thankful to Intel, its leaders and employee volunteers for the way they stepped up during the pandemic to help fellow employees and their families. Every day has been a learning experience for all of us, and we are still learning.

The most important thing, I would say, is how we take care of employees—show them support and empathy, allow flexibility for their respective situations, and provide them the confidence to adapt to the new normal. The pandemic also highlights the opportunity to invest in technologies and applications that will help the world deal with the situation better. Robotics, video AI, immersive education, medical imaging, and AI-based research are some of the areas that will evolve. I am sure the world will unite to fight and win over such pandemics in the future.

You have a very inspiring career that started at Intel, moved outside of Intel, then saw you returning to Intel as a global leader five years ago. What made you choose Intel?

As I said earlier, I owe a lot to Intel. Intel has played a huge role in shaping me as a technologist and leader. It is like a second home to me. Very few companies have had the success that Intel has had in the last 50+ years. The points that attract me to Intel are the breadth and depth of products and technologies, amazing talent and people, platform to take technology innovations forward, ability to learn both technological and leadership aspects, and of course, the excellent remuneration Intel provides. It is a place where I can trust leadership and the fact that they are with you in the ebbs and flows of your life. When I ventured out of Intel to other companies for a few years, I always missed the excellent practices and programs at Intel.

What are your thoughts on the talent pool—any tips for success?

My tips are very simple and basic. Hire the best of talent, have a diversity of talent, invest in their learning and care, practice inclusivity, and challenge them to fulfil their potential. If you do these, they will deliver amazing results for you and the organization. The great Steve Jobs said it well: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

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