The pace of change in the information technology and telecommunications sector is often breathtaking. What that means for those working in the field is that it is next to impossible to rely on past precedent when planning career moves, and that it is vital to seize every new opportunity that comes along.
"It is certainly not easy to describe anything like a typical career path," says Lee Kwan, who has been in the business for over 20 years and is chief technology officer for WiseSpot (Hong Kong) Limited. "The industry changes every year and is now completely different from when I started out in the 1980s," he notes.
Mr Kwan began as a trainee engineer with the Hong Kong Telephone Company, which was subsequently taken over by PCCW. "Back then, the telecommunications sector was still operating as a monopoly with proprietary standards, long before deregulation and measures to increase competition were introduced," he recalls. "I believe the changes have been good, since they have led to a better quality of service and costs are now decided more appropriately by market forces."
After seven years with the company, Mr Kwan had risen to the position of senior engineer and taken on responsibility for training new recruits. However, he was ready for something new and decided to leave Hong Kong for Australia, where in 1992 he landed a job as a team leader with Optus Communication. At the time, it was a start-up venture operated by a consortium of business partners from Australia, the United Kingdom and the US. Now, after expansion and an acquisition, it is known as SingTel Optus.
Graduates should realise that what they studied at college is only the starting point
"It was a big challenge to move away from Hong Kong, but also a great opportunity," Mr Kwan says. "The industry was being deregulated in Australia and Optus won a licence to operate local, international and mobile networks." In addition, it was a chance to work with people from different countries in a multinational environment, which provided a whole new range of experience. "There was a sense of excitement in being part of a start-up company, and what I learned proved to be invaluable when three years later I moved back to Hong Kong, where similar changes were about to take place," he says.
On returning, Mr Kwan first worked for New T&T as a senior manager and was subsequently promoted to general manager. Later he joined New World Telephone (now New World Telecom) as a general manager in 1997 and was promoted to technical director. He has been in his current position with WiseSpot since early 2005. The company provides innovative IT and telecommunication network infrastructure and value-added business advice. From headquarters in Hong Kong, it also offers product development, network solutions, project management and support services.
When comparing his experiences with these various companies, Mr Kwan says that the approach of a network service provider, like WiseSpot, has to be very different from that of an operator dealing with the individual needs of thousands of commercial and residential customers. "Nowadays, the telecom operators and other big enterprises are my clients," he says. "It is a privilege to serve them, but it is also a big advantage that I worked in that environment in the past, so I know exactly what is required."
He emphasises, though, that the operating environment is highly competitive and that it is essential to be alert to rapidly changing market trends and to remain responsive. There is also a need to provide tailor-made services which add to operational efficiency and deploy the latest technology.
Success in the business therefore depends on having more than the basic technical knowledge. "In this industry, we have to keep learning continuously, and graduates should realise that what they studied at college is only the starting point," Mr Kwan says. However, there are many opportunities and candidates with the right qualities are much in demand. These include being diligent, flexible and prepared to go out of one's way to help customers. Good organisational and time management skills are also required, along with a positive attitude to learning and a willingness to work closely with colleagues. "You also need to be systematic, logical and analytical, since one of the most important things in this profession is the ability to manage projects and products," Mr Kwan adds.
Mr Kwan believes that the mainland market is still in the early stages of development and can expect to see many changes. "There will certainly be more opportunities in future as the market opens up," he says. "At the moment, industry experts are being recruited from Hong Kong on expatriate terms mainly to work on projects which introduce new technology." WiseSpot currently has sales and support capabilities in major cities throughout the Greater China region.