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Another Indian American makes it to Team Obama

By Aziz Haniffa
Last updated on: April 07, 2010 09:14 IST
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President Barack Obama has appointed Chandigarh-born Srinija Srinivasan, 40, one of the three co-founders of Yahoo! Inc, as a member of the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars.

Srinivasan, currently vice-president and Editor-in-Chief at Yahoo! was herself a Presidential Scholar in 1989, a prestigious honour that is awarded to over a 100 high school students from across the country each year for outstanding achievements ranging from academia, arts and leadership.

Obama, in naming Srinivasan and 11 others to the Commission, said, "The Commission of Presidential Scholars is charged with recognizing the future leaders of our country and honoring them for their outstanding achievements."

"I am grateful that these impressive men and women have agreed to serve this Commission and help a new generation realize their potential and pursue their dreams," he said.

Though the White House said in its statement that the President had appointed these "individuals to key Administration posts", these appointments of various presidential commissions are not full-time positions, but more prestigious appointments reserved for talented individuals in various fields who are recommended to the White House by someone close to a senior White House official, and also for the party faithful and those who have been involved in political campaigns or are major fund-raisers.

The White House has also been quick to point out that most jobs and members of Commissions it has appointed have also been a result of the individuals applying for these posts themselves, and hence strictly merit-based.

Members of the these Commissions for which no Senate confirmation is needed, generally meet four or five times a year for a few hours at a time or for a day at most, and are compensated for their travel and other expenses with a per diem and usually meet with senior Administration officials when the Commission submits its report or makes various selections.

The White House said that Srinivasan, since joining Yahoo! "as its fifth employees in 1995, Srinivasan has led a range of editorial and policy functions, beginning with the organisation and evolution of the Yahoo! directory."

"She has overseen network editorial standards and original content development, guided the company's corporate responsibility arm, and directed policy issues including privacy and data use, advertising standards, youth safety, community guidelines and accessibility," it said.

The statement noted that prior to joining Yahoo! Srinivasan had been "involved with the Cyc Project, a 10-year artificial intelligence effort to build an immense database of human commonsense knowledge".

She chairs the Board of Trustees of SFJAZZ, a non-profit organisation dedicated to jazz creation, presentation, and education. She is also a member of the 2000 class of Henry Crown Fellows at the Aspen Institute.

Srinivasan, who holds a bachelor of science degree in Symbolic Systems from Stanford University, is a popular speaker and panelist at various Indian American events and also national women forums and always regales audiences on how she came to be a founder of Yahoo! the Sunnyvale, California-headquartered search engine company—along with two of her Stanford University friends, David Filo and Jerry Yang, thanks to her accidental decision to study Japanese.

She always recalls that in order to fulfill a language requirement to complete her course as a sophomore in 1989, she had looked around and not having a desire to take Latin which she had done in high school, she had decided to take up something new and decided on Japanese since at the time Japan was the hub of technology.

At these events, she always says to much laughter, that as a Tamil, she would have loved to have taken Tamil, but unfortunately Stanford at the time didn't offer this and hence her opting for Japanese.

In 1992, Srinivasan after a couple of years of studying the rudiments of the Japanese language she enrolled in a Stanford-organized six-month study program in Kyoto and the rest is history. She met Filo and Yang, two PhD students also from Stanford and they became close friends.

When Filo and Yang who had been dabbling on campus composing directories for Web postings found that in 1994, their hobby had caught the eye of some Silicon Valley hot shot venture capitalists and they decided to set up their own company, they tapped their college mate Srinivasan, who had majored in how people access information on the web and was also fluent in her Japanese language skills and would be an invaluable asset.

It was then that she quit the Cyc Project and joined Yahoo!

Srinivasan has regularly been featured in The New York Times and Fortune and in 2006, Newsweek named her as one of 'The Net 50.'

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