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.

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.


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

The 3 Leadership Traits We Learn From Failure

It is my belief that one of the best places to learn about leadership is in the military. Not everyone gets a chance to join the military leadership so watching documentaries is one of the easiest way to get information. I always look for case studies, where someone has put in the effort to analyze the outcome of some of the decision made in battle or during planning.

Hindsight is 20/20 but learning about mistakes and successes helps to shape my worldview. This will then translate to the intuition that I need in time when quick decision is needed.


My First Eureka Moment

One of the first thing I was lucky to get was a professional coach to help me through my journey into the leadership role. At this point, he already have my personality assessment results as well as feedback that he has gathered from my peers and managers. In one of the assessment, it is clear that I have very little clarity in my life and in my work. He was going through the assessment results with me and asked if I had any thing to question to bring to the discussion. I then start to put forward some of my concerns with the new job. I brought up issues like struggles working with stakeholder and issues I think my team is facing where I would need some help. As he asks more clarifying question, I think he can sense that my thoughts are everywhere and there’s no specific anchor to how I am doing things in the new role.


Where did I start this journey?

I count my self lucky that I have a very supportive manager throughout my career, especially in the past few years. My manager did give me assignments, support and the psychological safety for me to take on challenging roles. I have been known to take on programs that relate to non-traditional technologies. My first prime time software project management role was to plan for a SOC with cellular technology for the embedded systems market. Basically saying that we take a cellphone chip and make it work for kiosk, handheld controllers, etc. Prior to taking up the current management role, I was the software project manager for the next generation vision processing unit, a technology that was brought in through acquisition. I am new to the technology, the team that I need to work with are new to the company’s culture and processes.

In a way, I thought I had been prepared for the new role as a “leader of leaders”. My manager has publicly announced to the team as well as to the higher management team that I will be his successor should any changes happen in the future. I heard this from him for at least 3 years before I took over the role, therefore I am clear on the path set forward for me. The good thing about being identified as a successor is that the company provides some management training that I can attend. This is so that I get some knowledge before actually taking over the job. Most of the training provided are on the standard process, methodology and management culture in the company. Basically knowledge to do the basic job as a manager.


2020 – The Career Turning Point.

Today is May 1st 2020.

For posterity sake, the family have been locked down at home since April 18th due to COVID-19 pandemic. Malaysia Government implemented Movement Control Order, allowing general public to only go out to get essential supplies. Schools are closed, wife and I have been working from home. Today, the Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin has announced that most businesses can start to operate from 4th May. We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.