「青少年職場初探」 - 現身說法系列活動報導
Initial Career Exploration for Youth Program
Interview Gordon Lee 專訪 - by Diana Tseng 曾筠婷
Being in the Information Technology industry for 21 years, Gordon Lee, 44, believes that it’s a mistake for kids to be too specific in choosing their career fields.
This could sound contradictory to Chinese immigrant parents who want their kids to succeed so badly, it becomes almost imperative that children chose a career field as soon as they enter high school. Lee, the Senior Manager of IBM Toronto Lab in Markham, Ont., suggests the alternative.
Lee believes that life has too many different circumstances that no one can predict. He says that knowing where your strengths, weaknesses and preferences lay help direct someone toward a general goal in the future.
“If you’re too narrowly focused, you’ll find yourself obsolete,” he says. Lee also deems it especially dangerous in the IT field to be too narrow in career choices, as there are major overhauls in technology every three to four years.
And as a child, growing up in Etobicoke, Lee’s goals for his career were broad. All he knew were his exceptional abilities in math and computer classes, his interests in working with technology, and his parents wishes for him to become a professional.
Thus, knowing his propensity toward a career in technology, Lee entered the University of Toronto and graduated in 1982, at the age of 23, with a Computer Engineering degree. Upon graduation, Lee recalls being offered 10 employment positions and finally chose to enter IBM for its variety of jobs and opportunities to learn and grow.
“It’s almost like moving to a new company every 10 to 12 months,” he says and had never planned to switch to another company.
However, by 1993, he was offered an opening at Northern Telecom, now Nortel Networks. Lee was “to help lead the organization into the 21st Century”, as he remembers working with virtual reality technology and helping to develop new programs for telephone switches.
The era of the Internet arrived and Lee had a desire to expand Northern Telecom’s spectrum of business to include this new system of communication. The company declined. By chance, in 1998, an executive from IBM was looking for someone to initiate the Internet sector and Lee “was lured back to IBM to head up an e-commerce consulting team.”
He’s been working for IBM ever since, and now retains a senior level position at the company. Lee says that his intentions were never to reach for the top, and considers himself quite successful at what he does.
For Lee, education was important in attaining success in his career, and advises being too hung up on a specific career choice while in school maybe risky.
“If you go to what’s hot, it might not be hot by the time you graduate…everything I learned is out of date,” he adds.
What he got out of university is what he calls “transferable skills”, and advocates to many students to acquire these skills above all else.
Lee’s transferable skills: adaptability, flexibility and openness to change.
In every situation there are pleasant and unpleasant surprises, and one should make the best of these occurrences, he says. Lee also believes that one can always find something to enjoy and learn from in any experience, and looking at the glass half full is vital.
“Use your position now to see how you can move to the next step.”
Lee refers to his career as a game of chess, where he knows his overall plan is to succeed. Each move, however, is dependent on what his opponents, the economy, the market and the environment, make and will make.
And because the external world is constantly transforming, “for everyone who is successful, a factor is always luck,” he says.
According to Lee, employment is having the right skills and luck, timing and the economy, coming together at the same time.
He says both his movements, from IBM to Northern Telecom and back to IBM, were never planned or anticipated. To Lee, the opportunities just came and he was ready for them, and his “transferable skills” helped him prepare for the lucky chances.
And he practices these skills regularly.
“I’m naturally an introvert,” he says – a statement hardly plausible as Lee openly greets and jokes around with fellow staff members at IBM.
He views himself as a programmer, a calling of the introvert, and would do that all the time if he could. But he says to be successful, one must be able to adapt to the necessities required for the job, and wearing the mask of an extrovert is one such necessity.
And as a Senior Manager of IBM, who supervises a group of top technical consultants of new IBM software, seminars, meetings and presentations are frequent with customers, the extrovert Lee is, thus, often seen.
“You have to keep improving yourself,” he says, especially in wearing different masks, and becoming familiar with the changes in the market and new technologies.
According to Lee, as a manager it’s easy to lose touch with new technology because he doesn’t have to deal with new equipment and programs. The job can be allotted to the technicians he hires.
“But I do it myself,” he says, “and keep it very technical.” Lee states that he submits patents and does conferences himself for the new IBM technologies.
And this, for Lee, is where his biggest challenge comes in – maintaining a balance.
“I’m a family man at heart, and the economy that we live in today makes us work so hard. It’s almost expected to be a workaholic.”
To retain this fine equilibrium, he limits to working only 40 to 50 hours a week and never sends emails from home. At home, Lee devotes his time to his wife, Mary, who has been working at IBM for two decades as a Computer Engineer, and his 11-year-old daughter, Christina.
As a kid in the 60s and 70s, Lee says he was brought up to think life was just education, career and retirement.
“You know Freedom 55? I want to retire at 45,” he says and smiles.
But Lee says this retirement doesn’t mean relaxing at his cottage or travelling the world, that’s when he’s 66.
“At 45, I work because I want to,” he says, and not because he needs to.
And what does this retirement work entail?
Lee says perhaps it’s starting his own company. But most likely, he says, it’s giving back to society. He wants to teach computer classes at university, which he has done before.
He believes he reached success at his career in technology. And as for a checkmate in life, he’s getting there one move at a time.
His next move: helping the children of the next generation achieve their career goals.