Over 1,000 alumni, students, and Cornell community members tuned in to hear from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Cornell University President Martha E. Pollack on March 24, for the 2021 Hatfield Lecture.
Pollack and Nadella discussed how organizations can move forward beyond the pandemic, the future of work, and how technology can help solve some of the world’s most pressing issues.
Nadella praised Cornell’s quick response to the pandemic, including the university’s COVID testing technology and remote education delivery. “I shudder to think what the world would have looked like,” he said, “if not for the current generation of cloud technology.”
Nadella said the structural changes that have allowed us to keep moving forward despite the challenges of the last year, like remote education and telehealth, are here to stay in some form. “We’re going to take some of the things that have been learned during this period,” Nadella said, and grow from them, rather than going back to the way things were pre-pandemic.
One place Nadella sees this happening is in the workplace, with regards to employee wellbeing, collaboration, and learning. “Instead of narrowly thinking about productivity,” he said, “how do we think about the overall wellbeing of any employee?”
Nadella noted that organizations should be data-driven when analyzing what type of environment employees want to come back to once it’s safe to return to in-person work, what structural changes they’d need, and how to build the right workflows.
Before the lecture, Nadella also met virtually with undergraduate students from the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, along with Dean Kavita Bala. The group discussed the importance of creating inclusive and supportive work environments and the continued need to increase representation in the computer science field. Nadella also emphasized the only way to solve today’s greatest challenges is to bring together multiple perspectives and disciplines—the core principle of Cornell Bowers CIS model for over twenty years.
“Satya’s insights were very inspiring to me,” said Madalyn Redding ’22, a computer science student and member of the student roundtable. “One of the topics he spoke on was treating each opportunity as the best you could have in that moment. I’ve thought about it a lot since then, and have been working on putting all of my effort into what I’m doing right now.”
Members of the Cornell Institute for Digital Agriculture also met with Nadella to discuss the essential role technology plays in creating a plentiful, nutritious, and sustainable food supply for the world’s growing population.
Addressing global challenges
Pollack and Nadella discussed how technology can be used to address global issues like climate change, and what the responsibility of corporations should be. In addition to building a profitable company, Nadella said that corporations must make sure they do their part to protect fundamental rights, including democracy and access to the internet, as well as doing everything they can to protect the environment. He called this an “inclusive growth” approach.
“One finite resource we all have is the planet,” he said.
Nadella noted that the world “has enough technology” and we should strive to use it to create positive change. He encouraged leaders and students who want to become leaders to focus on bringing clarity to their work and their teams, and create energy by bringing together constituents both inside and outside of their institutions to collaborate.
When asked by President Pollack about new frontiers in technology to pay attention to, Nadella was quick to mention the Cornell Institute for Digital Agriculture as a great example, noting its multi-disciplinary breakthroughs. He also said that the possibilities for artificial intelligence excite him.
“If the last ten years of computing and progress in our industry has been about consumption… I think the next ten years [are] going to be about creation,” he said.
About the Hatfield Fellows Program
The Hatfield Fellows Program is supported by the Robert S. Hatfield Fund for Economic Education at Cornell, established by the Continental Group Foundation in 1980. As part of the program, Cornell’s president invites business leaders to meet with students and faculty and deliver the annual Hatfield Lecture.