First-Hand:IEEE Award Recipient Series:Sampathkumar Veeraraghavan

IEEE Award Recipient Series: Q&As with Icons of Engineering and Technology: 2020 IEEE Theodore W. Hissey Outstanding Young Professional Award

Full Name

Sampathkumar Veeraraghavan

Birth Date

11 27 1983

Place of Birth

Ulundurpet, Tamilnadu, India

Where did you grow up

I was born and brought up in Tamilnadu, India. I did all my schooling and college education in Chennai, India.

Family Background: Parents and their education level & Siblings and their education/profession

We are a family of 5 including my parents, 2 siblings and myself. My father V.S. Veeraraghavan (late) was a senior auditor with the Government of India. My brother Dr. Govindarajan completed his doctorate from University of Iowa and is currently a technology leader with Seagate technologies at Minneapolis, USA. My elder brother Prasanna is an experienced technology leader with International Business Machine (IBM) in India. I currently live in Boston with my wife Preethi who is a technology program management leader at Amazon Robotics.

What did you want to do when you grew up?

As a kid, I always wanted to be a pilot when I grew up. My inclination towards science and math motivated me to pursue engineering. As an engineering student, I wanted my technical skills to be leveraged to solve key sustainable development challenges faced by local communities. My involvement in those projects fostered greater satisfaction and strongly seeded my passion to establish a technology based non-profit in the long term to serve the needs of an underserved population.

What was your upbringing like? Did you have a large family?

I come from a traditional Indian Family. My parents always insisted on helping people at the bottom of the pyramid. My mother has been my greatest source of inspiration. Having lost my father at my teenage, I remember how my mother overcame a tsunami of challenges to educate me. I deeply admire her positivity and smile in-spite of the most challenging times. I’m really grateful to my family and teachers who always believed in me and imbibed ethical values and self confidence to “never give up” on my goals to serve the under-served communities.

Did you have any hobbies (eg. Some people talk about learning trade skills from a family member.)

I enjoy reading about historical sites and ancient civilizations. Most recently, I have started photography, bird watching and gardening with my young girls Maya and Diya.

Did you partake in after school activities? Did you play sports?

Yes, during my school days I was a national Judo player, an active member of the Boys scout and music club.

Did you have a part-time job (after school, summer)? What was your most surprising job assignment?

I was very inspired by my interaction with special children and their parents while working on my automated screening technology project. After my graduation, this motivated me to found “the Brahmam” program which focussed at addressing pressing sustainable development challenges faced by local communities through technological innovations. I expanded my focus area and worked on solving key challenges in healthcare, disability and security. I can’t believe that it’s already been 15 years of walking my journey in delivering technology based humanitarian programs.

Did you take vacations and/or go on day trips?Favorite holiday/family gathering?

Yes, we enjoy visiting Great brook Farm in Massachusetts,USA. My dream holiday is to trek the Annapurna circuit in Nepal.

EDUCATION: Favorite subject in school (K-12, university). Why?

As a kid, Science and Math were my favorite subjects in schools. I was always fascinated putting my learned skills to work.

Did you have a least favorite subject in school (K-12, university. Why?

As a kid I had limited opportunity to travel so Geography was my least favorite subject. As I grew up, I enjoyed the diversity of meeting people from different cultures and I started to appreciate geography more.

Why did you select the university (universities) you attended? What was your major and why did you select it?

My family and teachers always insisted that the true value of an education is to serve the underserved communities and bring in positive changes in their living condition. During my high school, I was exposed to computer programming and was thrilled to develop software applications. This motivated me to pursue a bachelor program in computer science and engineering from Anna university, India. After working in the computer industry in India for a few years, I pursued my Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Tufts University, Massachusetts in the USA with research focus on advanced computer vision technologies. Tufts university provided an amazing environment to advance my technical and leadership skills and prepared me to gain skills needed to be industry ready. It was truly a life changing experience at Tufts to meet and collaborate with international students and global leaders from the Industry.

Employment and career: First job - Current position - Favorite job

My first Industry job was with Tata Consultancy Services In India where I led large-scale software efforts to address the needs of the global banking industry. Currently, I work with Amazon corporation as a senior technical manager in Boston, USA where I manage advanced science and engineering programs in the Alexa Artificial intelligence group. I truly enjoyed all my jobs since every position helped me to advance my leadership and technical skill.

Has your career turned out as you expected?

I would say my career is still evolving in my direction of aspiration. My ultimate goal is to establish a non-profit to touch upon the lives of millions of people through technological innovations. I believe my professional and volunteering experience in IEEE certainly are helping me to acquire skills needed towards my long term aspiration.

Has IEEE played a role in your career? How? What does IEEE mean to you?

IEEE played a significant role throughout my career. My journey with IEEE started as a student member involved in developing technological solutions to assist children with autism. As a student, IEEE helped me to find mentors and like minded people to guide on my passion to serve underserved communities through technical solutions. As I grew up in my career, IEEE provided me with opportunities to spearhead several major IEEE humanitarian programs and global committees in engineering and science which enabled me to strengthen my leadership skills and expand on my professional network. It is amazing to work with key leaders from diverse cultures, technical backgrounds. Most recently I successfully led the Special interest Group on Humanitarian (SIGHT) program as the global chair (2019-2020). It was a truly rewarding experience to spearhead the global strategy and transformation effort to make SIGHT one of the most successful global IEEE programs in the sustainable development space.

You have been awarded one of IEEE's highest-level awards. What does this award mean to you?

