15 Dec 2023

Know Your HBS Staff: Ravi Mynampaty


By Shona Simkin

If you speak another language beyond English, you might want to try it on Ravi Mynampaty. He’s a software engineer in Harvard Business School’s IT department, but he also loves studying and learning languages. We talked with Ravi about his work, his passion for linguistics and volunteering in his community, and more.

What is your role at HBS?
I am a search function specialist; I’m an engineer by training. I started here at Working Knowledge as a software engineer. I was a double agent at that time, reporting simultaneously to both Baker Library and IT. Over time I moved over to Baker for several years and about nine years ago came back to IT as a dedicated staff member.

What does your work look like day-to-day?
It varies quite a bit. I collaborate with people from several departments across HBS. For the past several months I’ve been leading the federated search engine effort—we’re looking in to how best to search and collate results from multiple search engines and present the best, most relevant information to users. HBS has information that exists in multiple silos, and people don’t necessarily know where it is stored. The goal is to have one search box to retrieve results from all our databases, websites, intranet sites, relevant third-party repositories, and eventually all Microsoft content.

What was your path to HBS?
I have multiple degrees in engineering. I was at a startup in the early 2000s before HBS, and at a financial data company before that. I was looking for a different type of work and came here for an interview. I liked it and thought I might stick around for a few years—I’ve been here now for 22 years.

I came to the US from India to study at UMass Lowell, and graduated and moved to Metro West, where I’ve lived for the past 30 years.

What do you love about your work?
I like the variation and scope—there are some things that are planned and then there are sometimes fires to put out. I also like that there are opportunities to try out new skills and learn new technologies. I’m an expert in search, but I didn’t go to school for that—I put my hand up and said I’d like to work on the project. Once I realized I had the aptitude and enjoyed working with information and making it findable, I was able to grow into that role.

Now with the advent of generative AI, everyone has an opportunity to reinvent themselves as I have during my time here, which has been great. There’s the innovation aspect, which is encouraged here—it’s a bit cliched I suppose, but failure is part of learning. I just finished Srikant’s [Dean Datar’s] course at HBS Online, Design Thinking and Innovation, and it was a nice opportunity to learn. I try to take a class every semester—any semester I don’t take a class I experience a sense of loss.

I’m also one of the co-chairs for ACE, the Asian Coalition for Employees, a group to create community and celebrate the various cultures that are part of Asia. Asia is the largest continent, but we are not a monolith—every individual has their own perspectives—viewpoint diversity is the most interesting dimension of diversity, in my opinion. We try to bring those out with celebrations and information sessions and bringing in guest speakers from places that may or may be not represented in the HBS community. Last year we had a Uyghur guest speaker, a teacher I had from the Extension School, who talked about her language and culture. We had a recent Diwali celebration, and we’ll have more events in the future.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
One of the great advantages of working here is access to the Harvard Extension School. Languages are a passion of mine, and I was able to do a master’s degree in linguistics, which was a dream come true. When I started here, I saw a course catalog and noticed an introductory linguistics course. I fell in love with the topic, which is not just studying languages but is the scientific study of language and how it is structured. For my graduate thesis I conducted a stylometric analysis of Anglo-Saxon poetry using unsupervised machine learning techniques. I’m on the editorial team for the HBS technical glossary, which is a cheat sheet for terms we use in projects and meetings. There’s an aspect of linguistics there, and that gives me a lot of joy and pleasure.

I also play chess, read, write, ride my bike, and dabble in poetry. In the fall of 2022, I signed up for a poetry class, which was a delight. We had to submit a poem every week, so over two semesters I had about 25 poems, some of which were in the staff art show this past summer. I now know the secret to writing a great poem, here’s a couplet I composed which reveals the formula.

Empty the quiver, take aim, take every shot.
Fletch, restock, release, without a second thought.

The other thing I do outside of work is volunteering for my town’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). We work closely with public safety, fire, and police. I don’t rush into burning buildings, but we assist emergency operations at and away from large scale incidents and disasters. We also support non-emergency events such as vaccine clinics. I volunteer as much as I can, which is not as much as I’d like. The COVID vaccine clinics were very eye opening for me. In one of the very first ones, I was guiding foot traffic, and one man was so happy and overcome that he was getting the vaccine, that out of reflex he shook my hand and thanked me—and that was when no one was shaking hands. I wasn’t even administering the vaccine! And maybe that’s the lesson—we don’t have to save the world, we can just play our small part and still make a difference.

Tell us more about your passion for language and linguistics.
I’ve always loved language. I grew up in India, where many people are multi-lingual—I learned English, a few other Indian languages, and took some German classes. I’ve studied maybe eight languages at the extension school. I wouldn’t say I’m fluent in all—if you don’t use it you lose it, so when I travel I prepare in advance to pick up a conversational-level proficiency in the local language. I seem to have an affinity for Polish, and was pleasantly surprised to hear that my pronunciation is very good.

What would you be doing if you weren’t at HBS?
Twenty years ago my dream was to go to Silicon Valley, so I might have worked at various startups. And I’d probably be burned out. A lot of things in life are accidents and fate—something I feel strongly as an immigrant. Getting the path to permanent residency and citizenship through the legal process is arduous, especially for somebody from India and other so-called oversubscribed countries because there’s a country quota regardless of population size. It took me four years to get a green card and it felt like forever. It’s worse now—if someone from India gets into the employment-based legal immigration pipeline now, they will wait a decade or more before getting their green card.

Only 5 percent of the world’s population is lucky enough to live, work, or study in the United States. This is the place to be—people are pounding at our doors. We had a naturalization ceremony here at HBS this fall, and it was beautiful. I went through it 15 years ago, so I know what it means. Someone asked me last month if I celebrated Thanksgiving. I think anybody who is here in the United States should be thankful—for all its imperfections, this is the place to be.

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