Winter is upon us, Canada. It's bringing freezing rain, blizzards — and just maybe, the next Google.
At the Toronto Global Forum this week, I sat down with Shuman Ghosemajumder — a Western grad turned Silicon Valley star — to talk about how Canada can harness our strengths in a rapidly changing world.
“I think Canadians are disproportionately talented,” he said.
When Ghosemajumder joined a no-name company called Google in 2003, he was one of a small army of Canadians working there. As the company grew — he helped develop AdSense and launch Gmail — he came to see Canadians as uniquely positioned to succeed in Silicon Valley.
We have the advantage of a strong public education system, high quality and affordable post-secondary institutions, and we’re close enough to the world’s largest economy to understand it, yet have the distance to analyze it, he said
And one other thing: When you grow up in snowy London, Ontario — as Ghosemajumder did — you end up spending a lot of time indoors. He started learning to program a Commodore 64 when he was just five years old.
“There’s a lot to be said about cold climates and productivity,” he said.
In Canada, there are no afternoon siestas. But despite our strengths, we still haven’t matched what’s happening in Silicon Valley.
Ghosemajumder is now the Chief Technology Officer at Shape Security, the fastest growing cybersecurity company in North America. He admits he doesn’t see himself leaving Mountain View. But he did share his insights on how Canada can harness its strengths, and why we shouldn’t be quite so fixated on creating another Silicon Valley anyway.
Here are 4 takeaways:
1. Don’t Forget the “A” in STEAM
Science, tech, engineering, math — and arts. As we equip our students with the technical skills they need to succeed in 2020 and beyond, we can’t forget about the arts. It’s our well-rounded curriculum that makes Canadian graduates stand out, Ghosemajumder says. Canada’s software engineers are the most creative in the world — they’re one of the reasons Shape Security is opening a Toronto office.
2. Show Canadians the World (and Show the World Canada)
Ghosemajumder visited Palo Alto as a high school student and competed against the world’s top debaters as President of the Western Debating Society. Seeing the world’s best, in any field, changes your horizons. We also need to show top talent from around the world why they would benefit from experience in Canada. Bright young students still look to American colleges to realize their grandest ambitions — we need to offer them something the U.S. can’t.
3. Embrace Our AI Potential
With our more centralized government, Canada has the power to go all-in on an investment — as the feds are doing with the $125-million Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy. It’s a smart bet, Ghosemajumder says. We have the money and the talent to go far in this field. Now Canada needs it ingrained, culturally, that we are an AI nation.
4. Don’t Fixate On Physical Concentration
A confluence of factors has made Silicon Valley the place to be — and also difficult to replicate. There will always be something special about working in the same place as the biggest players, but talent can live anywhere — and increasingly, it will. We’re already seeing that with the global success of Ottawa’s own Shopify. “There’s no question that talent is going to be far more distributed over time,” Ghosemajumder said.
John Stackhouse is a nationally bestselling author and one of Canada’s leading voices on innovation and economic disruption. He is senior vice-president in the Office of the CEO at Royal Bank of Canada, leading the organization’s research and thought leadership on economic, technological and social change. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail and editor of Report on Business. He is a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and sits on the boards of Queen’s University, the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada and the Literary Review of Canada. His latest book, "Planet Canada: How Our Expats Are Shaping the Future", explores the untapped resource of the millions of Canadians who don’t live here but exert their influence from afar.
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