Friday, January 22, 2016

A Piece of Advice for University Students

I started my career as a SAP system analyst in the finance domain back in March 2010.
Having been working as a professional for almost 6 years, I am looking back to find what I have picked up along the way which I can share to the younger generations who are about to enter the professional world.

To give you some context, I spent roughly 86% of my professional career time as an IT professional. Starting from a system analyst to a multi-sites IT manager. I spent the other 14% as a process engineer working in a production floor and as a salesman working on the field.
I spent all those times in 2 consumer goods giant companies which I never imagined I would ever had the chances to.

Before those days started, I spent 3.5 years as a graduate student in a local university. My major was information system, which I chose like I rolled a dice. I would say it wasn't the greatest time of my life there. Though I was graduated with honor, I think I could have done better. Not in terms of GPA, but in terms of learning. GPA is just a number representing our performance across disciplines. It is valuable only for a short to mid term, but learning, and particularly the ones which shape our characters, remains for a longer term and plays more pivotal roles in our success after university life.

This is one advice that I can give you:

Focusing on building your technical skill is important, but don't fall into a trap believing that that is the thing that matters the most. You have to balance it with mastering communication skill.

What I refer here as a communication skill is not just about learning how to do present well, how to listen well, how to talk systematically, or even how to write effectively. Those are just the beginning.

The advanced part of this communication skill is how to shape others perception about your ideas, about your works, and even more about yourself. It's more complicated than just to learn how not to interrupt others when they are talking - even though I still find a lot of people having problem with understanding the importance of this - as this involves your emotion and analytical capability instead of just a mental discipline (for some, it is not just).

You can think this as a skill that helps you to place yourself at the right place at the right time with the right way of communicating, both goods news and bad news. The outcome is your ability to influence others.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that communication skill is far important than technical skill. Be it in technical domains like IT, civil engineering, electronic engineering, etc or in management domains like business administration, HR, Finance, etc. Having the right balance between technical skill and communication skill is critical for success.

People who go to the extreme of believing that communication skill is more important than technical skill will become political. Without understanding what is really going on at the detail level, they will struggle to discover the truth, be it a problem and even bigger, a solution. And because of that, they will try to cover themselves with composing diplomatic messages as if they know everything because it is a human nature (and it applies to you and me) that we hate to be seen as incapable.

The other extreme is people who believe that technical skill is more important than communication skill, and they will become self-centered. Look around you, how many friends whom you know are very good technically but are so difficult to work with? Yes, one person can make a huge difference, but championship is won with teamwork. If you don't believe it, ask Lionel Messi to play alone against the whole army of Real Madrid.

Either you want to take a professional path or you want to be an entrepreneur, this balance will play a key role in your success. I can speak from the professional path which I have been standing here for some time, that if you do well in balancing these 2 skills, you'll be a star. It's so valuable to have someone who knows how to talk and what he talks about, and some time when not to talk.

So while you are pursuing your degree and learning technical mastery, don't forget to invest your time to build your communication skill. Again, not at the basic level, but at the advanced level. Meet new people, focus on learning from them, find mentors, read books, and there are still so many ways that you can take to sharpen this skill.

"We cannot change the card we are dealt, just how we play the hand" - Randy Pausch.

Learn how to play the hand, that's should be your takeaway. 

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