Nikhil envisioned and led state government’s transition to an enterprise web-publishing platform based on Drupal, an open source content management system hosted in the cloud. The platform currently supports over 80 state agency websites. Under his direction, Georgia became the first state in USA to use Drupal across its enterprise and meet special needs of constituents with a range of disabilities affecting vision, hearing, motion and cognition.
Nikhil strongly advocated the use of social media for Georgia.gov when using social media for government was not common, and established a presence for the state on Facebook and Twitter to quickly address citizens’ questions and concerns.
Nikhil has scaled great heights at very young age. There is no doubt that future holds great accomplishments and honours for him. He is going to make Maharashtra and India very proud. The story of this young man in his own words:
“I am honored to be included in this edition of Garje Marathi and am thankful to Shri Anand Ganu. He requested me to write a few inspirational words about my career path for the aspiring youth. I remembered a challenge I faced a couple years ago. In 2016, the Atlanta Business Chronicle honoured me with their prestigious “40 under 40” award. Every year they select 40 people, under the age of 40, from a pool of about 800 nominees. These awardees have made significant contribution in their field that benefits society. At the awards ceremony, I was asked what advice I would give my 20 year self. I’m not professional at giving life or career advice but I’d love to share what helped shape my journey.”
“In my school days, I heard an ancient Chinese saying. “If you make two bucks for a living, spend a buck on food, and spend one on flowers. Food will keep you alive and flowers will give you a reason to live”. I heard this at a tender age and didn’t understand the depth of the message until I went through the next couple decades of my life. As a school kid, I was more interested in life lessons than academia. I did not fit the proverbial persona of a “studious” student. Someone who excelled in academics, and aspired to be an engineer or a doctor. Instead I loved drawing and illustrating solutions for visual problems. The creative space appreciated by very few people fascinated me. I am a big believer in the school of hard knocks. When I wasn’t selected for our school’s “special computer class”, I taught myself basic programming through books and by watching the person who developed my father’s business applications. He gave me the needed guidance and made me go through hundreds of lines of code across several files. I found it amusing that I could help my friends in our school’s computer program with their homework. My parents were appreciative of my passion for art and always showered unconditional love. They also worried about my future knowing I am not a mainstream student. They provided a caring environment to pursue any career and supported me when I decided to get into visual art.”
“I got accepted and joined Sir J.J School of Art to study advertising design. It was refreshing to be amongst a college full of students who shared the same passion towards art. I belonged there and found my community. The constant feeling of being different than others and being on the fringe slowly disappeared. Studying advertising also taught me the nuances of visual and written communication. The importance of tailoring your message so it is heard loud and clear apart from the rest of the noise. J.J, as we fondly refer to the college, introduced me to my wife Gauri at the age of 16. After graduating from J.J, she encouraged me to pursue higher education and introduced me to the Industrial Design Center at I.I.T Bombay. I was fortunate to be one of the 14 students selected amongst the thousands of applicants to pursue a masters in visual communication and design. IIT’s program fuelled my passion for problem solving and I found myself lucky to learn from world class faculty. As a project, I worked on a documentary to highlight Aured, a special needs school in Mumbai. They work with hearing impaired children to bridge their journey to mainstream schooling. This documentary was recognized at the Savannah Film Festival and the Savannah College of Art and Design offered me Morris Sheer Fellowship to pursue their Master’s program.”
“It was a hard decision to move across continents to pursue something that was not on my long term plans. While I wanted to experience a life of independence, I knew I was signing up for something that needed a paradigm shift. I will have to relearn several elements of existence to understand a new culture and people. I saw myself climbing down the pyramid of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my parents and my wife. Schooling in a new country taught me life lessons at every step. The safety net I had under me in India, suddenly disappeared and I was on my own. Independence has its challenges and I was getting ready for it. Working odd jobs to make ends meet, staying with several roommates, rationing my wish-list and friends helping each other with our day to day struggles made the new life bearable and fun”.
“After graduating, I worked in several capacities; interface designer, experience analyst, front-end developer, usability tester, and digital strategist to name a few. All geared towards one goal; that technology should be an enabler and not a barrier. If the promise is to make life easy for people by the use of technology, then technology itself should not be a challenge in itself. The tech landscape evolves much faster than what people can cope with. My focus on problem solving, fulfilled through my several roles, helps me in my current role as the Chief Digital Officer for the State of Georgia. My charter is to formulate digital strategies for interactions between citizens and services offered digitally by the state. Georgia’s population is around 10.5 million and almost every resident interacts with the state systems via phones, kiosks, and computers. Technology makes systems and processes efficient but my focus is to insert the human element to make sure services consider the struggles of people from all walks of life. Atlanta is one of the major U.S cities and brings in a lot of diversity. This poses a challenge for systems designed to cater to a monolithic population. My focus is to make sure any person regardless of language, mental or physical ability is able to use technology services without a struggle. This includes people with physical limitations who access facilities that able people enjoy every day. I have built teams with the focus of user centred design and we work towards a common goal of simplifying technology.”
“In the last few years, my team’s work has been noticed by national media. This makes me happy and proud as a leader. As we keep elevating to the higher tiers of the Maslow pyramid, we realize our responsibility towards the society grows. When our decisions impact millions of people, it turns you into a humble and responsible leader. In 2018, StatesScoop Magazine honoured me with the National Leadership Award recognizing my contribution towards civic technology. It is not about the accolades, awards, or recognition. As we focus on our work and if it gives us pleasure, we don’t feel the fatigue of working. Going forward I plan to focus on giving back. Giving back to the society that built me. I have helped and consulted with several start-ups springing up in India. It is assuring to experience the passion and the enthusiasm of young entrepreneurs working relentlessly towards a better society.”
“As the earlier saying stated, food and flowers are equally important for an all-rounded life. Find your passion and if possible, turn that into work. Surround yourself with people who share your values, morals, goals, and passions. Psychologists say we are an aggregate of the 5 closest people that surround us and spend most time with us. Choose them wisely. Make sure you support each other to earn your food and enjoy together when it is time to smell the flowers.”