3 Key Criteria To Consider for Your Career

Tips from a successful general manager

As part of the business unit leadership development program, they bring in successful leaders in the organisation to share specific topics. There is a General Manager for a growing segment that came in to share in career journey. He is no stranger to us, we meet up with him whenever he comes to Penang for business trip. He started out as an engineer but he was determined to be a general manager one day. So he made sure he took up roles that will bring him to the career that he wanted. He only took up positions long enough to learn and build his portfolio, before jumping to the next thing that he needs to build his career.

He has a goal and he know what he needs to achieve that goal. It’s just then making the move to acquire the knowledge and experience to reach that goal.

On top of that, he shared 3 principles in his career and also how he coached people on their careers.

1. Do what you are happy

It is important that we get the right role and assignment to build up the knowledge and skills for the next move. He said that it’s not worth it if you are not happy with the job. Specifically, he was referring to working for toxic manager and organisation. It’s not work sacrificing happiness and impacting family and health.

2. Make sure it pays

There are many places that claims that they pay with “experience”. He said not to sell ourselves short, which is why he is with the company since he joined after college or something. The company provides good opportunity for career growth and also good pay. Not worth to sacrifice pay and livelihood to get the career jump.

3. Work within your values

One principle to wrap up all others is to make sure that you work within your values. Again this is in reference to working with organisation and leaders that are aligned with your values. Values are ingrained into your personality. It is hard to live with yourself in private if you have to spend most of your living days trying to personally fit into a value that you cannot agree with, regardless the benefits. This becomes the bases of the diversity and inclusion initiatives that he has been a strong advocate.

The one principle to remember when transitioned into a manager

Bring the people along

Speaking from an engineering world, most managers are promoted from talented individual contributors because there’s a need for managers to be understand the technical nuances in the team. One of the key challenge is that a talented individual may not be the best manager. There are new skillsets and knowledge that an individual need to learn in order to good manager. This process of learning again, will shake the psychological core of the person and may make or break the team. There are many articles out there talking about the process of transitioning a person from individual contributor to management.

For an individual contributor that is made manager, one thing to remember is to bring people along in your success. More often than not as an individual contributor, we know how how to get the job done ourselves. When we become a manager, we now have to leverage on people to do the work while we clear roadblocks and set direction. When we plan for the future, make sure that we also bring our people along.

One way I do this is to bring my technical people into any project discussion. This empowers them to step up in project and at the same time you are delegating some of the work to them. At the end, it is visibility for the people. Secondly is to make sure you have a mechanism to groom the people who you have empowered. Make sure the have the right knowledge and training to do the job, but most importantly that they know they have the manager’s support.

As in individual contributor, we just think of what we can do. As a leader, we now need to know what the team can do and the best way scale out (ie achieve more than the collective output of all the individuals combined) is to empower and delegate. The leaders should not be the bottleneck and stand in the way of the people to get their work done.

The one thing I want to achieve as a leader

It has been 18 months since I took over leadership of the group. Since then, I’ve learned a lot but there has been drastic changes to project roadmap, which impact the future direction of the business unit. It is taking a while for us to get clear direction from the top on where this business is going. So a lot of the folks over the past many months has been also thinking about their own career paths and taking action by leaving the team. In all seriousness, there a new companies starting up in Penang, our competitor is hiring to grow their site in Penang, the US-China trade war is putting a lot of focus to make Penang as a mitigation.

When I see people leaving, I also ponder myself whether I should also look out for myself. See, the roadmap change also impacted the program that I worked on (and thankfully already delivered). I look out other internal teams, growing hundreds of people because of new charter. Not to mention new jobs that the above mention factors are creating.

On another hand, I am also starting to explore expanded scope for the team. Talking to our VP that handle customer engagement and some engineering support roles for our sales and marketing team. We already have a few proof-of-concept work that is currently on the way. But all this will take time to materialize, in a way that we can officially position our value and be funded as the team that owns the charter. Also with such incubation schemes, we are more likely to see failures.

This is when I see 2 kinds of leaders. There is one that will see good opportunity open for them to contribute and make use of their skills to grow the career. These are the people who have left. On another side, there are leaders who are job creators. These are the leaders who somehow created hundreds of jobs in new companies and also internal teams so that others can join and use their skills. These are the people who somehow manage to showcase their leadership and create the value that can be derived locally.

I admire the customer engagement VP that I spoke to. He is proud that indirectly, not only has he grown new charter for the team in Penang, he also managed to slowly bring in 3rd party service provider (ie subcontractor companies). So now only is he creating jobs. It is tough now, but I am learning (and hopefully learning fast) on being a good leader from the people and mentors around me. I want to be the leader who creates job.

Movement Control Order 3.0x

It’s 1st June, 2021. this is the third time that we have gone into a serious lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All started in Mid March 2020, with the various levels of movement control order, lockdown seems to have been stretching for more than a year already. This story really makes a good post-doomsday biopic, where every day more than one busload of people dies. The prolonged movement control is taking a toll in my mental health, not to mention the physical health too.

I feel like I’ve had it. I think a lot of people feel that way too. In the past year, I have gone to office less than 14 times or less than 2 weeks in total. Work goes on, business as usual, just that my office is also my bedroom. What frustrates me is that for a huge section of society, lockdown means they get to take a break and yet still get paid. Just a day before lockdown, wife wanted to submit her internship paperwork with the education department. She was told that the accounting has closed for the day in preparation for lockdown, which means no approvals are happening during the lockdown.. which then begs the question what are these people doing at home then? Because of that, she is now going to miss her chance at internship and now scrambling to see what she can do to push out the internship when she already took her non-paid leave from work.

