In 1975, Bill Gates and Paul Allen emerged from a garage clutching their first product, a BASIC computer language for the Altair 8800, heralding with it a new age in software development. And, while their initial product might seem almost laughable next to the latest Windows XP model, their vision has helped build the information technology (IT) industry into the hugely lucrative sector it is today.
Millions of graduates dream of working for a company like Microsoft and Michael Leung insists that this is still a viable option, as long as you have passion. Mr Leung was born to work in IT, having begun his career at 16 putting together computer boxes to earn extra cash at home in Seattle. Since then he has held a broad range of jobs, from hi-fi salesman and teacher to his current position as .NET developer architect evangelist, Microsoft Hong Kong. But what does having this extremely grand title actually entail?
"My job is essentially to work with Microsoft's customers and partners to assist them in creating their next generation .NET Solutions," Mr Leung smiles. "The term architect is used in the sense that I manage the entire project from concept through blueprint and realisation to completion."
Mainland exposure to consumer goods has increased tenfold over the last few years and China has become an obvious choice for the IT industry in terms of domestic sales and product development for overseas distribution.
Mr Leung says that, while mainland companies will probably look to the internal workforce to develop software, they will look to the expertise of their Hong Kong cousins for executive positions in departments such as marketing. Compensation is probably lower than in Hong Kong, but the cost of living also adjusts.
This is no small task. The .NET vision anticipates that the personal computer will develop as a hub to a much greater degree than expected over the next 10 years. This means that users will demand greater levels of interaction with electronic devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs), mobile phones and entertainment systems. Mr Leung is responsible for overseeing this initiative, both in terms of educating customers about the vision and technology and ensuring that Microsoft's hardware and software partners are creating solutions based on the platform.
His day is long, requiring huge commitment to both his team and the .NET vision. Spending the majority of his time in customer and partner meetings, he explains that he then has to liaise with his Microsoft colleagues, ensuring they are on the same page. However, he insists the job has not taken over his life.
"The good news is we are all fully online, regardless of where we go, be it at home, in the office or on our PDAs. We can conduct e-mail correspondence and even Instant Messenger meetings from a taxi, if necessary," he laughs. "I'm not chained to a desk for the entire day."
Mr Leung continues, "Ten years ago, I don't think anyone could have predicted how dramatically technology has changed our lives. And I think, when we look back in 10 years, the same will hold true. Some people think that we've come a long way, but I think we're still at the beginning of the information era."
The IT sector might seem like an imposing industry to crack, but his point holds true. It will continue to grow and new people and ideas will always be needed, making it an excellent option for career development. A degree in IT is obviously a good place to start, but the main requirement is a passion for technology. A knowledge-based industry will, by its very nature, continually progress, which means you are always going to have to learn something new if you want to succeed. You need passion to drive you to do this.
Graduates with this drive should consider entering the market as an internal IT manager to gain hands-on experience of the software on the market. Dealing with other people's difficulties with software is an excellent way to understanding it oneself. It may not seem very glamorous, but is an excellent step on the career ladder and offers endless opportunities. It is worth noting that Mr Leung had no marketing experience before he joined the .NET group, being hired on the back of his knowledge of technology and passion alone.
But does he find his job rewarding and would he recommend the industry to graduates? "Absolutely. First, there aren't many professions where you get paid for doing something you love. Secondly, we are the pioneers in what will be looked back at in time as the start of the information age. It's what we all do today that will define the course of IT going forward. That's pretty special."
ˇ§ Some people think that we've come a long way, but I think we're still at the beginning of the information era*