Questions from IT grads … and some answers

  • If graduates bring talents and capabilities that are not up to par, they erode value from the business
  • World-class goods and services can only come from world-class businesses manned by world-class talents

Questions from IT grads … and some answersEVERY quarter or so, I try to volunteer with local universities and touch base with IT graduates. I decided that instead of complaining about the quality of graduates, we industry folks should instead engage the students directly and share our expectations of them.
Here are some of my favourite questions posed by students.
Is education important?
The question came from this bright young chap. I could see that he was more driven than most of the folks in the class, and he had that haunted demeanour of someone struggling to reconcile an impending decision.
I had also just made a statement that my peers who had a job while they were in the university and yet still graduated, did better than 95% of the graduating class today.
My take: Working experience early in life builds character; as to whether or not education is important … it depends.
Education serves as a strong fall-back plan in the event entrepreneurialism hands you a bad shuffle. It also allows you to find work, while slowly exercising your entrepreneurial muscle before taking the plunge.
Although I have seen many successful folks without a formal education, I believe that they are the exception rather than the norm, considering how quickly one hits an earnings ceiling without sufficient technical acumen to scale.
It is almost guaranteed that without an education you will likely be in a ‘trade businesses’ – that is, being good with your hands or being creative, and literally ready to work the sweat off your back to be successful.
Can you be supremely successfully without education? See the next question. If you can figure out the answer, then you probably could; otherwise, please complete your degree.
Questions from IT grads … and some answersI do not know what I want to do; but I want to be rich, where do I start?
You will not even be able to earn a living if you have absolutely no value to bring to the business and consumers.
Graduates, despite lessons in Economics or lack thereof, largely do not understand the concept of economics and the value chain. In fact, most business organisations (usually struggling ones) don’t either.
Economics is the science of distributing/ transferring scarce goods and services to where demand is. That entire flow is the value chain, because scarce goods/ services get augmented and/ or the process of distribution becomes even more efficient.
That’s my paraphrase; so don’t mind me if academics reading this find it inaccurate.
Anyway, both graduates and businesses need to see that within the chain of transference and distribution; value HAS to be created; otherwise the flow of goods and services will be steered towards where value creation is most optimal.
If Malaysian value creation is poor, the entire global economy will skip this nation. Period.
Whenever graduates become employed, they bring with them their talents and capabilities. If these talents and capabilities are not up to par or are difficult to be developed, they then erode value from the business.
Hence, graduates need to seek out or even create businesses that generate the best value to customers, and inject their presence into the value chain.
How much money graduates could make depends on how much value graduates can provide to the business at the task that they are responsible for.
Master the task that is in high demand and scarce – economics.
What advice can you give folks who have lost their drive?
Honestly, this question makes my blood boil, especially coming from young folks with no physical disability. I could mollycoddle graduates with Nick Vujicic, unfortunately the urge to open up a can of whoop-ass makes the gesture insincere.
Anyhow, I have come to accept that different people deal with motivation, depression, rejection and failure differently; some better than others.
Motivation and drive come from ‘intrinsic motivation’ – you need to want it for yourself from yourself.
If you are driven by extrinsic motivation (money, title/ position, fast women), addiction to these factors result in counterproductive and even wasteful entitlement behaviours.
For example, I know a company which cannot resolve its parking space issues because managers insisted on having their own car-park. While retained earnings continue to dwindle and bottom line erodes, it was deemed that having a room and parking for each manager was more essential to business success.
So how do you develop mojo or drive? What’s that magic advice? Perhaps this quote from Intel Corp founder Andy Grove can kick in some sense:

“Accept that no matter where you go to work, you are not an employee – you are a business with one employee, you.”

Did it work?
Apologies, I doubt whether this quote would work either. Graduates who haven’t worked a day in their life won’t understand work. Heck, most working adults, according to a Gallup survey, are demotivated too.
When I was a child, my parents used the fear of ending up a beggar, but it totally failed because of the happy drunken kung-fu sifu beggar that taught Jacky Chan all his cool moves.
In the sharing session with graduates, I usually pull up slides about Phua Khein-Seng, Mark Chang and Syed Bukhari to prove a point that they got their drive from growing up poor, and the desire to create a better future for society so that the nation don’t have to go through similar hardships.
Stop being a victim. Nothing beats experiencing poverty; unfortunately, not everyone can rise up from being beaten by poverty.
Please seek professional psychological help.
If your parents are middle class or well-to-do and you’re still demotivated; then seek more expensive psychological help.
In closing, I would like to share my own aspirations for IT graduates.
Information Technology allows anyone and any business to create value out of thin air. The only other raw material besides a computer and some bandwidth sits inside your noggin. For Malaysia to succeed in IT, we have to stop the culture of depending on daddy government to save the day and sell substandard vapourware (yes – even vapourware can be substandard) or worse, ‘middle-man’ the deal with absolutely zero value.
The longer we claim that we are still too young or too weak to be weaned off subsidies, the longer the training wheels hamper Malaysian agility and ability to compete in the global arena.
Foreigners do not need Asean 2015 or the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to do business in Malaysia; they are already here.
There has to be a conscious decision to invest in continuous learning. Forget the Subaru Impreza and get a Kancil; spend the delta on developing more skills and honing existing ones.
Businesses have to knowingly plough capital to continuously develop and improve intellectual properties that are not only export-ready but world-leading. Forget the spanking new iconic building and shareholder dividends; invest in research and development.
Should shareholders not see that, then they do not have the company’s future at heart; they merely betting against the company in order to exit before failure.
Malaysia has to be globally competitive with globally in-demand IT goods and services in order to improve the nation’s economy and the people’s wealth. These goods and services can only be manifested by world-class businesses manned by world-class talents.
I truly hope those talents are our graduates.
Bernard Sia is head of strategy at Mesiniaga Alliances Sdn Bhd. His opinions here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mesiniaga.
Previous Instalments:

Making sense of big data
The right to brand

Are we really partners?

Choke-holding performance with process controls

The Malaysian SME, via casual business encounters
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