I am also working on a research project with a university, where the agreement needs to be signed between 4 parties. I have rushed my side, taking the agreement to Butterworth to be signed and courier it to KL, and subsequently courier back to Penang. The agreement now is in Johor, signed but no one can come into the office to proceed with the next step. So all is on hold because office work stops.

We have sacrificed for the safety and health of people around us. We did not have Chinese New Year, forsaken Cheng Beng and Wesak Day. Now news are saying that some 400,000 people crossed borders during the Raya Holidays and we see COVID-19 spread because of balik kampung. Because of these people, all of us are locked down. So whether we follow the rule or not, we are all in the same hole now, which I strongly feel is unfair where the good citizens are punished together with the violators.


3 Important Steps When Starting As A Leader In Engineering

Made Software Engineering Director in Jan 2020 when my manager left for another organisation, mainly because there’s a huge restructuring in the organisaton involving new leadership and teams coming on board. Prior to this, I was an individual contributor managing the platform software deliverables of Intel’s next generation Vision Processor Unit. Very exciting job that took me to new places, meet new people and create new software solutions.

I took on the director role with eyes wide open. Though I am familar with the team and our technical domain, I seek out help in order for me ramp up on this role where I have to individuals and managers ( in what is called a manager of manager role). As part of the help, I was introduced to a seasoned leader in the larger software organisation who was to be my mentor. At the same time, the department also hired an external professional mentor to help a cohort of managers to develop their careers.

Being new to the job, I am very eager to get things moving with the team. My mentors summarised the 3 things that one needs to deliver as a leaders in an engineering organisation.


Take a pause before deciding

Never Make Permanent Decisions On Temporary Feelings

The world celebrated Covid’s birthday a few days ago, it is a good time to remind ourselves that we are living in unprecedented times. Let that fact sink in a little bit. Life has been challenging BC (Before COVID) but the pandemic response has made life worse. We see challenges working from home, children attending classes at home, the lack of personal touch and socialization. Despite it all, we should celebrate that we have somehow made it this far.

When the going gets tough, let’s take some time to pause. Take time to think it over before we make big decision. Let the problem simmer a bit. Tell yourself you need time to think, we are living in ways unimaginable and people will understand if you want to take time to think through. The fact is, there is always hope, take it day by day, this too shall pass. What we are facing now is a temporary feelings and emotions triggered by the weird world we are living in. There is a silver lining and things will get better, you should focus on preparing for the better days.

In the office, challenges are forcing people to make ad-hoc decision such as quitting their jobs because they cannot handle the stress. Rather, I would advice the you reach out to your boss, or your colleague. Connect with people remotely, IM, call, message. Share your concerns, your troubles, your feelings. Some will step up to help, but even if no one does, you will immediately feel better. In normal times, we would be chatting in pantry, drop by people’s cube to ask how they are doing, share ideas on whiteboards and join each other for lunch discussion football. All that is gone, it leaves a social void that does have impact to people. These are all the temporary feelings that we should be the basis to make life changing decisions.

COVID is a unprecedented but a temporary situation. It does put stress into normal situations that would make us reflect how we are surviving. Cliche as it seems, we need to count our blessing especially if we still have a job. Look forward to your future goals, and not make hasty decision.

6 Principles We Can Learn

During tough times, we want to find feel good stories that would encourage us. We want to know that the tough times won’t be forever and learn how others navigate through difficulties. Their life stories and sharing serves as motivation for the anyone who is struggling. At the same time, for those who are doing well, it gives hear warming feeling.

This sharing is poignant, Alex is a secondary school mate and he has survived a life threatening brain tumor. I could imagine the moments of uncertainties in his life as he goes through the journey. But the positivity that he spreads through his message is has been insightful.

I start with a quote that he used in the video which is a good reminder for us.

You are not tested for more than you can take. You thrive the most when it there are challenges.

Alex Tan
Alex Tan on The Lite Breakfast

3 Steps You Can Take To Overcome Challenges

Gratitude, Perspective then Hope

It is coming to 8th month since Malaysia first started the Movement Control Order (MCO), since then we have various levels of movement control and now into our 3rd wave of infections. All of us are somehow impacted by the pandemic response in many different ways. People are losing jobs, businesses related to travel is crushed, even the stable oil and gas industry is facing challenges with the price crude oil.

I would like to share this quote and the video that I was recently introduced to. Hopefully we can continue to take one step at the time to move forward with life despite the challenges.

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

MCO Part 2

For posterity sake, today is the first day of the Conditional Movement Control Order for most states in Malaysia. This is what I called the second #lockdown.

972 new cases in Malaysia, where for the past few weeks it went past 1000 new cases on some days. We went into a tighter control MCO in March when cases were hitting 300ish a day. We are way past that.


Humility is sometimes needed

I am in Malaysian Red Crescent Society, that’s no secret. I’ve been in the society since primary school if anyone is counting without any breaks in my service. I am proud of that.

What people sometimes don’t know is that I was also active in university. We had made good friends with the State committee that we get to attend a instructor crash course. I remember it was a whole week, camped out in University Malaya, sitting for ALL the courses needed to get the instructor certificate. All in one week.

That was almost 20 years ago.