Immigrant Profile: Parag Agrawal

Parag Agrawal, named CEO of Twitter in November 2021, ties with Mark Zuckerberg of Meta/Facebook as the youngest CEO of a major Silicon Valley tech firm. Actually, if Agrawal (born May 21, 1984) cares about bragging rights, he’s a full week younger than Zuckerberg (May 14, 1984). Sorry, Mark—it seems that you’re no longer Silicon Valley’s wonder kid. 

Despite this major achievement, when Elon Musk purchased Twitter on October 27, 2022, he fired Agrawal and other major executives of Twitter to assume the role of CEO (and owner) himself. 

Born in Ajmer, in Rajasthan state, but a native of Mumbai, Agrawal is the son of Ram Gopal Agrawal, until his retirement a senior official in India’s Department of Atomic Energy, and Shashi Agrawal, a retired professor of economics and management at VJTI.  

As soon as son Parag completed his bachelor of technology in computer science and engineering at IIT-Bombay in 2005, he moved to the United States to pursue his doctorate in computer science at Stanford University, from which he graduated in 2012. His doctoral thesis was titled “Incorporating Uncertainty in Data Management and Integration.”  

 While still working on his Ph.D., Agrawal did internships at Microsoft and Yahoo! before starting at Twitter in 2011 as a software engineer. He specialized in machine learning and artificial intelligence. By 2017, he had risen through the ranks to become Twitter’s chief technology officer. One of his main concerns was to reduce bias in Twitter’s machine learning programs. For example, he changed Twitter’s image-cropping algorithm when users reported that the program tended to center white faces within photographs and crop out Black faces. In 2019, Twitter’s founder and CEO, Jack Dorsey, put Agrawal in charge of Project Bluesky, a nonprofit separate from Twitter whose aim is to develop a decentralized social network protocol that would allow independent social networks including Twitter to interact with each other. (As of 2022, the project is in its research phase.) 

In November 2021, when Dorsey decided to step down as CEO, he named 37-year-old Agrawal to succeed him. In announcing his replacement, Dorsey revealed that Agrawal was not only his own top choice but also the unanimous choice of Twitter’s board of directors, citing Agrawal’s in-depth knowledge of Twitter and its needs. According to Dorsey, Agrawal is “curious, probing, rational, creative, demanding, self-aware, and humble.” Perhaps more important, Dorsey felt that Agrawal was the best person to lead Twitter into the future without being unduly hampered by the influence of its founder. 

In light of the news earlier in 2022 that serial entrepreneur Elon Musk, currently the world’s richest man, would take over Twitter, it was interesting to predict how Agrawal would be able to maintain his independence from a boss with a reputation for keeping his employees on a very…very…tight leash. At that time, in April, Agrawal said, “We need to be prepared for all scenarios and always do what’s right for Twitter.” Of course, now that Musk has purchased Twitter in late 2022 and fired its executives, we will have to see what is in store for Agrawal in the future. 

As young as he is, it’s not surprising that Agrawal has a growing family. His wife Vineeta Agarwala, a physician, not only teaches at Stanford but is also a general partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, where she oversees investments in medicine and the biological sciences. She earned her undergrad degree at Stanford, her MD at Harvard, and her doctorate at MIT. The couple have two small children born in 2018 and 2022 who, no doubt, will have plenty of role models to choose from as they grow up. Agrawal’s parents remain in India, but his sister, Kunal, who earned her Ph.D. at MIT, is a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington in St. Louis. No pressure, kids! 

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