You might have seen Sanjay Mavinkurve — he was on The New York Times front page recently. The prestigious newspaper called the 28- year-old Indo-Canadian ‘A Google Whiz.’ Mavinkurve is leader of the Google team that’s building easy-to-use maps for mobile phones. “I was one of the original people on the team that started this project,” he says. “I figure out what the product should look like, what its features should be, the interaction model, how will people use it, what user needs exist in the market. I interpret what millions of people want and need and translate that into a product design.”
Sanjay, who shuttles between Google’s office in Toronto and the Internet giant’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, completed his master’s in computer engineering from Harvard University when he was just 22. Google quickly lapped him up. He and his older brother Gaurav grew up in Saudi Arabia, where his parents — who are originally from Mumbai — worked. “We always dreamed of living in America,” Mavinkurve explains, “and so together we started searching for a boarding school that will give us scholarship and we finally found Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio, where we were able to go almost for free.” After high school, Sanjay headed for Harvard and Gaurav went to Dartmouth and then on to Johns Hopkins Medical School. Mavinkurve lives in Toronto with his wife Samvita Padukone, who is also from Mumbai and who went to school and university in Singapore. “After I lost both my grandparents, my parents have come here and four of us now live together in Toronto,” Mavinkurve says. The mobile phone is often predicted as the new tech frontier. “On the mobile phone, Web browsers are not good, not that powerful,” explains Mavinkurve. “There are few things more constrained than a mobile phone. They have small screens, only a few buttons, and very slow Internet connections.”
He is credited with customizing Google Maps for mobile phones, especially touch-screen ones. “When we started mobile maps, we didn’t know the direction in which phones will go. We still don’t know what will happen. My feeling is that eventually all phones will be touch screens, no keyboards,” he says. But then, the world of technology keeps changing all the time. Now, Mavinkurve says, he can locate his wife and friends “on the map in real time. I can see them moving.” His team of four product designers and 30 engineers are spread across the globe — Seattle, Mountain View, London and Beijing. “65 to 70 percent of Nokia phone users are in China,” he explains. “The iPhone is number one in North America.”
“Making changes, impacting lives of lots of people” inspire him. “Sometimes I can see a person sitting next to me in a plane with a Blackberry using Google Maps. That’s what motivates me most — knowing that the product of my work is being used improving lives of millions of people.” His is a classic immigrant story: He was 14 when he and his brother landed in Hudson. “I came here in between — not quite a child, not as an adult,” he says. “I came with one purpose alone and that was to work as hard as I could and to achieve as much as I could to make something of myself someday.”
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