Vidhu Shekhar is government strategy leader at Microsoft. (Photos by Terence Duffy)

Young Professionals: Vidhu Shekhar

Meet the emerging leaders who envision a bright future for the Capital Region

Back Article Jun 14, 2024 By Scott Thomas Anderson

Vidhu Shekhar

Government Strategy Leader, Microsoft

This story is part of our June 2024 issue. To subscribe, click here.

Doom clouds keep rolling over peoples’ newsfeeds when it comes to artificial intelligence, but Vidhu Shekhar sees a future where ethical commitments and careful approaches around the technology might lead to a more enriched, safe and time-liberated society. 

He’s not just making predictions on that front — he’s actively working to bring them to fruition. 

Shekhar, who lives and works in Sacramento, is currently the government strategy leader at Microsoft. He is directing the mega-company’s mission to help state and local authorities improve their effectiveness through generative AI. 

“We have to figure out how to be safe but not to stifle innovation so that we give enough of a sandbox for innovation to happen where we’re able to see it and help
 it flourish.” 

In the short term, Shekhar believes that large language models can already let governments deliver services to constituents, as well as usher in a new era of public participation in democracy. In the long term, he thinks that AI will transform the nature of government tech, handling everything from homeless shelter coordination to the mitigation of climate-related catastrophes. Shekhar has even written a book on the topic: “Generative Artificial Intelligence Use Cases in State & Local Governments.” 

Throughout these contemplations, Shekhar has kept his focus squarely on improving the lives of everyday people in his adopted country. There is a reason: He feels he’s been given a slice of the American Dream himself, especially when it comes to meeting his wife, Isako — also an immigrant — while attending USC. 

Vidhu Shekhar poses with his trusty briefcase in Cesar Chavez Park.

“I always joke with my daughters that it could be a movie, because this is the only way you could have someone from India and someone from Japan come over, meet in L.A. — do all the things the city is known for, like sightseeing, going out to the museums, enjoying dim sum in Monterey Park on Sundays — and then arrive here in Sacramento and have a life,” Shekhar says. 

He adds with an upbeat smile, “It’s like the stuff movies are made of.”

Shekhar is unique. For example, whenever Shekhar sits down in Cafe Bernardo at Pavilions — his regular haunt for sipping vanilla lattes — he’s almost certainly the only person keeping a running tally in his head of how long it’s been since ChatGPT was released into the wild. On a recent morning at the cafe, relaxing in the back, he knew that number stood at 523 days.  

“November 30th, 2022, was for me and a lot of people in tech the moment that fundamentally changed the conversation around AI and the introduction of generative AI,” Shekhar says. “It meant that artificial intelligence does not need to be limited to a few technologists. It is now accessible, through natural language, to almost anybody in the world.”

Shekhar had been waiting for such an epoch since he began working in the public sector in 2009. In those days, after earning multiple degrees in India and Southern California, he’d landed at Foothill Transit, the second largest transportation agency in Los Angeles County. He was helping it implement its first electric bus route. Shekhar got obsessed with reimagining how tech could improve the rhythms of life. He went on to stints in the high tech crime division of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and KPMG US, a tech-savvy accounting firm, before getting tapped to be part of Microsoft’s future partnerships with the government. 

Shekhar moved to the Capital City and immediately started dedicating his personal time to bettering the community. Between 2018 and 2019, he volunteered with both Sacramento Children’s Home and Paratransit Inc. Shekhar eventually joined the board of directors for both nonprofits, playing a role in getting Paratransit to fund affordable housing for Sacramentans with disabilities. 

Meanwhile, his work helping streamline and democratize government services through AI has kept moving at hyperspeed. So, too, have his efforts to champion AI as a means of predicting devastating floods, wildfires and storms, as well as react in real time to save lives.

“Of course, there is also the scary side of AI, which is why anybody that works in the realm will always say that we have to approach this in a responsible and ethical way — and I cannot have a conversation about AI without mentioning that,” Shekhar acknowledges. “We have to figure out how to be safe but not to stifle innovation so that we give enough of a sandbox for innovation to happen where we’re able to see it and help it flourish.” 

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