Photo: Gunjan Shah studio portrait

Gunjan Shah ’96 Global Product Lead, Meta Reality Labs

NORWICH RECORD | Winter 2022

When I interviewed at Facebook, something that really resonated with me was what society now needs to focus on is building communities. We also need to help each other ascend Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. My mission is how to connect and build relationships in a world where we’re always doing the smartphone prayer—always looking down, pressing buttons. How do you build relationships in this new world order? I’m leading a team to build a new category of products that help us connect in the digital realm so that humanity can improve from a relationship perspective.

If I can make technology where you and I can build trust, even though we haven’t physically met, then the world is going to be a better place. The physical distance can be diminished by technology to bring more presence capability. Relationships are really based on trust, which happens when you can see another person and read each other’s body language and other nonverbal cues. Think of a Facebook community, but one that’s going to evolve in the digital realm. What does that world look like? Do we actually realize that we’re not all that different? We all have the basic needs of connections and relationships. If I can bring that back into the physical world, then that is a good accomplishment. It will take 10, 15 years, but that’s where I want to go. One of the things that I’m trying to solve is whether you can build strong relationships if you can learn how to teach at the communication frequency of the other person. That’s a tough technology problem to solve.

The world is changing. We look at technology as utilitarian. I want to turn the view of technology into not a business builder, but a humanity builder. I think it’s a nice intersection.

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In every technology leap forward, there’ve always been naysayers and critics. One of the things that Face¬book has learned the hard way is, to use that line from Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

When you create a platform, you just can’t stand back and say, “Yeah, they bought ad space. They’re doing their thing, so we’re not going to police them.” You have to police now. That is a very difficult task. So those critics are right. A knife can be used to cut a tomato. A knife can be used to kill somebody. It all depends on the user. So what we need to do as a society is to teach each other how to use the tools the right way, and that means also to understand the limitations of those tools.

Career Insights

“It’s not about the pay. If you’re passionate, pay will follow. My thing is, am I making a difference?”

On his first job, at Raytheon Co.: “I just kept on working, working and not worrying about who gets credit but just learning as much as I can.”

At Motorola, Shah helped build the first 3G and 4G phones and a 5G PC. “I stopped doing engineering about 10 years in and moved up to management teams.”

“I’ve always been motivated by helping people. I’m a techy geek. I love education and learning. The intersection of those three … that’s where I try to focus my career and my job.”

“My playbook is the same, which is you roll up your sleeves and you just start doing everything that your team is doing and lead by example.”

—As told to Sean Markey

Gunjan Shah was nine when his family emigrated from India to the United States, arriving with just $100 to their name. His high school principal, NU alum Francis Moran, opened a door to Norwich. “I got help along the way without even asking, and that is one of the things I see from Norwich graduates.”

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