I’m humbled and honored to win the 2020 “IEEE Theodore W. Hissey Outstanding Young Professional Award”. I sincerely thank IEEE for bestowing this global award in recognition of my technical and leadership contributions to address global humanitarian and sustainable development challenges. I’m truly honored to share the stage with amazing global leaders in technology.

My journey is all about bringing in smiles in the face of the underserved communities through technological innovations. I dedicate this global award to the special children and their parents who have always been my greatest source of inspiration. It gives me immense satisfaction to bring in positive changes in the lives of underserved people through my technology-based humanitarian programs. I’m deeply grateful to all my teachers, mentors, colleagues, family and friends who have been supportive of my efforts. It is still Day-1 for me and there is a lot more to learn and give back to the society.

What other associations have helped you in your career?

Thank you IEEE Awards program, IEEE Young Professionals, Photonics Society, Power & Energy Society for this unique recognition. Eta Kappa Nu ( HKN) which is now part of IEEE played a key role in helping with networking with key leaders in the industry.

Career Advice: What advice would you give to young professionals entering your field today?

I would like to share following lessons that I have learned in my journey to my fellow young professionals

  1. Continue to invest on learning new skills every year, it’s never late to start learning new skill
  2. Take time to mentor students and next generation leaders
  3. Follow your passion and never give up on your dreams
  4. Reinforce Mahatma Gandhi’s quote “be the change you want to see in the world”
  5. Every challenging situation in life provides opportunity to learn and grow

Reflection: What would you have done differently or tell your younger self now?

I always wanted to start a non-profit to serve people at the bottom of the pyramid. I wish I had started it a few years back. Nevertheless, I never gave up on my passion and continue to invest on acquiring necessary skills preparing towards my long term aspiration.

Was there a project that you were so passionate about that you continued to pursue it even though there may have been doubts about its success?

Yes, I was very passionate about my project on developing a screening technology to capture developmental delays in young children. Many of my friends and advisers cautioned me about the high risk in venturing into uncharted territory. The major challenge at that time was limited awareness about autism among parents and even some healthcare professionals and lack of technological solutions in India. I systematically approached the problem space by identifying major pain points faced by the special children and their parents. I met with local families to see how technology could improve their quality of life. I found many children with developmental delays came from poor families with limited economic resources to support proper treatment, the kids didn’t receive the medical care they needed. In some cases, the parents didn’t know much about the developmental disorder. The interaction I had with the parents of special children motivated me to never give up on this project. I closely worked with special schools, teachers, families and doctors to understand their pain points and avenues to apply technology to facilitate early intervention programs. This enabled me to master the problem space, end-user needs and identify possible technology to address it. Finally, I leveraged the learning from my research to develop and deliver the screening technology to capture developmental delay in young children to facilitate early intervention. The experience I gained from this project inspired me to found Brahmam innovations to address global humanitarian challenges.

What career achievement are you most proud of?

I’m proud to have established “The Brahmam”, a technology-based humanitarian program which aims to foster technological innovations to address pressing global humanitarian and sustainable development challenges. I have delivered key technological innovations through Brahmam to address real world challenges in areas of healthcare, disabilities, education, security and poverty alleviation. Key examples include an early screening system for autism, assistive technologies for the disabled and ICT-based educational programs to benefit special children in developing nations. I also spearheaded the creation of one of the first large-scale Information Systems on Human and Health Services (ISHHS) in India to track the state-wide disabled population aimed at initiating disability prevention measures. Brahmam Innovations allows me to build a better tomorrow and to serve society. Currently, I’m working to launch projects in Africa, North and South America to address needs of local communities .

On the IEEE volunteering front, as the global chair (2019-2020), I’m excited to have delivered record breaking growth for the IEEE Special Interest Group on Humanitarian technologies (SIGHT) program in terms of reaching 10,000 global members for the first time since SIGHT’s inception , doubling the SIGHT projects supported, partnerships established and new programs launched globally in 2019.

I’m proud to have successfully launched the first-ever IEEE SIGHT Day on 28 April 2020. This is a key global program designed to foster a spirit of community for the global SIGHT network, increase public awareness about SIGHT within IEEE, promote the opportunity to support SIGHT financially, and celebrate the impacts made by the SIGHT volunteers and groups. These programs have transformed SIGHT as one of the fastest growing programs within IEEE sustainable development landscape since its inception.

Personal Life: What do you do for fun? Hobbies?

I enjoy gardening and playing with my daughters Maya and Diya

What personal achievement are you most proud of?

I have won several global awards in my career for technological innovations and leadership. However, I feel a personal thank you note and an art work from a special child benefited from my screener system as my most significant achievement.

Do you have a favorite food? Or a family recipe that may have been passed down?

I enjoy south India recipes and a big fan of Thai food

Do you have a favorite genre of music? or a favorite song? Or do you play an instrument?

My favorite song is "Heal the world" by Michael Jackson

Do you have a prize possession? If so, please explain.

What are three things people may not know about you?

Good cook, vivid history reader and movie buff

Who was your mentor? (eg. family member or professor)

My mother Geetha veeraraghavan is my greatest source of inspiration.IEEE Members Vedantadesikan Krishnaswamy and Suresh Chander Pal were two mentors who guided me in this journey, both as founder of the Brahmam program and as an IEEE member. Krishnaswamy, who died in 2007, taught me about the potential impact technology could have on disabled children. Dr. Suresh Chander Pal introduced me to IEEE programs available to students and YP members.

What is one thing you cannot live without in your work space?

Anything else you would like to share about yourself?