A strong technical background is essential in the dynamic IT and telecommunications industry, but high achievers also need a good head for business, superb interpersonal skills and the energy to go far.
Ivan Tam, chief technology officer, Hong Kong Broadband Network Ltd, certainly has what it takes. "I have a keen interest in technology and its implications for modern society, but also enjoy rubbing shoulders with people from all backgrounds," notes Dr Tam, who moved from the academic research field to the commercial sector just before the dawn of the new millennium.
After graduating in computer science from the reputable Imperial College in London, Dr Tam crossed the Atlantic to study for a doctorate in computer science at the University of Pennsylvania in the US. His academic acumen then took him further a field to Singapore where he took an academic research post.
Eventually, an urge to apply his technical knowledge into a practical business context led to a drastic change of career. "After 10 years of in-depth research into networking technology, I felt it was high time I experienced its wide commercial scope," he explains.
In 2000, he joined the Singapore regional office of Alcatel-Lucent, one of the world's leading communications solutions providers, initially as a solution consultant. In five years' time, he had assumed the position of vice president, overseeing the network solutions markets in Southeast Asian.
Dr Tam found his work experience at Alcatel-Lucent enriching, but he felt he wanted to gain a more complete picture of the IT and telecommunications industry. His research background and solid work experience provided a base for new opportunities in network solutions companies.
Last year, he moved back to Hong Kong and subsequently became chief technology officer of Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN).
"Aside from its business nature, the company's progressive approach caught my attention," Dr Tam recalls. "As a vendor, we need to accommodate the needs of various operators and keep abreast of changing networking technology, as well as the many new products and equipment on the market."
Dr Tam's previous roles in Singapore required him to travel frequently to more remote markets such as Cambodia and Laos. "This exposed me to the various stages of network development in different parts of the world. I appreciate the opportunities to immerse in different cultures and broaden my professional horizons which helped to harness my interpersonal and business skills."
"Take the initiative to come out of the back office"
In his current position, Dr Tam oversees HKBN's network operations and development, in addition to monitoring the development of the company's IT infrastructure. One of his roles entails managing network performance and optimising operation procedures to ensure the complete reliability of the network.
"IT professionals should take the initiative to come out of the back office and join frontline colleagues to make sure that they understand the operational processes," he stresses.
After only a year with the company, Dr Tam has already contributed to the launch of a new metronet broadband service that targets primarily customers in the corporate sector. "From coming up with the idea, it took only six months of working closely with our engineers to launch the service. It has given us a great sense of achievement to see our efforts pay off."
Maintaining communication with different vendors and staff in other departments is another important aspect of Dr Tam's job. He attends regular vendor meetings to keep up with the latest product and equipment information. He also contributes to the translation of the latest IT developments into business applications for various HKBN departments, and plays an active role in turning service and product ideas into network solutions.
"Since technology moves fast, it's important for IT professionals to keep learning and obtaining hands-on experience," he notes. "While there is an adequate amount of technically versed professionals to keep the industry moving, there's a shortage of people who also have a strong business mind and good people skills. The industry also needs technical experts who are well read and passionate about technology."
To sharpen his business thinking skills, Dr Tam likes to relax by reading management books. "I also enjoy Chinese history, especially biographies of historical personalities."
He advises aspiring IT professionals to examine their own interests and continuously upgrade their skills. "If you have a keen interest in network technology, you may choose to specialise in network development. If you are highly adaptive and keen to take up challenges, consider network operations."
IT development is more than just programming. "Only people with a business mindset, solid technical foundation, and good communication skills can excel in the field," Dr Tam remarks.