A university degree in IT will secure a lucrative career in the industry today because so many business procedures are now reliant on slick IT solutions to facilitate professional activities.
One IT professional is firm in his belief however, that to succeed in the industry, an all-round knowledge and wide exposure are more useful than specialisation.
Chris Yau, senior manager, global products and services development, SGS Hong Kong Limited, studied aeronautical engineering at university, yet his career has led to his current role with SGS, the market leader in one-stop total quality solutions which include testing, verification, technical consultancy and inspection of products from a variety of industries. "Our profession also contributes to the enhancement of management standards through training and certification." Mr Yau says.
Regarding his interest in the sector, Mr Yau explains, "I was learning in high school at the same time as the IT industry began to blossom. I owned one of the very first personal computers, which was the Atari 400, complete with only eight kilobytes of memory. The Atari didn't even have a monitor so I had to hook it up to a TV screen," he recalls. "There was no hard drive and so a separate cassette recorder was essential if users wanted to save previously programmed data."
At university overseas, his aeronautical engineering degree demanded familiarity with computers and a wide range of data analysis tools and techniques. To succeed in the field, he realised a thorough understanding of data collection techniques, data analysis procedures and data interpretation was imperative.
Predict the unpredictable
Back in Hong Kong Mr Yau was involved in establishing the Chek Lap Kok airport wind sheer turbulence detection system which was the first of its kind relying on computer data to predict the next 16 hours of wind patterns. Prior to this initiative, meteorologists were only able to predict sheer patterns one hour ahead, so the project was a breakthrough in terms of both atmospheric science and flight safety. The mathematical calculations relied on a tremendous amount of data which came from various sources including meteorological offices, radar and sensors built into airplanes which provided real-time weather data from the air.
"That programme was a really intensive number crunching project and I was involved in interpreting that data and making the system operational," he says. The team needed scientific knowledge, programming capabilities and the ability to work productively with two to three hundred other professionals, so a multifaceted skill set was indispensable.
This project was the stepping stone for Mr Yau towards his future in IT audit because the magnitude of the programme and the requisite operational accuracy relied on an IT awareness which stretched far beyond research and university environment programming. "The team needed to be au fait with protocol, procedures and codes of practice in the industry," says Mr Yau and here he discovered his niche.
The most rewarding part of Mr Yau's current position is the satisfaction he feels when his team has truly been able to support an enterprise and help improve operational capability. "We often leave the boardroom of a company at the end of the day feeling absolutely exhausted because great mental agility is needed to understand each individual company, analyse their procedures and consider every possible eventuality," he notes. Mr Yau is also acutely aware of the need to remain completely impartial as an auditor when analysing a company's operations. "Most companies have a unique way of doing things. This may not suit everyone but it is our job to scutinise operations with an open mind when carrying out each audit," he explains.
In addition to offering quality and technical assessment services, SGS organises a whole host of programmes for anyone in Hong Kong wishing to update and improve their skills. These fall into several broad categories which aim to improve the capabilities of professionals working in the quality professions, environmental professions and occupational health and safety professions. Programmes related to sales and customer service management, social systems, medical devices and management development also feature alongside an array of industry-specific options.
Regarding the future of the IT industry and the prospects for new recruits, Mr Yau advises, "IT now reaches far beyond the computer to technologies like bluetooth, MP3 and PSP. We are looking for people who have a broad IT exposure rather than those who specialise in one area. Education is important but so is the ability to comprehend the management principles of operation which are fundamental to success in the industry today."
Variety the spice
Wide knowledge tremendously useful in IT industry
No two days the same in IT audit field
Regular training a norm