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‘Believe in Something Unconventional, Something Unexplored,’ NVIDIA CEO Tells Caltech Grads

NVIDIA founder and CEO Jensen Huang on Friday encouraged Caltech graduates to pursue their craft with dedication and resilience — and to view setbacks as new opportunities.

“I hope you believe in something. Something unconventional, something unexplored. But let it be informed, and let it be reasoned, and dedicate yourself to making that happen,” he said. “You may find your GPU. You may find your CUDA. You may find your generative AI. You may find your NVIDIA.”

Trading his signature leather jacket for black and yellow academic regalia, Huang addressed the nearly 600 graduates at their commencement ceremony in Pasadena, Calif., starting with the tale of the computing industry’s decades-long evolution to reach this pivotal moment of AI transformation.

“Computers today are the single most important instrument of knowledge, and it’s foundational to every single industry in every field of science,” Huang said. “As you enter industry, it’s important you know what’s happening.”

He shared how, over a decade ago, NVIDIA — a small company at the time — bet on deep learning, investing billions of dollars and years of engineering resources to reinvent every computing layer.

“No one knew how far deep learning could scale, and if we didn’t build it, we’d never know,” Huang said. Referencing the famous line from Field of Dreams — if you build it, he will come — he said, “Our logic is: If we don’t build it, they can’t come.”

Looking to the future, Huang said, the next wave of AI is robotics, a field where NVIDIA’s journey resulted from a series of setbacks.

He reflected on a period in NVIDIA’s past when the company each year built new products that “would be incredibly successful, generate enormous amounts of excitement. And then one year later, we were kicked out of those markets.”

These roadblocks pushed NVIDIA to seek out untapped areas — what Huang refers to as “zero-billion-dollar markets.”

“With no more markets to turn to, we decided to build something where we are sure there are no customers,” Huang said. “Because one of the things you can definitely guarantee is where there are no customers, there are also no competitors.”

Robotics was that new market. NVIDIA built the first robotics computer, Huang said, processing a deep learning algorithm. Over a decade later, that pivot has given the company the opportunity to create the next wave of AI.

“One setback after another, we shook it off and skated to the next opportunity. Each time, we gain skills and strengthen our character,” Huang said. “No setback that comes our way doesn’t look like an opportunity these days.”

Huang stressed the importance of resilience and agility as superpowers that strengthen character.

“The world can be unfair and deal you with tough cards. Swiftly shake it off,” he said, with a tongue-in-cheek reference to one of Taylor Swift’s biggest hits. “There’s another opportunity out there — or create one.”

Huang concluded by sharing a story from his travels to Japan, where, as he watched a gardener painstakingly tending to Kyoto’s famous moss garden, he realized that when a person is dedicated to their craft and prioritizes doing their life’s work, they always have plenty of time.

“Prioritize your life,” he said, “and you will have plenty of time to do the important things.”

Main image courtesy of Caltech.