Ashok Chandra 1948-2014

I first met Ashok Chandra in the summer of 2007. He approached me with a novel idea: “let’s turn research on its head,” he said. “Instead of doing research first, publishing a paper, and then going in search of a product, lets look at what could make a big impact and then do research as needed.”

It sounded risky, but then I thought: when will I ever get a chance like this again? I just had to say yes.

That creative idea was the beginning of nearly five years of working for Ashok in a tiny team, where I enjoyed a day-to-day, familiar relationship with him.

And how I enjoyed it! Ashok was incredibly positive and affirming; more than anyone I had ever known. In our performance review meetings, he would look me in the eye and affirm my particular talents. He stretched me and pushed me, but with a spirit of joy and affirmation. Day in and day out, he was consistently positive. I realized that I was happier coming to work than I had ever been in my life.

Ashok was absolutely brilliant. He was also wise. He could put the technology in perspective, and he never underestimated the human aspect of the challenge we had set for ourselves.

When I left Microsoft, I asked him: “I’m going to be the CTO of a startup. You have the experience, Ashok. What advice would you give me?”

“Be flexible,” he replied instantly.

“OK, and…” I prompted, wondering if I should be taking notes.

“That’s it,” he said.

I thought he was kidding But he was serious. That was it.

Honestly, at the moment, I felt a little disappointed. Couldn’t he have said more? But as time went on I often thought of what Ashok had said. Whenever I found my plans disrupted, I would remember Ashok. Be flexible. Right. Deep breath. Keep going. He was so right! More than anything else he could have said about technology or management, these were the words I needed, time and again.

Ashok was wise, and kind, and thoughtful, and cheerful, and affirming. He will always be a role model for me as a leader, as a technologist, and as a friend. I loved him and I miss him.

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