Sam Pitroda was born in Titilagarh, Orissa. His parents were from Gujarat, who later migrated to Orissa. They were deeply influenced by Gandhi and his philosophies and thereby, Sam Pitroda and his brother were sent to Gujarat to learn more about the Gandhian philosophy. He completed his schooling from Vallabh Vidyanagar in Gujarat and also completed his Masters in Physics and Electronics from Maharaja Sayajirao University in Vadodara. After completing a Masters in Physics from Maharaja Sayajirao University in Vadodara, he went to the US to complete his Masters in electrical engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, Sam Pitroda was involved in the cutting edge technology research work in telecommunications and handheld computing. He is particularly known for having introduced microprocessors in telephone switches leading to early digital switching. His invention of the Electronic Diary in 1975 is presently regarded as one of the earliest examples of hand-held computing. With more than 100 patents to his credit, Sam Pitroda is held as a leading name in telecommunications and information technology for more than three decades.
Sam Pitroda founded Wescom Switching. Rockwell International acquired Wescom, where Sam Pitroda eventually became a Vice President. In 1983, he also designed his own computer-themed card game called Compucards, which incorporated binary numbers (1, 2, 4, 8...) instead of decimal and had a computer bug as the 'joker'. The corresponding of a king in a standard deck of cards was the 'Programmer' that bore a strange resemblance to Sam Pitroda himself. Sam Pitroda worked as an engineer for four decades and he has been involved in filing scores of patents in telecommunications. The latest set of patents relate to mobile phone based transaction technology, which cover the entire range of transactions, both financial and non-financial, through mobile phones.
In 1984, Sam Pitroda was invited to return to India by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. On his return, he established the Center for Development of Telematics (C-DOT), which is an autonomous telecom R&D organisation. In 1987, Sam Pitroda became advisor to Mrs. Gandhi's successor, Rajiv Gandhi and was responsible for shaping India's foreign and domestic telecommunications policies. Sam Pitroda is largely considered responsible for the telecommunications revolution in India and specifically, the yellow-signed Public Call Offices (PCO) that quickly brought cheap and easy domestic and international public telephones all over the country. However, after a public disagreement over the degree of autonomy he would be granted with K.P. Unnikrishnan, Sam Pitroda took exit from public service and returned to Chicago.
Dr Sam Pitroda is the Chairman of World-Tel Limited, an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) initiative. Holding many key technology patents, he has been involved in several startups, and lectures that were extensively started around the world on management, governance and the implications of communications and information technology. Dr Sam Pitroda is the founder and CEO of C-SAM, Inc, which has developed a group of patented mobile business technology called 'OneWallet'. The company has offices in London, Tokyo, and offshore development centres in India in Mumbai and Vadodara. He has also served as an advisor to the United Nations and in 1992, his biography, 'Sam Pitroda: A Biography' was published, and became a bestseller on The Economic Times list for five weeks. In 1993, Sam Pitroda established Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Tradition (FRLHT) near Bangalore in India. At present, he is a Governing Council Member. The aim of the foundation is to make full use of India's rich and diverse medicinal knowledge.
In 1993, Sam Pitroda cited an example of the importance of telecommunications in every kind of development. By 2000, India had about 30 million telephones or one telephone for every 34 persons. In comparison, Americans have one telephone for every 1.5 persons. In order to provide greater accessibility to telephone service, Sam Pitroda prepared ordinary telephones with small meters. This equipment was sold to local entrepreneurs who set up manual public call offices (PCOs) on makeshift tables in bazaars, at street corners, or in shops whose owners use them to attract customers to make calls. The telephone entrepreneurs were billed only six times per year, and get a 25 % discount as their commission. These telephones were in such constant use that the income from one telephone is enough to support an entire family. By 2000, some 650,000 of these public call offices (PCOs), each identified by a bright yellow sign, had been installed across India.
Sam Pitroda was awarded the Dataquest IT Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. For the subsequent decade, Sam Pitroda continued his business interests in computer manufacturing and software. When the 2004 elections were declared, Rahul Gandhi asked for his help for a small committee that he was founding to advise him on policy issues. When the United Progressive Alliance government came to power after the 2004 General Elections, the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh invited him to lead the National Knowledge Commission.
In January 2008, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh honoured Sam Pitroda with a Doctorate of Science. Dr. Sam Pitroda is also the recipient of prestigious Canada India Foundation ("CIF") Chanchlani Global Indian Award (2008). The award instituted by the Canada India Foundation is presented annually to an outstanding Indian who has established global leadership, vision, and personal excellence. Sam Pitroda received this award in presence of the Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper and former president of India Dr. Abdul Kalam. He has been awarded the Padma Bhushan award in 2009 by the Indian Government for his contribution to Science and Engineering.
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